Tue 9 May 2006
I saw Balter on Sunday for dinner at Upstairs on the Square, right next door to Peet’s, the coffee place where we had first talked in January about the 90 Days idea. He seemed a little rough around the edges. He confessed that he had quaffed an excess of gin and tonic the night before and maybe that was the cause of his condition. But maybe not.
I told him about a speech I had recently heard by Steve Case, founder of AOL. Steve said that, in some ways, he enjoyed the early days of the business, when no one was sure what the outcome might be, more than the later times when the business had become a huge success. Balter said, “Yeah. But we’re a long way from that.”
Yesterday I enjoyed a rare and welcome interview with David Wagner, BzzAgent COO. The very first day I came to the office, Wags and I spoke and he made it abundantly clear that he felt no need for blog immortalization and did not care to appear in 90 Days. He also worried that an inopportune post, on a transparent blog open to the world, could be distracting and even disruptive to the workings of the Hive. Why tempt fate? But nothing like that happened. In fact, Wagner volunteered yesterday that 90 Days has had some positive effect — both as a method of internal communication and as evidence that BzzAgent truly believes in transparency.
Once, I deliberately tested Wagner’s resolve to keep out of the blog, by mentioning his name in a post about a company meeting. I received a very polite email from him reminding me that he did not wish to appear in 90 Days and suggesting that my little test (which I’m sure he recognized as such) had no doubt been an oversight. I liked that.
In our conversation yesterday, Wagner seemed as much on edge as Balter had. Though Wagner has been involved in start-ups before, he made the point that every situation presents a different dynamic, and this one includes: a newly recomposed board of directors, a senior management team with short experience working together, new pressure to achieve quarterly numbers, rapid growth, intense technology needs, a Hive swarming with new hires, and the office move coming up. He speculated that the noise generated by so much activity — in addition to the business of running the business — had the potential to “wear away the collective motivation” and would have to be carefully guarded against. Which is not to say Wagner isn’t confident BzzAgent remains on a path to success. He is.
Elsewhere in the Hive, I’m glad to report that the collective motivation seems to be withstanding the challenges. Michele Pearl reported that BzzAgent “is in a good place overall. Sales are flowing in and we’re figuring out some really important things on the network side.” The Cave dwellers were hard at work on a variety of projects. Smita, the new QA engineer, had settled in, and Vishnu, the long sought-after java developer, arrives today. Jake Alper now sits near accounting and admitted that he was slightly lonely there without his fellow troglodytes, but would soon be joined by yet another new engineer. He lent me his cable again. Thanks.
Erik Heels, a lawyer who handles intellectual property issues, was pleased to report that several “bzz” words (including BzzAgent, BzzBlast, and BzzNetwork) are now well on the way to legal trademark protection. Joe Chernov sent out a missive about the company getting more good press, this time in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. A new HR person has been hired and starts in a few weeks. John Ramsey was handing out free trial memberships to BJ’s.
And speaking of motivation, Brian Dame has already lost five pounds in the Biggest Loser contest, which he thought was pretty good until Toof revealed he had lost eight. “I want a Coke,” Brian said. Neither Sara nor Mary-Stuart were saying how much they had lost.
When I left, I saw Elizabeth and Evan on Summer Street. “They’ve been yelling at me all day,” Elizabeth reported with a schoolgirl smile, referring to people who were upset by the raging debate about pests on the BeeLog. Evan snickered. (His post ignited the controversy.)
I walked toward the parking lot thinking to myself, “I wonder what’s going to happen to all these people and this unusual little company?”