I love to think of entrepreneurs as heros of a sort. To imagine a single person that starts with a simple idea and then turns that idea into a permanent monument of human accomplishment - that is beautiful. To imagine a single human being having the guts to hold themselves responsible for affecting so many lives through employment, through their product and through the shear, raw, and direct power of money - that is my kind of benevolence. To see a person stand up and attempt greatness in the face of such overwhelming mediocrity in today's world - that is courage.
I have seen the best and the worst that being an entrepreneur can offer. I've seen revenues grew from $20 million to over $3.6 billion. I've ridden the roller coaster of going public seeing our stock rise by 856% only to come crashing back down by 900%. I've taken on Google at their height of power and convinced 72 other to join me. I've made many decisions that made people love me, but more importantly I made a few difficult calls that I knew were right even though I knew it would make some hate me. Regardless of the perils, the risks and the loneliness that entrepreneurs often face, I know that my path is to create, to build and to take something that perhaps only I can see and make it work. It is ingrained my bones and my heart. I am a capitalist and I am an entrepreneur.
To me, there is hardly anything more difficult, more worthy or more inspiring than being a founder. What defines us is that despite the risks, the fears and the fact that almost all who try fail, we, by our own volition, start companies with the intent of changing the world. And we do so not as the consumers or dependancies of the initial spark that ultimately creates value, but rather as the producers, the irreducible primaries, of it. As such, our evolutionary path, our successes and our failures, not only affects us, but also radiates out to the entire startup ecosystem with which we share co-dependencies.
Yet, despite the importance of our quest, our path is rarely made easier by our own kind. We, the founder cognoscenti, are so rapt with our own efforts that we rarely lift our head, or rather our minds to help our own brethren. We, the great producers of value, seem to flip becoming the consumer of knowledge rather than the producer of it. As a result, we unwittingly end up stifling our brethren instead of helping them in ways that seem obvious.
While founders may have no formal leader, no formal structure and our borders may be unbound by geography, doctrine or rules, we are, in fact, a community. To create a shared sense of our current state through the fearless act of sharing knowledge or taking a position is what binds us together. To do so declares our state and consummates our union. To repudiate such an attempt abdicates our responsibility to one another, contradicts our nature as producers and inures us to a solitary existence where we set ourselves adrift in what is already tempestuous waters.
In a world which irrationally values quips over explanations, summation over detail, kind of getting it versus really getting it, it is essential to recognize the need for depth when depth is necessary. So however long, flawed or perilous my essays and writings may be, and even though my wife has grave concerns for the english language when put in my hands, if just one founder is able to extract a single shred of knowledge that completes a circuit, then it was worth it.
1970 born. (Above) my Dad taking apart a radio as a child, but it's the best photo that I could find that represents how I was as a child. By the age of 12 I had helped my Dad build computers in our basement, designed, built, launched and exploded my first rocket made of shot gun shells, black powder, a straw and a coat hanger stuck in the ground.
(Class of '88) Guess which one is me! In high school I wasn't the coolest kid or the nerdiest. In some ways I kind of had the no game, game. I was good in math and science, horrible in english and reading. Perhaps the most revealing part was what I decided to put as my senior quote in the yearbook. "The best thing in life is doing the things they tell you can't be done"
(1988-92) My band, The Electric Underground, was actually really popular despite the fact that we kind of sucked. At school I composed my first basic symphony, coded an accounting system for the school, started a music recording company and came in second place in the business plan competition - resume sharing using VAX machines. i.e. Monster.com pre Internet.
(1993-98) 22-28. I started out as a junior accountant, got briefly fired and then unfired for telling my boss he didn't know what he was doing, then battled my way up in the ranks of this 80,000 person company to become the national director for software development for the United States. I hated corporate life, but I learned a lot. Met my first mentor Walker Lipscomb who told me to go West young man!
(1997) Comcast decided to trial free broadband Internet in my neighborhood and I did what any self respecting person would do. I set up a small server farm in my bedroom. With free hosting in hand, I partnered with my friends at Webcentric.com to create a price comparison search website called Top10sales.com. I chickened out and didn't start a company. They did, and sold it for $50 million 6 months later. OUCH!
(1998) 28. Moved to California. Got turned down by Yahoo!, Amazon and every other .com so I joined a small startup called Ibis. We merged with Proxicom and then went on to go public. I helped to grow their energy practice and start their communications practice. Met two important influencers in my life Raul Fernandez and Scott McDonald - founders of Proxicom and Ibis respectively.
(2000) 30. Started my first company. It was a great idea and it was a terrifying experience. I had no idea what I was doing and I think for a brief period of time I actually lost my mind. The .com crash happened to us, 9/11 happened and I went 2 years with basically no income and basically was broke. We finally sold to Pumatech which is now Nokia. Glad I survived!
(2002) Try, try again. Next company. This time I was much smarter and I picked a co-founder that could also be my mentor - Bill Keating who was early on in Sun, helped take several companies public and was the founder of WebTV, Moxy Digital and headed up MSFT TV. My best move. I did my best to suck his brain dry. It was then I began to feel the force flowing within me.
(2003) Started mobile voice-search division using voice recognition technology. This was my first engineering driven company. It was housed at the Stanford Research Institute. Most doors were made for left-handers and it wasn't uncommon to see a robot trying to escape the parking lot or a small explosion occurring on campus. I was in heaven and starting to realize my dreams.
(2005) The Google Killer was born - or at least that's what the press said about us. Powerset was a new take on how to build a search engine from scratch. We were funded by founders from Paypal, Facebook, LinkedIn and had many of the angels that invested in Google. From first moment we were announced their was immense pressure. Powerset is now part of BING.
(2005) Sat on the Board of Directors at this VOIP startup founded by two friends Phillip and Touraj. I was actually deciding to either found Powerset or join Jaxtr at the time. I ended up finding a way to do both. Good thing for me, I got to be on the board with Bill Keating and Touraj and Philip led the company to a successful exit. I remain close with Phillip and look forward to his new companies succeeding.
(2007) I was chairman of this Social Gaming company, the maker of Friends for Sale. Perhaps what I am most proud of is that this company was founded by three former employees of Powerset. We were funded by Jeremy Lieu and LightSpeed Capital, who I would recommend to anyone and we successfully sold the company to Zynga. Bravo guys!
(2007) The Economist called me an Obamapreneur when I started Virgance. It was do goodery capitalism at its best. The idea was to create an incubator that built companies that used the power and principles of capitalism to cause positive change and make the world more sustainable. We incubated three companies 1BOG, Carrotmob and GreenOptions to test the theory. Judge them for yourself.
(2009-2010) Sat as the Second Vice Chairman of the Board of the Directors of this startup university that offered an MBA with sustainability ingrained in each of the classes. Experiencing a startup university was a vastly different experience than that of a software startup. I truly enjoyed interacting with the students and helping them, but I frankly would have preferred teaching to being on the board.
(2007...) GroupOn for Solar! - but we started before GroupOn. 1BOG stands for One Block Off the Grid and is one of Virgance's incubated projects. It is also my latest applicant for worst named company ever. It is now funded by NEA (same VC as GroupOn) and is doing well. I am it's chairman and avid supporter. Dave Llorens, who was my entrepreneur in training, is now CEO.
(2007...)TechCrunch for good? Can you build a dominant blog network using citizen journalists? The answer: YES. Can you make money doing it? Hmm.... that, I just don't know yet. GreenOptions was our experiment to create the definitive source for Green info. I learned a lot about the news industry, what's possible and what's not. GreenOptions is now Important Media.
(2007...) Carrotmob is a reverse boycott or a "buy"-cott. People get together and form a smartmob where on a given day they all show up and buy stuff from a local store. In return the shop owner takes a portion of the proceeds and makes their business more sustainable. It's sexy, but small scale right now. We'll see if Brent, my co-founder can make it go big. I hope he does.
(2010...) I thought I had met some tenacious people in my life, but Justin is ridiculous. In some super weird, proud way, he reminds of some little mangy dog that bites your leg and just won't let go. If Justin decides he's going to do something, he's going to do it, no matter how scrappy he needs to be to get the job done. Keep going you scrappy little dog... make us proud.
(2010...) My mint.com mafia investment. When I first met Stew it was because I was desperately trying to hire him to help run another of my portfolio companies. When he declined, I asked why. He said that he wanted to start his own company, which was the only legitimate answer, from my point of view. So did the only logical thing - I invested in his new company.
(2010...) Crowdflower = Powerset mafia, including Lucas, Chris and Ryan. I think that investing in these guys was a very proud moment for me because I've seen them grow from me hiring them at Powerset to the rock star founders that they now are. Crowdflower, perhaps more than any of my other investments, is a testament to what can be done if you stick to it no matter what.
(2010...) Boundary is another investment from my portfolio founded by Ben (from Amazon, then MSFT) and Cliff (Powerset mafia). These guys are basically totally bad ass and not just because of their engineering chops, but because they know how to hire a killer team. Their UX engineer has the job I dream of - HTML5 UX Engineer.
(2010...) I had heard a lot about this new hot kid Daniel, so before I invested, I met him with the intent of breaking him. After I failed, I then sent one of my best engineers at Powerset/Bing (Kevin Clark) to try to break him as well. After he met with Daniel, I asked him how it went and he told me that he was going to join Greplin. I quickly invested after that.
(2012...) I finally after, all these years, have my dream job - designing in HTML5. Famo.us is my new company and famo.us is all about utilizing everthing I know about both engineering an design to create the most beautiful, performant and useful experience for a user. Famo.us sits at the intersection 3 key movements - the coming of age of HTML5, the rise of collecting as a key human metaphor on the Internet and mobile advertising done right.