Wednesday, November 15, 2000

The Cyber Scene in Denver ~ by Suzanne Lainson

On November 15 I had two events to attend. The first was the open
house for Neovation’s new Westminster location. The company began
in April 2000, the result of a merger between Chicago business
consulting and systems integration firm Waterstone Consulting and
Colorado Springs digital strategy, creative design, and
implementation agency Interactive Papyrus, after both were
purchased by CIBER, a Denver-based e-business solutions provider.
Now there are three Neovation offices: Colorado Springs,
Westminster, and Chicago. I got to the event early so I missed most
of the guests, but I did get the grand tour from Suzan Raycroft, VP
of marketing. (Plus I got my favorite freebie, a ball that lights
up when you bounce it.) The heart of each Neovation center is the
NeoCITE usability test lab, a place where users can experiment and
can also be observed focus-group style. Not quite Disney World, but
toss in some interactive toys and you've got a major play area.
Braddon Hall, a designer, showed me some demos. He noted that a
number of projects have been for corporate intranets and therefore
involve lots of essential, but less flashy work. I also learned
that his wife was expecting their second child and he was ready to
go the minute the pager went off.

I had a chance to talk to Erin Geegan, Neovation’s founder and
chief development officer. She’s had a hectic summer pulling
together offices in three locations and putting corporate
management in place. She mentioned that she still was on the
lookout for a chief creative officer and would welcome inquiries
from people outside Colorado. I also chatted with Stephen Collins,
CEO, and Ian Brackenbury, business development manager of Anark.
Their company has created a rich-media broadcast platform that
integrates 3D, video, audio, text and graphics.

Then I was off to the Top of the Rockies in Denver for the TiE-
Rockies meeting. Like last time, I was late and didn’t have much
time to network (I’d estimate that approximately 100-125 were in
attendance). I did catch up with Sapna Shah, who was manning the
membership table. She said they have been quite pleased with the
turnouts and are making plans for next year’s meetings.

Since the presentation was scheduled to start soon, I grabbed my
food (and a very nice layout it was -- definitely upscale cocktail
party fare rather than the happy hour munchies all too typical of
some business gatherings), and then I paused a moment to take in
the view, which is impressive. I can picture those Denver Petroleum
Club members (who call the Top of the Rockies home) staring out at
the lights of downtown Denver with a drink in one hand and a cigar
in the other. (Oh, maybe not. Colorado is a fairly smoke-free place
these days.)

Like last month’s TiE-Rockies meeting, this month’s speaker was a
heavy hitter: James Crowe, CEO of Level 3. He was introduced by
Sureel Choksi, CFO of Level 3 and one of the founders of TiE
Rockies. (There are currently sixteen TiE chapters in North America
and five in India.) Jim’s talk was about entrepreneurship,
presented very effectively without benefit of either notes or
audio-visuals. Some of his points:

The average VC looks at something like 1000 business plans for
every 100 he reads. Of those, he invests in ten. Two succeed and
pay for the other eight. In other words, only two out of 1000 ideas
survives. In comparison, one out of five new restaurants makes it.
With the odds of failure as an entrepreneur so high and the
sacrifices so great, the only reason to undertake such a career
path and endure the agony is if nothing else you could possibly do
will satisfy you. And if something inside you tells you that you
will do this regardless of the financial payoff.

You need three ingredients for success:
1. A vision, a passion.
2. A team. And this is much harder to find than a good idea.
Finding people is the single most difficult thing there is. (In
fact, Jim announced at the beginning of his presentation that one
reason he was at TiE-Rockies was in hopes of luring some of its
members to work for Level 3.) 
3. Capital. Whatever amount of capital you think is sufficient,
triple it. And that still won’t be enough. He has never met anyone
who said they raised too much capital. Every morning each
entrepreneur gets up saying, “I don’t have enough cash.”

The minute you become complacent, other companies will hire your
employees and take your customers.

Wall Street is going to make as much money breaking up mergers as
they did putting them together.

Level 3 wants to continue to drop prices because by doing so the
company expands usage. As Jim noted, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

And with that, I’ll wrap up this week’s report, even though Jim had
many more pithy comments to share. Suffice it to say, I came away
impressed with him and, as always, with TiE-Rockies.