Stephen P. Lepisto
("just who is this guy?")
My name is Stephen Lepisto and I am one of the three founders of Otaku World. My love
of anime started when Carl Macek's "Robotech" appeared on television way back in the mid
1980's. Well, actually, to be perfectly honest, I used to watch "Kimba" and "Speed Racer"
back in the late 1960's but I didn't know it was anime: I just knew it was fun to watch!
Anyhow, Robotech was the first thing I knew was anime. Jennifer was also intensely
interested in Robotech and she started exploring sources for more like it and discovered
this extraordinary world of anime. Our exploration of anime began in earnest when we
moved to Los Angeles in 1989 and found solid sources for anime (all two of them) which
we could rent. We devoured it all!
In 1992, we moved to Issaquah, Washington (about 15 miles east of Seattle) to get away
from the wasteland that was L.A.
(As an aside, yes, that's how I see Los Angeles: a wasteland. Even the most hostile
desert has life in it. Los Angeles has only existence in a soul-sucking environment with
an atmosphere that rots the lungs, numbs the brain, and adversely affects the personality
of anyone who is caught in the miasma that engulfs that monster of a city. Do I like
Los Angeles? Nope. But that's my opinion and I know it differs from most everyone else
-- especially those who've grown up there. I spent nearly three years in L.A. and it took
nearly three years living among the green life of the Pacific Northwest to cleanse my
soul and body of that deadly L.A. miasma. For me, it really was that bad.)
The one problem we had in Issaquah was no more anime! It was scary. It took a long time
but we found one place, Scarecrow Video in the university district of Seattle, which
carried a lot of anime. Then a local Suncoast Video in downtown Bellevue started carrying
more and more anime (seems they had people on staff who also loved anime and pushed to
maintain a suitable stock of the wondrous stuff of dreams).
In 1993, I found employment at Edmark Corporation, creating award-winning educational
programs for children. You may have heard of some of them: "Millie's Math House",
"Bailey's Book House", the "Thinkin' Things" collection, etc. I worked on the first
three "Thinkin' Things". Anyway, in 1995, an opportunity arose which caused me to quit
Edmark and embark on a wild ride surfing the internet wave.
That opportunity was Happy Puppy.
Happy Puppy Games OnRamp was created by my friend Sandra Woodruff (who is, along
with Jennifer and Eldenath de Vilya, one of my housemates).
Her entrepreneurial spirit showed her an opportunity on the infant Web (Netscape 1.0 had
been released a few months earlier and it didn't even support images!). In an attempt
to provide traffic to a Web site affectionately called Happy Puppy Games OnRamp (from
which we would advertise the games Jennifer and I would create together), Sandra started
linking to game demos. She scoured the Web for other sites that did the same thing and
created a site which was the best of all of them. On February 14th, 1995, from a shared
Web server, Sandra launched Happy Puppy. And it started to grow. Slowly at first, oh so
slowly, but it grew. People were hungry for game demos and wanted a place where they
could be found easily. Sandra pioneered a number of techniques such as the three-click
rule: get a person to what they wanted in no more than three clicks from the front page.
With a careful use of color, content, and linking, Sandra built Happy Puppy into a
powerhouse of a site, breaking servers along the way with its expontential growth.
In September of 1995, we were approached by a company which later dubbed itself
Attitude Network. They wanted a games site on which to build an internet empire. Happy
Puppy was like third or fourth on their list. They offered good money but needed a
dedicated staff. We said yes, I quit Edmark, and became the network administrator for
Happy Puppy (which, by this time, was being hosted on its own servers due to its size
and rapacious need for bandwidth because we were hosting all those game demos).
In the summer of 1996, Jennifer was exploring the burgeoning Web and came across a
site called "The Big KiSS Page", run by Dov Sherman. Dov was having troubles with
the company hosting his site: frequent server outages, not enough bandwidth, etc., so
Jennifer suggested we host "The Big KiSS Page" on the Happy Puppy servers. Happy Puppy
had plenty of bandwidth and server capacity and by linking to Dov's site, we connected
with a need Jennifer saw growing in gamers and that was for anything anime. So we made
it happen. Then Jennifer came up with the idea of creating a site dedicated to anime
and manga and, collaborating with Dov and myself, we came up with the idea of Otaku
World (Jennifer named the site, inspired by a line in "Otaku no Video").
On September 7, 1996, otakuworld.com officially appeared on the Web. It was initially
hosted on the Happy Puppy servers but when we sold Happy Puppy entirely to Attitude
Network (after a contentious year), we moved Otaku World to its own server. In that first
year, Jennifer and I paid for Otaku World out of our own pockets. We then started running
banner ads to cover the costs. And that was fine for a number of years until the big
Internet bust happened. Advertising, which had been so poorly managed on the Web in the
first place, started paying only pennies for thousands of impressions and only those
sites that could consistently deliver hundreds of thousands of visitors a day could
command even a moderate rate. As big as Otaku World was, revenue from banner ads running
on Otaku World slowly but surely began to dry up.
By the end of 1999, Jennifer and I were once again paying for Otaku World out of our
own pockets and we simply couldn't afford it anymore. Either the site would have to
be shut down or another solution would have to be found. We cast about for a year trying
to find other solutions, finally settling on the only viable option. In January, 2001,
we ran a poll on Otaku World asking our visitors if they would agree to pay for a subscription
and more than 3000 (out of more than 5000 respondents) said they would be willing to
pay to keep Otaku World online.
So, on March 16, 2001, Otaku World removed the last of the banner ads and instituted
subscriptions for all downloads.
At the time I write this, Otaku World subscriptions have been in place for over three years.
Subscription rates never reached even a third of what was suggested in the poll but
the site is still on the Web as the subscriptions cover the server and bandwidth costs (which was
the plan). And there is even a little bit left over on occasion to cover a portion of our own
living expenses which compensates for some of the time we spend maintaining and updating the
I still love anime as much as ever and I enjoy it whenever I can while working. And I
work on Otaku World as much as my time permits. I wrote the Kamishibai and Otaku Mascot
viewers, for example. I also spent too much time on the interesting but poorly implemented
Gamerama. And I wrote the Otaku World Subscription System. Slowly but surely, I am updating
pages on Otaku World to keep pace with the changes in the Web and its protocols. And
every year, Dov, Jennifer, and I revisit the site as whole to see if we can make
it better. The original design has changed little -- if it works, why fix it, right?
Here's something to consider: Otaku World has been on the Web since at least September 7,
1996 (it actually appeared for several months before that at happypuppy.com/otakuworld/).
That means that Otaku World is now, as of this writing, seven and half years old. There are
not many sites that can make that claim. And Otaku World is still under the original
management of Dov Sherman, Jennifer Reitz, and myself. I don't think there is any site on
the Web that can make that particular claim after seven and a half years!
I work on Otaku World for the love of it. I have to treat Otaku World as a business since
we have paying customers that must be satisfied but I like doing this. I can't make a
living at it but I spend what time I can keeping Otaku World on the Web, just as Dov and
Jennifer do. So, for as long as the three of us continue to have an interest in all things
manga and anime (and I don't see that ending any time soon) -- and as long as our visitors
are willing to help -- Otaku World will stay on the Web.
Send me e-mail
Stephen P. Lepisto
- Co-web Master of Otaku World
- Creator and Keeper of The Kamishibai
- Creator and Master of the Otaku Mascots
- Creator and Administrator for the Otaku World
- Administrator for the Otaku World servers