page 8 of 8 |
June 4, 2003
Hyatt Regency Reston
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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
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
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
Latin American Youth Center; Barbara Mason from the
Child and Family Network Center; BB Otero from
Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center; Vin Pan
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
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.
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
Thank you so much for coming. It's been wonderful.