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Like most web designers, I used to be an engineer and own a manufacturing company. Okay, it wasn’t a traditional path, but it has proven helpful, particularly for our industrial clients.
Manufacturing & Engineering
Craig de Fasselle
I spent my early career as an engineer and later president of Meter Equipment Manufacturing (MEM), where we developed and manufactured flow meters for liquids, gases and steam. In the early years, I did everything from product design to machining. Sales were highly technical, and required learning about our customers’ processes, as well as understanding chemical compatibility, pressure-temperature impact, and environmental factors. I enjoyed asking questions and researching new things-skills that are valuable today in my design career.
Research led to patents for flow instrumentation, designing and building a calibration bench for blood viscometers, and publishing technical articles. I was responsible for all marketing, plus training sales reps, and writing sales literature and instruction bulletins.
Technology was important for running MEM, and one of the tools of my trade was a programmable calculator. When Hewlett-Packard launched the HP95LX palmtop computer, I was among the first buyers, and anxious to get more info and software.
First Online Venture
Back in the day, CompuServe was the home to the only forum for handheld computer users like me—but I had an America Online account, and I didn’t want another one with CompuServe.
So, I pitched the idea to start a similar forum on AOL, and they asked me to create it. This was back in the early “You’ve Got Mail” days of dial-up modems. With the help of some other folks (Jeff Zorn and Larry Finch, in particular), our special interest group grew into the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) Forum within a few months.
The PDA Forum had many elements of today’s web and social media—helpful information, downloadable files and e-texts (books), message boards, email newsletters, online chats featuring guests like author Tom Clancy (an early adopter of the Newton PDA), and a variety of promotions. I served as a paid forum leader with a dedicated staff of volunteers scattered all over the world. It was fun, I was good at it and saw the potential of digital communications.
With all this deep online background, I decided to create a website for MEM in the mid-1990s. After all, I was an “expert” and the site was destined to be wildly successful, right? Not at first.
It took a year to get the first web inquiry—and that came from a GE facility less than a mile from our factory! That wasn’t the market reach we anticipated.
I started researching what it took to drive traffic to a website, how to get highly ranked in searches, and how to convert visitors to customers. Applying this know-how led to a six-figure increase in sales the next year—huge numbers for a 1990s website and MEM.
In 1999, I gave a talk to my Rotary club about SEO, and a fellow Rotarian, Dan Ruminski, approached me afterward. A client to this day, he offered to pay me as a consultant if I could achieve similar results with his website. We increased his sales about 30% that first year.
His site, www.floormat.com, became my first foray into e-commerce. It took six months to convince him to sell products online. When he gave me the go ahead on a few test products, I wrote and posted the e-commerce code later that night.
Imagine my surprise when his first online order arrived at 7:00 am the next morning! He asked me to make the rest of his products available for online sale.
Dan started telling others about my success with his website, leading to more web clients.
Blitz Media Design
I founded Web Refinements in 1999 (today known as Blitz Media Design), while still running MEM as president. Meanwhile, referral business grew the web venture into a second, full-time job during the following few years. A trusted adviser pointed out I was doing a disservice to both MEM and Web Refinements, and suggested I should choose one.
Decision made. I sold the manufacturing company in 2002 to pursue web development full-time. Starting off with 13 clients, I never looked back (although I do miss having access to lathes and mills for personal projects). When Scott joined me in 2007, Blitz Media Design really took off. But I’ll let him chat about it in his bio.
* Dr. Flow was based on one of our best sales reps and a very good friend, Ed Quigley.
He and I spent many productive and fun hours together making sales calls. We rarely settled for chatting in some office-we both enjoyed getting into the plants for a first-hand look at the processes.
On one of our calls, I took a photo of Quig standing in front of our meters installed at a Ford plant wearing a hard hat and safety glasses. I gave an illustrator that photo and a cartoon I had saved and asked him to combine the two.
When Quig’s wife first saw the resulting Dr. Flow character, she immediately proclaimed, “Ed, that’s you!”
Ed was only 54 when he passed away in 1999, but my fondness for him is why I continued to use Dr. Flow during my MEM years.