Sep 6 2017

My Early Entrepreneurial Heroes

I woke up from a dream about being in my early 20’s. It was a complicated one that included struggling to finish my graduate degree (yup – that’s clearly an anxiety dream) along with meeting with Bill Gates and trying to sell him my company (something that never happened but clearly has some fantasy element to it.)

As I was brushing my teeth, parts of the dream stuck with me, as some do. In my waking haze, I inhabited some of my memories from my early 20’s. The fantasy meeting with Bill Gates led to the Microsoft / Lotus battle for #1, which reminded me of several Lotus meetings I attended with my Uncle Charlie when I was in college and he was CIO for Frito-Lay (I can’t remember his exact title – I think it was something like VP MIS, but he was what we would call a CIO today). Mitch Kapor loomed large there and at MIT, even after he left Lotus and started On Technology.

I flashed to a meeting in my late 20’s with Dan Bricklin at a restaurant in the Boston suburbs where I met with him and the founding team of Trellis when I was considering joining them as president or CEO (I can’t remember what the title was going to be – but Dan and I were going to be partners.) This was during a phase after Feld Technologies when I was making lots of angel investments and considering being founding-CEO of a company for a year at a time and then hiring a CEO and becoming chairman. This led to a memory of meeting Lisa Underkoffler, the aunt of John Underkoffler (close friend and CEO of Oblong) in the kitchen of my fraternity. I think Lisa ran product for TK Solver, the product from Software Arts (Dan’s company) product that came out after VisiCalc was a monster hit (the first killer app for the Apple II.)

Lotus 1-2-3 was the killer app for the IBM PC, so there’s Mitch again. By this point, the dream was merely wisps as I thought about the early entrepreneurial heroes of mine. Steve Case then popped into my mind, and I remembered how central AOL was to my life at the time. The “bfeld” moniker that I use came from my AOL address, long before I was using it anywhere else.

Robert Merton’s On the Shoulders of Giants was a powerfully important book that I read in graduate school. As we fetishize today’s entrepreneurial heroes in the software industry, let us not forget that we are standing on the shoulders of many giants. Mine include Bill Gates, Mitch Kapor, Dan Bricklin, and Steve Case. There are many more, but these four shaped my entrepreneurial path and shone a bright light of inspiration that lit the way.


Also published on Medium.