Lispian Random meanderings on whatever catches my fancy

The Real Work Begins

During the Winter of 1998-99 I had spent time discussing the possibility of having certain people join me at Texar. I had my sights on a number of people who I had known from prior interactions and with whom I’d hoped to reconnect. One of my primary targets was Tony, who I had met at Carleton University when we both were pursuing our Master of Computer Science degrees. Tony had completed his degree before I had and continued on towards his Ph.D.

Tony and I had repeatedly discussed the possibility of his joining Texar should Texar ever get funded. In early 1999 the possibility moved towards a high probability. Tony and I sat down and discussed the possibilities at my favourite restaurant, Mini-Italia in Centrepointe. Enjoying another fantastic meal prepared by Kenny, Tony and I discussed what was transpiring. He was interested but wanted to mull it over. I told him I’d keep him informed. When the deal finalized I told him the money was “imminent”. He contacted me a short while later and we discussed positions, salary, and other issues. When it was all over I had hired myself a Chief Scientist.

It was now April 1999, we had more than $2M in the bank, and were still operating out of our basement. The VCs wanted to get together for a kick-off meeting. They flew in and we sat down to discuss what had to be done next.

First thing on the agenda was a director of finance. They felt that we needed a qualified individual who could work the corporate books, handle various administrative minutiae, and handle various HR issues until we had the need to hire an HR person. I immediately remembered Drew. I had met Drew while attending a Coopers & Lybrand Christmas Party at the Chateau Laurier with my wife. Drew wore traditional Scottish attire, including kilt, to the formal event and his sense of humour and dynamism, plus his quirkiness, was enough to etch in my memory the impression of someone I’d love to work with should the opportunity ever arrive. To me, the time had arrived. But the question was how to track down Drew?

Second on the agenda was the need for office space. Working out of the basement was unacceptable and impractical for any start-up thinking of going to grow and that wanted to house sufficient computers, desks, etc. Plus, we needed a bit more formal space — and we wanted to get our house back! I was tasked with finding reasonably priced but good office space that met our needs. I hooked up with a broker and started touring office space while at the same time trying to organize the company into a logical layout and determine exactly who we needed to hire.

And once we had that settled we began to discuss what I had to do as Chief Executive and President in order to get the team in place, the product developed, and finally get the product out to market. We had a corporate name but no product name, no marketing, no sales, and only a few people in R&D. Our lack of Quality Assurance quickly became evident and the VCs offered their QA expert as an advisor so we could find the appropriate candidate. I began on the road of interviewing potential staff, eagerly awaiting TonyĆ­s arrival to at least assist in the selection process for R&D. And to that end, we were to delay coding until we had a team in place and had placed some development processes into place. I found it odd, but the VCs wanted the design, etc. documented “just in case”. When I realized I needed things like keyman insurance, etc. I realized it was just another of the insurance policies the VCs intelligently required. So the priority was to get everything out of my head and onto paper.

To add to the insanity of those first few funded weeks I, the person who’s been process averse his entire life, had to ensure a viable process was in place at Texar. To do that required doing the logical thing, ensuring that whoever I hired to manage R&D and QA were process driven, or at least process aware. Tony was definitely process aware. The guy I landed for the head of QA, Alberto, was process driven. A friend by way of our baby-sitter — our kids shared the same lovely woman who took care of our kids — we easily connected with respect to what was required to get a QA and R&D process up and operational. He was interviewed by our VCs and of all the candidates was easily the best. Not according to me, but according to the VCs. They felt we had a killer team in place on the R&D side. I felt that nothing could stop us. And we were well connected to the industry so filling vacancies in R&D and QA should not be too much trouble even if the Dot Com explosion was happening and startups were everywhere.

With R&D and QA on solid footing that left the question of Drew unresolved. How to find him? Fate would provide. My wife went shopping and noticed someone at the shopping centre who bore an uncanny resemblance to Drew. She approached him to double check and sure enough, it was Drew. His start-up had just run out of cash. Their misfortune would become our fortune. Drew remembered me as well and we hit it off immediately. Another set of interviews was arranged with the VCs and again they applauded the choice. In their view my wife and I were golden. We’d snagged three first rate managers, ones that awed even them. We were to discover we had a knack for attracting excellent talent and would soon find the process-driven manager for R&D we desperately required. Further evidence of the quality of our team would be exhibited years on when the Dot Com Implosion finally caught up with us wherein we’d be caught up as collateral damage to the excessive ways of firms attempting to make it in what is now termed the Internet Gold Rush.

But at that time, we knew that the real work could begin. All that was required was to get ourselves set up at the new offices — which would require a few more hires, software, and a lot more stuff than I could have imagined even a few months before. And the setting up of an IT group (a one man dynamo, in fact) so that everyone could focus on getting things done. In fact, one of the most pleasant aspects of dealing with our VCs was that they were techies who had been very successful and knew that removing obstacles ensured the best performance from technical staff. As we set up the firm the investors applauded our desire to hire staff whose purpose it was to remove obstacles.

Setting up the office to our liking was the next big step, but that went off without a hitch courtesy of my connections into the Croatian community.

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October 2010
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