This month’s Babe of the Month, Lina Trivedi, is known as the woman who invented eCommerce (when she created the world’s first business-to-consumer website for Beanie Babies while working at Ty Inc.) and subsequently ‘gave birth’ to the internet as we know it today. Prior to the release of the film, The Beanie Bubble, Trivedi surprisingly did not get much recognition for these major trailblazing achievements.
The film The Beanie Bubble (based on the book of the same name) is based upon the dramatic rise and fall of Beanie Babies; the true story behind the success of these crazy popular, small collectible plush toys from the 1990s. In the film, Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) plays Ty Warner, the creator of Beanie Babies. Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games) plays his business partner Robbie, based on Ty’s real life business partner at the time, Patricia Roche. Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers) plays Maya, whose character is based on our Babe of the Month, Lina Trivedi. Trivedi was the digital marketing mastermind who worked alongside Ty Warner at Ty Inc. during the development and rise of Beanie Babies. Her genius marketing ideas majorly contributed to the Beanie Baby craze.
In fact, it was Lina Trivedi who had the idea to add poems and birthdays to the Beanie Babies name tags to make them more collectible, which was crucial in that it gave each of the Beanie Babies a personality, a voice, and a way to connect with people. It not only made them more collectible, but also more lovable. Furthermore, it was Trivedi’s idea to capitalize on the concept of “retired” Beanie Babies as a scarcity marketing tactic. Most notably, it was Trivedi’s idea to start a Ty web page to give all the huge fans of Beanie Babies somewhere to go. Somewhere to read about all the different Beanie Babies that were available, and to get updates and announcements on which ones were going to be retired soon (also known as scarcity marketing). Thanks to this genius idea, Ty was the first company to provide a business-to-consumer website for their customers, during a time when the internet wasn’t really a thing yet. The internet hadn’t been born yet, as we know it today. Before 1995, the internet was only really being used for phone directory purposes or academic purposes such as to view a research paper. Trivedi realized that the internet was something that could be used for so much more than that.
This is how the young, ambitious and internet-savvy Lina Trivedi invented eCommerce in 1995 when it didn’t yet exist, with the help of her brother Nikhil Trivedi. The Beanie Babies website they created became the world’s first eCommerce site. Another one of the first eCommerce websites, eBay, would have likely gone under if it wasn’t for Beanie Babies. All around the world, during the Beanie Babies craze, people were using eBay to buy and sell Beanie Babies. Rare Beanie Babies were being sold on eBay for tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, the Beanie Babies craze broke the internet, which is why Lina Trivedi is also known as the first person to break the internet. (Many people think it was the infamous tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee that first broke the internet, but in fact it was Beanie Babies that did.)
It’s undeniable how much these important business ideas and marketing strategies of Trivedi’s contributed to the massive success of Beanie Babies. Trivedi’s ideas helped Beanie Babies rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in monthly revenue. However, it was Ty Warner who made millions of dollars – and Ty Warner who failed to give Lina Trivedi the credit she deserves when he had the opportunity to do so in a recent interview for the New York Post. Sure, Ty Warner deserves credit for inventing Beanie Babies, but when it comes to the massive success of Beanie Babies, can’t he be truthful and share some of the credit with the appropriate people?
Ultimately, Trivedi quit her job at Ty Inc. in 1998 due to lack of recognition, lack of credit, and because she was severely underpaid considering how much her ideas boosted sales. She very much still values her time and experience at Ty Inc.
Below is our exclusive interview with the woman who gave birth to the internet, Lina Trivedi:
How accurate was your character’s part of the storyline in The Beanie Bubble? How involved were you in the production of the movie, who did you have conversations with, and did you act as a character consultant?
LT: I would say that 85% of my character portrayal was accurate and true to form. My closest friends found the movie to be very bizarre because actress Geraldine Viswanathan captured the essence of who I was in the 90s. She reflected my optimism and hope, my spirit of rebellion, my fierceness, my vulnerabilities, and my fun-loving quest for life. And all my silly jokes!
I never wore yellow plaid, but I did wear that choker she has, and those boots that everyone rocked in the 90s. As far as minor inaccuracies in the film go, I never presented at business meetings or checked shipments in the warehouse, and I didn’t have a job title. There were some other minor nuances that were different, but overall, the film portrayed an accurate representation of my life at Ty.
I was not a consultant for The Beanie Bubble movie, but I did provide my story to Zac Bissonnette, the man who wrote the book of the same name. I had no idea how the story was going to be told in the film. In fact, reporters called me before the movie was available to ask my opinion of my character but I couldn’t tell them because I had not even seen it yet. I had no idea how my technology work was going to be woven into the film’s storyline. It was a bit of a shock when I finally did see it. People often report they see their life play out in front of their eyes right before they think they are going to die – but I am not dead! It was a surreal experience. I am grateful, but I wish Hollywood didn’t have to make these massive productions in order for women to be recognized for their contributions. It is a bit insane when you think of how many people would have no idea what I did back then if a movie was not made about it. I admit that hard truth makes me feel a bit bitter about the tech industry and beyond.
Tell us about your genius idea to add poems and birthdays on the tags of Ty Beanie Babies to make them more collectible. How did you come up with that? Is it true that you wrote the first 100 or so poems?
It was my idea, yes, and I did write the first 130-ish poems. And I loved writing them! The idea evolved naturally. The very first generation of the Beanie Babies website was barebones. It simply had a list of all the Beanie Babies going down a long scrolling screen. This is what collectors asked for – a complete list so they knew what to collect. But it was boring. I tried to figure out how to give Beanie Babies a voice and some character to bring life and excitement to the website. I remember looking at the screen of the site I created while simultaneously looking at a Beanie Baby sitting on my computer monitor, which was so big and clunky that it resembled a mini-fridge. Giving the website life meant giving Beanie Babies life. The poems just made sense. They created a hint of personality and values in the toys which spawned a whole world of joy and curiosity for the site we created. I kept my tiger Beanie, Stripes, from the ’90s. He shares the same birthday as me and the poem I wrote for him is a reflection of me.
I also helped build anticipation by announcing “retired” Beanie Babies on the internet which contributed to the craze and success of Beanie Babies.
Speaking of the internet, one of the first things people find out when they Google your name is that you are the person who ‘gave birth’ to the internet and that you invented eCommerce. Is that true?
LT: Yes. The Beanie Babies website was my idea, my brother and I created it, and before this, the internet only really had phone directories and academic websites. However, when I read articles that talk about my contributions and work at that time, they all write about things that I actually achieved such as pioneering eCommerce, but I never put those labels on my work. When it comes to technology, the ’90s was an explorative age and the internet was this new, cool avenue to explore. When my brother Nikhil Trivedi and I worked together at Ty, we pushed boundaries. We were curious and innovative. The result is history – or, we could say, herstory. When we think of the grandfathers of tech, typically Bill Gates and Steve Jobs come to mind, along with a host of other tech titans. But the grandfathers of tech were mostly focused on hardware.
There was no commercialization on websites before Beanie Babies. I remember the excitement that revolved around this new medium back then. So many people were contacting Ty by phone asking how they could access our website. I remember our customer service representatives not knowing what to tell them because they had no idea what the callers were talking about. I wrote out a few sentences for staff that were relayed to the customers. I recall hearing from people in droves who bought computers just to get online so they could be part of this magic. It truly felt like Beanie Babies were the birth of the internet as we know it today.
I guess I have to admit that if my younger brother and I are the ones who built the Beanie Babies website and started eCommerce (for beanie baby sales), that means I helped birth the internet as we know it today and I’m undeniably one of the inventors of eCommerce. It’s just hard to own that because it’s so huge and it’s hard to wrap my head around it!
Word on the street is that eBay probably would have gone under in the ‘90s if it wasn’t for you! Can you speak on that a little bit?
LT: That seems so crazy to me when I look back at how far we have come. Back in the early to mid-90s, there were no web traffic strategies. SEO and paid ads did not exist. It was mainly just organic traffic. Thousands of people were intentionally coming to the Beanie Babies website every hour, so we maintained this massive hub of organic traffic. The interactive part of our website evolved into a trading post where people were trading, buying and selling Beanie Babies. eBay was a fitting solution for those thousands of people to buy and trade Beanie Babies more efficiently. We ushered all those people to eBay because that just made sense. It is crazy to me to look back and hear people say that the Beanie Babies website was the first trace of eCommerce on the internet. And eBay was at the right place at the right time to capture all those collectors. I am glad they took the ball and ran as far as they did with it, because to this day I use eBay as a consumer all the time, and I love it.
How and where did you learn to create an eCommerce website, considering that wasn’t a thing at all at the time?
LT: When you create something that does not exist, it is all trial and error. My brother and I made a great team. We were in a band together and we had creative synergy. We were constantly brainstorming and troubleshooting how to respond to what people were looking for. We did not have a solution in mind when we started. We were simply listening to what people wanted, and a massive solution evolved. And it just so happened to pave the way for the future of commerce.
Our story is rooted in the importance of listening. We listened to the fans, the collectors, and the market, and we figured out how to give people what they want. Innovation is easy and natural when you actually take the time to listen. The technical process becomes more defined, because when we take time to hear what people are saying before we roll our sleeves up to build something, we have a clear destination. As far as learning how to build, we asked many people a lot of questions.
We broke our mission down to thousands of tiny steps, then we found people who knew how to do just that one small step and built on that. It was a fun, crazy and amazing journey that I am so grateful to have navigated in the most exciting era ever.
Has Ty Warner ever publicly or privately acknowledged your major role in the success of Beanie Babies, from inventing the website to marketing strategies you came up with to make them more collectible? If so, what did he say? How successful do you think Beanie Babies would have been without your involvement?
LT: Uhhh, no. He has not. It is hard to know what would have happened if one ingredient in the magical recipe we created was eliminated. My brother and I poured our hearts and souls into building this joyous world online before anyone knew what an online community even was. We were engaging people in real time nearly every hour of every day.
I do not believe the success of Beanie Babies solely hinged on my involvement. The fans were crucial to the success, in my opinion. Their energy and joy drove the success. I simply cultivated a place where their energy and joy were shared and there was an immense power in that.
When my brother and I walked away from our jobs at Ty, that engagement died almost instantly. Within a few months, the so-called “Beanie bubble” burst. Did the power of the people play a role in the success of Beanie Babies? I believe they did. And the collectors were a key ingredient. How do you bake cookies without sugar and flour? It’s possible, but I mean…I like sugar. And flour is a staple in baking!
What were you paid per hour at Ty when you started vs when you left, and what would that equate to today?
LT: I believe when I started, I was making $8/hour. When I left seven years later, I was making just over $12/hour, I recall it was about $12.50/hour. That would be like making around $20/hour today. I suppose that’s not horrible, but entry-level software developers today make an average of $80/hour. Women and other underrepresented groups still face challenges with pay equity today, so I am not sure where all that would land in the current landscape.
Since Ty Warner made millions of dollars off Beanie Babies, why do you think he never thought to share some of that wealth with you (like a bonus) or do anything to properly thank you?
LT: I cannot speak for Ty Warner, but we do live in a capitalist society. I agreed to work for him at the rate of pay that I was getting. As a young woman in my 20s working at my first real job, I was a people-pleaser. I was seeking validation from my accomplishments because I was internally very broken. On top of that, I struggled with setting boundaries. This is a tendencyI navigate to this day. I believe many women struggle in this area and that sets the stage for the exploitation of talent. I could have played my cards differently, but I was so focused on my love for the work I was doing. I can’t blame Ty Warner for that. I did get incredible experience from the opportunity that no one else could possibly claim. I was there at the center of the perfect storm while the internet was born, so should I really cry about only making $12/hour?
You had access to some of the rarest and most sought-after Beanie Babies while you were working at Ty. Were you able to sell any Beanie Babies from your personal collection for a notable price?
LT: The week I left my job at Ty, I sold all my valuable Beanie Babies. I used the proceeds – about $10,000 – as seed money to start a Web marketing firm. In retrospect, everyone would say I sold my Beanie Babies at the perfect time, because it was right before the bubble burst.
During the beanie baby craze, kids seemed to understand that not only were Beanie Babies collectibles, but that they might be worth a lot of money one day. Why do you think young kids understood the financial benefit of collecting Beanie Babies, and why do you think that got them so excited?
LT: My daughter was about the age of the savvy young Beanie Babies collectors when the GameStop stock blew up. She was a young gamer enamored by the prospect of raging against Wall Street while making thousands from a $5 investment. This was the same concept. It is a timeless quest for middle-schoolers to discover their kid-style hustle before they are old enough to get a regular job. I know another young middle schooler who made a killing selling slime for $2 a baggie. How fun and exciting it is to see the money pile up through a middle-schooler’s eyes.
It is interesting to follow the success stories. This is the capitalist world we live in. The future of America will always be to crack some code to make a quick buck while we usher in the next generation of thinkers.
A lot of people feel that you did not get enough recognition for your huge role in the success of Beanie Babies, and that you deserved to be compensated and recognized much more than you were. How did you get to a place where you were at peace with the absence of that recognition?
LT: I love and appreciate all the people out there who value my role. It is validating and I appreciate all their sentiments and support. I am still processing how I feel about everything. I tend to focus on what I learned from the experience. I know how to produce so many aspects of technology from scratch. How can you put a price on that? This knowledge has driven my self-confidence through the roof to the point that it annoys some of my sexist peers when I can execute circles around them. I have the ability to craft a life rooted in my values of family and relationships. Recognition and compensation are wonderful to receive, but my life is not over yet. Things balance out over time. You’re here talking to me, and your readers are listening. Who knows where that will lead?
What are some of your proudest accomplishments post Beanie Babies?
LT: I always say that my most important job in life is being a mother. My daughter was born with a severe disability, and she is such a little firecracker. I am so proud of her. I love watching her grow and supporting her needs. She has an intense creative mind. I’m impressed with her out-of-the-box ideas. I try to feed all the lessons I learned in life to her so she can navigate her life on a different path then I did. She is a fierce negotiator, and she maintains rigid professional boundaries. I am utterly captivated with the journey of motherhood. There is nothing in my life more gratifying to me than that role.
When it comes to my professional life, I love that reporters have coined me the “Barbie of the Tech Industry.” I thought the Barbie movie was fantastic. It framed my professional experience in a way that resonated with me. I do live in a Barbie world professionally, because when it comes to the tech business, it is the most sexist and disgusting industry ever. I am happy being in my own world and innovating without relying on anyone else’s say-so to press forward. I have amazing and supportive customers, and I feel fortunate that I can walk to the beat of my own drum.
A string of publications have framed my AI invention from ten years ago as the predecessor to ChatGPT, and that has also lit a spark in my heart. It’s called WordBotic and it was something that before ChatGPT, was very similar in concept.
I am also currently building an amazing invention in AI that I am wildly excited about. I believe it will bring significant joy back to our world. I invite everyone to learn about beta testing this new innovation by signing up for my personal updates here!
We hope you enjoyed this Lina Trivedi interview! Please share this article if you agree that she deserves proper recognition for everything she did to bring Beanie Babies to it’s insane success, and for inventing eCommerce!