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 August 1, 1999

Local entrepreneurs share business woes, celebrations

With the entrepreneurial spirit riding high at the reservoir that day in 1991, Terry Gold started to tell Jim Fudge, who he knew from work at AT&T Bell Labs, about his idea for a business. The two were admiring the competitors’ designs at the Boulder Kinetics race, and likely being inspired by their creativity, Gold shared his vision of creating a new business making call-center software.

With $10,000, two computers and some recycled office furniture, the two broke away from the telecommunications giant to become the newest kid on the block in the call-center software industry.

Almost nine short years later, Gold Systems became a member of the Inc. 500’s Class of 1998, a prestigious group of companies that had sales of at least $200,000 in 1995 and a five-year sales history that includes increasing revenues in the qualifying year. Their customers include 11 of the Fortune 20, including Bank of America, Pfizer, MetLife, 3M, Mobil Oil, Levi Strauss & Co., Sun Microsystems, General Mills and dozens more national companies.

Fledgling entrepreneurs everywhere, take heart. They did not have a clue about starting a business when they first thought of their idea. Through trial and error and with timing, friends, hand-wringing and of course a brilliant plan, they bootstrapped their business. The carrot dangling before them was success. Plain and simple. To prove they could do it and do it well.

In Boulder County, the entrepreneurial spirit is still riding high, fostered in part by the Boulder County Technology Incubator, some large high-tech companies from which to spin off, and a community stew of money, ideas and opportunity.

But once an entrepreneur has made a million, then what? From the outside, it may appear that these business owners are on Easy Street. But Terry Gold can tell you sometimes you need advice.

“I thought I was the only one going through what I was going through as an entrepreneur,” Gold said. “You can’t talk to everyone in the company about everything that’s bothering you. My wife is great support, but she can only take so much of my talking about balance sheets and financials.”

Marci Levine, president and chief executive of Saja Software in Longmont, also could use help from time to time.

“I have a great board of advisers and yet sometimes you need more of an outsider’s perspective. You need to be able to contact others who are facing similar issues as you are.”

These young CEOs have found peers facing similar situations in the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO). Not only can their peers relate to their problems, they also can celebrate their successes.

“They’ve helped me a lot,” Levine said. “YEO keeps me from becoming isolated. I belong to another small group of women entrepreneurs. But in YEO, there is a value in diversity and different experiences in YEO, and being a women in YEO has only been a positive experience.”

YEO is an national organization of company founders, CEOs and controlling shareholders who have earned their companies $1 million in gross revenues. Described as a safe haven for entrepreneurs under age 40,’ the group meets regularly for educational events, conferences, socializing and confidential forums.

Local YEO chapter founder Brad Feld, who moved to Boulder after setting up a chapter in Boston more than six years ago, has co-founded many high-tech companies, and is a major shareholder in Softbank, which merged local E-mail Publishing into Messagemedia. Feld also founded the Colorado Keiretsu, a group of more than 125 Internet companies that meets regularly to network the old-fashioned way.

Networking also within the YEO has created some powerhouses, although that is not the real intention of the group. For instance, when Gold met Feld through YEO, Feld ended up joining Gold Systems’ board of directors. And recently another connection was made that resulted in the acquisition of XoR Network Engineering Inc. by Red Shift Interactive Inc.

“I was introduced to the CEO of Red Shift through YEO,”said Herb Morreale, chief executive, president and co-founder of XoR. “It’s a new company being formed by what’s going to be a large national network engineering company.” Boulder-based Red Shift, funded by private equity firm Frontenac Co., plans to continue strategic acquisitions of eBusiness solutions companies.

Morreale says he would never have had the introduction had it not been for a connection through YEO. “The truth is in business, personal networking is huge.”

Morreale’s connection came from a person who was in his forum, a group of seven to nine who meet more frequently than the entire chapter to discuss issues with confidentiality. In forum, a member can describe a situation at work or in their personal life and then hear from everyone else who may have had a similar experience.

“We don’t sit around and say You should do this.’ It’s more the Socratic method of sharing info; a very fine distinction,´ said Andrew Currie, YEO member and vice president of product marketing for newly formed Messagemedia. “We purposely stay away from people giving advice. But it’s hard to resist asking for advice. Especially with people like Vahe (Christianian, vice president of Mike’s Camera); they have been in business a long time, they have stories. Terry Gold, he’s one of those guys people look up. People like Herb at XoR, too.”

Currie wishes YEO had been around earlier in his career.

“YEO came to play for me in 1996.But especially in 1997. Through meeting folks there and in the forums, I learned about funding and acquisitions.”

Currie was a founder of E-mail Publishing and helped his company make the change to Messagemedia. He would discuss with YEO various issues he was facing, knowing that everything was kept confidential, and when the deal went through, he was congratulated by his forum members. Going from a small, private company that entered the e-commerce arena before there was any sense of its magnitude to a public company that is on a tear acquiring companies, Currie can sit back and reflect on the role YEO has played.

“I’ve come to think that great ideas are a dime a dozen, but building a company and the people skills that go along with that, is much harder. YEO is a great resource for folks. Certainly there are other people in the county that would benefit from it, but they don’t even know about.”

With the entrepreneurial spirit riding high at the reservoir that day in 1991, Terry Gold started to tell Jim Fudge, who he knew from work at AT&T Bell Labs, about his idea for a business. The two were admiring the competitors’ designs at the Boulder Kinetics race, and likely being inspired by their creativity, Gold shared his vision of creating a new business making call-center software.

With $10,000, two computers and some recycled office furniture, the two broke away from the telecommunications giant to become the newest kid on the block in the call-center software industry.

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