25 Years of SpinSheet

Published on September 1st, 2020

We are fans of SpinSheet magazine which so faithfully serves the Mid-Atlantic, and as the September 2020 issue is their 300th print edition, and as this is their 25-year anniversary, we share the story by Dave Gendell on how he and Mary Iliff Ewenson got it started.

By mid-summer of 1995 it seemed that anything was possible. Mary Iliff and I had grown up just a couple of miles apart near Annapolis and knew each other through sailing circles. We were just a few years out of college, and she taught math and coached at the Key School, while I worked at The Capital newspaper and as a boat captain. We were both working on the staff at Rags Magazine in spring 1995 when the magazine’s owners gently but abruptly closed the doors.

All around us, the old world was yielding to the new. In May, off San Diego, Team New Zealand’s Black Magic trounced Stars & Stripes. I watched Black Magic cross the final finish line from about 100 yards away and later that day composed and sent my first email. In July, amazon.com, a startup website none of us had heard of, sold its first book. In early August, netscape.com stock debuted as a tremendously successful Initial Public Offering. That same day, Grateful Dead founder Jerry Garcia unexpectedly died. All around us, the old seemed to be stepping aside to allow the new to push through.

I have always loved technology, storytelling, the Chesapeake Bay, and sailing. Mary brought a talent for connecting with potential advertisers, a similar drive and love for sailing and technology, and an overarching ability to organize and optimize everything. We knew there needed to be a central place to bring content and relevant advertisers together. Inspired by the world around us and egged on by family and friends, we put our heads down and started the work.

In the business parlance of 2020, SpinSheet was a classic bootstrapped start-up; although back in 1995 we didn’t use the terms “bootstrapped” or “start-up.” We didn’t have smartphones, broadband internet, cloud storage, or social media either. Looking back at it—from inside an odd, ongoing epoch, which for many of us, prominently features technological advances that allow us to work remotely in response to a global pandemic—we were missing many of the productivity tools and techniques that make life today feel so much more productive. Tech advances that now seem quaint

Starting a blank-slate publishing business in mid-1995 allowed us to leverage some big advances in technology, which today seem positively quaint, but at the time were game-changers (another phrase we didn’t use in 1995). We launched into something of a seam between old and new publishing technology. By mid-1995, the rapid advent of email, portable data storage, photo scanners, and powerful desktop publishing programs meant that the mechanics of putting together and publishing a magazine were suddenly a lot less complicated than they had previously been. Full report.

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