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IGNITION transcript

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June 4, 2003
Hyatt Regency Reston 


mario morino: go for the brass ring

 

First of all, I want to thank everybody for being here tonight. As we get to the end of the evening we'll thank you in many different ways, but you are the ones who have made this program work over the five or six years. On behalf of myself, Mary, and the entire Netpreneur team, we extend that thank you to you many times over.

           I also want to show my gratitude to the speakers who are here tonight, all of whom are friends. They're here for a reason, maybe a reason some of them don't fully understand. Not only have they been successful in their business lives, but, also, in terms of what we're trying to do in philanthropy and dealing with the community, they each in some way represent a model of what we want many other people from the business sector to emulate in this community. By the way, most here are very involved in what we've been doing with Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) and working with major civic and charitable initiatives and directly supporting community-based groups in the region.

           Just going down the line, besides their involvement with VPP, Raul has been very active with the Washington Diocese in supporting Center City Consortium; Ted has been active in supporting a number of charities, perhaps one of the most recognizable being Best Buddies; Jack has been involved in two of the community-based groups directly, Heads Up and See Forever Foundation; Phillip and Caren have been directly involved as they’ve “set the bar” for new companies in how they established and lead their foundation, the webMethods Foundation; John has been very active, recently getting involved, along with Paula Jageman of ECI2, with Girls In Technology; Mark has been involved with the public policy area in the Democratic Party; and Kathy has been remarkable. Not only has she changed her career to some degree with her work heading the AOL Time Warner Foundation, but she and her husband, Art, have also created The Stargazer Foundation, where they're working in many different ways as well.

           This was orchestrated, because tonight's message is about two things: It's about this region and the opportunities you have, and it's also about the fact that when you succeed at that opportunity, however relative that is, it's a gift. When you get that gift, use it to help others, however you deem that to be best in your life and at the best time. From that standpoint, my respect and gratitude to everybody on the stage. I applaud you and what you’ve done.

           I want to talk about two things they've touched on in many great ways: hope and inspiration. I gave up trying to summarize what I heard tonight. Trying to go from love to international business to Valium suppositories is a tough transition, so I'm not going to go there. You heard it; I'm not going to repeat it.

           Still, I think this is a great time for entrepreneurs. Many of the folks talked about the time when they started their businesses. Raul was here in the early '90s. This wasn't a booming town in the early '90s. I remember when Phillip and Caren were getting started; it was way before the boom. John and Mark were in this field way before the craze, so these are not dotcom phenomena.

           We started my business in the early '70s. If you want to talk about what life was like then, there were padlocks on the offices here; that's how bad it was. I remember making sales calls when we went to see, in successive order, Chrysler, GM, and Ford to close some significant contracts. I think it was 1971 or 1972. As we got up in the morning, the auto industry announced 12% across the board cuts. We canceled all the meetings; just called them off. We drank all day. Did we quit? No. There was one message, and it's about you: Don't quit. If you're an entrepreneur, that's what you don't do. You don't quit.

           I'll share one experience that I think is representative of everybody on this stage, and it's about perseverance. I think it's what separates those who get there and those who don't. We had been at a meeting at the Arlington Hyatt. My guess is that this was 1978. Talk about making payroll, we had no idea if we could make it that month, and there were only a few of us. We were with a close friend who had a business. I didn't realize how this meeting was set up at the time, but my partner was a little worried. The discussion was about whether I would consider selling the business to this organization. I remember the evening because it was so compellingly emotional. You're talking to an emotional Italian. We didn't quite break down in that meeting, but at 11:00 p.m. it was emotional and I was close to tears. I remember going home. I was with a woman who I was very close to at that time who has since passed away. I went to bed about 2:30 crying. I was crying because I was watching this company I wanted so badly to succeed going down the drain, and I didn't know what I would do about it. For years to come, she remembered one thing. I woke up at 5:00 AM, and, when I got out of bed—I didn't get out of bed, I leaped out of bed because I was so incredibly angry at the situation and I was dead set that this wasn't going to happen. We’d make it work. And we did.

           That's not unique to me. Everybody here has probably had a similar experience. There are people who have made it much better than I have. This whole stage has. But that's what it's about. You don't quit. You never quit. You just keep going. Entrepreneurs find wayssome how, some wayto overcome the obstacles that stop others who are less determined.

           I want to take you back to 1991. I was in the process of setting up my departure from the company I had founded and I had a bunch of items I wanted to accomplish. One of them was that I wanted to leave a message to the people in the company, friends, basically, and some of them are here today. They will probably remember this. We were at a conference in Atlanta and we were all partying the night before. At 8:00 the next morning I delivered the opening speech. It was Saturday morning. You can imagine what that was like, everyone exhausted and a few not exactly feeling “chipper.”. The speech was called “Journey to Success in the 1990s.” I was trying to deliver a message about how difficult the next 10 years would be. Remember, this is 1991, not 1996. I led off with a quote by Jack Welch from an article. He said, “The 1990's will be a white knuckle decade for global business, and that preparing for it wouldn't be easy.” Change, he said, would be more wrenching than any companies had confronted so far. That was a pretty accurate comment. Ask American Airlines. Ask the major insurance providers. Ask General Motors. It's been one hell of a decade for many established businesses. Mark Walsh probably didn't realize how much his life would change in those 10 years, but that's another story.

           During that presentation, I stressed a point. I had a slide up, and this is what the slide read: Your Career Is At Stake.

           Remember, we're talking to people who are working in our business, so this is a really gutsy call. The first bullet was: Ain't no free lunch. The second was: Play the hand you're dealt. Third: Life is not fair or just. Fourth: Life is fickle and unpredictable.

           That's life. That's what you're dealt. That's the way it is. Don't bitch, don't complain, deal with it. You either deal with it or leave.

           I gave that speech three or four more times, and, in a remarkable testament to speeches, every time I gave it at least one person resigned. That's good. I mean it. It's good because the speech was about what Ted was talking about and what Mark was talking about. The message was: Do what you want to do in life. Don't sit behind a desk where somebody else is controlling your life if that's not what you want. If you've made that decision for your family, that's okay. That’s more than understandable and rational. But go for the brass ring if you've got the chance at going for it.

           I want to fast forward a year. It was 1993 and I've now left the business. I had been in the field for all of eight months asking stupid questions about the Internet. Remember what October 1993 was like? For whatever reason, I sensed something, because it was all new to me. I remember going to General Atlantic Partners in October of 1993 and saying, “I have no real idea about what I'm going to tell you, but there's something like a supercharged 747 coming and it's going to knock every single thing we do off base. It's going to disrupt everything we touch.” You didn't know what, but you knew intuitively that this thing was that big. If you stood in the data centers from my previous enterprise software life, we never saw it coming. I just had the opportunity to step out of it.

           Now, fast forward one more year. It was September 28, 1994. April, I know you're here someplace, April Young was the one who motivated me to do this. She and I put this together and I gave a speech to the Northern Virginia Economic Roundtable. Talk about somebody who was ignorant of the region, I was that kid. I couldn't tell you who the county supervisor was, and I doubt if I knew the senator. Why? Because I was running a software business, and it was 24x7x365 job. I was not here; I was every place else but here. Sometimes people don't like to admit that, but that tends to be your life at times.

           The speech we gave was something about an idea called NIPSI, the Network Information Products and Services Industry. What it was trying to get at was that this region had such compelling resources and knowledge that, once the network society took hold, this place would explode. Was that a clairvoyant reading? Heck no. Anyone on this stage would have made the same conclusion. Someone who didn't have our background thought it was clairvoyant. We were talking about a parade that was already forming; you just had to see the parade. I mean, some of these people on stage were already leading that parade at that point in time.

           The result of that speech was what some people considered more material. The reality is, and I don't mean this to be self-deprecating, that I get far more credit than I deserve about this region. If Steve Case, if everybody on this stage, if John Sidgmore, and Peter Barris, and John Burton had not made the moves they made, or Bill McGowen or Charles Rossotti before that, there would not have been a parade. We were only cheerleaders on the side, folks. Business drives results; we just were smart enough to find the parade and sneak in at the front. I want to put fact where the fact is. Without those firms, without AOL making the impact it had, this would have been a different world.

           Let's fast forward again to 2001-2003, the squeeze years, as we call them. Let's go back to that phrase: Ain't no free lunch. Mark said it well, that the VC handouts of the '90s are gone. That's what they were, handouts. Borderline stupidity. I'm not saying that for the first time; I've said this before.

           Play the hand you're dealt. Life is not fair or just. There is no entitlement to business success or income. It's time to earn again. It was a free ride. Life is fickle and unpredictable. I think we understand that. For the newer folks, you understand that much better today than you ever could have in 1998 or 1999. It was all a joy ride. It wasn't bad. We had a great time. We loved it. Right? But, nonetheless, that was then.

           How good or bad will tomorrow be? Forget the prognosticators; no one knows. Something will occur that we cannot see right now. That's the nature of our industry, and that's the nature of our lives during the last 30 or 40 years. Some of the people were so brazen in the Internet period, so bold. All of a sudden they're quiet. I'll pick on one person, Larry Ellison, who says that the IT field is basically commoditized. Well, not to offend Mr. Ellison, but let's test this thesis.

           At the start of the 1900s, the head of the patent office said, “We're probably not going to have many patents because everything has been invented.”

           In the 1970s, Ken Olsen of DEC said that we'd never see a computer in a home.

           At one point, Tom Watson of IBM figured there would be no more than nine or 10 mainframes in the world.

           At one university, a faculty member graded a student’s paper that outlined a concept for a hub and spoke transportation system. He gave it a C+ because it was not a feasible concept. The student, Fred Smith, left that room and created Federal Express.

           History suggests that technology innovation never comes when you expect it. It always happens at some unpredictable point. We can forecast it, but we don't see it until it's here. John Naisbitt tried to say this many years ago in a book called Megatrends. He said, that the technology futurists are always wrong because they believe technology innovation travels in a straight line. It doesn't. It wobbles, and trips, and stumbles, and makes a fool out of itself, then we finally figure out what it's doing. In 1962, did anyone realize that this country and the world enterprises were about to fall into a 40-year love affair with the mainframe and IBM? In 1982, did anybody realize that in a few years the PC would almost completely democratize everything we knew about the computer? In 1992, did anybody realize that a protocol which had been in existence for years and a soon-to-be-announced browser would reshape interactive communications and our sense of computing?

           To his credit, I remember something about the first time I met Steve Case in 1993. I was with Len Leader, a close friend of mine who was with AOL, at an Alex Brown technology conference. Steve and Len had just done their presentation and they were doing the follow-on breakout session. I had met people with Prodigy and CompuServe and Genie, all the people looking at the space. Everybody was focused on using online services as an information provider, but I had been fortunate to have been in a different space. I had been talking to communities and universities, and I kept hearing this thing, “the power of community,” that the first bulletin boards had triggered and that the Internet gave tremendous impetus to. I wasn't hearing that in the corporate world at all. Then I went to this breakout session. You may know Steve as a somewhat subdued person when he’s one-on-one. He did a good presentation, then the breakout began and all of a sudden he turned on and you saw this magic hit the room. Half of the people had no idea what he was talking about; the other half began to sense it. Steve began to discuss the power of personal communication¾in essence, the power of community. Right there, I said to myself, “This man understands this thing.” I was totally mesmerized by him at that point. Almost no one else in that field of recognized players¾theIBM’s, Microsofts, and others¾­except maybe Ted here understood that, but it was what was about to hit.

           Now, what's the point of all of this? That you don't know what's going to happen next. As Mark indicated, you have to push. You don't know when the timing is going to be there. You're going to have to think differently; you're going to have to adjust. The key is to be on the playing field when that burst occurs next. We're not going to see the same burst we just lived through. That won't happen again, although I'll give you one thought. Peter Drucker has lived through that cycle of major boom, major crash four times in his life. He said he would probably live to see the fifth, but he doesn't think he'll have another 15 years. It will happen again, but probably not in the near term.

           I want to go back to that speech I gave in 1992. As you're looking at this idea about being an entrepreneur, I want to remind you of the basics. Sometimes, what got away from us were the fundamentals. When you're talking about what you're going to do in the business, remember something very simple: Is there actually a problem to be solved? Have you created something that solves that problem? Is there actually a buyer for the solution you’ve created? Will they buy it from you? Can you sell enough of them, and can you sell them at a price over time that will give you a sustainable profit? That's not cerebral processing. Answer those questions and you'll see how many business plans get kissed off real quick.

           I want to go back again to the speech, because when I concluded I talked about certain facets that I think have been touched on very well here, and this group epitomizes many of the points. If you’ll bear with me, I want to talk about how I came to this. It's about certain personal attributes, and that's what you heard today. Number one, it's about leadership. The quote I use is, “The leader does it better and better and better, but is never satisfied.” Leaders learn by leading, and they learn best by leading in the face of obstacles. People like Bill McGowen, Charles Rossotti, Bill Haseltine, these people made a huge mark in this region and laid the foundation for today’s success and potential.

           I’m not saying this because of the people on this stage, but I gained an enormous respect over the years for Steve Case, Ted Leonsis, Len Leader, Jack Davies, Richard Hanlon, Kathy Bushkin, and others at AOL whom I counted out time after time, and, yet, they bounced back. Just go back and count the number of times everybody said, “They're done.” You know what? This play isn't over yet. As Ted said, those three stages are about to repeat. The resilience of the leadership base being developed here is striking because the obstacles we face are enormous. It's about gumption. George Bernard Shaw said, “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” Those are people like Raul, Phillip and Caren, Kevin Burns, who may be here tonight, and, in a different era, Earle Williams. They made their futures. They didn't wait, they went out and made them.

           It's about action. Being right is not enough. I can't tell you how many times we put a product line in the field that was fairly revolutionary in its time, and somebody came back and said, “I thought of that.” Well, why didn't you do it? Ideas are a dime a dozen. I can't tell how disappointing it is to hear everybody with ideas. Forget ideas; do it. Get it done.

           In this context, the Jim Kimseys, the Rick Kays, the Mark Walshs, the John Burtons, the Mark Warners never sat back, they acted. They understood what Will Rogers meant when he said, “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.” It's about perseverance and persistence. As Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

           Who do I look to for executive persistence and perseverance? John Sidgmore, Art Marks, Peter Barris, Gabe Battista, Dan Bannister—people who know how to run businesses and do it well. They didn’t necessarily do it with a lot of emotion; they just do it well as executives.

           Finally, and you know I've got to end with an Italian’s quote. Guess who it is. You Greeks, eat your hearts out. “The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” Vincenzo Lombardi.

           I think of two people immediately in that regard, and that's not to exclude anybody, because I think everybody on this stage fits, but I think of a partner of some of the folks here, Jeong Kim. He's involved with Venture Philanthropy Partners, but that's secondary. He has done things in his life, he and his wife Cindy, and, if you look at the value base they have it's just absolutely remarkable. I also look at Earle Williams from a previous generation of business people, and I look at the values that he has. You just have to be awed by the principles that lead their lives.

           At the end of the day, “would have, could have, should have,” who cares, right? Think about that. How many times in your life do you say, would have, could have, should have? You know what? It doesn't matter if you're a business executive; even more important, it doesn't matter if you're a parent or a member of your parish or a civic contributor. What matters is not to explain why you can't, but to explain how you will and how you did. No excuses. Go home at night, go to sleep, feel good, have pride about what you did, and, hopefully, you had a great time when you did it. Also, hopefully, you did it with class and eloquence and respect for other people. That's the game, and the choice is yours. This time is a great time. We can come up with all the excuses for “why not,” or, instead, say “why we did.” Do it. It's a great time.

 

Now, to the relief of the panel, given all the time we've taken, we're probably going to shoot right by Q&A and move into the next section. I want to explain how special a night this is for us—us being Mary, myself, the entire Netpreneur team, all of the Morino Institute, and all the people who have contributed to Netpreneur over the years. When we first thought about it, I described this evening as being three things: celebration, inspiration, and thinking about others. Celebration because it should be just that. There's a lot to celebrate. Even with all of our calamities, we can take you to parts of DC and parts of Alexandria and parts of Prince George's where they don't have this joy of life. They could use the opportunity we have. We could go to other parts of this country like Appalachia and you would see poverty like you may not be able to imagine or understand. We can go to other parts of the world where they would pray for what we have today at our worst times. Everything is relative.

           Let me tell you how relative life is. Recently, we had a great piece of news. Yesterday morning, a good friend and one of the folks who had been with Netpreneur, had a baby, but, the mom had also suffered from cancer. The amazing thing about her is that she never once stopped going. Her positive attitude was amazing. In the midst of it, when she had to stop her chemotherapy because she became pregnant, everybody worried. She persevered. They have a lovely baby boy, and mom and child are fine.

           I'm not trying to pick on myself, but when people like my wife Dana, myself, our three kids, to say we have a problem, that is sort of a ridiculous comment. In most settings, these “problems” are really inconveniences. Fortunately, we don't even know what a problem is in the family. I mean, knock on wood when I make that comment, but I think about it when I talk about this. We have health. We have financial latitude. Our children are great. We have a great marriage and a wonderful extended family.

           The celebration tonight is about the lives we have here, the opportunity we have here, and what this region has become in so many ways. You should all take enormous pride in that.

           I want to digress for a minute and talk about Netpreneur in a really simple sense. What made Netpreneur so special was not us. Forget our role; it was you and the other people who took part. I can remember when I first met Anita Brown, Ms. DC, at Union Station. Penny Lewandowski and I met her for lunch. I know she's here, and this is one remarkable lady. And Taylor Walsh, who is probably here someplace. Taylor was at the very first event we ever did. And Paul Albert, who always showed up, and Andrew Sherman who was always there to help. There are countless other people like them who were always there along the way to do something with us. We ran the Barons of the Beltway event with Jim Kimsey, Russ Ramsey, Bill Melton, and myself, and great programs like Garage To Gorilla with Ted Leonsis and Mark Andreessen, Kathy Bushkin introduced the program with Kara Swisher who was our moderator. It was a hilarious event and a rollicking time. Guy Kawasaki came in and did a wonderful show for Angels & Revolutionaries. Geoffrey Moore came in with Living On The Fault Line. These were major events, not typical, stodgy Washington shows. They were about energy. You provided the energy. It wasn't anything on stage; you were the crazy ones bouncing the balls and screaming to the music and enjoying the night¾then, for many of you, going back to work all night.

           People like Peter Barris and Art Marks and John Backus set a style and class for this VC community. Mark Warner, one of our very own, went on to become governor of Virginia. People like Mitch Arnowitz, of our team, who ended up creating one of the most vibrant online lists about online marketing in this country, and Fran Witzel, who became “money man.” There was a period of time that if you were trying to find money in this region, you went to Fran who connected you with angels or VCs. And Penny Lewandowski who helped Netpreneur in the initial years and has now carried it over to Baltimore with the Greater Baltimore Tech Council. There are scores and scores of other people in this same respect, and the new folks who are taking the flag and carrying it forward, which I think is the greatest testament, not to us, but to what this network is.

           Now, I want to segue to a pitch. I've never done this before. For those of you who have been here, I've never asked for a thing, but I'm asking tonight. What Venture Philanthropy Partners is about—forget our name and our role—is helping to support community-based groups. Not just community-based groups, but great community-based groups with really good leadership that are doing meaningful things to help children in this region. I'm asking you, when it's right for you, to help them. Now or later, it doesn't matter when, but I don't ever want you to forget these organizations and the leaders who are here tonight. The idea was a simple one, and almost everybody on stage here is involved in it. Raul, Mark Warner, and I helped create VPP originally and everybody else joined in to help pretty quickly. Jack has been a remarkable part of the whole program, as has John Burton and Peter Barris and I could give you a list of who else is involved. The key is not our names; the keys are the leaders who are making these things happen in the community. That's what it's really about.

           In the same way that we have celebrated the entrepreneurs of our world, everybody on this stage along with so many others, I want you to take a moment to ask you to join me in saluting leaders who operate in a different field, one dealing with children. They are just as much entrepreneurs and leaders as the people here are in our sector. If they don't kill me for doing this, I would like the following people to stand when I read their names: Sandy Dang of Asian American LEAD; David Domenici of See Forever Foundation and Maya Angelou Public Charter School; Dennis Hunt of the Center for Multicultural Human Services; Lori Kaplan from the Latin American Youth Center; Barbara Mason from the Child and Family Network Center; BB Otero from Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center; Vin Pan from Heads Up; and everybody else who is with their organizations. I'm asking you in this crowd, if you get a chance to meet these folks, spend some time with them and get to know them. They're doing wonderful work in this community, and they're the leaders of another world. Congratulations to you.

           With that, let me ask a close friend and partner in Netpreneur for a long time, and the person who has been so instrumental in Netpreneur’s success, Mary MacPherson, to come up. Mary, come up and join me.

 

Ms. MacPherson: Thank you. It's been an incredible evening listening to all of these folks share their stories and their passion for entrepreneurship, as well as their passion for the region and their friendship. We applaud all of them. Thank you so much.

           As we close, I would like to introduce you to the folks from the Netpreneur team. You know who you are, so please come up. These are the people who have worked on the Netpreneur team as part of the Morino Institute. They look like they're being a little modest. They are our friends, our advisors, and our coaches. I would also like to invite the new group of entrepreneurs who are taking on the Netpreneur network. On behalf of all of them, including those too shy to come up here, we would like to say thank you to Mario, which we've done once before, but we can do so again. And we would all like to thank you, the community. We would like to say thank you to the 247 of you who have spoken at Netpreneur events over the last five or six years, to the almost 25,000 who came to those events, to the 20,000+ who subscribe to Netpreneur News and Calendar and ActionNet, and the other services we offered, and to every one of you who has ever picked up the phone and talked to an entrepreneur or sent an email, or made a connection for someone. Thank you. You are the network. We also ask you to join us in keeping the network going, keeping your connections alive, coming out to events, and supporting the entrepreneurs who are building businesses to grow our economy and strengthen our community. Networks work when people engage, and we hope that's what you will do with this group tonight.

           Thank you so much for coming. It's been wonderful.

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