An Oral History of RT, Part Two: Dotcom Daze - Rotten Tomatoes

An Oral History of RT, Part Two: Dotcom Daze

In the second part of our series, Rotten Tomatoes navagates the choppy waters of the dotcom era.

by Tim Ryan | Thursday, Jul. 03 2008

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Rotten Tomatoes, we asked some of the founding members of RT to share their memories. What follows is an oral history of Rotten Tomatoes' early years, from the people who were there at the beginning (click here for part one). In our second installment, find out how RT survived the ups and downs of the dotcom era -- and emerged stronger than ever.

In January of 2000, Rotten Tomatoes officially incorporated as a business, and brought on Lily Chi as its chief financial officer. RT also got the venture capital it needed to keep going, as dark clouds were on the horizon in the dotcom industry.

Stephen Wang: By early 2000, it was already apparent that the site was of great use to many movie fans. It had been profiled in USA Today and Rolling Stone in addition to being mentioned online in many places.

Binh Ngo: We raised about $1 million-ish in venture capital in 2000-1. That funding allowed us to survive the coming dot-com bust that shuttered many early Internet companies.

Paul Lee: Timing was very important for us. We got the funding right before the whole dotcom industry imploded. That probably slowed down the growth of the online ad market significantly, but I think we all knew that online was the future, especially with regard to movie reviews. It was apparent that more and more people were looking up reviews on the Web, rather than reading them in their local paper.

Lily Chi: The investors were great. They had full faith in us and left us alone.

Binh: We weren't without casualties, though. We had to trim staff from 20 or so people down to eight. The remaining eight hunkered down and continued to build the site until the Internet economy recovered. The executive crew of Pat, Senh, Stephen, and Lily did a great job leading the company through that tough time.


Rotten Tomatoes, 2000 (L-R): Paul Lee, Patrick Lee, Lily Chi, Senh Duong, Stephen Wang. (Photo by Kendra Luck of the San Francisco Chronicle)

Stephen: Prior to the dotcom crash, the site would have been self-sustainable from solely ad revenue which made pitching it as a business relatively simple. Unlike other sites, Rotten Tomatoes occupied a unique position of being the decision-making point for many moviegoers when figuring out what they wanted to watch in theaters so this made it extremely friendly for advertisers -- at least in theory. The dotcom crash just meant that we had to work harder finding alternative sources of revenue like data licensing and affiliate sales.

With more stress around the office, there became an increasing need to blow off steam. Unifying traditions inculuded and annual trip to Las Vegas during Memorial Day Weekend and the RT Halloween party. Another was a shared passion for video games.

Lily: The annual RT Halloween party has always been a blast, and invitations became the hot ticket in town.

Paul: There was a period when half the office became addicted to Diablo 2. We'd do all-nighters playing the game together. Then we discovered that people were selling rare items they had acquired in the game on eBay and before we knew it, we were selling magical hammers and suits of armor to strangers on eBay for cold, hard cash. Patrick played so much, he sorta developed RSI.

Susan Nakasora (editor): For a while there was an RT guild in World of Warcraft, consisting of several current (for that time) and past employees, plus some friends. The guild's tabard symbol was a shape that somewhat resembled a tomato splat. Binh was awesome -- a gnome warrior who wore a deep sea diving helmet.

Binh: Dance Dance Revolution was a favorite party game. We played it in the office, and probably made our neighbors below us pretty angry.

However, as late hours began to take their toll, measures were instituted to get everyone in the office at the same time.

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