Keith Waters (at far left, with Brent James, AbeBooks'
Vice-Chairman of the Board) created the concept behind AbeBooks.com
while working as an IT contractor for the British Columbia provincial
government in Victoria. He left AbeBooks in 2003.
“I have fingers in several pies now,” he said. “I
help my wife, Cathy, in her bookstore as financial controller, but
I am mostly semi-retired.
“I spent about 15 years working in IT jobs around Victoria
before AbeBooks came along. I watched my wife’s used book business
and was struck by how awkward and clumsy it was – it was like
the 19th century: everything was printed.
“In 1995, I was contracted to the government and working on
a Web-based database so they could look at the spending of GPs. I’d
probably been working with the Web for about a year before starting
on AbeBooks. I knew the Web was going to be massive. I knew financial
transactions were going to become an important part of it. I had seen
Netscape and had a friend who spoke everyday about Amazon.
“Used books were close to home for me because Cathy owned a
bookstore, so it seemed the obvious place to apply the technology.
The biggest obstacles were implementing the technology itself and the
lack of people with knowledge about the technology. After a year, we
hit a wall because the systems we had created were not designed for
the numbers of booksellers that we were attracting – we had to
back-track and redesign.
“The booksellers were actually immensely helpful because they
would quickly tell us what needed to be fixed and what worked.
“In the early days, we were trying to do everything ourselves – create
the technology, help the booksellers and set up and run the business.
Cathy and I went to a book fair in Colorado to recruit booksellers
and only about 15 to 20 per cent of the sellers were interested. Others
were skeptical that it would work – our first marketing strategy
was to explain what the Internet was and what it could offer.
“Considering what has happened in the past 10 years, I can
see more changes coming - technology changes so fast. Remember we started
on dial-up connections. I’m still interested by the Web and Google