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Frank Urbino: King of email marketing

A mournful song from the 1986 Top Country Countdown blared from a radio inside the Urbino’s south Florida shack. Twelve-year-old Frankie chased the old man out onto a dilapidated wooden porch. The old man took another swig. Mom was crumpled on the kitchen floor.

Frankie swung and connected with the old man’s back.

The old man turned and smacked Frankie upside his head. Frankie sailed into the railing and went down.

“You’re worthless, ya know that, kid?”

Frankie clambered to his feet. He swung again.

The old man caught his fist, set his bottle down, and delivered a blow to Frankie’s stomach.

Frankie doubled over and puked.

“Dog turds are worth more than anything you’ll ever amount to.” The old man tossed his empty bottle and staggered away.

Twelve years later, small-time hustler Frankie Urbino trudged into a Miami, Florida public library and fell into a chair in front of one of the computers connecting to this new internet he’d heard so much about. With a head and face full of dark hair that hadn’t seen a comb or a razor or a shower in at least a week, his brown eyes were bloodshot from too much booze and not enough sleep.

Maybe the old man was right. I’m not even worth a dog turd. Staring at the screen, he fumbled with the computer mouse and used an internet search engine to find a pornography website. The site offered some teaser images and then presented a screen where he could sign up to look at the good stuff.

And there it was – a screen with several fields asking about various preferences. He could register an existing email address, or sign up for free email service from several providers, and when new content became available, the website would send him an email about it.

His hands shook as he tried to force his mind to think. Why do these guys want me to get a free email service?

He fumbled with the keyboard briefly, and then stood and teetered out the door. Porn pictures could wait. He caught a city bus to the seedy neighborhood with his apartment building. There’s an idea in here someplace. But, what is it?

Thoughts churned as he stumbled off the bus, across the street, into the building, up the elevator, and down the hall to his one bedroom apartment. He fumbled with his keys and opened the door. Stale beer, overflowing trash, and dirty laundry smells assaulted him. He navigated to the couch, flipped on the TV, and promptly fell asleep. What‘s the angle?

Five hours later, he woke with a headache, his head mashed against the remnants of a week old pizza and drool running down the side of his chin. The TV blared with a late night documentary about ancient space aliens who built the Egyptian pyramids.

After a shower to clear the cobwebs, outlines of the idea started to form. The porn site operators wanted to connect him with an email address so they could entice him with paid services later. That had to be it. Free porn was a teaser. The website operators made money by collecting email addresses and selling goods and services via email.

I wonder how much money they spent to set up that porn site so they could collect my email address. Maybe there’s a cheaper way to do it. What if I could collect email addresses and sell them to companies who want to sell stuff over the internet?

Another twelve years later, clean shaven, impeccably dressed, with dyed black hair combed back and none out of place, Frank Urbino advertised himself as the king of email marketing, open for business to anyone.

He logged into the usual internet forums using his handle, duceml, and checked his messages. A new one was waiting from Alma.

Greetings from Tehran. I require assistance with another project and wish to email 100K contacts. Details to follow.

Frank had a database with millions of email addresses, harvested from public forums across the internet and categorized by interest, geography, and dozens of other factors. He had also cultivated a partnership with Wongladee, who operated a Chinese bulk email relaying service, which allowed him to offer a whole range of bulk email services, no questions asked. 

Alma was probably trying to grow his botnet. Whatever. Frank could handle it for the usual fee. What Alma did was his own business. Hey, it’s a living.

That seedy neighborhood and rundown apartment building were distant memories. These days, Frank lived on the top floor of the nicest apartment building in town and spent most evenings at Miami’s most popular night spots.  

Up yours, old man. Who’s worth less than a dog turd now?