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Boot camp was never like this

CNN's Greg Lefevre reports on the boot camp seminars designed to help internet start up companies.
Windows Media 28K 80K

September 15, 1999
Web posted at: 3:27 p.m. EDT (1927 GMT)

By Greg Lefevre
CNN San Francisco Bureau Chief

Jim Gable knows a really cool idea for his Internet radio search Web site was not enough. He needed money. And guidance.

To make his site really click, he needed advice, and money. Lots of money.

"Ours definitely started in our bedrooms. We were all working at home for months and we first got this idea -- researching it to make sure it was a good idea," Gable said.

Gable had his concept firmly in mind.

"There's a ton of Internet radio that's actually on the Internet now, and Kerbango makes it easier to find it. So we thought that the market for Internet audio was really exploding and we felt that there was a need for an easier way to go find it because there are thousands and thousands of radio stations on the Web today."

So he went to Bootcamp for Startups.

Founded by Guy Kawasaki, an early Apple Computer pioneer, Bootcamp hosts the thousands of Internet wannabes, turning some into could-bes.

But just how many of the more than a thousand in attendance will really succeed?

Kawasaki tried to be realistic. "Statistically it's probably one out of a hundred, so that means there's ten out there. Maybe twenty," Kawasaki said.

But nobody can predict in advance who it is. That's the hard part.

He says finding the successful candidate on which to shower money is not simply a mathematical formula. He looks at the people involved in the new company.

"It's the figuring out who it is," Kawasaki said.

I had to remind Kawasaki of the management history of his own former company, Apple Computer. It blossomed under founder Steve Jobs, then Apple threw Jobs out.

"Yes, but he's back again," Kawasaki reminded me, then added, "As a company grows larger and larger it will have to bring in different types of managers."

Then comes the warning.

"I think the key is you focus on the revolution and what it is marketing and not be obsessed with your position. The goal is to create a great company, not to create a company that you remain CEO of."

Be warned. You may succeed, but that success might also drive you out of your company. Maybe you do what Jobs did. Found another (NeXT), and build another (Pixar).

The Bootcamp looks like no other boot camp. Two days of intense sessions on business plans, promotion, recruiting. Session titles like "Life's a Pitch," "How to Build Buzz," and "Lessons From The Emergency Room."

I asked Silicon Valley banker John Dean if he saw likely customers.

"Are they ready to borrow money? Maybe not, but are they ready for advice?"

They're getting plenty.

Dave Burkett of Albuquerque's got to rehearse his money pitch before a panel of venture capitalists.

"We're looking for financing at $3.3 million to build a Web site that links folks with real time events based on their profiles. Marathons for runners, races for car buffs," Burkett pitched.

Even venture capital auditions for entrepreneurs!

"Getting up in front of these guys, doing it for real even if it's thirty seconds and even if it's in this setting gets me psyched and gets me to prepared to go through it again," Burkett said.

Of the five venture capitalists on the panel, only one did not give him the thumbs down. That person got a return visit from Burkett.

Like many sites, Steve Simpson's is not even up yet. "We're just in the embyrionic stages right now. We have the concept," Simpson said.

Simpson, a former Microsoft staffer, is teamed with a former fashion executive from Nordstrom's. They envision fashion help for the boutique-challenged.

"We think we have a pretty good market niche idea. We want to pull together the tools to make sure the idea works in e-commerce.

Some come to the Bootcamp with no money, no job and high hopes.

Marty Wilson's travel planning site seemed like a copy of many already online, but got a thumbs up when the money people heard the pitch.

"No one gets paid right now. Actually, I think for companies like ours the objective is to appear as much as possible like a company and then eventually become one in doing so.

He founded the company with two friends and is giving himself until the end of the year to make it go.

One of his staff already works for another startup and moonlights for him. But is he on the right track? He's sure he is and tells of the breakup of his last company.

"In 1996 my partner and I didn't agree on where the Internet was heading. I saw it as the future and he saw it as being a fad. So we went different ways."

Even non-Internet companies make the pitch. GreyPilgrim makes robots that clean up hazardous materials. Founder Robert Kent wasn't looking for money from the venture capitalists, he was targeting the millionaires they helped before.

"I want the people they've made rich who want to do something for the planet," Kent said, "to help us clean up nuclear waste storage sites."

Think about asking for lots of money. Marc Ostrofsky of MultiMedia Publishing Corporation says that sometimes big money is easier to get because small loans take too much time to monitor for the investor's potential reward.

"He doesn't want to invest a hundred thousand dollars at a time," Ostrofsky said. "It's too difficult to manage a lot of deals at a hundred thousand each. Most investors if they have that kind of money would rather manage two deals at five million each."

Bootcampers learn what works. Kawasaki talks up passion and persistence.

"A good idea is about ten percent and implementation and hard work, and luck is 90 percent," Kawasaki said.

They also learn to be fearless about failing, because they'll probably fail.

But John Dean of Silicon Valley Bank says entrepreneurs must persist.

"Don't get discouraged. You can't. You've got to just get up and go again and again."

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