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Still a One Man Operation
HairLossTalk is run by one person. When I mention "we" below, I refer to a group of good-willed site members and couple talented programmers and designers who have helped me over the years. What you see here today is a result of nearly 9 years of information and content written by an average joe with a little too much time on his hands, some knowledge of the internet, and a true desire to help.
Back in 1999, when I was 25, my hair started thinning. I scoured the internet for information on what would help me keep my hair, and instead found a cesspool of snake oil advertisements and spray-on hair. The one redeeming source of information I found was a usenet newsgroup on the topic of hair loss, where many guys (including myself) were posting questions, but getting no responses. The lack of viable information on the web, and the seemingly useless newsgroup bothered me. I wondered what would happen if I threw together a one-page chat room and invited everyone there. Maybe I could get the information I needed by drawing people together, and do something helpful for others in the process. So I did it. And people came in droves.
For nearly 4 months the weekly "hair loss chats" were surprisingly well attended. People began encouraging me to buy a domain name and actually set up a site. My first inclincation was of course "hairlosschat.com". Being a naive and entirely too-trusting individual, I sent an email to several hair loss websites announcing that I was going to be buying "HairlossChat.com" soon, and I hoped they'd help us get the word out. I had very little money to my name and needed to wait until that Friday to receive my paycheck in order to afford the purchase. One of the sites I emailed was nothing more than a smorgasbord of snake oil advertisements. When Friday finally rolled around, I found out that the domain name had been taken. Further research revealed that the owner of that site had bought the domain name after reading my email, so that I couldn't use it. I called them and they basically told me "tough luck".
That was my first introduction to the dishonesty and deceitfulness that pervades the "hair loss industry" (odd term, I know). It was that event which I believe really set me off. I had a pure, genine desire to help people, and I was dumb enough to believe that others shared that dream. There were 16 year old guys in my chat room who were suicidal and crying themselves to sleep tonight because they were becoming "disfigured" (prematurely bald) and foresaw a future of loneliness because of it. All over the web I saw snake oils being advertised, blatantly doctored before and after photos, and lie after lie for the purpose of selling an ineffective product to an uneducated public. It was that day when I determined inside myself to make a website that was focused on solid scientifically backed treatments, honesty, and a proud disregard for the "almighty dollar" and the bias and corruption that accompanies it. I was angry, but I was determined to do what I felt was right. And so HairLossTalk.com was born.
A Turning Point
You can see a fairly broken but still available snapshot of HairLossTalk back in 1999 here, thanks to the Wayback Machine. Thank Microsoft Frontpage for that gorgeous piece of website brilliance. (hah!) Our weekly chats became fairly popular, and people were buzzing about them on the newsgroups all week afterwards. A fellow who ran an AM radio show on hair loss contacted me and asked if he could promote the chat on his show. Some of the chat visitors threw together a "Hair loss FAQ", and things seemed to be rolling pretty well. Then one day I received pictures from a guy by the name of "Jon Ross" who had used Propecia and Rogaine together (a novel concept at the time) and had amazing results. This is when I realized exactly what HairLossTalk's purpose was going to be. I finally realized how I could help people. It astounded me. He looked 10 years younger even though he had aged 3 years between the photos. All because he grew his hair back. It struck me that absolutely NOBODY knew about this. Nobody had a clue this could be done. Everyone still scoffed at the concept and nobody had ever heard of anyone actually growing their hair back.
So I started learning how to research things on PubMed and downloaded FDA trial documents from the Propecia trials, as well as several other studies. I began educating myself on what was legitimately beneficial to the treatment of hair loss, and what wasn't. I began to create a categorization of treatments on three levels: (1) Clinically Proven (2) Unproven but Scientifically Efficacious and (3) Snake oil. I realized there simply were no "how to" guides on the web that I considered user friendly or easy to understand. I realized that 99% of people had no idea what product fit where, and how you could combine and mix and match them. So this is what I set out to do.
HairLossTalk Finds its Purpose
The most genuine people that I found were the other guys like myself who wanted to stop their thinning hair. The Consumer Public. Truly, they were the only ones I trusted, and they were the ones I wanted to help. Up until this point, HairLossTalk wasn't making any money. I was doing this whole thing in my cubicle at work, during slow periods. It was nothing more than a hobby and I was content with that. I loved creating and researching and helping people all at the same time. Consumer Education, Information, and Community is what this site has always been about. I made it clear that their input mattered to me the most. I wanted a website that would be a "home" for them. And online community of sorts, where they could exchange information and we would all be helping the public together. I wanted nothing more than to ruin the power and reach of the snake oil industry to defraud the public. I wanted to educate people. I wanted them to leave this site armed with information that would help them avoid scams and lies that to this day are sponsored on Page 1 of Google's sponsored listings. That's what I wanted HairLossTalk to be. These men and women encouraged me to start putting up information pages on clinically proven products like Propecia and Rogaine, so I did. I shot several emails off to various researchers whose names I'd seen on publications, including Dr. Angela Christiano, Dr. Marty Sawaya, Dr. Hideo Uno, Dr. Richard Lee, and an armchair researcher by the name of Bryan Shelton, who seemed to know more than all of them combined! These individuals greeted me with respect, and played the single most important role in providing medical direction on the content and accuracy of this site.
Our First Transformation
Our first site redesign came in May of 2000. In only 6 months, HairLossTalk had gone from about 40 people joining the Sunday chats to nearly 6,000 visitors a month. The Search Engines had picked up some of the pages I'd written, and apparently some other websites (unbeknownst to me) had started linking to our chat room as a resource for their users. You can see the first new revision of the site (again, thanks to the wayback machine) by clicking here. It was also at this time that people started suggesting that I put up a discussion forum. So this is when the forums were first launched. As you can see from the snapshot linked-to above, my brain was in overdrive, and I had added several new features which I felt would be helpful. Ongoing site updates, a small Newsletter, the beginnings of the Men's Guide to Hair Loss with first steps to take, constantly updated chat transcripts, and a brand new member photos section featuring Jon Ross's photos. Though I had the "Adverise With Us" link up there, I found myself turning down 100% of those interested. Why? Because there were no legitimate companies in Hair Loss aside from Merck (Propecia) and Pfizer (Rogaine). I did however receive very kind emails from a lady by the name of Mia who runs a quirky toupee site called www.Hairbymail.com, and an encouraging series of letters from a fellow by the name of Heath at a hair transplant company called the New Hair Institute. Both offered to give me $50 a month to have their banners up. They knew it wouldn't be worthwhile for them, but they were kind, and believed in what I was doing. I was thankful, as it enabled me to offset the expenses I had incurred building the site.
The Rest is History
As we grew, so did our userbase. We did a survey one day and found that nearly 30% of our users were women. As a result, we expanded HairLossTalk into a site for both men and women. With our most recent transformation, we've begun focusing heavily on the world of Alopecia sufferers (Areata, Universalis, Totalis, etc). The site now pulls in over 2.5 million users a year, and we've been blessed to have Merck Pharmaceuticals as one of our sponsors for the last 7 years. They have respected my need to remain autonomous however, and have not influenced the content on this site in any way.
As you can probably tell, this story is not a short one. I could go on for pages. You can check out the waybackmachine if you want to watch the many transformations of HairLossTalk over the years. A quicklink to the summary list is here: HairLossTalk's Evolution.
What I want to stress the most to everyone who reads this, is that HairLossTalk isn't a big corporate entity run by people in suits. I still do the entire thing myself, I haven't worn a suit in years, and the whole thing is still powered by an individual who is very proud to have a medical information website that doesn't have its head in the clouds. I've found some incredibly talented programmers and designers who have turned the interface into pure artwork.
This site is an online community first and foremost, and without that sense of interaction and information exchange, HairLossTalk would be nothing.