Monday, January 22, 2001

The Cyber Scene in Denver ~ by Suzanne Lainson

On January 22 I attended the Colorado Women in Technology meeting. It alternates between Racines in Denver and Trios in Boulder, where it was held this month. There's networking, dinner, and a speaker. This time it was a talk about XML given by Stacey Alexander, sales VP for Fourthought, a consulting and software development firm. I went expecting to see mostly engineers in jeans (because my engineer friends are the ones who first told me about the group), but instead found a much more diverse crowd. And not a pair of jeans on anyone. I introduced myself to ColoradoWIT founder Athena West and president Cara Hart.

I had just returned from a trip to Houston and happened to talk to two women who had Houston connections (which isn't all that common around here). Katie Keene, market analyst for kforce Consulting, relocated in August and Vicki Roberts, marketing director for Fourthought, grew up in the area. Immediately we started talking humidity because it is pervasive there and doesn't exist here.

During the meal I had a chance to meet Alison Levin and Lynn Sitzberger, program managers for GE Access, Noelle Werking, creative director for Idea Integration, and Annie Stoker, senior account manager for PR Newswire. I also met Uche Ogbuji, XML guru and one of the founders of Fourthought. He has lived in Nigeria, England, and now the US.

On January 24 I attended the TiE-Rockies group. This time it was held at the DoubleTree Hotel near the old Stapleton Airport. The area, which has an abundance of hotels, has become a popular and convenient location for business conferences. I said hi to Sapna Shah manning the membership table, went to the bar where I cashed in my free drink ticket for a whiskey sour, and headed over to the food table. (TiE-Rockies gets kudos for its consistently good food.) While I was loading up my plate, I heard someone talking about Omaha. Since I lived there for several years as a teenager, I turned to join the conversation. Aaron Young, an analyst with iSherpa, just returned from a trip to Omaha and Sureel Choksi, CFO of Level 3, had lived there for awhile. We compared notes. I said that I had shared a Coke with Warren and Susie Buffet in their kitchen and then Sureel mentioned that he had just met Tom Rogers (Warren's nephew and an old friend of mine) at a Level 3 investors meeting. Tom's a partner with Omaha-based VC fund Odin Capital Group. Next I chatted with Cathy Ewing, executive director of the Colorado Software & Internet Association, and Erich Stein, president of Erich Stein Communications. The conversation ranged from local business publications, to Aspen (where Cathy attended high school), to Erich's attention-grabbing red tie. Then Mohan Ashtakala, editor and publisher of The Himalayan News, came over and introduced himself.

The speaker for the evening was Jagdeep Singh, co-founder and chairman of OnFiber Communications. Before that he co-founded Lightera Networks, which was acquired in 1999 by CIENA Corporation. He talked about entrepreneurship in today's market.

Some of his points were:

Yesterday capital was available, the focus was on growth, lots of start-ups were funded, recruiting was easy, and there were many IPOs. Today capital is tight, the focus is on profitability, few start-ups are funded, recruiting is more difficult, and there are many bankruptcies. Entrepreneurs tend to fall into two categories: those wanting quick hits and those wanting long-term businesses. The quick-hit entrepreneur is significantly affected by the current economic environment, but the long-term business entrepreneur is not. In the first case, economic climate impacts strategy; in the second it impacts tactics. For a long-term business, an entrepreneur needs to find a problem to solve, a world-class team, and a long-term barrier of entry. Far more start-ups fail because they pick the wrong problem, not because they lack the ability to solve the problem, The focus needs to be on value to customers, not cool technology. (His approach is to find deep-pocketed business customers and identify their big problems.) The team needs to involve smart people who are team players, have relevant industry experience, and have the ability to execute. The best barrier to entry is to create a situation where it is prohibitively expensive for customers to switch to a competitor. An entrepreneur needs the ability to sell people on joining the company, needs to be persistent (some of them are persistent to the point of delusion), and needs a high tolerance for stress. And luck plays a role. And as luck (or more accurately, good connections) would have it, the next TiE-Rockies speaker will be Scott McNealy, chairman/CEO of Sun, on February 24.