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netpreneur’s very last coffee & doughnets
a great time to start a business
page three of three | previous page

            Here's my view of entrepreneurship in a nutshell. It's not for everybody. That's not good or bad, everybody has their own tastes in life for what they want to do. What's more important about entrepreneurship today, whether it's a mom-and-pop or anything else, is simply this: The future is here, now. Don't worry about tomorrow; today is it. We have to enjoy today, get by today. You can react to what others are going to do to you or you can shape your future. That's your call. I think those principles should guide your life. You're going to make those calls within your family, within your value set, but, again, if you want to take control of your life, you're probably going to do more entrepreneurial things.

            In the early 1990s, we witnessed a phenomena in the Washington region that was a function of two things happening. One was that we were on the back end, as the rest of the United States was, of almost 15 to 20 years of restructuring, downsizing, and lay-offs that forever changed our mind towards corporate America. The contract with business was broken, and you could see it at the end of the 1980s. Time after time, you heard people saying, “I'm never going to work for anybody again. I'm going to go out and do something myself.” A new surge of entrepreneurship was born. That happened somewhat concurrently with another social force, the Internet. I don't mean the Internet as a technical beast, but the Internet as an enabling body. The two forces converged, and it all came together about 1992 or 1993.

            No one knows why it turned into the big bubble, but forget the bubble. You had two remarkable forces coming together in such a dramatic fashion that, although I can't say it was the first time in our country's history, certainly there have been very few times when two such powerful forces came together to create this enormous surge of people trying to figure out how to build their own businesses.

            Do you know that small business approximates 40% of commerce in this region? All entrepreneurs happen to start as small businesses. I come back to the point that the real thing about entrepreneurship is having a better chance of dealing with your future. Controlling the future is a risky business, and it's your call. It's a values call for you, and, if you're fortunate enough to have a family, it's a call for you and your family to make. I think there's no greater time than today because you control that time, and it is now. That's your choice, your opportunity. If you have a gold ring you're going for, I'll be the first one to tell you to go for it. Don't find yourself at 40 or 50 or 60 saying, “I had that chance and I didn't do it.” You'll regret it. It'll take you right to your grave. Do whatever you've got to do for yourself.

            How shall we continue from here? Are there questions for the panel? Sy?

Audience Member: My name is Sy Weinstock. I was very impressed with Amir's description about problem solving and metrics and with what you said about business. I feel such a connection with these guys that I would like to see this continue in some kind of a social environment. I don't know where you get friends like these. I would like to see us have a monthly social event, maybe we could rent a hall and chip in because I don't want to lose these kind of relationships.

Mr. Morino: I'd like to comment on that because I think you've hit the nail dead square. The problem we often have when we're communicating what Netpreneur is to other people is that we try to put it into an institutional box; we try to understand entrepreneurship. From day one, Netpreneur was conceived around one premise—to bring entrepreneurs together, to let them get to know each other, to share with each other, to create camaraderie. That was the entire concept, that was the purpose.

            I think what Sy touched on is remarkably important. However it can be facilitated or nurtured, I would encourage you to try. This is what Mary is trying to facilitate going forward. I believe the social meetings are important. In fact, if you watch a Netpreneur event—it's a little different now than four years ago, of course—but you still have more people here than some others get at meetings with good weather. You can walk into a hotel for Coffee & DoughNets at 6:30 in the morning and not have to look at the directory to find the room because you can hear the buzz. Over time, we had to keep moving up the hour when the room would be available. And first people would come at 7:00, then it was 6:30, then 6:00. I went to a Coffee & DoughNets at Mazza Gallerie not long ago. I walked in at 6:00 and there were two guys waiting at the door. Everybody loves the networking. It's a lot like covering conferences. You don't go for the sake of the meetings, you go because you build up connections over time. There's value in the relationships.

            The thing I would encourage you to do, whether there's a Netpreneur brand or not, is to somehow continue what Sy has just discussed. It's not necessarily anything with a formal structure; you have relationships and find a way that those relationships can continue.

            Organizations come to an end. That's just life. Stuff happens. They stop. What you always measure is which of the relationships continue. Mary said that we won't go away. We won't. After all, I moved out of the technology field a year and a half ago, yet last night I was working on an email with a friend, connecting him to a foundation in New York for two different programs. We have a relationship. We know each other, and, if he bugs me again at 3:00 in the morning, I'll write right back to him and he'll write right back to me. We know each other, we’ve become friends.  That's what all this was about, a way to create relationships, and that’s what you want to continue in some way. If there's one message to deliver to everybody who wants to do something with Netpreneur, it's not about all the functions, it's about the relationships. It always was, and, Sy, you hit it right on the head. Thank you.

            Let me just say a few things that I hope won’t sound maudlin.

            I don't look at sunsetting as a bad thing. We're known to sunset programs because everything has its time in life. You do something, you get on with it, and you go on to something else. I look at sunsetting as being a new beginning and I urge you to do the same thing. Netpreneur has been a great thing and a nice brand. If it goes on as Netpreneur, terrific. I think what's important is the new beginning that comes out of this. That's in your hands. It's in your power to control and define. If you come together as an informal network, that will be terrific. If you figure out some other way, or if 20 of you get together somehow and you like the relationship, that’s a huge success.

            I have a hunch. I think that a year from now we're not going to see any formal construct of Netpreneur. The website will be there with its banner, but what's going to happen is that little pockets will have been created. And you know what? That will be absolutely terrific for this region because that's the heart of entrepreneurship being fueled and driven by loose, informal groups of organizations. I hope that's what happens.


            I want to take you back in time for a few minutes.

            In 1994 I made the mistake of giving a speech at a roundtable that started a lot of this discussion. I used the phrase “Washington, DC entrepreneur” and said it was an oxymoron because the world looked at this region as being anything but a region where businesses flourished. I remember another event we facilitated that was pre-Netpreneur. We brought together 12 entrepreneurs and two institutional entrepreneur organizations in the region that are pretty well known. Half of the entrepreneurs had been with Legent, the company I founded, but they were all creating their own businesses now. I was trying to get across to the institutional players that they weren't getting it. I was trying to do it politely and it was hard. There's been a huge change, now. We have a different set of players today with a much better infrastructure and understanding, but when that dialogue took place—12 entrepreneurs and two people from these organizations—it was like we were having different discussions in different rooms. The two groups talked together, but no one was connecting. It was like one conversation was here and the other conversation was over there. After everybody broke up, a few of my old friends came back and said, “Do these guys understand what we're talking about?” These were two of the leading entrepreneurial support organizations in this region sitting at a table in 1994. Thank God, that's changed, but that was the climate.

            I also remember when we were talking about putting Netpreneur into play, a leading CEO of the region came up to me and said, “You're crazy. You can't do this.” I said, “What's wrong?” He said, “This is only going to lead others to go out and raid our people and create new businesses here.” One of his fortes, by the way, was that he was supposed to be working on economic development. I said, “Isn't that what we want to do?” Ah, but it went to his doorstep. All of a sudden, competition. That was 1995.

            In the early part of the 1990s, in spite of everything that has been built here since, entrepreneurs in the technology sector were still on the periphery of the Greater Washington region. It wasn't one of the core sectors. It wasn't put in the same class with hospitality businesses, education businesses, or government businesses. Today it is.

            Just think for a minute. Even with the tech implosion, the amount of net worth created here has been staggering. I get so frustrated when the media reports so negatively on the region. Yes, it's bad, but that's compared to 2000. It sure as heck is not bad compared to 1995. If it is so bad, why are the highways clogged? Sure, we lost 40,000 jobs, but did you forget that we created 160,000? Did you ever go to Great Falls and see the number of homes bought by AOL and MCI Worldcom people? The number of estates being built in Potomac? Where did this money come from? There has been a staggering net wealth creation here over the last 12 or 15 years. You can't dismiss that. Even though we're down right now, that money will work here. It has worked to create service jobs. It will go to fuel other businesses. It will resurge as angel funding and venture pools later on. It's just a question of time.

            A good friend of mine is Raul Fernandez. Raul, fortunately, is one of the people who had his head screwed on straight. We were having dinner one night and I said, “Just remember one thing,”—and he knew this. He had gone from a net worth of something like $600 million dollars to all of a paltry $150 million, and he and I were commiserating. I said, “Look, you're 34. You're about to get married,”—they’ve since been blessed with their first child—“you have a contact base that would choke a horse,”—he hangs out with Dan Marino in Miami and he's meeting some of the top business executives in the world—“in 1993, when you created Proxicom, if someone came up to you and told you that you could check out for $100 million and have this reach and impact, what would you have thought?”

            He said, “I would do cart wheels down the street.”

            We said together, “Don't forget that.”

            When my company went public in the 1980s, I remember going to Morgan Stanley. Steve Denning, who now runs the largest fund focused solely on IT in the world, told me, “Chief, do you know how many people in the world are really worth $70 million?” I had no context for what he was talking about.

            He said, “Even in our field, conjure up all the things you read about the number of people who actually walk away with more than $50 million. It is remarkably low.” It's surprising when you see the number. There are misconceptions today about people walking out with $30, $50, $80 million when we think of them in the context of the unreal times of the bubble. Let's forget the year 2000. Let's compliment them that they were really successful and that's the way it was. There's nothing wrong with the way it was.

            I remember giving a talk this spring at the Washington Business Philanthropy Summit about children and philanthropy. As I was leaving the meeting, a woman came up to me and said, “I have to tell you something. Netpreneur changed my life. You told us one day that if you only know Web skills you'll be toast. I went out and got a different focus. You know what? If that was all I knew, I would be toast today.” She now has a business of photography on the Net. There was a person touched.

            Ironically, I've only given one speech in Cleveland since I moved up there. At the end of the speech, I'll never forget this, a woman stood up—I had been talking about Netpreneur—and said, “I'm a Netpreneur.” She waxed on for a few minutes, and the key wasn't so much about the program, it was the fact that she called herself a Netpreneur. I always remember the first time that happened. We were doing the “Stars of Telecom” event in October of 1997 at the Mayflower Hotel. It was one of our “mega” events with about a thousand attendees. During the Q&A, people started coming up to the microphones and introducing themselves saying, “I'm a Netpreneur.” I forget who I turned to, but I said, “It's happened.” You could see that they weren't tying themselves to the program, they were tying themselves to the vision, to the concept. No one cared about the programs and functions, they were tying themselves to something they could relate to. Something that belonged to all of us.

            I remember another Coffee & DoughNets that I got a big kick out of. It was one of the first ones we did and there couldn't have been more than 40 or 50 people in the room. We were going through this long talk and this woman raised her hand, and said, “I came in an artist, I'm leaving a Netpreneur. I'm an entrepreneur.” She changed. That's what it's about, life change.


            We were instrumental in influencing the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (MAVA) to hold their first conference in Virginia a few years ago. It blew people's minds. There were three times as many attendees than usual and almost four times the number of VCs. It was interesting because Fran Witzel had by that time earned the name “Moneyman” in the region. If you walked the floor, at almost every conversation you'd hear Netpreneur or Fran Witzel. It was an amazing compliment to the process that so many VCs had warmed up.

            Before that, we ran an early-stage funding session as an experiment. It was our first evening Coffee & DoughNets program and over 400 people showed up. We were expecting to see 100 people, but 400 showed up. What took place was the first frank discussion between entrepreneurs and VCs in the region. At times, the meeting went tense. Entrepreneurs were telling the VCs what the VCs should do to help them, and VCs got pretty blunt with the entrepreneurs. It was a remarkably effective vetting, almost cathartic in some respects, and I think that it was instrumental in changing perceptions as things went on.

            I remember the “Garage to Gorilla” mega event. It was a phenomenal night and you could see the energy. Anybody who was there wouldn’t have seen “stodgy” Washington. Mitch Arnowitz was outside wearing a reporter's outfit and interviewing people with the pictures and sound broadcast to the room’s big screen TVs. There were 1100 people, with rock music blasting and 150 beach balls bouncing around. Here, ladies and gentleman, was staid Washington, DC. It was a total contrast to what anybody would expect—energy, fun, vitality, vibrancy. Then, for the next two hours Ted Leonsis, Marc Andreessen, and Kara Swisher went on to entertain the audience to no end.

            I always remember Kara Swisher. She is now a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. She told us about her first meeting with America Online (AOL). At the time she was at The Washington Post and she basically bet her life on AOL because she was swimming upstream against her editors in covering AOL. She told us, “I'm writing this book and all these stories about AOL, and my Post editors are killing me because I'm covering the company. I was going off to my first meeting,”—she’s telling this on stage with Ted Leonsis behind her, at the time President of AOL Interactive Properties Group—“I go in for the first meeting and I have my first interview with Steve Case.” For those of you who don't know Steve—I know him, and he is very guarded, private person  in one-on-one discussions, but very animated in group discussions or among friends. “At that first meeting,” Kara said, “I'm talking to him and I'm beginning to think my career is over because I'm talking to a piece of cardboard. Then, all of a sudden, this little fat guy runs into the room with a baseball, totally oblivious to the meeting going on. He says, ‘Steve! Steve! Look, a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle!’ Here's the two of them jumping up and down like kids. I knew I was right. That guy was Ted Leonsis and I could see the spark in this place in both of them.”

            Later on we did a program with MAVA, a luncheon I remember so well because it attracted almost all the conference attendees to stay for the second day, which is unheard of at these financial events. I was the moderator of a panel made up of Bob Pittman, John Sidgemor, Allen Spoon, and Mark Warner. It wasn't a shabby panel. Everyone was so compelling, and Pittman and Sidgemor were absolutely eloquent and remarkably insightful in their discussions. The panel ended and the room was dead silent. It was eerie. I remember Sidgemor looked at me and Pittman and asked, “Did we screw up?” I said, “No, they're mesmerized.” That's what happened. The panel was so compelling that the place literally stayed silent for over a minute. The people were stunned.

            You could see the kinds of things that were taking place in the region. Think of the people who have helped us: Pittman, Sidgemor, Spoon, Warner, Art Marks, Jim Kimsey, Russ Ramsey, Bill Melton, Brian Thompson, Mark Andreessen, Ted Leonsis, Kara Swisher, Kathy Bushkin, Guy Kawasaki, Geoffrey Moore, Dan Pink, the list goes on and on. We owe so much to so many people who have all, in their own ways, played a part. As much as they gave as speakers, I could give you a list of hundreds of people who have helped us as volunteers, including things like Fast Pitch and more. You all contributed so much. Yes, the team was our staff, but it was also a very broad composition of many people in the region.

            Several years ago, NBC was filming a news piece that they were going to run about the region. They actually ran a six-minute clip on the national Saturday evening news. That’s a remarkably long piece. More than four minutes of it, although they didn't say so, was at Netpreneur events around the region. I remember talking to the executive producer, and I kept saying how important it was to be bringing these people together. She said, “Oh, don't tell me the people in Washington are going to share.” Well, at a large event we ran that night, the producers at NBC were blown away. They're filming all this and you had an entrepreneur stand up and say, “I'm doing so and so,” and two other people stood up to give them advice, then more discussion. And it happened again and again.  You saw this community talking to each other, and that's what it always was. You saw a community. They couldn't believe that this was taking place in, of all places, the sinister, cold, government town of Washington, DC. That's a tribute to everybody here who participated.

            As Mary mentioned, we're going to have another event, “the mega event of mega events.” I hope it's that way. We believe that you bring things to closure. The sunsetting will take place officially sometime in the new year. Hopefully, that sunsetting is nothing more than a stepping stone to a bunch of new beginnings that you will define on your own, and which we will certainly encourage and support.

            I'm not going to kid you about that event, what we want to do is have a party. So many people have given so much, whether it's because you showed up at 7:00 in the morning, or you volunteered, or you participated in a discussion group, you all became part of the community. It isn't the Netpreneur program or the Morino Institute, it is the Netpreneur community that this is about. When we put on that event, I encourage you to tap everybody you can to come because we want to have one huge blast. I don't know if we’ll buy shooters for 1200 people, but we've done it before, so maybe we can again. I think it's important that we have a constructive and happy closure, an emotional closure that is also a launch pad to the things Sy mentioned.

            I want to end with a couple of points about our team. First, Mary has led this team now for several years and done a remarkable job. We all owe her an enormous amount. She's grown to become not only a steward and a leader in the area of entrepreneurship in this region, but she is being recognized more and more on a national level. That's the greatest compliment you can pay to any leader of an organization.

            Fran Witzel went from the business world with me to become known as the “Moneyman” in the region. To this day he has VCs and people still calling him for connections.  Ben Martin has stepped in right behind and picked up the baton so well.

            Penny Lewandowski, who I don't think is here because she's probably stuck in Baltimore, was one of the first spirits of the program. In many ways, she still embodies it with what she's doing in the Baltimore region.

            Mitch Arnowitz cultivated one of the top eCommerce forums in the country. I can go around the country, I can talk to VCs, and someone in a meeting will say, “Yes, I use AdMarketing.” It's a tremendous compliment to what's going on.

            Neil Oatley, Esther Smith, Andi Weiss, Steve Fleckenstein, Dave Burke, Peter Bostrom, Adele Rudolph, Jim Walker, Bruce Thompson, Karl Lewis, the list goes on and on. All I can do is thank them from the bottom of my heart. It goes beyond the team because you also have people who are sitting here today who were the silent partners at the Institute who make all these wheels turn. Diane Gubser's here. Somehow our building and so many other things all run because of her and her charm and her vigor. Cheryl Collins has been the glue of the Morino Institute since 1992. Everything runs at the end of the day because of the institutional knowledge she holds and the respect she commands. Even my good buddy and trusted friend, Rich McDonnell, the guy who keeps all the finances in place so that we can afford to do these things. There have been a lot of people involved.

            What I hope you do, more than anything else, is not worry about Netpreneur. Don't worry about our team; they're really good people and good people always have good outcomes in life. I hope that you're able to do something with what was created during these five years. Whether we're part of it or not is irrelevant. What benefits you is seeing to Sy's point, that the community evolves in some fashion, whether it's one big system, 50 small networks, or 10 networks of people. We want to have a vibrant entrepreneurial community, a community in which you can connect with other people, where you can get the kind of help you need when you need it. Sometimes that’s a shoulder to lean on or an ear you can talk to when things are really hitting the fan and life is bad. Then, when it's good, you can go out and have a drink or dinner together and enjoy it.

            I thank you enormously for all you've given. It's not over. The big party comes in the new year. Thank you very much.


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Statements made at Netpreneur events and recorded here reflect solely the views of the speakers and have not been reviewed or researched for accuracy or truthfulness. These statements in no way reflect the opinions or beliefs of the Morino Institute, or any of their affiliates, agents, officers or directors. The archive pages are provided "as is" and your use is at your own risk.


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