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IGNITION transcript

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June 4, 2003
Hyatt Regency Reston 

john sidgmore: there are always opportunities


These are kind of strange times . . . but before I start, on behalf of Ted and myself, I just want to ask: Are there any FBI agents in the audience? [Laughing] That's an important question to us. I don't see anyone standing, so I'm going to take that as a no.

           We have had a very, very strange year during 2002. Hopefully, this is going to be a much better year, and I really think it will. I asked Ted what he's going to do this year and he said he's going to have the Capitals logo imprinted on his privates even though they lost, which I thought was a form of commitment that I wouldn't have had, but anyway...

           Over the last several years, technology executives have been viewed as innovators and geniuses; now we're viewed as idiots and crooks and stuff like that. Somewhere there's probably some truth in the middle that needs to be played out. I really believe that this is going to be a much better year. It's certainly going to be a much better year for me. I can tell you right now that running a small software company like ECI2 is a lot more fun than running WorldCom. I can assure you of that with no uncertainty, and that's the truth.

           I only have a few things to say, and the most important is that there are still huge opportunities in technology. Huge. I don't even mean moving to biotech. In information technology, which is what most of us are involved in, I think there are gigantic opportunities to be had over the next few years. Many people have been spoiled by what's happened over the last few years, something that has never happened before, and there are still going to be gigantic opportunities to be had here, in my opinion.

           We need some fortitude to make those investments, and I think we will make them. At the end of the day, many of us, in fact most of us, will decide that this is the industry that has the most potential in our economy over the long-term. That's what we have to remember. We're not looking for a 6- to 12-month return. No industry has ever had short-term returns the way we had four or five years ago. That's just a fact.

           I was asked to kick around some ideas about how people succeed in these unusual times. I’ll say a few things about mentors, because frankly, Mario asked me about that. Mentoring is very, very important to success. Most of my mentors over the last 15 years have been young guys. In fact, I don't really know any old guys anymore in our industry. Well, maybe Mario, [Laughing] but, other than Mario, I don't really know any old guys. My mentors have tended to be Russ Ramsey, and Lawrence Calcanal from Goldman Sachs, and Peter Barris, who I think is here tonight, although he may have gone to bed already. He's not that young. But, at the end of the day, you can get mentoring from young people, old people, medium-age people, et cetera, and it makes a huge difference. My biggest mentor over the last 15 years has been my friend Paula Jagemann here in the audience, who I would like to have stand up and get recognized for one second.

           Your mentor can be somebody younger, older, the same age, et cetera. The important thing is that you can learn from anybody. To succeed in life, I think that the important thing is to help others. Raul said this, others said it, and it is really, really important that we help each other. This community and this industry have grown so quickly over the last 10 years—Mario being the best example of the driver of it—because we've had a lot of people that have helped. It's really, really important, and, in my opinion, there's nothing more rewarding than helping somebody else succeed in this industry.

           There are huge opportunities that are going to happen. You may not know this, but, in addition to being the CEO of a software company and being involved in WorldCom, I'm also a partner in venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA). NEA has traditionally been split between information technology and biotechnology. This last year biotechnology has been a little bit more popular, for obvious reasons. We've got a number of very, very interesting new drugs and so forth. The most interesting to me is the Valium suppository market. We have a guy who's figured out that the issue with drugs is that it takes 10 years to bring them to market, but, if you have a drug that's already approved, a different distribution mechanism is great. He figured out that if you use Valium as a suppository and you put it in that place, the capillaries absorb it something like 14 times faster than your stomach does. Okay? I don't know anything about drugs, so when Peter Barris asked me to be part of NEA, I was listening to all these drug talks which always go over my head because they're binomial equations and stuff. Then I heard this Valium thing and I'm thinking to myself: Okay, so all these technology executives are going to be laying on their sides in the office, and within two and a half minutes, they're going to be happy. [Laughter] This has to work. This is the greatest. And it turns out to be a great investment. Peter will probably have a heart attack. Are you still here, Peter? I hope he went home.

           Anyway, the point is that there are always opportunities. Maybe that's an unusual one, but there are always opportunities, even in the computer business. The point is that we shouldn't give up. There are tremendous things that are going to happen in biotech over the next 20 years. I've heard things about the average age becoming 150 within 10 years. I don't know if that's good or bad in your opinion; maybe some of you want to die, but I would like to live. There are so many new innovations in information technology, even though there were a lot of bad investments. I think it's phenomenal.

           I want to make one more comment. The best thing about this industry is that people who are unlikely to succeed normally can really succeed. My friend Paula, who has been my partner in business for a long, long time, grew up poor, went to college, built her own business, and became a CEO of her own company. There are other examples of that, I just happen to know Paula. This is a phenomenal, phenomenal country that has unbelievable opportunities, and we just have to remember that. Just because we have two years of a down economy, or what is it? Three years? We're damn lucky here. Let's face it. There are countries that have one-tenth of our GNP. This is a phenomenal success story, so I think we just have to remember that as we go on.

           I don't want to leave without mentioning a couple of things about my pal, Mark Walsh, who no one wanted to follow tonight. Mario was kind enough to put me in front of Mark, but then I thought that it's probably worse to go in front of him. I just wanted to mention a couple of things about Mark. It was only about three years ago that the destruction of WorldCom and Vertical Net were just gleams in our eyes. We were good pals because he started at AOL and we actually both liked Ted Leonsis. The first time we talked, I said, “When Ted goes by, I don't even have to see him or hear him say anything, all he has to do is walk by and I laugh.” Mark said, “I'm much funnier than Ted, you just don't know me as well.”

           I hope you don't ever want to work there again. Mark.

           He is very funny.

           One funny story. About two years ago Paula and I wanted to do a deal with VerticalNet, so we went down to his office, which was perhaps the most bizarre office I've ever been to in Washington, DC. There was no one else in the building, and it was six stories tall. Mark was the only person in the building. We finally found our way down to where he was. We're looking down the hall and Mark is on a large screen TV eating a hot dog. This is 7:00 in the morning, okay? Maybe 7:30. Complete with onions, mustard, and chili. I don't even know where you get that at that time of the morning. I'm thinking: How could he be on television? Are we doing this by video conference? No. He was taking a TV shot of himself eating this stuff at 7:30 in the morning. Anyway, with that, I give you my friend Mark Walsh.


Ms. Bushkin: Mark, you're going to get equal time in a second, but let me tell them a word or two about you. And, John, thanks for that graphic description of everything.

           I know it would surprise many of you to know that Mark Walsh had a painting career. His first company was called Picasso Painters, and it was a great idea. He had a line that went, “Make your home a work of art.” He just couldn't figure out how to measure the paint, so he went out of business. Another little known fact about Mark is that his mother was a voice-over artist on radio. Hers was the voice of the child in the famous advertisement that I'm going to ask Mark to tell you about since he probably has it down better than I do. Today, Mark is trying to make the Democratic Party safe for technology. He is the CTO of the Democratic Party, and he's got a big job ahead of him.

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