People always like to ask why our brand and newsletter has been so successful when most independent efforts to tout Las Vegas end up as no more than a glorified hobby. One thing truly did lead to another, but the core was 1) A real, true love for Las Vegas and everything Vegas and 2) Lots of hard steady work and the willingness to starve in the early days to do it full-time (kind of like being in a band) and 3) Getting it going in the early days of the internet.
Step by step, here’s how it all happened:
I got my first computer in 1995. AOL was getting to be a hot item and I was logging on through a friend’s computer (thanks, Howard). I wanted my own. I became the proud owner of a green Acer desktop. I think the screen was 15 inches. The computer’s hard drive was 100 MB.
I discovered the alt.vacation.las-vegas internet newsgroup — basically a public, unmoderated message board available to virtually anyone on the internet — and started chiming in with my Las Vegas adventures and opinions. I was regularly out on The Strip and Downtown Fremont Street and always had something new to post.
Unfortunately, unmoderated message boards open to the entire internet can get messy. People who don’t like each other start “flame wars” (where people snipe back and forth). And the fact that I was out and about so much and posting new Vegas info 2-4 times a week started to rankle some of the longstanding newsgroup posters who thought that they were “the stuff” when it came to Las Vegas.
Note: I didn’t set out to overshadow anyone. I was just this guy going out and having fun, keeping my ear to the ground, following closely Vegas news and (when you live here) sometimes ending up getting deeper information on things than the newspapers published. Las Vegas was still a small town in many aspects back then. Seemingly everybody knew everybody and word of just about anything traveled quickly.
Meanwhile back at the ranch…
In 1996, I purchased the name In-Vegas.com just to put some Vegas info and links up at. No idea where it would go and at the time, no real way to make any money off of it. (Affiliate programs were brand new and Google Adsense did not exist). I learned some basic HTML and put four pages of Vegas links up.
In 1997 I got tired of people mistaking the name of the site (don’t buy a site with a dash in it) and found that AccessVegas.com was available. (AccessLASVegas.com was also available but at $35 each, I made the foolish decision to only buy AccessVegas.com. Money was tight, but I should have spent it anyway). The internet was booming, more and more people were searching for Las Vegas information online, there was a way to sell rooms and shows for a cut of the action, and I decided to build it out as a comprehensive Las Vegas travel site.
I continued to contribute to alt.vacation.las-vegas as much as ever. I’d now end my posts
Now, a handful of the “I’m Mr. Vegas” guys (especially this one guy who went by Chuck K and claimed that Access Vegas would never amount to anything) who also posted there started calling me a spammer and trying to make life rough for me. Here I’d spend 30 minutes typing up a post that was full of first-hand info from what I was out doing and seeing. I simply put my website name after my sig (no other promotion for it in the post), and they were just throwing flames at me.
I started to realize that I’m producing tons of content, seeing nothing for it, not even putting it on my site, and getting darts thrown at me in the process. So… I took my marbles and went home.
In 1999, I posted that I was going to start up a weekly Las Vegas email newsletter. It would include the exact info that I had been posting to alt.vacation.las-vegas newsgroup, that it would be free, and that I would keep my subscriber list confidential. And… that for the most part, the info would not be posted to the newsgroup. Only one way to get it.
Over 400 people emailed me to subscribe. While that is now a drop in the bucket compared to present numbers, it sure shocked me. I was hoping for maybe 30!
The first issue went out to subscribers on May 20, 1999 and was simultaneously posted online. I was blogging before the term existed.
Since then, we’ve found our niche. I’m very proud that 26% of our readers are international (from outside the U.S.) with around 11% from Europe alone. When you have the interest and trust of those coming that far and spending that much money to get here and they are depending on vacation information, that is very gratifying.
I’m also pleased that about 25% of our readers make over $100k per year and another 25% or so make over $60k. We always carry information for people on every budget (and I’m not immune to enjoying some of the great cheap specials, especially downtown) but when you can appeal to an upscale clientele, that never hurts.
I’m also proud that my modest crew has (mostly) been with me for quite a while. I believe Robert (our IT guy from ocssoutions.com) has been a partner for 10 years and continues to build great, custom behind-the-scenes stuff for us as well as keeping us running “on the cloud”. Amy Rayner-Cooley has been compiling and editing newsletter information for over 5 years and also plays a big part in our content. Prior to Amy, Rick Ziegler played a major role there. Mark Jacobs has been doing various work wherever needed for about 3 years. I’ve had some great interns over time, and now we’ve taken UNLV grad Jennifer Miller (who has an impressive intern resume in local media) and hired her on as Junior Managing Editor. You’ll see and hear a LOT more from her starting in the fall.
What is next? Minor redesign of AccessVegas.com and complete redesign of all our blogs and sister sites to match. Also, we’ve recently acquired Access Reno, Access Laughlin, Access Biloxi and Access Atlantic City and we plan to meld them all into an network of “Access” sites featuring American’s top gaming cities. We also own Access Phoenix (not sure what we’re doing with it yet) and Access New Orleans (which may just get melded into the gaming resort cities network).
We also have some other major projects (and excellent domains) but were keeping those under wraps. We’ll let you know if they see the light of day. One thing at a time!
Past that, who knows? We’re not owned by a newspaper or TV station or other media conglomerate. I have no outside investors (we grow out of profit). We get $0.00 in public funds or convention authority funds or help of any kind. We simply do what we feel is best for you, our loyal readers!
I do know this: It is going to continue to be a lot of fun. So thanks for reading, keep telling your friends, and keep hanging out with us. It’s going to continue to be a fun ride!