Wednesday, May 16, 2001

The Cyber Scene in Denver ~ by Suzanne Lainson

The Net Goddesses met at the Westin Tabor Center in downtown Denver on May 15. I couldn't make it, but Holly LeMaster and Erika Brown tell me lots of interesting people turned up, including Natalie Pyle of Hall Kinion, Sherri Rotert of Cooley Godward, Charissa Klotz of Sun Microsystems, Cynthia Ryan and Susan Osborne of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, Andrea Mudd of, and Jennifer Gutierrez, triathlete and US Olympic team member. The meeting was all about networking and you can get the highlights by going to this link.

The next day, May 16, the StartUp BaseCamp ( happened at the Denver Marriott City Center. I got to the event a little before lunch, looked for an available seat, and sat down at the SpireMedia ( table. There was CEO Mike Gellman, president Paul Schrank, VP sales/marketing Doug Meer, Brandon Shevin, Michael Rivera, V. J. Patel, plus Peter Cobb, co-founder and marketing VP of eBags (, and Courtney DeWinter, head of DeWinter Communications. Jon Nordmark, CEO of eBags, stopped by the table to say hello. During the meal Mike talked about giving up smoking and we heard all about the big things about to happen for V. J. (Stay tuned for more.)

Brett Madden didn't get to join us because she had to man the Spire exhibit table out in the hall. To make her isolation a bit more palatable, her co-workers generously gave her Silly Putty to play with and took her an unclaimed dessert from the lunch table. (Key lime pie, as I recall.) Even more fun, she got to hand out absolutely great Soviet-propaganda-style posters of Alan Greenspan. I nabbed two, one for myself and one for some lucky friend of mine. Spire is running a contest whereby if you can find Greenspan at their site (, you win two free tickets anywhere (well, as far as $850 will take you).

After lunch I attended a session on marketing, PR, and sales. It was moderated by the above-mentioned Peter Cobb who noted that eBags' customer acquisition costs were lower than Amazon's. He introduced Peter Murane, founder of BrandJuice Consulting (, who said that the main marketing question every company should ask at the very beginning is "Should we be in the market?" You don't want to find out two years down the road that you were wrong about your target audience. Another piece of advice: find a great positioning statement.

Jennifer Beauprez, a business writer for the Denver Post (, gave advice on approaching reporters:
* Give us real news and make sure it is timely. Change and numbers work well as story leads.
* Is it a story readers will care about?
* Keep in mind the questions journalists address: who, what, when, why, and how.
* Keep it simple. Reporters don't have time to translate technical jargon.
* Establish a relationship with a reporter. If you prove to be helpful, you'll get your name in the paper.
* She prefers to be contacted by email rather than fax or mail.
* She's doing fewer company profiles. It is embarrassing to do one and then the next day the company goes out of business.
* If you are going with a PR agency, look for people who have been journalists themselves.
* You can get reporters' attention without spending a ton of money. They like chocolate.

Nancy Whiteman, a partner with Ryan Whiteman (, said that sales strategy should not be an afterthought. Product lifecycles are the key; sales should be tailored accordingly. When products are first introduced, educating the target audience is important. Then education becomes less critical during the middle of the lifestyle. And for a mature product, which is often perceived as a commodity, you need people who can negotiate and close sales.
* Whether you use an internal sales force or outsource often depends on your budget.

The next panel I attended was "Strategic Alliances and Mergers." First up was Eric Goldreyer, founder/president of (, who started his business in 1995. His company maintains the largest database of bed and breakfast listings in the world, over 27,000. The company merged in 1999 with WorldRes. "We had a niche, they had technology to allow booking. It was a stock for stock deal. Fortunately we were not looking for a short term exit strategy." The merger made his job a lot harder in many ways and a lot easier in many ways. He is no longer the final decision-maker, but he doesn't have to manage a board and raise money. WorldRes has raised $90 million, so he has had the opportunity to learn how to raise that kind of money.

Also on the panel was Paul Berberian, co-founder/CEO of what was formerly known as Evoke Communications (, now Raindance Communications. He mentioned that this was the first time the new name was used in a public forum. He said that Evoke raised a tremendous amount of money from strategic partnerships.
* It's important to understand what other companies' motivations are when contemplating partnerships with them. From Raindance's, perspective, now partnerships are largely about revenue. "What can they bring to grow our business?"

Jim Carroll, a partner with Cooley Godward (, said he usually bets entrepreneurs that within a year after a merger or partnership they will lose control of their companies.

The final session of the day was "Going Up the Mountain Again ... What We're Doing Differently." John Funk, president/CEO of Quris (, who also founded InfoBeat and Exactis, said that he would do many of the same things all over again, but try to do them faster. Some of what he has learned:
* The team is critical. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you can do it all yourself and as a consequence he took on way too much. Bring in people you can trust. Look at your skill set and find partners.
* Clarify what you can do as a business.
* Avoid bringing on investors and board members with a different vision. Instead, built a strong board that understands when to pull you back and when to support you. They will serve as a sounding board because you need to be able to talk to someone other than your staff.

Jared Polis, founder of and ( mentioned the fickleness of the capital markets. It was frustrating for Proflowers to have to compete with 800Flowers, which was able to draw upon an enormous amount of VC capital. But now the environment has come full circle. "We're not competing against dumb money anymore." It is a great time to run a business, but a tough time to get funded. You can get people's attention now, but valuations are really painful at this point. "I would lean toward taking less capital than taking a less-than-fair valuation." Equity is extremely expensive at this point.

Gage Garby, president/CEO of eTrinsic (, advised the audience to be prepared to understand the market you are dealing with. You need to share your ideas with as many people as possible. Feedback is everything.
* Persistence and determination are important.
* There is no quicker way to get your entrepreneurial spirit back than to work for a large company.
* If you have good values, good things will happen for your company.
* "I look back at the days of dumb money with fond memories." But too many people take money and then come up with justifications to spend it. On the other hand, take enough to get the job done.
* The most painful part of the job is letting people go. "That was one of the hardest things in my life. But we're here today because we made those tough decisions. If it doesn't hurt to let people go, there's something wrong."

Perry Evans, CEO of ( said that selling MapQuest, which he founded, to AOL was very lucrative. "I wasn't the CEO who took the company public and that was the smartest thing I did."
* You need to constantly refer your business model. Don't get distracted by trends. Focus on business fundamentals. You have to live inside the markets that you're in. This is an era of consolidation. Make sure you have something significant to add.
* The real danger with VCs is that they can be poor partners.

That wrapped up the panels. Then before I headed home, I mingled during the cocktail hour. Carl Kalin of The Jedi Group ( and I talked about market reseach tools. Dan Lubar of Data Distributions Corporation ( and I talked about fixed wireless. And Rob Quinn of Colson-Quinn ( and I talked about boom-and-bust cycles in Texas and Colorado. Folks, it looks like it is time to dig out those cowboy boots.