Monday, January 21, 2008

What the Internet has taught me about myself...

I found out three things about myself tonight:

  1. I am a very good (if not excellent) identifier of market trends and opportunities
  2. I am not very good at (or interested in) executing on opportunities that I identify
  3. I don’t clean my house very often
For some reason when I came back from a visit to my father’s house today I felt like I needed to clean up my kitchen (the months on grime on the floor and the week’s worth of dirty dishes were my first tip off). So, after I filled up the dishwasher and further inspection determined that the floors can probably wait another 6 months (sticky shows character, right?), I decided to dive into the mound of loose papers and old computer hardware that had accumulated in a recessed corner of the room. After dumping once prized iOmega and external 5.25” floppy drives, I came across a box that I didn’t even remember having.

Inside were a collection of computer related mumbo jumbo that proved points 1 & 2 above. The first interesting discovery (found in the middle of a saved collection of old Wired, Red Herring, USAir, Delta Shuttle and Lotus Solutions magazines) was the Participants Guide to Comdex 1997 - Miami. This, if memory serves correct, was back when Comdex was the uber show for the emerging Internet and geek industry, and this was the first Comdex that was held for a market not based in the Silicon Valley. I remember that this show was focused on Latin American opportunities or something like that, but I am sure that I took the speaking engagement because:

A.) I liked it when people marveled at the volumes of wisdoms that I could impart from a PowerPoint (or Harvard Graphics...ok, it wasn’t that long ago) slide with only one bullet point. For a less than talented geek like me, it’s a good feeling when a 'Stanley Stienkamp', who is the Associate Technician of Backup Technology for the Pinellas County School Board-Elementary Division, comes up and says “Mr. Hill you words illuminated me and inspired me to determine new ways to backup the vaccination records of the 3rd grade class.” After he stops to sniffle and adjust his glasses which are held together by a piece of tape, he continues. “But I do have one question, could you send me your presentation and do you have an email address where I can reach you to follow-up?”

My response, I am sure, was something like: "Sam”... (“Its Stan Mr. Hill”)...”Whatever, first that’s two questions not one, and out of respect to the line of people behind you I’m gonna have to limit you to one answer". (Digression Alert: I was a snot, wasn’t I? Then again I did want to be sure that the losers (er, attendees) waiting behind Stan got back to their hotel in time to watch Chuck Wollery on Love Connection - it was their only connection to the real world. You have to remember that this was well before MySpace, and Facebook allowed a socially inept and aesthetically challenged person to hide behind an avatar and become "Hulkster47"...back to the program). I continued, "3rd grade immunization records, now that sounds like a fascinating project and I would love to hear more about it. Give me you business card (is that crayon on your card Sam?) and I’ll be happy to send you a copy of the ‘preso’ (the public loved it when us product gods used made up techie words). “

Stan would give up the card, overcome his fear of skin to skin contact - shake my hand, ask for a picture (this was before digital cameras, so he wouldn’t know that I had my eyes closed until he drove his Escort away from the Fotomat – or was it Photomat?) and leave feeling that the $1,595 of tax money used to grant him admission was money well spent. In turn, I would take good Stan’s card and place it in my suit pocket from which it was never to be seen again.

B.) IT WAS IN MIAMI....HELLO!!! At the time “la chicas bonita” (Hola mami, que pasa? I be Andreas and you sure is purty - ever notice when you can't speak another language, when you try you tend to speak slowly and if every non-english speaking person in the world is stupid and deaf) weren’t able to determine which ones of us were Internet billionaires to be and which ones of us were simply geeks in nice suits.. If you didn’t have a beanie on your head, you did pretty well. (On the inside of my pocket protector, I kept a note to remind myself to leave the beanie back in the hotel room next to my signed wallet-size of James T. Kirk conquering the aliens of Ridjel 7 – "Damn it Spock, we must have more power!”..but I digress, again)

The interesting part of the story – although if you one Stanley Stienkamp that part has already been covered – is that according to the participants guide and show agenda, I did one solo speech/presentation and sat on one panel. I don’t really remember the solo 'preso' (feel free to use that word with your friends – it’ll impress them...and the chicks will dig it – well, at least the pasty, nearsighted girls with skin problems who can program the heck out of an Amiga64 will like it), but I do remember the panel. I remember sitting next to and striking up a friendship with the panelist to my right. Our friendship led to us hanging out in Miami – he gusta la chicas bonita as much as I did - and it also led to an offer to join his fledgling services company based in Virginia. At the time I was a big to-do with an even bigger title...Chief Technology Officer, Lotus Development Services and Solutions (you may now genuflect to kiss my ring), and there was no hotter piece of software than Lotus Notes at the time. So when his offer came to become CTO at this lowly services bottom feeder, I not so politely laughed in his face, patted him on the back and said “ah, Master Luke you have so much to learn...I am big Indian with big arrow and your company be my squaw” (Too Short and Snoop would later translate this to be - “Beyootch, is you crazy?”.)

Living in D.C., I would see my new friend ever so often and we remained friendly...all the way up until the lowly, bottom feeder services company had their IPO. You see he turned about to be Raul Fernandez and his startup was Proxicom and their 1999 IPO was wildly successful

as was their sale to Dimensions Data for $450M a few years later.

I can't remember the % of equity that came with the job offer, but needless to say if I had taken the job, I wouldn't know any of you now - I would have to upgrade my friends. (Check that, I would have kept a few of you around to wash the car(s), mow the lawn, test my food and cut the grizzle off of my McChicken samiches - just like WuTang...I am all about giving back!).

Raul now partially owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and the Verizon Center - I am, on the other hand, typing this freaking blog entry myself. Raul (as if he would read this) is being read this by his manservant Jeeves while being fanned with fig leaves and served with grapes (peeled and chilled to 42 degrees)...get the difference?....ah, yes my vision for opportunities is EXCELLENT.

The rest of the documents in the dusty box in my kitchen also show my excellent vision and execution skills...among them were '1996 and '1997 10Ks and annual reports from some small companies that you probably never heard of: Yahoo, Real Networks, Cisco, Broadcom, Network Solutions, Nextel, Erricsson and Exodus (ok, so that one didn’t turn to well). I vaguely remember an interview I had around that time with Intel Capital, where following the job conversations I discussed with my interviewer his stock portfolios. He gave me these docs and strongly suggested that I invest my upcoming signing bonus (for a company they had just funded and had asked me to run the product group) by picking up shares in these companies.

Well, I made a good and a bad decision...that startup was called Simpata (which I think is french for "BAD IDEA" and Italian for "DESTINED TO FAIL") and I turned down their lucrative offer. At the time they were big doodoo – all over the industry rags as the new super-startup, they were located in Alameda, and had big funding from Intel and Exodus (who also gave them free office space). I was deemed to be crazy for not taking the gig. The CEO was the ex-editor in chief of Wired Magazine but he didn’t exude confidence (or intelligence) and seemed as if spelled "Technology" with a slient "K" upfront and another in the middle ("Ktecknology" for those who learn better with pictures)...well, ten years later that company has not had an IPO and I am sure that by now they have changed their business model to something dealing with washing little red cars on the second Wednesday of every month that starts with an "J" not joining was, in retrospect, a good decision.

The bad decision was that instead of taking the money I was very flush with at the time and buying stock in the companies that Mr. Intel begged me to – I bought a very fast and expensive motorcycle!!! (my decision was clouded by the "chicks dig it" theory, which will be discussed in future musings). Twenty-two days later when I smashed it, bought another one and purchased a new exhaust system so my bike go “vrooom”. I then proceed to blow the rest of my wad going to beaches around the world and taking my deadbeat friends along for the ride. If I had dropped that money into those stocks, today I would have my manservant Jeeves...well, you know the rest. (on the upside, my bike has held its value as have my friends – they are still deadbeats!).

The last thing of note in the box were two business plans from way back in '98 and '99. I remember the latter, but had totally forgotten the former. It was a plan that myself and a few Lotus execs put together just before I started my “motorcycle, mai tai tour of beach near you”. The concept was basically to create an internal collaboration network within companies that allowed people (from within existing applications) to identify experts on topics, leaders of project and key colleagues. They then could stat up chats and discussions with those people (all tied to the piece of data or topic that led them to be designated an expert, friend, etc.)...they also could create their own identity page and allow others to leave comments, pictures, greetings, etc. In short we had come up with freeeeekinMySpace!!!

Which finally brings me back to point 2 from way above (if you have made it this far, you seriously need to examine the amount of time you spend on the interweb). I remember shopping this idea around for venture money back in the day and I remember being offered a term-sheet for $3M with a contingency for another $2M (that was big money back then). All we had to do was answer a few questions and get validation from IBM that they would partner and not compete with us. We quickly did both, but somehow never got around to reconnecting with the interested VCs ...I vaguely remember being the one asking my partners for more time so I could fine tune my idea and make it “really good”. Needless to say, instead of yelling at Jeeves for allowing a yellow M&M to get mixed in with my bowl of blue M&Ms (the whole bowl is now contaminated), I am writing this freekin’ blog entry (with my own hand...not even dictating it to Gabriela - my French paramour whom I granted citizenship via a shame marriage - hmmn, just thought of another episode from my past that would make a good blog entry).

Off to vacuum the floors, who knows what I will find in another room, on second thought...the dirt on the carpet matches the the grunge on the kitchen floor – it too can wait to September.

If only Jeeves were here to do the floors for me!!!

Next Time: More reasons why I am a loser (please no more suggestions, the box is full)

1 comment:

Lex said...

I've got a Zip drive too! I've also got an Amiga 500, an Amiga 1200, several old tape drives, a Sun SPARCserver 630MP, a nocturnal existence, no friends and a diet consisting mostly of microwaveable meals. P.S. I was going to summarise this blog with the single word 'fish' but thought I should write a little more than that.