Keith Waters & Brent James

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 fascinates me.”