Wednesday, February 21, 2001

The Cyber Scene in Denver ~ by Suzanne Lainson

On February 21 it was the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, this time held in Boulder at the Spice of Life Event Center. Everyone was already sitting at tables when I got there, so I plopped my stuff down next to some familiar faces: Lauri Harrison, president, and Donna Crafton, VP, of LH3. I didn't get much networking in, but among the women I spotted were Kathy Simon, director of the University of Colorado's Deming Center for Entrepreneurship, Donna Auguste, president/CEO of Freshwater Software, Catharine Merigold, general partner with Vista Ventures, and Karyn German, VP of product development at WideForce Systems.
We had a light dinner of soup, salad, and dessert, and then listened to Barbara Mowry, former CEO of Requisite Technology. Among her comments:

*Cash is king. Get money when you don't need it. Going public is not a business plan.

*Check out your VCs. Do they have industry knowledge? Will they be there for you? If you pull together money from several different VCs, keep in mind that they may have different agendas and may not be able to work together on your board.

*VCs never pay attention to the numbers. They don't believe them. They love transaction models (i.e., where businesses can collect on every transaction). If possible, get customers to pay up-front (which becomes much easier if you have high caliber VCs backing you).

* When pitching to corporate partners, tell them what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. Use a live demo rather than a PowerPoint presentation.

*Keep your employees, but on the other hand, every year get rid of the bottom 10%, the non-performers. If you don't, morale will suffer.

On February 23 I went to the first annual Telecom Professional of the Year award ceremony, organized by the Denver Telecom Professionals. The event was held at the Brown Palace, one of Denver's most famous landmarks. (For Titanic fans, the hotel is not named after the unsinkable Molly Brown, although she frequently stayed there.) When we arrived, we were greeted by a jazz combo and a generous bar. I spotted Sheila O'Neill, VP of The Weber Group, handling some PR duties for the event. Deborah Kenly, director of PR and client relations for the Meritage Private Equity Fund, came over to say hi and mentioned that she had just gotten married. I also ran into Benjamin Gochman, COO of LATGO (Latin America Trade and Technology Group).

During dinner I was seated next to Kelly Brandner, VP, and Eric Beteille, manager, of PR firm Citigate Cunningham, and Kristine Swain, VP of The Citibank Private Bank. We heard brief speeches from quite a few people and I noted that Denver was called THE telecom capital of the world by those who live here, but ONE of the major telecom capitals by those from other states. I kept wondering what other telecom capitals they had in mind. Between Denver's long history as a cable television center and current home to Qwest, Level 3, and ATT Broadband, is there any other place?

Gary Gaessler, DTP cofounder and former president, said community interest in the event was high. The 250 tickets sold out immediately and sponsorship interest was more than could be accommodated. Then he introduced the award winner, Art Zeile, CEO and cofounder of Inflow, an advanced colocation and managed services business. Inflow has raised more than $225 million in venture capital. His words of wisdom: "The first people you hire are the most important."

On February 24, I attended a TiE-Rockies brunch at Denver's Adam's Mark Hotel. Tie-Rockies has no equal in lining up outstanding speakers (which should indicate just how important a resource this organization is to Colorado). The past three speakers have been Vinod Khosla (cofounder of Sun, general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers), Jim Crowe (CEO of Level 3), and Jagdeep Singh (cofounder/CEO of OnFiber, cofounder/CEO of Lightera Networks). This time it was none other than Sun cofounder/CEO Scott McNealy, who said he was at the event to hire, to sell hardware, and to encourage people to write software for Sun.

Approximately 200 people turned out, including Gary Gaessler of DTP, Catharine Merigold of Vista Ventures. Dilpreet Jammu, director of business development for Nortel, Andre Pettigrew, VP of marketing for FastIdeas, and Rita Coltrane, VP of consulting at Xpedior, Wayne Citrin, director of software engineering at Latis, and Deborah Arhelger, managing partner of DuoVoce Group. Vipanj Patel, managing partner/cofounder of iSherpa, introduced me to Manavendra Misra, director of business intelligence, and Shawn Davison, VP of technology, for

Scott (who was dressed in blue jeans and chose to stand on the floor rather than at the podium) started his speech by saying the economy "ain't looking good" and that no one knows what it is going to do. There are some serious, fundamental problems about to go bad: high energy costs and no energy strategy, high interest rates, high taxes, and bloated government. We are starting to get layoffs. This means money will go out to them in the form of entitlements rather than coming back from them in the form of taxes. Aggressive action needs to be taken to prevent massive layoffs. Among his other points:

*The Internet bubble popped and it should have. It was almost like stealing: Now productivity enhancement is the place to be. For example, someday a car will monitor its fuel level and then run an auction among local gas stations to obtain the lowest available price.

*One of Sun's goals is to have every appliance connected to every other appliance and have them run on a Sun ONE stack. Another is to make web tone more reliable than dial tone. This can be accomplished by having the control network separate from the data network.

*People will stop buying computers and will store their data with professionals. Therefore, Sun is targeting data centers like Level 3 and AOL. The big losers will be commercial real estate offices because people will be able to move from location to location and still have access to their data (i.e, more people can use fewer offices). Sun will soon average 1 1/2 people per office and eventually 10 people per office.

*Sun was started by Scott, Vinod Khosla, and Andy Bechtolsheim. They were all 27. "We didn't know any better. Vinod and I were business school buddies. We were always the last two guys left at the parties. He was the entrepreneur of the group and spending his last six months of school working for a start-up; I spent my last six months of school on the golf course."

*Sun's strength is its board of directors. The hardest thing to staff is your board.

*Integrity is very important. You can never break character because everyone will find out. You have to be a role model. That's why they pay you the big bucks. "I have to stomp all over that little guy [inside me] that never grew up." Darwin is at work. You can be a roman candle for awhile, but eventually you'll be found out.

*As an entrepreneur, be prepared for more hours than you ever expected. It's a young person's game. Do it before you have a family or be prepared for major stress. "I didn't get married until I was 39 and didn't have kids until I was in my forties." There are big trade-offs.

*If you want to start a company, do it. There is no risk except for your time. If you fail, it's a feature on your resume, not a blemish. The risk comes later, when 43,000 people are counting on you for a pay check. Once your company becomes big, that's when you think "How many ways can I screw up now?"

*When he started, he was literally assembling hardware. Then he moved into managing. Now, "I've been relegated to being an icon. Most of my decisions now are about style and culture."

At the conclusion of the talk, Scott had to go and the rest of us enjoyed the buffet, which in typical TiE-Rockies fashion was quite impressive. (Among the offerings were several salads, several types of burritos, and a choice of desserts including Key Lime pie.)