Five years ago, in late 2003, Woot Inc. was incorporated and plans were set in motion to develop Woot's 1.0 software. Our website launched in July 2004 with no advertising, no information as to who we were, of course zero reputation to rely on, and a fairly rude in-your-face attitude still exhibited in our "what is woot" section. To make matters almost purposefully scarier, our first product was in fact a $400+ Robotic lawn mower and our Who-Is info was registered under an attorney. Were we one of those newly defined phishing sites, drumming up credit card numbers and not shipping product, or was this somehow legit? Schadenfreude as a marketing strategy?
Tens of thousands of folks signed up in the first month or two Woot was established, many to observe the expected other shoe to drop and laugh at the victims. However, in month two we passed 5,000 actual customers who bought something and it started to become fun to participate (in between the server crashes). Incredibly the crude we'll-do-this-as-a-hobby store that we set up off to the side of our wholesale business was gaining attention and traction. The NY Times and bunches of other media dropped in and things really picked up from there.
To commemorate our enjoyment of how bold and pioneering we felt these first 5k customers were to support us, we pulled out all stops. We gave them all 5 bucks off free ship codes and mailed them some fairly cheap looking but individually numbered "Charter Member" paper certificates. We even splurged for foil printing! We sat back enjoying the thought of what was certain to be a nice "WTF snail mail?" moment for them all.
Now back in these early days, we didn't really have a support staff, the website was prone to plenty of quirks and our logistics didn't have much logic to them. (hey we have changed... right?) I'm sure we irritated, disappointed or at least bored plenty of these first 5k buying woot members and they continued their enjoyable risk-taking early adopter travels elsewhere on the internet, popping up at Digg, Flickr, YouTube, and other flash in the pan 2004/2005 Web 2.0 ventures :)
So how many Woot Charter Members are still out there who remember us? How many people are they likely responsible for telling about Woot? What do they think about the neighborhood now that a million more people followed them? What core observation and advice did they have that we've still ignored to this day?
Curious CEO's want to know these things. I'm announcing a "virtual reunion" thread here on this blog post and giving $10 off gift/coupon codes for Charter Members who check in on this thread over the next week or so. This is 0.3% of our members, so I'll also email them of this plan later today or very few may notice. Probably hard to have it not look like spam but what the heck, they were gullible enough to buy from us back then.
So, Charter Members, enjoy a Free Daily Shirt.woot (or a $5 pre-reckoned one), some Cheap(er) Wine or whatever craptacular gadget you might find at woot.com or sellout.woot through the end of 2008. You deserved it back then, when you survived what I'm sure was the riskiest ecommerce proposition since Amazon's 1995 "internet" launch must have been. And those customers probably didn't get diddly.
Have questions about the origins of Woot? Are you a 2004 or 2005 almost charter Woot Member wanting to brag? Anyone feel free to comment here, you just won't all be getting paid.