Celebrating 20 Years of HeatingHelp.com
My parents Dan and Marianne Holohan founded HeatingHelp.com in 1997. My three sisters and I grew up right alongside the business. As kids we had no idea about the weight of the decision to start a business while raising a family...all of the risks and the possibilities. Now as a mother and entrepreneur myself, I think about that often. I am forever grateful for all they’ve done for our family. We saw them work incredibly hard and build something wonderful. HeatingHelp.com has since grown into a vibrant online community and valuable resource for industry professionals and homeowners with over 2.7 million users in the last year.
I was honored to be able to buy HeatingHelp.com in 2016 and continue the work my parents began. To celebrate our 20 years in business, I decided take a walk down memory lane with my dad.
Erin: First off, Happy Anniversary! It’s been quite a journey. What inspired you to build a website?
Dan: I was persuaded by a Long Island guy who was building sites. He knew I was well-known in the heating industry and said he would build the site for free just to say he had done it. He thought it would bring him new business, and it did. We wound up having disagreements after about a year and I broke up our relationship and had another company build a better site. One thing that stays with me about that first company that still makes me smile is that they told me we could have a Links page. I had no idea what a Links page was so they explained it was a place where we could link to sites that interested us and those sites just might link back. “It’s how the Internet grows,” they said. I told them about this site that sold nothing but used books. They asked me for the name and I told them. Then the guy says, “This company will never make it. If you’re looking for used books you’re going to go to UsedBooks.com or Books.com. No one will ever go to a company called Amazon.com to look for books.” I’m glad I broke up with them.
Erin: Do you have any favorite memories from over the years? Dan: So many memories. The first day was exciting. We launched what became The Wall but we called it Wethead Graffiti. The guy at the company that built the site launched it with that name and wrote, “Welcome to The Wall, Wetheads!” That stuck and we immediately changed the name. When Mark Zuckerberg came out with Facebook and used The Wall, we just smiled. We had it first.
The Wall turned into a vibrant community. The birthing was painful, however, because we had a No-Rules policy. That turned it into a Wild-West Show. There were days when I felt like I was the Sheriff of Deadwood. At one point, we had to shut it down and start over again. It was a learning process, but we made lots of new friends along the way.
The community pitched in to help a lot of its members who had fallen on hard times and those times are some of my favorite memories, as are the Wetstock events, where we all came together for a day of sharing and laughing and fun at different locations around the country. We learned that when people are on a bulletin board such as The Wall they can sometimes be nasty, but once they meet the other people face to face things change. A lot of long-lasting relationships came out of those meetings, even some marriages.
Erin: Speaking of marriage, you and mom have been married for 45 years and in business together for nearly half that time. Do you have any tips for working with family?
- Listen more; talk less.
- Choose your battles carefully.
- Learn to admit it when you’re wrong.
- Make time for your kids and each other.
- Never go to bed angry.
- Take vacations.
- Realize that enough is plenty.
- Have a goal, and when you reach it, decide whether you’re going to keep doing what you’re doing at the same pace, or whether you’re going to slow down.
- When it’s time, sell your business to your daughter.
Erin: Great points, especially that last one. What do you think makes HeatingHelp.com such a special place?
Dan: We’ve collected an enormous amount of technical articles, old literature, and searchable conversations between the Wallies. It’s a community and a place to go where you can learn and find fellowship. We’re not tied to any one manufacturer, product, or philosophy (other than to be kind). It’s a place for grown-ups who want to learn.
Erin: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Dan: Nothing is ever going to happen for me unless I’m willing to take a chance. My old boss gave me that advice and I left the company six months later to start this.
Erin: I’m glad you took his advice. Now what advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a business?
Dan: Learn business. Read Ellen Rohr. Read Michael Gerber. Read Seth Godin. If you hate certain aspects of a business, then find someone to do that part for you. Don’t cheat. Be kind. Help others in the business without looking for payment. You need to make money but you don’t need to make it every day, and the things you do for others in need will come back to you a thousand-fold.
Dan: What about you, Erin, when did you know you wanted this path?
Erin: I think I knew when HeatingHelp.com was just a few years old. I watched what you and Mom were building and knew I wanted to be a part of it one day. Sure, it was a lot of hard work, but it was also a lot of fun. I set out to learn what I could so I could bring those skills to HeatingHelp.com. I studied writing so that I could communicate effectively and share stories as you do. I studied graphic and web design. I worked at different places (including HeatingHelp.com) and I founded my own marketing and design company and learned the highs and lows of entrepreneurship first-hand. I did that for ten years. And here we are.
Dan: What lessons have you learned from watching your mother and me over the years?
Erin: You’ve taught me to value relationships over things. You’ve also taught me that we learn more by listening than by talking. And that everyone has something to teach us - no matter how young or old they may be. When we first started working together, you could have brushed off my ideas because I was “just a kid” and told me how the world works. Instead, you gave me an opportunity to prove myself. I recognize and appreciate that.
Dan: Where do you want to take HeatingHelp.com?
Erin: I have so many hopes and dreams for HeatingHelp.com, as I’m sure you did when you first started it. I’m delighted to celebrate 20 years and look forward to its continued growth. I plan to keep improving upon the website and adding valuable resources to help others. This is a fantastic community of very smart people and it's a joy to know them.
Dan: What does your four-year-old daughter, Bridget, think about you being in business?
Erin: I don’t think she’s fully grasped it at this age, but she loves to roll around in my office chair and play with Post-It notes. So I’d say she’s getting the basics down pat. All joking aside, though, I plan to pass down all of the lessons I’ve learned (especially the ones about heating systems). And if she’s interested when the time comes, welcome her to HeatingHelp.com.