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The Barons of the Beltway
Barons Wow Packed Crowd At Mayflower

(Washington, DC -- June 12, 1997) Beltway Barons Mario Morino, Bill Melton, Jim Kimsey and Russ Ramsey gave their unique insights and advice about how to achieve success before 750 eager netpreneurs at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington,D.C. last night.
The standing-room-only crowd represented a wide diversity of entrepreneurs in various stages of development and from many sectors of Internet-based businesses, all hungry for information about strategy, financing, hiring and partnering in Net-based businesses.

The four legendary business leaders, dubbed the Barons of the Beltway by TechCapital magazine because of their prominence in the region’s technology community, started the evening with an entertaining retrospective of their careers - both high and low points. Kimsey, founder and now chairman emeritus of America Online, traced his company’s roots from a conversation on the banks of the Colorado river to its current leadership position in cyber space.

"We had very few resources and were forced to use our wits," Kimsey said, speaking of how successful start-ups often have advantages in speed, creativity and adaptability over large corporations. He warned that as companies get larger "Arrogance becomes success’ evil twin."

Bill Melton, founder of VeriFone and founder and CEO of CyberCash Inc., told the crowd: "Entrepreneurship is about coping - how do you get from here to tomorrow?"

Early on, Melton’s tomorrows looked doubtful. His first venture to help financial companies computerize was largely a failure. Later, Melton luckily dodged a dubious partner early in VeriFone’s existence but the company’s first big order of terminals from overseas crashed and burned on an Alaskan runway. The manufacturer said it wasn’t responsible for insuring the cargo but buckled when Melton said he wouldn’t pay for the remainder of the units in production.

"I sometimes compare netpreneurship to Russian roulette," Melton said and added that companies often turn out far different than what they were originally intended to be.

Mario Morino, founder of Legent Corp. and now chairman of the Morino Institute, said his career has been blessed with good luck but stressed he had been in the right places at the right times.

"Step on the field and start playing the game. Your time will come," he said.

Morino also spoke about the sheer determination, endless hours and deep employee commitment required to build Legent: "We would have rather chewed our arm off than let the team down."

Among other pieces of advice, Morino told the group to stay on the cutting edge of technology, be hungry, surround yourself with the best people and - above all - care about them and love what you do.

Ramsey, the 37-year-old financial wunderkind and co-founder the investment house Friedman, Billings and Ramsey & Co. gave an upbeat assessment of the technology capital scene: "I’ve never seen a capital market which is as powerful or open as it is today. It will continue to provide a wind at our backs."

Ramsey told the crowd that financial markets pumped $50 billion into initial public offerings of stock in 1996.

Moderator Esther Smith then opened the floor to questions and answers and encouraged participants to start interactive dialogs with the panel. The first question concerned a key issue for the D.C region - intellectual capital. The barons agreed that the region has a dearth of technically qualified employees and hoped that the area’s growing reputation as a technology mecca will attract the right people.

"This region is where the action is," said Morino.

Another hot topic was education and what business can do to improve technology-based learning in the classroom. Morino voiced his support for corporate involvement but warned: "The worst thing you can do is put computers in the schools if there is no culture there to accept them."

Some questioners voiced concern about the prognosis of small businesses to make it on the Net while facing huge competitors like Microsoft. The barons agreed that the challenges are myriad, but emphasized that small companies are often faster and smarter than the big boys.

"You’ve got to get out there and be in it," said Melton.

A number of participants pressed the barons to support and finance software development companies in the KnowledgeWay. Ramsey was quiet on the issue, but Morino agreed and said the region still falls behind Silicon Valley on software development.

Near the end of the evening Kimsey spoke about the need for netpreneurs to balance their lives with family and friends: "When you lie on your deathbed, you’re not going to think about the company you built."

After the session, the crowd was energized. Michael Miller, CEO of Scylax Corp. in Oak Hill, Va., was up beat. "It was a tremendous evening. I was impressed with the size of the audience and the diversity of young entrepreneurs. This kind of thing is instrumental for people forming businesses," Miller said.

Netpreneur Michael Shehan, vice president of Logex International LLC in Potomac, Md., agreed and said the evening was "really inspiring."

Rose Mary Lawrence president of Real Magic LINUX summed up the energy and optimism of both the event and the netpreneurial fervor that has siezed Greater Washington, "I walked away from the Mayflower on cloud nine....what an exciting time to be broke, stressed and a netpreneur...

I am looking forward to the next session of excitement.

Copyright 1997, Morino Institute. All rights reserved.


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