Originally published in the San Diego Business Journal
June 13, 1997

It may be hard to believe that a chance meeting spawned a multi-million dollar business, but that’s exactly what happened.

Nearly 4 years ago Lee Stein chanced to meet the scientific expert who created the first mailing list on the Internet. An innovator and entrepreneur through and through, Stein probed the profit potential of the infant electronic network, then purely an academic research tool of the US Government’s National Science Foundation restricted from any commercial application.

As the electronic universe evolved, so did Stein’s ideas. With three world-famous technologists and a financial partner, he formed a company in 1994 to build a mechanism to support electronic transactions on the Internet – First Virtual Holdings Inc. The Company’s first product was the First Virtual Internet Payment System, which enabled potential buyers with nothing more than e-mail and a credit card to set up their VirtualPIN account and start shopping from potential sellers who needed nothing more than a product, e-mail, and a checking account. The system required no special hardware or software for the consumer and no encryption to be secure. Almost instantly customers from 166 countries arrived and large multinational financial companies became investors. Growing at the warp speed indicative of cyberspace, First Virtual zoomed from startup status to recognized leader in Internet communications, commerce, and marketing in two short years.

The Company built alliances with traditional credit card and direct marketing companies to link online and offline commerce and grow its customer base exponentially. Over its short history, the First Virtual Internet Payment System has successfully and safely processed hundreds of thousands of transactions and First Virtual Holdings has successfully completed an initial public offering, with stock options granted to 100% of the Company’s employees.

In the beginning even First Virtual’s office structure was virtual.

Now the Company works out of three brick and mortar structures in a still-innovative style that comprises management offices in San Diego, California and Ann Arbor, Michigan and computer resources in Dallas, Texas. Raising the bar on a daily basis, First Virtual’s on-line business process provides unique, empowering opportunities for disabled individuals. In fact, the Company’s first customer support representative was severely disabled. While he could not use a standard keyboard he was a world-class expert in Dragon Dictate voice-activated software, and he carved out a career interacting with thousands of First Virtual customers who never had an inkling about his disability. Although the young man’s condition eventually took his life, he lived his final years in a productive environment with great self respect, bringing immeasurable value to the First Virtual team. Other stories of innovative, even revolutionary approaches to business are not just company lore, they are Company standard.

As the world and the world of business approach the next millennium, with innovation the engine and cyberspace the marketplace, one thing that’s certain is First Virtual Holdings’ real world success.

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