Citizen Rhodes – A Decade In The Life Of An E-Commerce Baron

If you are relatively new to the internet, you probably never heard of Dave Rhodes.

If you used the internet before TV journalists first fumbled with the words “backslash backslash dot com,” you may remember him as a legendary pioneer of internet commerce. And if you remember him at all, you undoubtedly associate him with perhaps the internet’s greatest breakthrough marketing campaign to date, recognized by messages with the telltale subject line MAKE.MONEY.FAST.

This September marks the tenth anniversary of a seminal event in the history of e-commerce. As legend has it, Rhodes faced bleak job prospects, creditors repossessed his car, and bill collectors continued to hound him.

Armed with only his computer, a modem, and internet access, Rhodes devised an incredible revenue-generating business plan. In just a few short months, he had purchased a Lincoln Town Car in cash, built a home on Florida’s Gulf Coast, and became an internet millionaire — all before most anyone had ever heard of the internet.

That Was Then…

A lot has changed since then. The internet has grown from tens of thousands to over one hundred million users. Unsolicited commercial messages, now called “Spam,” have become commonplace and inspired a new industry designed to prevent them. The newsgroup — originally created as a forum for internet money-making scheme watchdogs — is now overrun by posts soliciting these very money making schemes (which is like discovering a new two-drink minimum at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings).

With Dell, Amazon, Cisco, and other e-commerce poster children now monopolizing the limelight, you might think that Rhodes has since rested on his laurels and retired off his early successes. However, Rhodes continues to revolutionize e-commerce in the heart of Silicon Valley as CEO of NetFilcher, makers of Ponzi Server 2.0.

Seven Questions with an E-Commerce Legend

We recently caught up with Rhodes for an exclusive interview with CLICKZ at the Venture Cappuccino Cafe in Palo Alto, California.

Adorned with laptop, PCS cellular phone, and dressed in his finest corporate Friday casuals, Rhodes stepped out of his Lexus RS 300, ordered a tall nonfat latte, and led us to a seat in the trendy pre-IPO section of the cafe.

Here, Rhodes shared his views on the current state of e-commerce and what it means for business.

CLICKZ: As one of the pioneers of internet money-making, what have you learned specifically about e-commerce in the past decade?

RHODES: It must have taken me at least a week or two to write, revise, and rewrite the copy for MAKE.MONEY.FAST. And despite all my success with it, I’ve long since learned that communication and content are a losing proposition.

I never did get that content craze when the web first came out — creating messages and information to communicate with your publics, dressing it up with slick graphics, and ringing up a hefty tab with some interactive advertising agency. No thank you.

When e-commerce came along, I finally saw something I could sink my teeth into. It cut right through all the fluff and spoke dollars and cents to me. Now money is a language I can understand.

CLICKZ: Don’t you think that oversimplifies e-commerce? Don’t customers on the internet expect more than an online vending machine?

RHODES: All that effort spent communicating with people, answering their questions, making them feel satisfied with their purchasing decisions, trying to convince them that I’m a reputable businessperson who cares about meeting their needs… isn’t that why corporate America invented voice mail? Whoever said “talk is cheap” never hired a customer support staff.

If I need to purchase something, just give me a shopping bot or a text box to type in my credit card number. If I really wanted to speak with someone as a customer, I wouldn’t be hiding behind a keyboard, would I?

CLICKZ: How do you see e-commerce affecting the value chain of today’s businesses?

RHODES: Sure, you hear people talking about communicating with suppliers, distributors, and resellers; extending customer service programs; and re-engineering supply chains, logistics, inventories, and distribution.

But all that takes time — time I could better spend making profits by selling over the internet. This is the internet where everything is on internet time, right?

CLICKZ: Given your preoccupation with speed and automation, what elements of MAKE.MONEY.FAST do you think apply to e-commerce today, ten years later?

RHODES: E-commerce is the promise of disproportionate wealth for the same amount of effort you’d otherwise have to put in a real store or business. The sky-high stock market valuations of many internet companies reflect this — that is, how to make a lot of money fast with little or no effort. Essentially, the same motivations behind a number of e-commerce businesses also apply to the stockholders of these internet companies.

Let me cue you in on a secret. Whether it’s the get-rich promises of unsolicited commercial email or the investors in many internet stocks, there will always be people looking for a shortcut to quick riches. Ironically, one of the best ways to make money fast is to profit from these very people.

CLICKZ: Which brings me to another point. Ten years ago, many people criticized your M.M.F campaign as nothing more than a internet pyramid scheme. How do you respond to that?

RHODES: I object to those kinds of comments. MAKE.MONEY.FAST was a legitimate form of multi-level marketing that I pioneered on the internet. Most of these critics are only expressing sour grapes that they didn’t think of it first.

CLICKZ: So what do you think are the long-term prospects for e-commerce?

RHODES: Long term? You obviously missed the FAST part of MAKE.MONEY.FAST. “Long-term” implies persistence, dedication, hard work, and commitment — through both good economic times and bad. I’m here to make some money off internet commerce — not invest in a real business of my own or anything.

CLICKZ: Well, at least with your company’s recent IPO, you can afford a house in this area!

RHODES: What, are you nuts?! Who can afford a house around here? Last time I even looked interested in a place, Mark Andreesen stepped in with some ungodly amount of Netscape shares and bid $500,000 over the asking price.

And to him, that’s just a few weeks of his powdered donut allowance.

Wait… could you hold on for a second? I have to take this important call. [answers his ringing cell phone]…

Sorry, but I have to run. This has been great. I hope ZComics…


RHODES: Yeah, whatever. I hope it does real well. Here’s my card if you’re looking to go public.

Oh — and if several men in suits and official-looking government badges come looking for me, tell them you haven’t seen me. I’m, uh, planning a surprise party for them and they shouldn’t know I was here.

Post-script: As you’ve figured out by now, this interview like Dave Rhodes and his money-making scheme popularized on the internet ten years ago — are without factual merit. And so is the notion that e-commerce is somehow an easier route to financial success than any other business venture.

The truth is: There are no short-cuts. And there’s a lot more to e-commerce than just the sale.

Related reading