Stonecrest, Georgia, recently won a few headlines with its “go big or go home” approach to wooing Amazon’s second headquarters: If the ecommerce giant picked the Atlanta suburb for its $5-billion HQ2 project, the town would lop off 345 acres of itself and create a new town, Amazon, Georgia. Jeff Bezos could even be mayor.
The story brought back memories of a similar publicity stunt: that time Halfway, Oregon, a half-empty town near the state’s eastern border, renamed itself as Half.com, Oregon.
“America’s first dot-com city,” read the sign welcoming visitors to the town in the year 2000. First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, who made his millions as the founder of ecommerce OG Half.com, recounts the tale:
“Back in 1999/2000, dot com companies were spending tens of millions of dollars in advertising to build brand awareness,” Kopelman told Technical.ly the other day. “We didn’t have that kind of budget at Half.com — so we wanted to do a ‘stunt’ that would ‘put us on the map.’ Thanks to the creativity of my marketing team (led by Mark Hughes) the idea emerged to try to convince a town to change it’s name to Half.com. [California’s] Half Moon Bay would have been too expensive, but Halfway, Oregon was a perfect fit.”
So what did little old Halfway get in exchange? The company gave the city $75,000 in cash, $20,000 aimed at economic development and $5,000 for “a four-wheeler for the local Fair Board’s fund-raising raffle,” according to the Seattle Times. The local school got 20 new computers and a couple-dozen area businesses got websites.
“It was a town that was created during the original gold rush, and kind of got left behind afterwards,” Kopelman said. “So we wanted to let them benefit from the Internet gold rush. It got a lot of attention for both the town and for us.”
A year later, eBay famously snatched up Half.com for almost $374 million and Halfway went back to its old name. Kopelman ended up snatching the sign back from the town in 2007 for $1,000, plus a donation of $1,500 to the town for economic development.
How’d Kopelman catch wind the sign was up for sale?
It was being auctioned. On eBay.
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