This is the last in a series of 11 videos produced by the Smeal College of Business at The Pennsylvania State University. This one focuses on the challenges of keeping a work/life balance in the startup world.
This is the first in a series of eleven videos produced by the Smeal College of Business at The Pennsylvania State University. Under the direction of Dr. Anthony Warren, characters from Starting Something were interviewed in 2006. These professionally produced videos were packaged into a comprehensive entrepreneurship program.
The interviewees were not coached. I asked them to be as truthful as possible and speak from their own perspective. Ouch.
Note: You may notice that my interview sections are heavily edited. The day of the shoot, I had a once-in-a-decade flu, with a 103 degree temp. I was barely able to remain upright... and kept forgetting what I was saying... even worse than usual. Sorry 'bout that.
The seed of Neoforma was contained in the remnants of the capital equipment planning division, a group of mostly early employees—who either did not fit or did not want to fit into the new core of the company.
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In a last ditch effort to survive in an increasingly foreign body, I had demoted myself again to—well, to a regular member of the group. Nobody reported to me. I was four layers from the top. In effect, I had worked my way to the bottom.
In spite of the group’s ability to present great content on our website and to bring in significant revenue, the schism grew between Neoforma’s single-minded focus on profitability in the supplies market and my group’s focus on the capital equipment market.
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that what we were building in my group would eventually be relevant to what Neoforma was building, but the market dictated that Neoforma would not have the resources to build along more than one road at a time. And our group wasn’t on the most expedient road. It was evident that, by every business criterion, Neoforma would have to temporarily shelf the company’s capital equipment initiatives. We were necessary to the future, but distracting to the present.
We had been making money, but were at a point that we would require some investment to grow. Neoforma was now ready make the tough decision to postpone my group’s development.
I was too. I was tired. Tired of the stress between dependence and independence, between obedience and exploration. I was tired of being depressed. And, most of all, I was tired of holding onto the idea that Neoforma somehow needed me, or perhaps the hope that Neoforma somehow needed me.
But we were not willing to let go of some of the ideas that had originally inspired us. The capital equipment group had to survive. We had made too much progress to give up. So, in spite of a currently hostile environment for start-up businesses, we worked the crowd to facilitate a way to spin my group out of Neoforma.
I knew it would be helpful for Neoforma if Jeff and I and two key members of the group, Dave and George, left on good terms. And I imagined that it would make some of the people I was leaving behind feel better to know that this early piece of Neoforma history would still survive—and thrive.
So after several months of strangely and increasingly hostile negotiations, Attainia was formed. Our new, small company would set off into a world not too unlike the one that Neoforma had been born into.
Eerily similar to our experience at spinning out from Varian, nobody was comfortable discussing our departure. It was much too awkward. There were no goodbye lunches or closing ceremonies. We were just gone one day — or perhaps we were simply there in a different way from then on. The facilities guy was uncomfortable taking my badge and access key, but I insisted.
Bob and I said goodbye to each other via email.
In spite of the uncomfortable departure, we were excited by the idea that Neoforma was spinning off a new company. Actually, Neoforma had previously spun off at least two companies. With this tradition, Neoforma joined the ranks of many great Silicon Valley companies, including Varian, which has a long history of spinning off technologies and companies, including ones that would contribute to the development of advanced CT scanners, ultrasound equipment and dot matrix printers.
With the right nutrients and caretakers, Attainia would one day grow to its ultimate potential. And who knows what it might seed?
My initial role in the new company, Attainia, was to be limited. I had two other priorities. I had to spend some time with my family and I had to spend some time with myself.
I had to make sense of this bizarre experience and my elusive feelings about it. Every time I closed my eyes, jumbled memories threatened to overwhelm me.
Somehow, I needed to integrate what had happened over the last five years with who I am. I needed to write everything down and organize it somehow, but figuring out how to assemble all of the disparate experiences would take some time.
I had written often, but never anything more than five or ten pages. This was something else completely. It was a new and exciting challenge. It was like starting anew.
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It had started so simply. Or rather, in the beginning, it had appeared to be so much simpler than it was.
There was Neoforma. That was about all that could be said about it. Nobody knew what a Neoforma was. Neoforma was not like anything else in particular...
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Properly decorated and fluffed, the lightest of feathers can display a magnificent confidence.
I was still focused on the remnants of the capital-planning group in the company...
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I am an architect, writer, and serial entrepreneur.