I met with startup advisor John Matthesen, mentor to HARBO Technologies in the 2012 UC Berkeley Startup Competition
I enjoy blogging.
I am enjoying it more all the time for it affords me the opportunity to sit down and talk with interesting people.
When I covered the Berkeley Startup Competition (prior to 2012 known as The Berkeley Business Plan Competition) on April 26, 2012, I introduced myself to John Matthesen. Matthesen was assigned this year to mentor HARBO Technologies, which won the Energy and Clean Tech (archived version for use if previous link breaks in the future — 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition winners list) track of the competition with its innovative system to greatly reduce the environmental impact of oil spills in bodies of water.
I met Matthesen while I was waiting in line to introduce myself to HARBO’s CEO Boaz Ur.
I told both Ur and Metthesen that I’d like to interview HARBO for my blog. Since HARBO has invented new technology, they’re not yet ready for press coverage, as they’re still working on the legal issues, Matthesen explained by email. But he said I could interview him individually so long as we didn’t discuss HARBO. Matthesen struck me as an interesting guy I should meet in any event, so I took him up on his offer.
I met John Matthesen for coffee at the trendy ZEB Cafe at the University of California Berkeley Law School at 2745 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, California USA. According to Matthesen’s website for his company Related Concepts, he helps companies with interim management, qualitative customer research, business process development, team building and coaching, and finally, board of directors / advisory boards. I confined my questions to his background and his work as a mentor.
We jumped around to a lot of topics, never really finding a theme for this post — it didn’t seem right to talk about the past companies he’s mentored for the Berkeley Startup Competition without getting the permission from those teams.
I do feel comfortable saying that two years ago Matthesen was mentor to the winner of the 2010 Products & Services Track, BrightSense, which, according the Berkeley competition’s website:
“… uses a novel patent-pending drug delivery technology to design customized whitening strips with peroxide dosages optimized for each user’s teeth.”
There is more information about BrightSense in the University of California 2010 Berkeley Business Plan Competition booklet.
Matthesen has been fortunate to advise two winning teams.
Matthesen was an early employee at Sybase, one of the early pioneers in the database market. Microsoft licensed Sybase to form the basis of Microsoft SQL Server, still Microsoft’s sole enterprise database product. Matthesen had worked in Information Technology role at a hotel in Hawaii, and the hours were brutal. The hours Sybase told its new hires they would be expected to work were long as well, but less intense that what he endured in Hawaii. Matthesen intended to stay at Sybase just 6 months, but instead stayed for 7 years, through their initial public offering of stock. Sybase today is owned by SAP.
After Sybase, Matthesen went to Commerce One, early enough to ride the first dot com boom up to its height, and for long enough to witness the carnage of the boom’s aftermath — another seven years.
After 14 years of intensity at Sybase and Commerce One, Matthesen was ready for a break, so he turned down an early job at Google, which sadly presumably cost him millions of dollars. Ouch!
I asked Mattesen if he knew David Henderson, but he didn’t. I hired Henderson to work with me for a little over a year at my first Internet company, Hotpaper.com, Inc., and his next job was at Commerce One.
While researching this post, I discovered that Commerce One is still in business, though it’s an invisible shadow of its former self. Congratulations to the team for staying in business given the turmoil along the way.
Matthesen entertained me with crazy stories of the stock price of Commerce One shooting past USD $1,000 per share and then collapsing to zero. Matthesen advised the Commerce One CEO to ‘buy something big’ of real value, but his advice was rebuffed. The companies Commerce One could have bought at the peak of its power as a public company are still large household names deeply embedded into the daily fabric of the planet.
Matthesen told me he managed his personal finances during that crazy boom time such that he could pay his Alternative Minimum Tax bill, when his colleagues and friends were going bankrupt over their huge AMT bills in the many millions of dollars.
Young entrepreneurs in today’s boom may not be familiar with how unfair United States tax policy was during the first boom. If one exercised stock options but didn’t sell the stock right away, there was a big risk that the stock would go down by the time you sold the stock. The AMT tax was applied to the paper gain you made when you exercised the stock, and if the stock collapsed before you could sell it, you still owed tax on the paper gain. Think of the devastation if you had a USD $100,000,000 paper gain and the stock dropped to zero before you sold it. You would owe AMT tax on the $100,000,000 even though you never touched the cash.
I haven’t paid much attention recently to this AMT trap, and I never got caught in it when I sold Hotpaper, as I never held options, just common stock.
I learned from Matthesen that the AMT trap in 2009 was partly fixed, retroactively. People who were ensnared in the early 2000s were able to apply for relief and get huge sums back from the United States Treasury.
I don’t want to take on the responsibility to accurately summarize the tax relief, so I direct you to this article on the subject.
I spoke with Matthesen for less than an hour, and mostly we shared war stories. After I interview Boaz Ur of HARBO, I’ll likely have more to say. Until then, have a look at the pictures I took of Matthesen at the conclusion of our conversation, above.