Large tracts of online economic terrain remain unconquered. But not for long. Business-to-business e-commerce will draw 90 percent of the projected $1.4 trillion in total Internet-based business by 2003 . . . While Jim Clark’s Healtheon mines the online possibilities in healthcare admin and benefits, Neoforma wants the first bite in the $30 billion market for medical equipment and supplies . . .
Business 2.0, May 1999
Healtheon, Neoforma Join Forces
Healtheon Corp., a leading online healthcare site formed by Netscape co-founder James Clark, has entered a partnership with Neoforma Inc., an e-commerce site for the health care marketplace. The two Santa Clara–based companies will offer health care professionals free, convenient access to Neoforma’s online database of medical products . . .
Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal, May 19, 1999
I hadn’t thought about Sharon for more than a decade...
The doorbell rang. I opened the door, curious who would be calling on this suburban house in the middle of the day. Facing me was a tall, attractive brunette, a few years my junior. She was all dressed up too. We shared one of those this-is-not-what-I-was-expecting moments. It was pleasurable. Then she introduced herself. She was delivering some documents to my mother as a favor for her mother. Before I could say anything clever, or even intelligent, she handed me the papers and walked to her BMW in the driveway. I thought that was that.
But it wasn’t. I couldn’t get the image of her smile out of my mind. There was something so simple and direct about it.
I tracked down her number and called her the following day. I asked her out.
When I picked her up in my car, which used to be sporty and now was just beat up, she seemed a bit startled at my transportation—and at my appearance. I was no longer dressed up for an interview. All of my normal clothes were well-worn and tinged with remnants of my seventies punk sensibilities. She asked if we should take her car instead of mine. I said, “No, that’s okay. This car hasn’t broken down in weeks.”
She was still dressed up. I deduced that this was how she always dressed and became quite conscious of the tattered hems on my pant legs.
She told me that she had known I would call her and added, “I’m glad you did.” Well, maybe things weren’t going as poorly as I thought. Still, I readily assumed that this would be our only date, so I was able to relax completely.
As we exchanged brief life summaries, I became very comfortable with her. She had just completed her undergraduate degree and was staying at her parent’s house until she started her Masters in Business Administration.
After I presented a heavily edited summary of my life story, she asked how much money architects make. Her impression was that architecture was a very respectable and well-rewarded profession. I confidently said, “Oh, between thirty and seventy thousand ... depending on seniority and such. Maybe a bit more, once you become a principal.” I thought that was pretty good money.
“Oh, I could never marry anyone who made less than a hundred thousand.” She said this casually, without the slightest bit of malice, so I didn’t take it hard. But, I did feel the need to point out that there was more to life than money. After all, this was my chosen career she was dismissing.
I asked, “How about creativity . . . and exploration?”
She responded, “It’s a simple matter of lifestyle. I know what I need. I mean, you’re educated and you’re tall enough . . . just barely (I couldn’t go out with someone shorter than me), but you’d never make enough money to support the lifestyle I need.”
Fair enough. I could certainly respect, even envy, someone who was that certain about her goals in life. She knew what she wanted and deserved.
I came out of my reverie and focused back on the young woman sitting across from me in my office. She had exactly the same quality. Karen was the first of a crop of young MBAs I was scheduled to interview.
Alexander had told me, “Look, you need to focus on running the business. What we need to do is hire a bunch of bright MBAs . . . just a couple years out of school . . . and send them out to do deals.”
This was his polite way of saying that I had neither the personality nor credentials to forge the plethora of business partnerships that would be required for Neoforma to play in the big leagues.
I knew that my clumsiness with casual conversation inhibited my ability to open the doors to new partnerships. I had relied on Jeff’s social skills for that. And I knew that I couldn’t share in the inevitable boasts about alma mater sports teams. But I wasn’t convinced that some youngsters just out of school could bring us much value. Our investors and Board disagreed. So we opened up a few business development positions.
When I received my first stack of résumés for these positions, I consulted with Lori in PR. Unlike the other positions I had filled, I had no idea what I was looking for. But Lori had made it very clear that the school the applicants had attended was very important. She went through the stack, “This one is good, this one isn’t. Oh, you have to talk to this one . . .”
She read off the names of the schools. They didn’t mean anything at all to me. I paid great attention to the type of secondary education that each applicant had pursued, but my experience indicated that any individual could get a lot or very little from almost any college. It was up to them.
Apparently, my view was naïve. I was told that the world did not work that way. Only the best were accepted into certain schools. If I wanted the best, then I had to hire those who had attended the best schools.
So that is how I ended up interviewing Karen. I was just as comfortable with Karen as I had been with Sharon. She was so—clear. She projected none of the ambiguity I was so used to in interviews. She had heard about Neoforma and was considering it.
She walked right into my office and told me her story. She had been working in an investment bank on Wall Street for a year. She said, “I made a few hundred grand.” So she obviously wasn’t coming to the Valley for the money. “I’ve saved enough that I can work on the smaller salary that start-ups can afford. I want some real-world experience, so I can increase my options down the road.”
Then she asked me questions about the company.
I was glad that she had taken control of the interview because I was very distracted by my own observations.
How can her skin be so smooth? And her hair, it’s simple—yet it looks perfect. She is casually dressed, but her clothes look—well, just right somehow.
Don’t get me wrong, I was not attracted to her. I was awed by her. I don’t think that she was naturally beautiful, but she would attract attention wherever she went.
She was so confident, so certain about what she was looking for. She summarized the pros and cons of choosing Neoforma over her other primary choice, a sports-and-fitness Internet start-up. She was very athletic, so that subject matter was more interesting to her. Yet Neoforma was further along. She would get more advanced experience.
I didn’t realize it immediately, but she was indirectly asking my opinion on which job she should take. I was so flattered by her respect for my position as a founder that I told her the truth—she should take the other job. It was a better match to her objectives. I made her an attractive offer. She didn’t accept it.
Without exception, the young MBAs I interviewed were eerily similar. Whatever their gender or ethnicity, they all had the same charm, handsomeness, intelligence and confidence. They all had many choices. They knew that Neoforma would be privileged to have their attention.
We hired several of them and paid them a bundle. We sent them out to forage and they found things. But they had no idea what to do with what they found.
When it came down to it, they were just kids, very smart kids. And they wanted to have a good time. Their expense accounts were astronomical.
They had no experience to call upon when it came down to the details of a business deal—which might have been okay, except that they were so used to the path of least resistance that they simply switched to something else when something didn’t go easily. They were far more interested in rewriting a business plan than implementing it. It was easier that way.
Despite their confidence and poise, they were the first to go, when the time came to trim the fat. Wherever they are, I am sure they’re doing fine—they have Neoforma on their credentials.