Chris, you created a site & concept others have only been trying to replicate (and capitalize on) these days.. I have been on it, like others, since around 2004 and think it was/is largely so popular and liked because of it being genuinely people oriented and not for profit, with no ads, among other things. Passion, good managing the diversity of topics, good moderation, and an imo extremely attractive design (especially the orange black) site's rich features help too. Just as with people, one good thing attracts another, and being on ADV did lead me to interact with so many wonderful stories and people. I also eventually did start posting my own ride reports, and subscribed to smugmug which I still love today. I look forward to reading more of this story!
Before advrider, there were only books..
goosebumps, amazing story.
I had no idea ADV and the nickname baldy were born on the same trip!!
I'd like to see the before and after haircut shot here ;)
I'd like to see the before and after haircut shot here ;)
Toni calls it a tragic case of bait & switch.
MikeO's "inspection of the colonies" and Seán's "took a little ride" ride report showed me a side of the US that wasn't in the tour guides.
I think a critical ingredient to ADV's rise was how we were naturally drawn to adventurous characters. Sean was incredibly entertaining and inmates (more on that word later) would message me saying how much they LOVED his stories. They had everything: love, adventure, conflict, a dog...
When SmugMug was young, he stopped by with his dog on the way to Guatemala where he was going to teach English as a second language. I knew how good a writer he was so I offered him a job and he became employee #7, I think. He wrote the line "Your photos look better here" which SmugMug still uses in various places. He is a key player in SmugMug's education and VIP support. He was just on Skype with @rtwPaul helping with something.
Here's what he casually wrote in 2007 on his ride:
By 11:30 am I've returned to sea level, and the Pacific comes into view. The sun is shining and I am warm enough to take off the wooly. For better or worse, I am determined to bring every bit of color I can with me as I venture further north. I'm still not sure when I'll get home, but when I do, I want to look like I have been very far away. Wife beater armed, Mr. Sol, do your stuff!
Part 2: Speaking of characters, there was a mailing list for BMW GS riders with 1,000 people. Two members stood out: cRAsh and fish. They had been banned on other forums for too much attitude.
I made them mods and they invented an off-topic forum they named Jo Momma. What could go wrong? When the adventure motorcycle community saw they were mods, they wrote "the inmates have overrun the asylum!" We loved it and the words asylum and inmates stuck.
The two wild childs had a profound influence on everything. Anyone who loves ADV owes them for its edgy character. And yet, I also banned them a few years later for too much attitude. 😢 Still love you guys.
I came back from Mexico not knowing what bike to buy for my next ride (to Alaska!). The other forums springing up were named after bike brands. I lust after Ducatis and KTMs too but the love of adventure and riding seemed bigger than my shameless addiction to bike porn. So it took 3 seconds to decide on the name. And another few seconds to decide that Ride Reports should be the top subforum.
Thing was, we were self-conscious about being just a forum and we needed people to sign up, so I became a bike and book reviewer to draw people to ADVrider. All these years later, I have no memory of doing that, but The Wayback Machine doesn't lie:
It's funny, I rated the upcoming KTM Adventure (did we inspire the name?) 3 stars. It looked too shiny and street bikey. What a machine it turned out to be. Where was it when I was bashing topes in Mexico?
One of our first mantras was "pics or it didn't happen." But how? Message forums sucked at hosting photos and anyway we couldn't afford the storage. The photo sharing sites of the day—Kodak, Shutterfly, and SnapFish—didn't allow you link your photos into a forum. Flickr and Photobucket didn't exist.
So Fish tried to get us all to sign up for PBase accounts. It's still around.
The trouble with PBase was it was designed for serious amateur photographers and it was complicated. My oldest son Don had started a company that was social networking for gamers before social networking was a thing, and he had built photo galleries for game art and kills. I thought maybe we could charge $29.95 a year to host your priceless photos without ads in the beautiful galleries he had designed.
We named it SmugMug after Don's little sister Anne and her adorable smug smile when she was a toddler.
It thrust me back into the pressure cooker of Silicon Valley company-building in 2002 when investors believed the Internet was over. With each new piece of feedback we got, it punched me in my gut and I couldn't sleep at night:
"The photo sharing wars were fought 5 years ago. Kodak, Shutterfly and SnapFish won." All investors.
"No one pays for services on the Internet." Chris Anderson, then Editor of WIRED.
"Ofoto (bought by Kodak) changed my life. I have no need for anything else." Steve Wozniak, during dinner with Don and I.
"Honey, if you're saying you have to have 100,000 paying subscribers to even get $3 million in sales..." My wife Toni, still The Countess of Cash at SmugMug, who had to donate her time and house for over 4 years in the beginning to get it off the ground.
SmugMug made some of ADV's most epic ride reports possible, but it also took my time so gone were the days I could review bikes and books on editorial pages. The forums would have to stand on their own.
The good news is we could bring Adventure Rider's growing traffic into SmugMug's data centers to leech off us. The bad news is Photobucket launched, offering free photo linking to forums, and ADV's members flocked to it.
I couldn't understand how Photobucket could sustain it over the long term so we decided not to follow their lead. I couldn't promote SmugMug on ADV because inmates would flame me as a spammer, so we needed something else. Pressure.
And then. A phone call. A pro photographer called to say how much he liked the look of the photo galleries Don had created and could we make it possible for him to sell his photos online? He would gladly give us a fee and pay more for an account.
Remember that thing about not much planning before riding to Mexico? I talked to Don about pricing photos and he said we could do it, what could go wrong? Not understanding what you're getting into has its benefits. 1099 forms? State and country taxes? Fraud? Whatevs.
And that, in my opinion, explains the rise of SmugMug and how it could eventually buy companies like Flickr. It was the same formula that gave rise to eBay sellers and YouTube stars.
And that's what launched me into the fantastical, incredible world of pro photographers and put Don, the CEO of SmugMug and Flickr, onto the edge of a San Francisco skyscraper in a real photoshoot by one of the world's great photographers.
That building had deep meaning for me because it was where I had started my career years before in a suit and polished Wingtip shoes, working for Chevron. I almost died of boredom inside that building in the Chevron days and almost passed out from raw fear on the edge for my SmugMug photo. The improbable event that put me and Don on top of that building was a series of impulse decisions, starting with riding off into the rain towards Mexico.
(To be continued.)
Forgive me for touching on a very emotional time in your life but you said you were in NY when you got the call that Ben was ok. I seem to remember that was also when the attack on 9/11 happened?
I was in NY near the Twin Towers when the planes flew into them. As I stood there in shock, struggling to put it in context with events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the sinking of the Titanic, a policeman asked if I would volunteer for the triage center.
As he led me through the horror, I believed this had to be a vivid nightmare and I struggled to force myself awake. There was no way to appreciate the scale of it by watching TV. Just the sound of bodies falling from the sky put hardened firefighters into shock.
There is a film, however, my second-favorite documentary of all time, that truly captured the love, heroism and tragedy of the day:
97% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. I've watched it several times.
For years I've told the story of how I took my escape ride to Mexico after surviving the fall of the towers, but I checked the dates. I rode in May of 2001 and the towers fell in September. That shows how memory can be contaminated.
We talked about 9/11 on ADVrider in a huge thread in Jo Momma. I was pretty tolerant of edgy and misinformed dialog in there, but the angry conspiracy theories claiming it was staged made me crazy. That was when I came to understand what could go wrong with Jo Momma and that it simply wasn't in me to let a theory like that take hold and get amplified. I banned a few good riders and friends over that and nearly shut Jo Momma down. 😢
There was another New York-based drama strangely connected to Ben's mission that got me to hop on my motorcycle and ride away. I'll tell that later.
What a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing!
is..... is that Sean Rogan?!?!
Once SmugMug began to thrive, I pinched myself almost every day because I got to work at an independent, family-owned, profitable company with my sons and Toni doing what I love: photography. I would see magazine articles about the happiest man in the world and would think nope. They didn't know about me.
Why in the world could anyone leave something like that to jump back in the pressure cooker of starting a company like Cake?
It was a perfect storm of things. When SmugMug was starting, I could tell the boys really needed me. It felt wonderful. But in time I sensed it was going the way all things go when your kids grow up: they want to drive. They want to raise their kids their way. I came to believe they wanted to run the company their way now. How annoying to have your dad hanging on, meddling. It was Don's company from the beginning, I was just there to help him achieve his dreams.
Second, I had believed all these years that Adventure Rider would fade away. It was old forum software in an age where companies like Facebook had billions to spend and thousands of engineers. But it didn't. And I thought I knew why.
Third, some of my favorite people at SmugMug had been there a long time and wanted to move onto a new adventure. And so, the man who had a penchant for risking it all to ride in the rain towards Mexico, risked everything again. What could go wrong?
The man, the myth, the legend! 😎
Wow, I forget the history of Sean and the MacAskill family. I don't even know the full extent of it, but I am definitely curious. What a great throwback photo!
When Chris Anderson bought TED he said, "It felt like something worth giving my life to."
I had a big reason for giving my life to SmugMug: family. But what about ADV? Motorcycles are shiny, adventures are exciting, but why is that enough to justify devoting so much time?
The answer is the thing I never saw coming: the incredible friendships that are formed by sharing adventures, going to rallies together, and helping each other in real life when the chips are down.
When I went to the Wisconsin rally last month, it seemed like every other person there stopped me to say, "If you ever wonder if you've done some good in the world, look at us. We have become best of friends and we never would have met without ADV."
I didn't have anything to do with those rallies. Members of ADV organized them organically. But they are incredibly moving to attend.
So. How did Adventure Rider also inspire Cake? Several ways:
1. I believe Facebook didn't destroy ADV because you can have deeper discussions on ADV than you can on Facebook. How can you explain the details an engine rebuild on Facebook, to be discovered via Google by thousands of riders?
2. Blogs didn't take out ADV either because they are mainly a broadcast format of one writer and you get relegated to the comment section. In our current conversation here, @Shay was able to ask me about the fall of the towers in the flow of the story, and I could answer in the story, not the comment section.
The trouble with ADV is it's mainly about adventure motorcycling and closely related things. Where is the site to go deeper about your other passions, like photography?
That felt like something I could give my life to.
Love of motorcycles seems like the door that opens connections to a world of people, truly connecting spirits otherwise so diverse, in ways no other hobbies seem to.
I'm loving learning about the beginning of ADV. The place means a lot to so many people.
I remember my first ADV rally (DVNoobs). I was so, so nervous. I ended up having a great time and I was hooked. I meet someone new and cool at each one. My best riding buddy is someone I met at WARPED.
I saw you've finalised the dates for your trip to OZ 👍 the spare room will be ready when you get to Sydney.
We will do a few of my favourite local rides while you are here.
Thanks Russ! I received a parcel today full of maps from our friend Nev. <3 The routing begins!