Thursday, June 23, 2005

How I got here...

A funny thing happened while rewriting the business plan the past few days... I realized that the new business we have been developing was actually not an idea revisited from 2002, but rather, was a logical extension of the vision I had back in 1994 when I decided that the emerging medium of the Internet would be my professional focus. In fact, many of the principal Insytes I developed back in the early days are at the root of what we are doing.

Most people realize that where we are today is a result of where we were yesterday. I have long made this assertion with regards to Insytes since the name of my prior company Conversal was was created with the intention of being the brand for conversational knowledge. But, like Shrek's personality, there are many layers to this onion, some of which I only peeled back yesterday. For competitive reasons, I am not able to connect all the dots here, but for those potential partners and qualified investors, I felt a deeper bio might be in order. Truth be told, I could publish a 200+ page book detailing this story, so it wont be deep deep, but it will give you a better idea of who I am and why Insytes is where I will finally make it to the big time.

I want to talk about work experiences that have influenced me since that would seemingly be more relevant to the topic at hand, but before doing so, you must understand what makes me who I am. I was born shortly after we first put a man on the moon, August 24, 1969 (A leo/virgo cusp for those of you who care). I was an accident, but as it turns out a miraculous one at that. My father, who I never met or knew other than through short notes and $10 per week child support met my Mother at some social event for a local club. I actually don't know how long they knew each other before conceiving me, but would imagine that my Mother must have known him fairly well beforehand. My father, Leo, got my mother, Mandy pretty drunk and talked her into having sex for the first time at age 25. First time - first (and only) child. My Grandfather Ed took out the figurative shotgun and took them both to the altar.

Shortly after I was born, my mother became concerned about my dad's responses to my crying. Anecdotally, I understand he would shake me to get me to stop crying and he was verbally abusive to her. So when I was a few months old she decided that she had enough and wanted a divorce. Fearful that he would somehow get custody of her "miracle baby, she agreed to the foul smelling child support agreement I mentioned earlier. Fortunately, I was raised with great midwestern values, growing up with mom and my grandparents who encouraged me to ask questions and provided me with a remarkable learning tool on every different subject matter available.

But most of all they provided me with a loving environment. They were always there when I came home from school. Grandma helped me with homework (she was really good at a lot of things) and even gramps helped me with my math homework (he was a tool and die man among other things). They created a framework for thinking about the world from a middle class perspective that let me look beyond it. My mother taught me to think different long before it was ever an Apple ad slogan. She had big dreams for how the world could be - how it should be and her zest for life, her optimism and her love of people is my foundation for all I do in this world. In later years, her encouragement and her fervent belief that her "miracle" boy could do anything helped me to believe in myself and have courage to take action. In times of self doubt and personal crisis, I still see her pumping her fist and telling me to "go, go go - you can do anything!"

As for material wealth, I grew up on my mom's social security checks and my grandparents pensions. I never got everything I wanted, but I always got what was needed. Even as an adult, when I needed something, they made sure I got it. When I turned 16, gramps gave me his car. When I needed to go to college and the scholarships were not enough, they came up with the cash to help me get my Bachelors degree. When I wrecked it a week later, he bought me another used car. When I started my first company, mom kept gas in my car tank and food in my belly by dishing out a few dollars here and there. When my first company failed and I had no money and no car, I moved back in with gramps to get back on my feet. It was only me and him left out of my immediate family, and we had a chance to bond, playing golf several times per week, sharing meals that he proudly cooked for us and just shooting the shit about life and how much we missed my mother and my grandmother. When it came time in 1999 to leave my first (and only) well paying job at the US Mint to start what is today Conversal, he helped me capitalize the business with a loan for $40,000. Even more recently, when cash flow was poor, gramps would come up with a short term loan for a couple of thousand, which I paid back quickly. Unfortunately, that was really my inheritance he gave me, so now there is no more going to the well for funding this business any further.

By now, I am imagining you are saying so what? Well, both my mother and my father had Cerebral Palsy, which makes the fact that I came out relatively normal something of a small miracle. While there were a few dark periods in my childhood and my adult life after mom became an alcoholic, ultimately dying from cirrhosis, my mother's soul shined so brightly that her impact is still discussed by many of my friends who had the chance to meet her as well as all of her friends at the Publix supermarket, at the 7-11, in the club, at the bowling alley and anywhere else she went. She loved everyone and set a great example for me to follow.

I used to say that I was 'touched by the hand of god' to be so blessed - to have the capacity to think, to create, to see things differently, to have such a great family, to have 2 legs and 2 arms, to have the ability to see, hear and smell - all these things and more I was, and am, grateful for. In looking back today, I realize more aptly, that I was touched by the spirit of my mother which is the real reason I am here today. While she is no longer with us, you can get a better sense for who she was through a mini-book she published, based on a high school paper she wrote (BTW - she was one of the first 'disabled' kids to graduate from the Chicago public school system)

In her name, I have planned to create "The Mandy Fund" which is a college scholarship fund for kids with cerebral palsy. I wish I had more time to do everything I want to do, but this one needs to wait till we make something of the current business, so perhaps within the next year or so, I will be able to fund it properly and begin fundraising efforts.

In the meantime, all I can do is send her my thanks and my love for getting me to here. My only real desire is that she would have been able to see all the great things I have seen in the world and to have met the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of calling a friend.

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