Before You Leap, But Leap
Tom Ashbrook Shares A Tale Of Love And Madness
In The Internet
(Washington, DC --
June 22, 2000) Every entrepreneur has a
story to tell; most have a lot of them.
The outcomes may be different and the details may vary, but
they’re all full of adventure and emotion and lessons learned. Tom Ashbrook’s story may not be entirely unique, but he is
more eloquent about it than some others.
Before co-founding HomePortfolio.com,
the leading Internet destination for premium home design products, he
left a long and successful career as an award-winning journalist and
editor for the Boston
Globe to tackle the high risk world of the netpreneur.
knew I had dreams my life wasn't touching,” said Ashbrook of why he
took the leap into entrepreneurship.
“I knew there was a clock ticking.
I knew the world was changing in ways that meant I shouldn't
count on old assumptions any more, but I didn't know if I could act on
that with kids and a mortgage and all the habits of a familiar
Ashbrook, who is
author of the new book, The
Leap: A Memoir Of
Love And Madness In The Internet Gold Rush, attracted more than
300 pre-, post- and mid-leapers to hear his tale at this morning’s
Netpreneur.org Coffee & DoughNets meeting.
More than war stories, however, he focused on the human side of
the risks and rewards, including the emotions, anxiety and effects on
family. Maybe it was that
he expressed many of their own personal experiences with humor, style
and an almost confessional intimacy, but Ashbrook clearly built a bond
with the audience, and they responded with an energy and camaraderie
uncommon in such a group.
The journey toward
HomePortfolio’s success was full of lean times and tension, bizarre
hours, a strained marriage and having to say no to things like movies
and soccer for kids who had come to expect such things.
As a 40-year-old husband and father, some might say that he
went too far by dragging others into the risk¾people
who depended on him. Ashbrook,
however, knew he could always go back to his previous, if no longer
enthralling, career in the publishing world: “Part of my motivation
for doing this was to be the right kind of model for [my kids].
I don't know about ‘new economy’ and ‘old economy’¾I
think the wall is disintegrating between the two¾but
the winners in this new century will be people who are willing to
envision and take risks. I
wanted to be a model for my children in that way.
I didn't want to be someone who clung to that desk as the
industry eroded underneath it just for that weekly paycheck.”
In fact, his greatest
fear was not failure itself, but that if his children saw him fail
they might react by becoming too skittish about taking their own risks
later in life. While many
people consider entrepreneurship a young person’s game, it could be
that having more to lose may make an older entrepreneur more
determined to succeed.
If the early days of
HomePortfolio were “like 40 years in the desert,” as Asbrook
described them, the arduous journey of finding funding, developing a
business model and launching a company had its pay-off.
The ordeal toughened Ashbrook and his partner, validated their
idea, helped them build a network of contacts and made them more
likely to be able to compete successfully against bigger, stronger
players. It may be a less
risky venture now that the company has customers, advisors and over
$60 million in venture funding, but it isn’t any easier.
There are always new challenges, new milestones and new sets of
expectation. The passion
that sustained them during the tough times is still there, but at
least the Ashbrook children can play soccer again.
Listening to Ashbrook,
passion may be the key characteristic necessary in a successful
entrepreneur. In the face
of inevitable obstacles, set-backs and naysayers, an entrepreneur
needs determination, confidence and perseverance to follow their
dream. Certainly it’s
not passion alone. Your
idea must have profit potential; you must ultimately be able to
convince customers, partners and perhaps funders of that fact, and you
must prove to them that you are the ones to pull it off.
Without passion, however, the obstacles will drive you out
early, and that’s why VCs will often test your commitment as part of
It’s more true now
than it was even a year ago. While
tremendous opportunity still exists for netpreneurs, the heady mania
of “anything goes” is over. Funders
are becoming more sober and realistic about their investments,
according to Ashbrook, which means they scrutinize companies, models
and teams more carefully. Netpreneur.org
founder Mario Morino, a technology entrepreneur, advisor and investor,
has observed the same thing. He
wrapped up the meeting with his perspective on what it takes to be
successful entrepreneur and what life is like after the leap.
He also offered his insight into where the Internet market is
now and where it is going. He
agreed that investors are more diligent and said that it reflects a
much needed and ultimately positive return to business basics--you
have to make money.
he said that there is actually more money chasing Internet
opportunities than ever before. “It
means you are going to have to do your homework better,” he advised,
“but the chance of succeeding is still remarkably high.”
For a first-timer,
Ashbrook compared taking the leap to throwing yourself off a cliff and
building your wings on the way down.
That may seem crazy, but, he said, “If you are really
creating something new, you are going to wonder sometimes if you are
There’s no doubt
that it’s a risky proposition, one you can only accept with both
eyes open. Luckily, there
are more and more successful entrepreneurs like Asbrook and Morino who
have already built their wings and are ready to share their knowledge.
“Be visionary, be brave, and be sure you have a new idea¾as
sure as you can be anyway. There
is opportunity.” Morino
went further, acknowledging that taking the leap is a tremendously
difficult decision, especially at certain points in one’s life, but
he urged, “When you have a dream and the opportunity to make the
leap, you have to do it. You
don't want to wake up 20 or 30 years from now and say, ‘If I only
had done it.’ Woulda, coulda, shoulda doesn't count. Did
does. If you want to do
something in your heart, and you have the opportunity to do it, you
take the leap.”
Copyright © 2000, Morino Institute. All rights reserved.