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IGNITION transcript

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June 4, 2003
Hyatt Regency Reston 

mark walsh: time and timing


[Laughing] My message is that life sucks, then you die. Thanks very much.

           Actually, the radio ad, for those of you who grew up in this area, was, “More pork sausages, Mom, please!” My mother was the voice of that commercial. The surreal part of it is that she would be driving the carpool with me and my other third grade buddies and it would come on the radio, then she would lean over the back seat of our '62 Chevy wagon and go, “More pork sausages, Mom!” and do it live for us. My buddies and I were, like, reality? Memorex? It kind of hit us wrong.

           I have something to tell you about Mario that few would know. [Laughing] He's actually a mean son of a bitch, and very few people actually like him. Just so you know. This whole give-back thing is oversold. I'm keeping everything, personally; I don't know about you. I mean, what's the point?

           Seriously, for the region and your not-for-profit ventures, thank you every day, Mario.

           That being said, we were asked to come here tonight to talk about entrepreneurship or Netpreneurship or reasons why you in this audience should care about the future, about your career, about revising what is happening here. My message tonight is just a personal one. It's sort of my career, briefly. It's about time and timing.

           I am a growth junkie. I've worked in growth industries my whole life. I worked at Home Box Office in the '80s in cable television. I was in the online consumer business in the '80s, and then the online business-to-business side in the late '90s and early 2000. Now I'm in the video conferencing industry, which I think is the next big thing.

           I was a founder of companies, I've worked in very small startups, and I've raised a lot of money for venture capitalists. The greatest story of a venture capitalist experience I had was a small company in Chicago that I was President of which was sort of like Hot Jobs but about three years too early. My timing was wrong. I had raised some more money from venture capitalists who had basically fallen out of love with the company. We had raised a lot of money early and wasted it all, and I was raising another round. I spent hours waving my arms and selling, and we finally got the money. After this five-hour sweat-drenched marathon sales session that I was successful in, one of the venture partners who was on the board was standing near me. He was with SIMCO, Sears Investment Management Company, a venture firm.

           I said, “Is it always this hard dealing with you venture guys?”

           He said, “Mark, let me tell you what my business is. I get 10 race cars, I hire 10 race car drivers, I put them inside the car, and I put them on the starting line right there. I fill the race cars with gasoline, so much gas that the driver is swimming in it, then I send all 10 cars off around the track. Some of them will spin out of control, hit a tree, exploding and killing the driver. Some of them will hit a fire hydrant, killing the driver. Some of them will flip over on each other, killing the drivers. If just one of the cars makes it around the track, I'm a successful venture capitalist. And, Mark, you're a driver.”

           Now, that's motivation. Forget this whole marriage-gone-wrong thing, the gasoline motivation is more highly motivational.

           That company shut down and we ended up firing everybody. We had a husband and wife team working with us. The husband was six-five, 230 pounds. We fired him first, then changed the locks. As we were selling that company, another venture capitalist from a very famous firm in the Midwest was in the office and said, “We really should just shut this thing down and do something else with the rest of our lives.” I looked at him in his $700 suit and his car waiting outside and his lovely wife in the suburbs, and I said, “Do something else with our lives? This is my life. You have a life outside of this; this is my life.”

            Such, I learned, was the bent of venture capitalists. We kid because we love, just so you know. That's important to pass along.

           But my timing—and, by the way, being the last speaker, this whole five-minute presentation thing is completely out the window, just so you know.

           I've worked in big companies. I worked for General Electric, at Genie. Anybody here ever belong to Genie? [A few hands are raised.] That's why I'm not there anymore. Thanks a lot for your $17 an hour that we used to charge using the GEIS network. They used to charge me the family rate of $17 an hour, not the $37 an hour they charged corporations to log on.

           I've worked in large, adrenaline-drenched, hypergrowth companies like AOL and Home Box Office, but I was always a little off in my timing. I was always on the wrong side of the fence. At HBO I was at the Cinemax brand, which was sort of the second brand, for those of you who know Cinemax or subscribe to it. I think Cinemax still has the same number of subscribers that Genie does. It's the same basic brand. At America Online I was the business-to-business guy. That was a real challenge, matching that brand identification with the audiences we were pursuing.

           Finally, at VerticalNet I kind of got it right. I got the hand in the glove. I got the timing of being in business-to-business services and software at that game-changing moment when buyers and suppliers in industrial markets woke up to what they were missing.

           The issue about my life, and I would suggest about your life, is timing. Timing is everything. Getting it right or wrong is everything, and entrepreneurship is about timing, because timing never goes at the speed you wish. When you're a big company and it's slow, the time seems to last forever. When you're in a small company that's growing, there's never enough time. It's always too short or too long.

           I used to be a soccer goalie, so I identify only with the goalie. We used to say that our lives were hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. That's entrepreneurship. It is often hours of boredom—of hiring people and HR staff meetings and stuff like that—punctuated by moments of sheer terror when you are not sure, as Phillip so eloquently mentioned, that you will actually make payroll. It is about the time that you do it, the time that you spend doing it, and the time that you wish you had to make it better. It is all about timing and getting it right.

           Now, those who get it wrong—and I stand before you as an example of one of them—sometimes they take it personally. One of my messages to you tonight is not to take it personally. Being at the right place at the wrong time doesn't mean you're at fault; it means that you must remember that you were right and that your timing was wrong. It's far better to be right at the wrong time than wrong at the right time.

           Let me suggest to you that if you think about your career and why you are here tonight listening to this august panel of which I am in awe, I would suggest that you think about the timing of your life. Are you spending the time you have on this planet in a productive way? If you don't want your boss's job, then why are you wasting the most precious asset you have—your time—in pursuing it? If you feel that what you're doing here, in this area, working for the companies you're at, is a waste of your time, I am suggesting that you are hurting yourself most.

           If you feel that the best times for this area are past, let me suggest to you another thought. I'm a trustee of my college, Union College in Schenectady, New York—a good Blackboard customer, which I have to toss in so my Blackboard friends will know that. I just spent the last few days—actually, I spent many days this past winter —up in Schenectady helping Union College grow its brand, but also helping the technology environment in Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, the capital district of Upper State New York, trying to revive itself, trying to recover from the huge downturn that the industrial base of those great cities in our nation have experienced over the last three to four decades. If you think it's bad here, count your blessings, let me tell you that. It's better here than many other places, and it's better now, in the time we live, than other times. Although it pains me no end to quote a Republican president, Ronald Reagan may have said it best when he suggested, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

           I'm reminded of a line I heard. I used to be on the board of a theatre company in New York called the New York Theatre Workshop, which was the theatre that put out the show Rent. That’s what really put it on the map. I saw a one-person show put on by a woman. At the end, she talked about an image she had. She said, “I dreamed that I died and I was in a New York City taxi riding past my life. I was watching my life out of the window of this taxi, and all I could think about was: Is that what frightened me? Is that what held me back? Is that all that really made me scared?”

           I would ask you to think about those questions yourself. When you use time and bad timing as an excuse to not to do what you want to do, I would suggest that you should think about things like: Is that all that scares me? Is that all that's holding me back? You should not, you must not, you cannot, and you will not stop yourself from growing ideas. You must not let market conditions that seem bad today stop you from founding, fueling, growing, and living your dream. Thank you very much.


Ms. Bushkin: Well, I think you can see why nobody wanted to follow Mark Walsh.

           But Mario would, so last, but definitely not least, Mario is going to come up and give us some parting remarks. Before that, I want to tell you a few things about him. It will not surprise you that this is the most industrious, entrepreneurial child that you've ever heard about. As a boy in Cleveland, he did the following: sold vegetables door to door, had a paper route, ran a carnival in the neighborhood, shoveled snow, and had a handyman's job service, all while he was in middle school. And he learned two really important lessons. One was about leverage. He found another kid to actually deliver the newspapers, and he then went around and collected the bills and got the tips. Pretty darn smart. He figured out leverage at an early, early time.

           The other lesson he learned was about supply and demand. Living in Ohio, he thought that buckeyes—which is the state tree, or flower, or nut, or whatever it is—would be really a powerful thing, so he built a little company making buckeye rings and buckeye bracelets and buckeye necklaces. He still owns all of them. So Mario, bring up the buckeyes, and thank you again for bringing us all together.


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