RIP Len Fassler
After 89 years on this planet, Len Fassler passed away on Friday.
Len was my Yoda. As a paternal figure, he was a close second to my father. I loved him deeply. And I will miss him every day.
We were introduced in the spring of 1993 by Jim Galvin, CEO of Allcom, which had just been acquired by Len’s company Sage Alerting Systems. Feld Technologies worked with Allcom whenever we needed a network installed for a client. At the time, the state-of-the-art was a wired 10BaseT ethernet network, so Allcom did the wiring, and we did everything else. After Jim’s company was acquired, Len asked him who else he should talk to in the Boston area. Jim introduced us, and that led to lunch near our office in downtown Boston.
Soon after, Len called me and asked if I’d be interested in selling Feld Technologies to Sage Alerting. It took a while for me and my partner Dave Jilk to decide to do it, but we closed the sale in November 1993.
Len and I ended up working together on many things over the past 27 years. I still have the Brooks Brothers striped shirt that Len and his partner Jerry Poch gave me when we signed the documents for Feld Technologies to be bought by Sage Alerting Systems (which changed its name to Sage Technologies and then changed it to AmeriData). When I started making angel investments in 1994, Len invested alongside me in many companies, including NetGenesis, Harmonix, and Oblong. We then co-founded Sage Networks (which changed its name to Interliant) with Raj Bhargava (NetGenesis co-founder) and Steve Maggs (whose company was also acquired by AmeriData.) At Mobius, we invested in Vytek, another company Len co-founded. As an angel, I personally invested in CoreBTS, the company Len co-founded after Vytek was acquired.
There’s an enormous amount of my business history packed in that paragraph. Rather than go through a bunch of things we did together, I want to list some memories that will stay with me until the end of my life.
Len loved to smoke a cigar. I’d never smoked, but for several years, while we were co-chairs of Interliant together, we had a tradition of going for a long walk at the end of the day when we were together. We both smoked a cigar during this walk and talked about whatever had happened during the day and anything unresolved. Len’s cigars were omnipresent – I still remember his Lexus’s smell, which was pleasant because the cigars smelled like Len.
Going for a walk was a foundation of our relationship. Whenever we were in the same office, I knew we had something to figure out if Len came by my desk and said, “Brad, let’s go for a walk.” When we weren’t together, the phone call was the equivalent of a metaphorical walk. He had a remarkable talent for bringing up issues directly yet clearly, and working through them quickly.
Everything I learned about buying a company, selling a company, or doing a deal came from Len. If you’ve ever worked with me in any deal capacity, I’m channeling Len. I learned how to be a board member from Len. I learned how to complete a negotiation, walk away from the table, be empathetic, and be available. He also taught me how to move on when something didn’t work out or go my way.
From 1996 to 2001, I spent a lot of time with Len in New York, where Interliant was headquartered. I stayed in an apartment near Lincoln Center that I shared with the CEO of another company Len was on the board of, or at Len’s house in Harrison, NY. I felt safe in that house, loved by Len and his wife, Bunny, tucked in and comfortable in the upstairs bedroom, and part of their family at the breakfast table in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure I could find my way without Google Maps from the Interliant office in Purchase to Len’s house as well as from Dewey Ballantine’s office in NYC to Len’s house. That house was full of love.
The photo above is from the day before Fitbit went public in June 2015. I had breakfast with Len at the Gramercy Park Hotel, where I was staying. I told him I had the morning off and asked him what he wanted to do. He said he’d never been in Gramercy Park since it was a private park, so we got the key to the park from the concierge and walked around it and talked for an hour. We then wandered around the Baruch College buildings talking some more. We ended that morning with a big hug like we started and ended all of our days together.
I remember clearly a phone call on 12/1/2000 where Len called me from NYC. He told me that Cable & Wireless wasn’t moving forward with the acquisition of Interliant – the deal was all but done. Rather than approving the deal, the C&W board decided to stop all M&A activity given they just found out they would have their first quarterly loss in many years. That night, Len joined about 50 friends at the Greenbriar Inn in Boulder for my surprise 35th birthday party, which Amy had arranged. He had a remarkable ability to take every setback in stride.
I remember his signature. I saw it for the first time on the back of a manila envelope where he jotted down the terms we had just agreed to for Sage Alerting Systems to acquire Feld Technologies. Under the terms, he signed his name. I remember signing document after document with him at Interliant and remember sitting at the Interliant office in Purchase after the IPO roadshow, waiting for the SEC to clear our filing so we could price. We were waiting for one document, after which we’d sign one more thing, and the bankers would price the offering, and we’d go public the next morning. When the fax machine printed ten pages (instead of two) that were additional comments on our SEC filing (that same one that Merrill Lynch had said three weeks earlier “we are good to go on the roadshow – the SEC always clears this on time”), we knew we weren’t pricing that night. Our order book collapsed two days later. We went public two months later, but there was a lot of Scotch drunk the night we got that fax from the SEC. I didn’t get to see Len’s signature next to mine that night.
I loved the way Len put his arm around me. I loved the hug he always gave me. I loved his relationship with his son David, who also became a good friend. I loved how we said “I love you” when we said goodbye in person or on the phone.
Len changed my life. He gave me my second favorite quote, “They Can’t Kill You And They Can’t Eat You” (my dad gave me my first favorite quote, “If You Aren’t Standing On The Edge You Are Taking Up Too Much Space“)
My parents were good friends with Len. Every time I was together with all of them, I was exceedingly happy.
My long publishing relationship with Wiley began with a breakfast meeting that Len arranged with Matthew Kissner, who was a Wiley board member.
If you’ve ever heard me say, “Would you buy it for a dollar?” I learned that from Len. His influence on me formed the basis of my business philosophy, now called #GiveFirst. He was one of the first lawyer-turned-entrepreneurs I worked with, which helped me appreciate the importance of law in business and the importance of business judgment in the law.
The ultimate brilliance of Len was his ability to build deep emotional and enduring relationships. The number of people he influenced and who loved him is extraordinary.
The last time Len and I talked live was in October when he called me to say goodbye. Since then, his daughter Ellen has been my conduit to him, via emails that I’d been sending a few times each week. Ellen read them to Len and then sent me back a note with his response. Ellen, thank you.
On Friday morning, when I heard that Len passed, I immediately reached out to Frank Alfano, Jenny Lawton, Bruce Klein, Steve Maggs, Jerry Poch, Raj Bhargava, and Jerry Lebow. Some of them I talk to regularly. Others, like Bruce, I haven’t talked to in a while. But when Bruce and I got on the phone to talk about Len, it was like we were together the day before, working on something at Dewey Ballantine’s office, with Len at the other end of a long conference room table working on something else at the same time.
Len – I love you. I will miss you and think about you every day. Thank you for the sensational gift you gave me of your friendship. When it’s safe to travel to New York again, know that Frank, Bruce, Jenny, and I will be having dinner at Cellini’s together with a place set for you.