Email Address and Chief Financial Officer- Such Cool Names!
February 25, 1995- Vanderbilt men’s basketball hosted University of Kentucky for a Saturday afternoon match. An old classmate, James Gilman, and I decided to meet up in Nashville for the weekend to hang out and catch the game. I think we somehow pretended to be students and sat in the rowdy section. At least that’s how I remember it. Vanderbilt lost, 71-60, to the #6 ranked Wildcats. Oh well, time for the next activity. I agreed to stop by and meet up with Bill Butler after the game to find out about this Internet business thing.
“This is a website,” said Bill, pointing to the Mosaic browser with an image of Reba McEntire. We can build these and businesses will start to market themselves on them. “Okay,” I said. “How does putting the image of Reba on your computer make you want to buy her records, assuming that’s the plan?” “No,” said Bill. “I’m typing a unique address on this web browser and it’s allowing me to see Reba but it’s not coming from my computer. I could look for other things. Look, the White House has a site.” He types H T T P : / / W W W . W H I T E H O U S E . G O V. I watch a site load, slowly, with text and images revealing themselves. “Oh, yeah, this is just like America Online and Prodigy. I even use a Compuserve account at the bank to download Freddie Mac loan prices,” I said, thus restoring my status as someone who understood what the hell Bill was showing me. “Well, kind of,” he said. “The Internet is actually a lot bigger and ANYONE can add their own site with their own information. Everyone will want this.” “Uh huh,” I nod and stare at the web page with images of team Clinton-Gore.
“But that’s not the only focus right now. We’re selling dial-up accounts so people can access the ‘Net. They can get to websites, news groups, build their own site and they get an email address....” Bill was clearly enthused. He explained that Telalink was an “Internet Service Provider.”
Oh yes, the “Internet! Well,” I pondered aloud, “I don’t know about this website idea but I think you’re on to something with this whole ‘electronic mail’ idea. I think it would be cool to send messages back and forth to someone without using the post office or a fax machine. So, if you’re selling accounts with access and it includes a......”
“An email address,” said Bill.
“Cool name!” I said. “Yes, I think businesses would love that. Who knows what they will do about a website. Maybe that will appeal to them too! So, what’s all of this got to do with me?”
“Well, you’re a banker. You know something about money. We’re selling accounts like crazy but, every day, we have to buy something or order something else. We can’t keep up ”
“Of course! You want me to help you find someone to manage the financial side. I don’t really know anyone but I could help you look at some resumes and maybe we could interview...”
Bill interrupted. “Tim and I were thinking YOU might be able to be the ‘money guy.’”
“Me? Chief Financial Officer?”
“Cool name!” he said.
“Oh, that would be rough. I live four hours away and wouldn’t be able to give you all enough time. I work pretty much a full work week at the bank.”
“I’m suggesting that you quit your banking job, move to Nashville and be our full-time....what did you call it again?”
“CFO- the...Chief Financial Officer?”
“Yes! Tim and I want you to be the CFO of Telalink Corporation!” proclaimed Bill.
At almost exactly the moment that I felt the full weight of the proposition set before me, a youthful, energetic lad with glasses and braces burst through the doors of the “server room” into a makeshift office/media room/warehouse of computer parts, junk etc. I thought that perhaps he was speaking a foreign language but I was able to decipher a few English words within the rapid fire succession of unfamiliar phrases and technical jargon. I think he was talking to Bill but perhaps it was just the boy’s vocal way of organizing some rather abstract thoughts into a way of explaining them to someone when such an explanation was needed.
Bill interrupted the quasi-soliloquy, “Yeah, I’ll be right with you. I’m sort of with someone right now.”
“Okbye,” said the youngster. It’s as if he was born without a “verbal space bar” and all of his words were a constant flow of connected letters and the separation of the words was really up to the listener. I’m not sure but he may not have seen me.
“That was Bob, the intern,” said Bill.
Tommy Williams recently offered a comment on how “Bob, the intern” came on board: “Bob Collie...was an incoming freshman at Vanderbilt and wanted Internet access and managed to break out of our improperly configured A/UX machine to a shell account and then was nice enough to tell us what we had done wrong.”
A match made in heaven? An 18 year old freshman hacker and a couple of 20-somethings with a start-up Internet Service Provider. I didn’t even know Tim that well. Evidently, I had impressed him during a previous visit when I suggested that Telasar, their consulting business, might be able to get a line of credit to finance the purchase of equipment they were selling. I remember, even then, Tim responded to my suggestion, “You want a job?” Truthfully, it wasn't THAT insightful of a comment.
I looked around and saw, Feisty, Tim’s cat, wandering around the room. I saw dirty clothes, dirty dishes, video game controllers and cardboard boxes piled up. Bill was wearing a pair of shorts with two gaping holes in the back. His boxers hung outside of them. I couldn’t tell if I was in a scene from “Animal House,” “Real Genius” or “Wargames.” Clearly, this would be a transition from my more formal banking life.
“I’m going to need some time to think about this. You got any financials?” I asked with great curiosity.
“Sure,” said Bill, confidently. “I’ve been taking care of all of that stuff. Let me just print out what we’ve got in MultiLedger.”
With balance sheets, income statements, GL reports, account details and a headache, I left Nashville. My head was spinning with questions. I forgot to look at the fuel gauge and managed to roll into a closed gas station off the Bluegrass Parkway where I spent the night. At 6:00 am, the attendant showed up. I refilled and headed back to Winchester asking myself:
“How can I possibly do this? How can I NOT?”
AUTHOR: Thomas Conner
Thomas Conner is the co-founder, president and chief financial officer of Sitemason, a hosted, supported alternative to Wordpress and Drupal, built for agencies, freelance designers and developers.