After getting our start as a web hosting and dial-up email service provider, Forbin has become a leader, locally and nationally, in all things web.
Twenty years is a long period of time, whether you’re talking about a person’s age, the age of a rather tasty bottle of wine or how long a particular web company based in Waterloo, IA has been doing web stuff. However, the VGM Forbin that’s alive, kicking, and creating today is a far cry from what it was two decades ago. Before the creative workspace and large team of salespeople, web marketers, designers and programmers, there was one guy with a basement full of modems.
The Pre-VGM Years
Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs started Apple in a Jobs’ garage; Sergey Brin and Larry Page started Google in a garage; John Friel started Forbin in his basement. While we’re not on the same level as those two companies (yet), we can appreciate what it means to come from humble beginnings.
In 1994, the very infancy of the internet, Friel had several friends and colleagues that dialed in to his server. After outgrowing the basement, Friel moved in with a business partner on 18th Street in Cedar Falls close to the Panther Lounge, and then moved to another building nearby.
Current Forbin General Manager Jeremy Kauten, then 19 and studying for a career in law enforcement, began working at Forbin answering the phones to help people using Macintosh computers.
“It was all dial up modems back then, you could see the lights in the back of all the different modems people would dial in to,” Kauten said. “If someone dialed off, you could see the light go off.”
At that time Forbin was primarily an internet service provider, only hosting their own website. VGM Group, Inc. was one of the first customers Forbin worked with that wanted its own domain name, VGM.com. After that came VGMT.com and VGMgolf.com, and email accounts to go with all of the new domains. With all the new domain names and email addresses being created, a bit of a running joke started.
“We would joke, ‘What does VGM do?’ and we always said wheelchairs,” Kauten explained. “But then they got VGMgolf.com which threw us off. So then we said ‘wheelchairs and golf.’”
Joining the VGM Family
At this point, VGM was Forbin’s largest customer, so it was a natural transition when the internet service provider turned web hosting company was acquired in 1999. Jim Walsh, President and General Counsel for the VGM Group, Inc., said making the move to bring Forbin into the VGM family was a strategic move to provide better service for the organization’s members.
“We realized early on that we needed help here at VGM with reaching our customers via the internet and the worldwide web,” Walsh said.
The first impression many VGM employees got of Forbin was on their first official working day as part of VGM, Halloween, a holiday that has always been embraced at VGM.
“We all dressed up as a group as Men in Black,” Kauten said, “and we had the light flashing things that one of our people made that actually flashed.”
Kauten said he believed other VGM employees “perceived us as different and young, and that’s probably what we were.” Forbin was shuffled around various locations on the VGM main campus, including a garage. Now, after moving to our own space, as well as growing in size and experience, Kauten believes “the perception has risen as we’ve built ourselves and established ourselves as a truly profitable company.”
To Infinity and Beyond
In web time, 20 years is forever; it separates extinct dinosaurs from the latest and greatest technology. We’ve come a long way since John Friel’s basement of modems and flashing lights, but we don’t feel old. That’s the amazing thing about doing web stuff: the job changes every day, always keeping you on your toes and adapting.
The biggest component to our success has been our people. There were seven employees when Forbin was acquired in 1999; today a staff of 36 full-time employees, plus a revolving crop of awesome interns, churn out websites, work systems and social media content while servicing our customers’ needs. Despite the seemingly constant change in all things web, one thing never goes out of style: good employees.
“When you buy a company like Forbin, you’re buying the people,” Van Miller, VGM CEO, said when discussing the acquisition of Forbin in 1999. “The people [in Forbin] have been great. It’s all about the people.”
While we can’t accurately predict the industry, we can assure you of one thing: “these people” will never lose the work ethic that took us from a basement to a building with our name on the front.