Tuesday, April 24, 2001

The Cyber Scene in Denver ~ by Susanne Lainson

On April 24 I trekked down to Denver for the Colorado Software and Internet Association (CSIA) breakfast (http://www.coloradosoftware.org). The view at Top of the Rockies was particularly impressive that morning. Absolutely no smog, which meant a clear look at the mountains to the west and halfway to Colorado Springs to the south.

The featured speaker was Chris Pirie, VP of Oracle Learning Network (http://www.oracle.com/education), which handles over 50,000 learners online. During his seven years at Oracle, Chris has been responsible for all classroom-based curriculum and for launching a global DBA education program, the Oracle Certified Professional program, and a $60M computer-based education product line.

Chris made the following points:

*E-learning has been trying to create offline learning models and this isn’t going to work. People often ask, “Is online learning better than classroom learning?” But how effective, really, is classroom learning? What needs to be asked is how the Internet is going to change the way people create content, teach, and learn. One discovery: people are not interested in live online classes. They prefer to log on when it is convenient for them.

*Oracle’s e-learning is an important part of its e-commerce because it supports the company’s products. When customers aren’t equipped to handle those products, they hire consultants who then customize them to such an extent that future upgrades are difficult, thus requiring more consultants. Still, Oracle is not guaranteed to get customers’ educational dollars. They will go elsewhere for training if they find what they perceive to be cheaper, better and/or easier programs. They also expect Internet courses to be up-to-date all the time.

*Support calls can drive online education because they indicate what people don’t know.

*Oracle’s goal is to have all training 100% online and generate 50% margins. Courses are designed to operate using a 56K modem. So far Oracle has been able to reduce its in-house training budget 40% by doing it online.

* There are two potential areas of innovation for online training: curriculum development and chunking of information, which allows some content to be reused in multiple courses.

With that, Chris wrapped up his presentation. Most of us headed off to our jobs, but a group of e-learning entrepreneurs stayed to around to network with him.

The next day the Mile High Tech Council had its “State of the State of Technology” event at the Westminster Westin Hotel. Among those I spotted there were Louise Atkinson, senior advisor to the Governor’s Science & Technology Commission, Dave DuPont, VP of marketing and business development for LeftHand Networks (http://www.lefthandnetworks.com), Andre Pettigrew, VP of marketing for FastIdeas, attorneys Suzy Thevenet and Mark Weakley with HRO (http://www.hro.com), Larry and Pat Nelson, hosts of the World Wide Web radio show (http://www.w3w3.com), and Cathy Ewing, executive director of the CSIA.

During lunch Utah economist Jeff Thredgold (http://www.thredgold.com) gave a state of the economy speech with some pro tax cut and pro Alaska drilling comments tossed in. He said that there is not another state which has a better economic mix than Colorado.

The keynote speech was given by Level 3 (http://www.level3.com) CEO Jim Crowe, who was great, as always. He encouraged us all to buy Level 3 stock: “We’re running a special.” Among his other comments:

*Betting on events is like gambling, but betting on trends is a good long-term strategy.

*Technologists are generally the worst predictors of the long-term implications of technology. They have trouble understanding the impact of technology on society.

*The information revolution has involved processing information, storing it, and moving it. Computing and storage, both driven by market economics, have followed different paths than moving information, which, priced like a utility, hasn’t declined in price. As a result, it has been cheaper to have data processing and storage on-site than to move information to central locations where it can be expertly managed. But this means there have been no economies of scale for information services and data storage.

This began to change in 1995 with Internet protocol, optical technology, and dense wave multiplexing. Communication can finally improve at rates comparable to computing and storage. And as networking becomes cheaper, it will begin to substitute for other forms of distribution, such as trucking (e.g., it will be cheaper to send digital information through broadband networks than to ship it in hard copy format). Outsourcing will also increase. Further, driving down the cost of moving information will allow energy-consuming Internet data centers to be located where the power is, perhaps in the middle of Montana next to a coal mine.

*Level 3 relocated to Denver because surveys indicated that Colorado was the place college graduates would most like to live.

There were more programs through out the afternoon. David Wolf, managing partner of Wolf Ventures (http://www.wolfventures.com), talked about “The Venture Capitalist Method of Valuing a Business,” and Bill Ernstrom, CEO of Voyant Technology (http://www.voyanttech.com), talked about “Enterprise, Entrepreneurs & Technology."

This was followed by a cocktail party sponsored by Sequel Venture Partners (http://www.sequelvc.com/) and the Internet Chamber Of Commerce (http://www.icc.org). Among those in attendance were Mike Gellman, CEO of SpireMedia (http://www.spiremedia.com) and Deborah Arhelger, managing partner of DuoVoce Group (http://www.duovoce.com/). I had a chance to talk to Jon Otsuki, CEO of GVLabs, about several projects he is working on. The one that intrigued me the most is a brainstorming/creativity program, metaphorming, (http://www.metaphorming.com/) which has been presented to world leaders at the Davos World Economic Forum (http://www.weforum.org) for the last several years.

Then came the ICC networking event and presentations. More than 900 people registered to attend. Among the presenters was Gary Burke, VP of the Nasdaq Stock Market. Unfortunately I missed what he had to say because I had a Denver meeting with a wind power exec. While he and I were having dinner at The Palm, I spotted Denver Mayor Webb, his wife, and a group of their friends at the restaurant, no doubt fortifying themselves for Boeing’s visit the following week. Now that Krispy Kreme has come to Colorado, surely Boeing will be next. (An update: it was announced on May 10 that Boeing is going to Chicago.)

On May 1, I was at Denver’s DoubleTree Hotel for the TiE-Rockies meeting. This one was about venture capital and was attended by approximately 150 people. Suzy Thevenet and Linda Wackwitz, attorneys with HRO (http://www.hro.com/), were there. So were Sueann Ambron, dean of the University of Colorado-Denver business school (http://www.cudenver.edu/business), Maya Iyengar, CTO of TamTam (http://www.tamtam.com), Derrin Smith, chairman/CEO of GETGO (http://www.getgocorp.com), and Deborah Arhelger, managing partner of DuoVoce Group (http://www.duovoce.com).

The panel represented $2 billion available to invest. They all agreed that now that times are tougher, they set aside more money in reserve. Some other comments:

Arjun Gupta, founder of TeleSoft Partners (http://www.telesoftvc.com), talked about the challenges of taking a company public and how difficult it can be to keep it trading above its offering price.

Ravi Mohan, a general partner at Battery Ventures (http://www.battery.com), said that this is the toughest environment ever to raise second round funding. But if you are starting a new company, it is a good time to raise capital. Be prepared, however, to do more with less. He also noted that VC limited partners are no longer worried about return rates; they are worried about return of capital

Brad Feld, a principal managing director of Softbank’s venture capital fund (http://www.sbvc.com), said that when they raised their first fund, they called it SBVC Fund 4 so “we would look like we knew what we were doing.”

“We knew the [dot-com] party would end, but we were hoping we would die first. Now it’s back to business. The crack that we were all smoking for the past three years has been used up. We figured out it was over six months after it was over.”

He set up the SBVC incubator, Hotbank, so that he can be physically close to his portfolio companies. Hotbank also offers an entrepreneur-in-residence program (one EIR, Srikant Viran, founder of KBToys, was the panel moderator), and an entrepreneur affiliate program, which allows entrepreneurs to have a place to hang their hats between companies.

Speaking as the only SBVC partner out of nine who doesn’t live in California, Brad noted that “the difference between Colorado and California is that California is a demonic and toxic place.” He also noted that Colorado is extremely business friendly. Plus it is big enough to be interesting and small enough to allow you to have an impact. (But, it was pointed out by the two California panelists, that Colorado universities need more international students, Coloradoans are too laid back and need to feel the pressure to get the job done, and Colorado companies need better sales and marketing efforts.)

Next up for TiE-Rockies, a social networking event. By a show of hands, whitewater rafting seemed to be the most popular choice

On May 4, ad/design/PR firm Sonant Communications (http://www.sonant.net) had its Quarto de Mayo party at its downtown Boulder offices. Although rainy weather kept us inside, the margaritas were great and a mariachi band serenaded us. President Brian Smith, creative director John Farmer, and PR director John Caprio were there, playing host. Mark Weakley, from Holmes, Roberts, & Owens, stopped by to enjoy the FAC. Joe Pezzillo and filmmaker Joel Haertling (http://vr.dv8.net/hellfire/archo/bio.html) said hello before they had to head off to a film festival. Joel was telling me about his favorite restaurants to hold a party, particularly Sacre Blue in Denver. Andre Pettigrew, now a consultant about town, Larry Nelson, from the World Wide Web radio show (http://www.w3w3.com), and I had an interesting discussion about lessons learned concerning the Internet bubble. Andre maintained that it was all worth it since the industry moved along much faster than it might have done without the lure of great wealth.

The party was still going strong when I left to pack for an early morning flight to Houston.