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Soapbox: About the Industry

Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?

by Sandy Antunes
August 7, 2001  

The recent internet "Gilded Age" is perhaps the best example of American spirit there is. Anyone, with a good idea and hard work, has the potential to become a millionnaire. Indeed, my story is just like many you may have already read. I have a paper worth of $10 million dollars, the result of three years of dedicated, even evangelical 24/7 work.

But I think it's important to point out how, unlike with previous decades, the internet has removed the usual barriers of business. It really is "Joe Everyman" who can do things, because everyone is equal in cyberspace. You can't guess where the next internet millionnaire will come from-- could be you, your folks, your neighbor. It's all in the idea-- and a hell of a lot of hard work. But if you drive yourself hard enough, you can grab that brass ring.

Our idea for a business was simple. "Virtual Vapourware", a niche no one had tapped. What if, instead of companies always announcing products then missing release dates, a B2B portal site was created that tracked their schedule delays and produced stopgap solutions in order to maintain their internet revenue stream? Why, eliminating the deadline churn rate alone would be an essential service, and we could handle this for them under a co-branded vertical net!

Such a simple idea, and we knew that we'd have to move quickly, before someone else was first to market with the idea. I first checked with my wife-- this was a big step, starting my own company, and I knew it would take a toll on our family life. But she knew what it meant to me, that this just wasn't something I could let pass us by. With her blessing, then, I set about building a company from scratch.

I got together two of my Harvard college buddies to form our team. Seth had been pre-law at Harvard, and Nancy was a networking guru. I would take the burden of managing the entire affair, as well as doing late-night coding so we could be web-live within 90 days.

Seth's folks loaned us the first $100k of seed money just so we could get our bare-bones setup going. With Nancy handling the hardware and setting up the actual web site, I began doing rough prototype code on a cheap $5k Dell in a rented flat that we got for a mere $3k/month plus "the promise of options", which has replaced security deposits as a standard fixture in office leases. Seth was handling all the legal work and also, like us, doing coding in the evening for the website.

Nancy had met with a few friends in the network trade, and they thought their company (Cisco Routers) might be able to introduce to a few folks. A little 'down home' networking at their Texas office later, and we came off realizing two things.

First, our idea was gold; the techie supervisors at their front office there really liked it. And second, we'd have to get some serious capital if we were to pull it off before anyone else.

I was by then flying around so much-- Texas to meet with the Cisco people, Silicon Valley to talk to some of Nancy's classmates over at a rival startup, New York to meet with my Dad's banking firm. And all that travel was shooting holes into our programming timetable. So we brought in David, a programming guru from MIT. We'd always been rivals with David-- he and Seth had done crew for their respective schools. But for this venture, we were all in it together.

With David crunching the code, I was able to spend more time talking with potential customers. By then, we'd gone live with the initial site, and (thanks to a friendly article by our friend Kurt, who wrote for the Wall Street Journal), we had a client list of three Fortune 400 companies just begging for our product.

We hit a stumbling block then, sort of a Mexican Standoff. None of our potential clients were willing to commit to a sole-source contract unless we could guarantee a unique IP that could lock out their competitors. Without their full buy-in, though, we'd have to default on the $700k we'd been loaned for the Trademark application and patent filings on our system. And without the patent, we couldn't promise the IP!

We were literally at the brink of disaster. But it turned out David's grad school advisor back at MIT had a patent on infomapping that he was willing to license to us cheaply. It took a month of trips to New York to check in with my father's investment firm, but eventually we negotiated harsh terms for a float in anticipation of valuation, that freed up enough credit to pay for that license.

With the license, two of the 3 clients came on board. This gave us enough clout that we decided to have an impromptu meeting. Should we just continue this slow build, or make the big push to go public now? Over a hasty meal of ramen in our backstreet office, we didn't even have to put it to a vote. Only by going public could we continue to fuel the growth necessary to bring Virtual Vapourware to 'first light'.

Nancy then dialed up one of her ex-boyfriends, who was over at Microsoft, and wrangled a meeting with their vice CTO. Meanwhile, Seth arranged a meeting with a fraternity brother of his, a minor analyst in Kleimer-Perkins, in hopes that we could try and get an appointment with someone major there.

By then, we were almost totally out of cash. I had to borrow $2500 from my folks just to cover plane fare to the Valley, so we set up both meetings for the same day. It was all or nothing time-- either we'd score with both, or our entire venture was sunk.

It's really ironic. We were just three students, fresh out of school, who'd had a wacky idea and decide to try and make a business from it. And now, barely seven months from that first idea, and we were sitting in the main office of Microsoft, about to pitch our idea to one of the top-ranking people there. If he said yes, we'd have to dash to Kleimer-Perkins and get their approval. Our entire fate was in the hands of these power-brokers.

I tried to think of all the advice my folks had given me when growing up. Stand tall. Believe in yourself. And keep your cards close to your chest.

We totally blew away the Microsoft VP. Nancy had the best moment, when she 'let slip' that we had to wrap up things quickly because we had an appointment with Kleimer-Perkins. By then, the VP was so sold on our idea he'd have bought in at any price. We set up an appointment to close on the deal and rushed out before he could change his mind. But there was still Kleimer-Perkins to go.

To our total surprise, the meeting with them was a breeze. Turns out they'd already decided to back us, based on the MIT Patent we had rights to, and all we needed to do was figure out the IPO date! We all looked at each other. We'd done it!

From there, it was no picnic; between setting up our core office and the constant negotiations over contract and finance details, I was feeling like I was being pulled in five different directions. The attendents for Northwest Airlines practically knew me by name, and I barely managed to spend one night a week at home with my wife and kid. But they knew the payoff was coming soon, and so did I.

And sure enough, 8 months later, we floated a successful IPO for Virtual Vapourware, Inc. As I bounced my son on my knee, the little tickertape on the computer scrolled by with my (and his!) net worth... $40 a share on 25% equity for the company. And I knew Nancy and Seth were watching similar good news in their homes, watching the options we'd negotiated for them push their personal valuation into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You know, I'll always know it was the simple faith in myself that my mom and dad gave me, that let us succeed in the end. Because it really comes down to values. You have to have faith in yourself, and you have to be willing to push yourself, test your limits, just totally devote yourself to your work.

But if you have that, you can do it. In this Internet Age, we've all got a millionnaire inside of us. All you have to do is believe.

Until next month,
Sandy Antunes, sandy@rpg.net TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
  • Running a First RPG for Kids by Sandy Antunes, 07oct05
  • Making It Pay by Sandy Antunes, 02sep05
  • The Hazards of Non-Combat Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 05aug05
  • Just-in-Time Pre-order Hell by Sandy Antunes, 01jul05
  • Cassandra's Industry Report by Sandy Antunes, 03jun05
  • Fiction or Non-Fiction by Sandy Antunes, 05may05
  • I am not a Storyteller by Sandy Antunes, 08apr05
  • A Better Job by Sandy Antunes, 01apr05
  • Advice For Working Writers by Sandy Antunes, 04mar05
  • Startup Fever by Sandy Antunes, 04feb05
  • Why Blogging is Lame by Sandy Antunes, 07jan05
  • Being a Pro Writer by Sandy Antunes, 10dec04
  • Viral Marketing Invitational by Sandy Antunes, 05nov04
  • The 24 Hour RPG Challenge by Sandy Antunes, 08oct04
  • A Decade of Distilled Advice by Sandy Antunes, 03sep04
  • Go Ahead, Hit Me! by Sandy Antunes, 06aug04
  • Promoting Yourself by Sandy Antunes, 09jul04
  • 10 Hurdles to Selling Your Game by Sandy Antunes, 11jun04
  • Let's Team Up! by Sandy Antunes, 07may04
  • Beyond Role and Pla(t)y(pus) by Sandy Antunes, 08apr04
  • Slow Improv and the Post-Kilgallon by Sandy Antunes, 05mar04
  • Paradox Redux by Sandy Antunes, 06feb04
  • Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox by Sandy Antunes, 09jan04
  • It's Not Your World, It's Mine by Sandy Antunes, 05dec03
  • Murphy's Law for Adventure Writers by Sandy Antunes, 07nov03
  • Eigentesting by Sandy Antunes, 09oct03
  • Atomic by Sandy Antunes, 05sep03
  • Is Writing a Commodity? by Sandy Antunes, 06aug03
  • Designing Amidst the Tides of Gaming History by Sandy Antunes, 08jul03
  • Buy This Book by Sandy Antunes, 05jun03
  • Hobbies by Sandy Antunes, 08may03
  • The Websites That Wouldn't Die by Sandy Antunes, 10apr03
  • The Path to Atrocities by Sandy Antunes, 06mar03
  • Cattle Mutilation: The Game Design by Sandy Antunes, 06feb03
  • Gaming With Children by Sandy Antunes, 09jan03
  • How To Be An Industry Poser, Part 1 by Sandy Antunes, 05dec02
  • all i game with, i learned from kids books by Sandy Antunes, 19nov02
  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
  • March 1, 2002 Give Me A Closet
  • January 2, 2002 Let's Go Shopping?!?
  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
  • August 3, 1999 All Gamer Money Isn't Equal
  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
  • June 1, 1999 Ad-itudes
  • May 4, 1999 Who, What, Give me a Guiness
  • April 6, 1999 The GAMA Trade Show '99
  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
  • December 1, 1998 Making Gamers the Old Fashioned Way
  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
  • October 1, 1998 So You Want to Start Your Own Company...
  • September 1, 1998 Holy Grails and Marching Morons
  • August 4, 1998 Gamers Must Die!
  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg