James Altucher on Addiction and One-Click Online Fortunes

Great column by my friend James Altucher in yesterday’s FT on one-click entrepreneurial fortunes online. The best part is how it starts, with James ‘fessing up to his addiction problem, and how it kept him from make millions with Lycos:

In 1992, I’m afraid, I was an addict. It got to the point where I was
losing my friends and family, and it was harming my job performance. My
only friends were my fellow addicts.

Specifically, all day long, every day, I would play chess
online: one-minute games where my opponent and I would take one minute
each to make all our moves. Whoever ran out of time first (or was
checkmated first) would lose. My opponents were from Norway, Israel,
South America, even Russia. I would walk to work with my girlfriend at
the time and I would tell her “today I won’t play chess at all”. Then I
would get to work and tell myself “well, one game won’t hurt” and I’d
log on to what is now www.chessclub.com and play a game or two.

… Finally, a friend of
mine helped wean me off the online chess server. He showed me a piece
of software called Mosaic, which could download and format images and
text off the internet. Also audio, but only if you wanted to wait two
hours for a download. The worldwide web was just starting and there
were maybe a few hundred websites at the time.

During this period, I would take the occasional bathroom break
from my chess games and I’d see another guy wandering the halls around
midnight or so. He told me he was working on something that could read
text and catalogue it and he was testing it out by retrieving pages
from the few websites there were. He was hoping for government funding
so he could work on his little hobby during the day.

right,” I thought to myself as I locked my office door behind me for
another session of one-minute chess. “Good luck with that.”

He went back to his computer, which was named lycos.cs.cmu.edu and eventually became the computer for the search engine he created, Lycos. It helped his net worth top 9 figures by 1997.