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Tech

College student's website still growing after a decade

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Daniel Robison
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WNED
Alexander Levine, 22, is CEO of OldVersion.com, a website he founded in 2001 that archives software.

The storyline of most successful Internet entrepreneurs is predictable: they start out young with an idea that’s never been tried before. A Buffalo-area college student is no exception to that formula.

A new idea for old stuff

OldVersion.com is a website where you can download thousands of pieces of software for free. But they’re programs whose time has passed, so to speak.

“Ostensibly the new version of a program should be better. But a lot of the time that’s not the case,” says Alexander Levine, founder and CEO of OldVersion.com.

As he’s found, there’s a sizable market for people seeking software oldies but goodies. Around 25,000 visitors visit the site every day from all around the world.

Levine is 22 years old and paying his way through the University at Buffalo with the thousands of dollars a month he earns from advertising on his website.

“It’s not about the money. It’s about building something and creating something new. It’s a fun process,” he says.

Starting early, very early

In 2001, when Levine was just 12 years old, he thought, “What could I start on the Internet that hasn’t been done before? So I was trying to find something unique.”

But it wasn’t until Levine was trying to find tunes from his native Russia on infamous music sharing software Napster [click for 2001 version] when a light bulb went off in his pre-teen brain. The “new and improved” Napster was clunky, so Levine set out to find an older version.

“It took me about 45 minutes of searching on AskJeeves.com at the time. That was before Google was popular,” Levine says, laughing.

Levine figured he probably wasn’t the only one combing the web for old program. So he decided to start a website and carve out his own niche.

“And I’ll tell you: to a 12 year old, the Internet seems huge. I know Facebook wasn’t around then, Twitter wasn’t around then, MySpace wasn’t around then. Probably all the services that we use nowadays. But it seemed like everything was there,” he says.

So Levine started collecting older versions of software and hosting them on a site. And slowly but surely, it took off, mostly by word of mouth.

“You know, I was 15 at the time. How am I going to pay the $100 a month that’s now required to run this thing?” Levine says.

Now the site is a mecca for programs you used to like from Microsoft, Apple, America Online, basically anything you can imagine.

“And we also have retro games. Like back from the early 1990s, late ’80s. Games that run on your DOS,” he says.

Go to class, run a website, repeat

This isn’t as simple as clicking a few buttons a day and watching the money roll in. To host the software, Levine has thousands of dollars in overhead. He has to personally vet every program uploaded to the site to ensure it works and isn’t really a virus or spyware.

And sometimes, the site crashes.

Plus, as a senior in college, he has to do all this and maintain a full course load.

“I’d be in my calculus class and I’d check in the middle of the class and see if everything was running smoothly. Or I’d wake up at 4:30 in the morning and rather than going back to bed like a normal person I’d check and see if everything was running okay,” Levine says.

Levine uses a five year old laptop that’s thicker than many newer generation computers stacked on top of each other. In fact, like his website, Levine admits he doesn’t keep up with the latest and greatest in technology.

So when he moved from Syracuse to Buffalo for college, he created his own academic program

“My major has nothing to do with computers or entrepreneurship,” he says.

He’s the only theater anthropology student in UB’s history. It’s through his classes that Levine has come to see his website in a new way. To some extent, Levine’s says his site is a tool of history.

“Like a museum archives old paintings,” Levine says.

OldVersion.com is Levine’s focus for now, but he says other ideas that may command his attention eventually. After all, he’s been running the site for nearly half of his life.