Entrepreneuring amidst the embers

Summary

Washington Post October 1, 2001 By Gary Arlen

Two days after the tragedy, I visited a garage-level startup somewhere out Interstate 66. It was a refreshing break to spend a couple hours with the prototypical entrepreneurial team — the techie and the marketer — who could focus on their latest business vision after the initial discussion about the horrific events of Sept. 11.

As an inside-the-Beltway denizen, I venture cautiously into the netherworld of outlying Northern Virginia. The principal member of the team (the marketing guy with the money) has migrated from hardware to software to systems. Through the decade that I’ve known him, I’ve traveled from Bethesda to Reston to Centreville to Chantilly to see the latest iteration of his vision, watching an array of companies take shape, some going public, others vaporizing.

What I saw crystallized and validated his long-term vision. The product remains behind non-disclosure barriers for now. Suffice to say it’s a software package that, impressively, uses Web-era tools but looks beyond the personal computer platforms as we know them. It seeks to create interactive, customized communities, focusing on the special interests of groups while enabling links among like-minded individuals. There are commercial connections, but the initial emphasis is on user-created ...

Washington Post October 1, 2001
By Gary Arlen

Two days after the tragedy, I visited a garage-level startup somewhere out Interstate 66. It was a refreshing break to spend a couple hours with the prototypical entrepreneurial team — the techie and the marketer — who could focus on their latest business vision after the initial discussion about the horrific events of Sept. 11.

As an inside-the-Beltway denizen, I venture cautiously into the netherworld of outlying Northern Virginia. The principal member of the team (the marketing guy with the money) has migrated from hardware to software to systems. Through the decade that I’ve known him, I’ve traveled from Bethesda to Reston to Centreville to Chantilly to see the latest iteration of his vision, watching an array of companies take shape, some going public, others vaporizing.

What I saw crystallized and validated his long-term vision. The product remains behind non-disclosure barriers for now. Suffice to say it’s a software package that, impressively, uses Web-era tools but looks beyond the personal computer platforms as we know them. It seeks to create interactive, customized communities, focusing on the special interests of groups while enabling links among like-minded individuals. There are commercial connections, but the initial emphasis is on user-created content. The concept is ambitious, and the entrepreneurs admit they are still molding a business model.

Screened through the haze of the post-attack environment, I appreciated more than ever this approach to creating an interactive community through telecommunications and graphics tools that have emerged during the past decade. Equally impressive, this latest concept is built upon elements (good, bad or unproved) from this entrepreneur’s previous ventures. The project validates the evolutionary process. It gleans factors, features and, most significantly, experiences in efforts to establish a viable product and service.

Encountering the latest efforts of these entrepreneurs amidst the chaos and hand-wringing of mid-September certainly colored my appreciation. During that first horrendous week, so many people were motivated to splash their reactions, impressions and feelings via e-mail to their circle of acquaintances.

The human need to connect — via whatever means available — was evident throughout the catastrophic aftermath. The value of convergence was also emphasized as we moved among multiple media to gather and dispatch information and reactions. The images from TV prompted us to go to keyboards or telephone keypads to share information or vent feelings.

We all recognized with amazement that the infrastructure remained largely stable — even so close to the grounds zero in Arlington and New York. I was caught in midtown Manhattan at the moments of impact and was awed at the miraculous ability to connect and reassure loved ones throughout that day. I was especially struck by the need for a newly created community to communicate — to tell others of their experiences. Nowhere was this more evident than on a Metroliner back to Washington later that day. We fellow travelers — some still coated in dust from their treks from Wall Street to Penn Station — shared tales with each other when we were not dialing mobile phones to assure friends that we had safely escaped.

The urge to communicate has never been stronger. As I listened to my entrepreneurial friends elaborate on their vision, my appreciation of this need was strengthened. As the past month has demonstrated, there are no sure things. Those two guys in suburban Virginia may or may not succeed. Their diligence and dedication come at a time when human communities and high-tech capability are converging. They are using their entrepreneurial experiences and in the process proving that the horrors of the world are not shutting down the technology future.

© 2001 Post Newsweek Tech Media Group

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications in Bethesda

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