Tuesday, November 07, 2000

The Cyber Scene in Denver ~ by Suzanne Lainson

            On November 7, Election Day, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was in
            Boulder to accept the Entrepreneur of the Year award from the University
            of Colorado's Deming Center for Entrepreneurship. (He assured us that he
            voted by absentee ballot.) He spent his afternoon talking with a group of
            entrepreneurship students (chosen by lottery given that 75% of the MBA
            students are in the entrepreneurial program) and then headed over to
            Macky Auditorium for a presentation which was open to anyone. My guess is
            that at least 1000 came out to hear him.

            The highlights. While people were still filtering in, a student jazz band
            played and Jeff and new CU president, Elizabeth Hoffman took turns
            dancing with the CU mascot, Chip the buffalo (not to be confused with
            Ralphie, the real buffalo who makes appearances at football games). Jeff
            was introduced with a "this-is-your-life" video produced by award sponsor
            Ernst & Young. A bit embarrassed by his deification, he joked that Al
            Gore had narrated the video. During his talk (which I estimate to have
            been 45 minutes), he covered a number of points including these:

            The reason start-ups move out of garages is not because they run out of
            room but because they run out of electrical power sources.

            A milestone for an e-commerce firm is the first time you get an order
            from someone other than your mother.

            Email turns off the politeness gene in customers.

            Don't believe in customer loyalty. They will be loyal until someone
            offers them better service.

            The speech was followed by a Q-and-A. The students were startling
            reverential (the surly ones either did not come or at least didn't take
            the mike). Then it was down to the basement where a press room had been
            set up. The location afforded us privacy and the chance to talk to Jeff
            in an intimate setting, but we were in the bowels of the building. (It's
            where the theater and music majors hang out before a performance. I was
            most intrigued by the washing machines and refrigerators stuck in random
            nooks and crannies. A person could die down there and no one would know.)
            Asked what he thought of Boulder, Jeff said it had been on his short list
            of possible homes for Amazon. Seattle won out because of its proximity to
            what was then the world's largest book distribution center.

            After about fifteen minutes, Jeff was off to the Koenig Alumni Center for
            a reception. The most noteworthy guests were Bob and Bev Deming, who have
            given more than $3 million to the center. He's a CU business school alum
            and founder and former chairman/CEO of Toastmaster Inc. In addition,
            there were a number of advisory board members including chairman Tom
            Washing, a partner with Sequel Venture, Ernst & Young partners Daniel
            Love and Arlyn Dozeman, Pamela Bergeson, CEO of Bid4Vacations, and Sherri
            Leopard, founder/CEO of Leopard Communications.

            The next night I headed down to the University of Denver's Daniels
            College of Business School to attend a small reception given by the
            Denver chapter of The Council of Growing Companies. I used to attend DU's
            business school, but this was my first visit to its current home, now
            three years old. (I was surprised to see that valet parking was
            available, but I presume it was being provided by the event rather than
            the school.) We enjoyed wine and hors d'oeuvres in the Schnieder Board
            Room, which is available to groups such as this.

            The Council of Growing Companies has more than 1200 members in more than
            20 chapters around the company. It draws upon entrepreneurs from every
            type of business, but this particular gathering had a fairly strong
            tech/Internet representation. Among those in attendance were Joseph Zell,
            president/CEO of Convergent Communications, Tate Kelly, president/COO of
            Bigpipe.com, Scott Burt, CEO of Integro, James Bartlett, COO of RMI.net,
            Robert Welch, VP/Business Development for Tango Technologies, and Safa
            Alai, COO of CANTV. Part of the meeting was a demo of a typical
            roundtable discussion where CEOs are able to share problems and get
            advice among a group of six to twelve peers.

            As I mingled and mentioned that my company, SportsTrust, does sports and
            online marketing consulting, EVERYONE asked me my opinion about John
            Elway's sports ecommerce site, MVP.com. I'm not sure if it was that
            MVP.com has been in the news lately because of financial restructuring or
            if, when you talk Internet sports in some Denver business circles, the
            name Elway automatically comes to mind. At any rate, for those of you who
            don't know Colorado well, John Elway continues to be the closest thing we
            have to a deity. Dot-coms come and go but Elway endures.