Lispian Random meanderings on whatever catches my fancy

The Beginning: Becoming an Entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur all starts with a single desire: to change the world. You think you can change it by coming up with a cool piece of technology, something no one else has. Something that will fundamentally change and challenge the way the world functions within a particular arena.

My arena of expertise is computer security. I’ve been doing it for nearly three decades. I’m one of the old guard and back in the ’90s had a cool idea: a generic policy engine capable of implementing and enforcing any computer security policy devised. I successfully completed my Master of Computer Science showing that the technology was feasible. My next goal was to get the capital to actually build and sell the thing. I thought it would be easy. Boy was I wrong!

It had all started in late 1997 with my thesis due, time running out, and patience all around at an all time low. I decided to take an extra week during Christmas and a few weeks thereafter to finish my thesis off once and for all. I figured a month of diligent work and I’d be done! I didn’t expect what nature was about to throw our way — no one was.

The first week of January brought about a bit of freezing rain. Nothing new to any of us in Ottawa, we just continued on our merry way. Two days in and it was getting weird. Three days and things began to happen: trees fell over, some hydro lines snapped, people lost power and went to shelters. No big deal, it’d soon end and life would return to normal. None of us could know that we were less than half through the worst Ice Storm ever to hit Canada. When it was finished 8 cm of ice had fallen from the sky and lay upon everything in Eastern Ontario and large swaths of Quebec, parts of the northern US, and the Maritimes. It was brutal, a third of all trees in Ottawa fell, hydro towers (the metal ones!) collapsed like paper, trees snapped like twigs, roofs caved in, the streets were skating rinks, we all had to stay indoors and to make matters worse power was going out all over the place. It was an awesome natural disaster. The Mexican Ambassador to Canada said he never would have believed a natural disaster could look so beautiful. Lots of people posted pictures.

This was the time I had judiciously put aside to finish my thesis, and power was going out all over town and the outlying regions. We offered our home to family and friends who lost power and I tried to concentrate on my thesis between reorganizing the house to accommodate our guests. Thankfully power never went out for more than eight hours and between UPSes and laptop batteries I was able to hammer out a draft of my thesis on Generic Policy Engines.

Through it all my connection to the Internet stayed up, as was the link to Carleton University. I e-mailed my thesis advisor (who was also at home) regularly and when I felt I was ready I submitted my thesis electronically — exactly a week after the Ice Storm finished — and waited. Within two weeks I got an e-mail from my advisor, the thesis was perfect. He recommended I submit it immediately and await my defence. I assumed it would come by March, it would be delayed again and again until April. When it came it lasted less than 10 minutes. They found no flaw in my logic. To say I was relieved is an understatement. To say I was perplexed by the brevity of the defence is another matter entirely. I wasn’t going to argue, I was done. I could now focus on what my true intent was — to make a saleable product out of my thesis. To start a great company, someplace I’d love to work and where others would love to work.

After the Great Ice Storm things were looking up! So, in the spring of 1998 my wife and I began writing a business plan. And we began talking to investment bankers and Angels to get advice on how to get some venture capital.

The roller coaster that was to be my life for the next 5 years was about to begin!

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September 2010
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