Kevin Warnock

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My memories of Priya Haji, who passed away at age 44 on July 14, 2014

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Priya Haji, Will Rosenzweig and Kirsten Saenz Tobey - April 11, 2014 at GSVC Finals in Berkeley, California

Priya Haji, Will Rosenzweig and Kirsten Saenz Tobey – April 11, 2014 at GSVC Finals in Berkeley, California USA. Photograph by Kevin Warnock.

I am writing this piece with a heavy heart.

Priya Haji passed away July 14, 2014 at the young age of 44. She leaves behind a daughter under a year old and a son that is 2 and a half. Here are some news stories of her death: re/code, TechCrunch, Site Pro News, Palo Alto Online, The Non Profit Times. Here is the official memorial page for Haji. A celebration of Haji’s life will take place tomorrow, Saturday, July 19, 2014 at the Anderson Auditorium at the Berkeley-Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, in Berkeley, California USA. Here is the Facebook page for the celebration.

I met Haji in 2005.

My Internet startup at the time was housed in the basement of the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley, California USA. This basement was home to about six tiny startup companies at the time.

One day David Charron, at the time the Associate Director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, brought by Haji and her business partner Siddharth Sangvi and assigned them to the cubicle on the other side of the partition to my right as I was seated at my laptop.

Sangvi and Haji were starting their company called World of Good in order to lift from poverty poor women that lived in the developing world.

When I met this dynamic pair, they had yet to sell anything to anyone, and yet Haji was already talking about building the brand ‘World of Good’ even though she didn’t have any customers and didn’t have the Internet domain address It seemed to me at the time that they were jumping the gun a bit to be talking about branding before they had anything to sell or any customers.

But Haji was emphatic she would build World of Good into a recognizable brand that would extend beyond the tags attached to each item.

I soon observed Sangvi and Haji develop into entrepreneurial stars.

Haji had laid the groundwork for her new venture by traveling for six months through multiple emerging countries, where she met with women that would make the products her new venture would eventually sell.

The basement of the Bancroft hotel (at 2680 Bancroft Way Berkeley, California 94704 USA) was subdivided into cubicles. There were no private offices. There was a windowless conference room that could fit ten people.

A later stage company, Iris A/O, occupied a third of the space. For that privilege, they paid rent to the hotel directly. All the other companies paid nothing thanks to the generosity of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, at the time led by the Founding Executive Director Jerry Engel. The center is now known as The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship.

Since there was no warehouse space, the World of Good pair modified the broom closet to be their first ‘warehouse.’

I was there at this magic moment, since this closet was an arms reach from my desk. Sangvi just installed a padlock hasp to the door and frame, and the entire inventory of the company lived in this perhaps 6 square foot space for the first couple of months after Haji and Sangvi moved in to this makeshift startup incubator, officially called the Berkeley Entrepreneurship Laboratory. This space has since closed and been replaced by the shockingly upscale Berkeley Skydeck Accelerator that fills the penthouse of the tallest building in Berkeley.

Haji wisely chose to focus on physical retail sales to start, rather than Internet or online sales.

World of Good was founded on the principle of fair trade where the workers that actually made the products were paid a living wage for their country. This is in contrast to most businesses, where workers are paid as little as possible to maximize the profits for the stakeholders in the business.

What Haji recognized early is that fair wages mean products that are premium priced. She and Sangvi did not have the money to open their own upscale retail store or chain of stores, so Haji used her prodigious powers of persuasion to convince Whole Foods Market, an upscale organic grocery store chain in the United States, to allow World of Good to place their products inside Whole Foods stores.

Haji was intent on establishing World of Good as an identifiable consumer brand. She and Sangvi created an adorable kiosk from Ikea brand unpainted wood bookshelf units. Sangvi used an existing rather unknown decorative computer font to write out the World of Good company name, and the resulting charming logo endured I believe unchanged for years until the brand was eventually discontinued well after the company was sold.

By this time, I estimate World of Good had purchased fifty different gift items from women in countries such as India, Chile and Pakestan. The items included such impulse purchase items such as jewelry, coin purses, scarves and purses. Assembled together, the first kiosk was lush and inviting. It took up about two square feet of floor space, as these Ikea bookcases were perhaps the smallest and cutest they offered at the time.

I recall hearing reports from Haji that the products started flying off the shelves once the first kiosk was placed in the Berkeley Whole Foods. Over time, the metric that stuck in my head was that World of Good was selling $5,000 per square foot per year from its World of Good kiosks in Whole Foods stores, but Whole Foods itself only managed to sell $1,000 per year per square foot. So World of Good’s products were outperforming Whole Food’s traditional offerings by a giant multiple.

Whole Foods was naturally ecstatic, and eventually World of Good installed kiosks in hundreds of Whole Foods stores, including in Fort Collins, Colorado, where my brother Andrew Warnock and his family live.

I liked Priya Haji a lot, and we became good friends.

She had a drive beyond most entrepreneurs I meet. She was bold. She was fearless.

I heard almost everything Haji said during the hours we were both present during the year plus that we shared office space. She was just over the five foot tall cubicle wall, and there was no sound isolation, so I heard every call she made. Haji made a lot of phone calls.

She decided she wanted help from the World Bank, and she contacted this huge International organization and actually was able to speak with the President, though not on the first attempt of course.

Haji wanted to ensure that World of Good would continue indefinitely to help the poor women she cherished and admired. She planned for her own exit from the company, and knew that future leaders of her venture could curtail her economic generosity. So she attempted to structure things so they could not be unwound after her exit. Sounds impossible you say?

What she did was set up two companies — World of Good, Inc., which was a for-profit so-called C corporation, and World of Good Development Organization, which was a non-profit so-called 501(c)3 corporation. She arranged ownership so that the non-profit owned 10% of the stock in the for profit company. This way, even if the for profit company were acquired, the non profit would have a significant equity stake that could not be voted away or taken away.

The non-profit World of Good Development Organization funded projects such as helping to build schools in developing nations. The organization’s marque good deed was to create the Fair Wage Calculator, a website where workers could learn about fair wages and better appreciate their fairness even though currency translations make such comparisons problematic, particularly in the developing world where there are so many currencies that may not be as easily valued as the world’s major currencies. Here’s an article that suggests the World of Good calculator is now maintained by Fair Trade USA and Good World Solutions. I recall Haji saying the calculator found a new home, but I can’t recall who she said took over the project.

Haji was proud to tell people that her pair of Good companies was the first such pairing of a United States for profit and non profit company. She was proud to have thought to do this, and was happy others have gone on to set up the same structure for their ventures.

I remember Haji showing me the thick binder of documents she kept on her desk that represented her efforts to establish this unusual structure.

This structure had practical value, even in the early days when there were low sales and presumably no profits.

World of Good planned Internet sales after establishing itself with retail sales, but World of Good did not own the coveted matching domain name

Someone else owned that domain, but was not using it for a website. This owner wanted USD $10,000 for it. That was more money than the entire capitalization of the company at the time, I suspect, since they started operations well before raising any money.

But non-profit companies can accept donations, and such donations are tax deductible to the donors. So Haji arranged for the owner of to donate the desirable domain name to the non-profit. The seller got a valuable tax deduction, worth real money, and the for-profit company got to use the domain name for its for profit activities. I don’t know the details of how this was accomplished, but it probably involved the non-profit renting the domain to the for profit, which, if true, would have had the lovely side effect of getting money into the non-profit to use for the philanthropic activities that entity was set up to accomplish.

Getting the domain name without spending a dime of cash was pretty clever, and is illustrative of Haji’s creative thinking.

As far as I know, World of Good didn’t even have a lawyer through all of this company formation and domain name acquisition, because one day at lunch at Freehouse Berkeley next door to the entrepreneurship lab, Haji asked me for an attorney recommendation. I recommended my attorney, Eric Jensen. I met Jensen while he was a summer associate at the law firm Cooley, LLP. We have been friends ever since, and Jensen represented World of Good and later SaveUp, Haji’s next company after she sold World of Good.

Haji and I didn’t talk much during the work day, since we were both very busy with our ventures. But we would talk on the phone nearly every night of the week for over an hour, usually late at night around or after midnight.

Haji started including me in her family events, and I was so privileged to get to know her extended family, including her uncle, Arjun Divecha, her aunt Diana Divecha, their children Mia and Zai, and Priya’s parents Karim and Asha Haji.

Eventually, after many meals, hundreds of hours of talking, and many family events, Haji casually said to me that we were dating, even though we never kissed or even held hands. It is one of my biggest regrets in life that I thought of her as only a friend, and from then onward our friendship slowly unwound nearly completely. In recent years, we only saw each other sporadically about once a year. This year I saw her at the day long event that marked the finals for the Global Social Venture Competition, in April, where Haji was one of the keynote speakers. I photographed Haji at that event after her presentation in Anderson Auditorium. That photograph is at the top of this post. I uploaded the picture at full resolution. To see the full size version, please click on it and allow your browser to load the full size 22 megapixel version. Then click again to see the image at full size. This picture shows how beautiful and vibrant Haji was, and it’s one of my favorite pictures that I took of her.

For years I anguished about my friendship with Haji dissolving.

I would have loved for her to be my wife had I felt that way about her, and I suspect she would have agreed had I asked her during the peak of our friendship.

Her family was so incredibly nice to me that I felt like part of the family already.

And what a family Priya had…

I can say with authority that her family is one of the most impressive I have met.

The Divecha children were particularly impressive at ages 13 and 16. Zai Divecha, the 16 year old, made a sleek and modern gun metal grey rocking chair in her high school shop class that had all of the fit and polish of something from the very high end furniture gallery Limn. Arjun Divecha was investing billions of dollars in emerging markets, according to news accounts I found while writing this article. As a fascinating side note, Zai Divecha now designs and builds exotic and sumptuous furniture, according to her website I found today at I wrote the sentence above about Zai’s furniture making in high school before I did a search on her today and found that she’s making her livelihood as a furniture designer and maker. Her sister Mia is a PhD student in Chemistry, according to Mia’s website I found today at

I shared office space with World of Good for over a year. Then both of our companies moved into a warehouse near the 580 freeway in Berkeley, far from the UC Berkeley campus.

My company stayed in the new warehouse a few weeks, and then we moved back to the entrepreneurship lab. We didn’t know it at the time, but there was an steel works emitting allegedly toxic fumes just eight blocks away. It was far enough away we didn’t see it, but as we were moving in, if the wind was right, there was an odor like burning plastic or rubber. I didn’t know the source until some protesters came by with flyers and introduced themselves. They were trying to rally support to get the city of Berkeley to clamp down on the factory and force it to install fume scrubbing filters. It was then that one of my employees reminded me he had been having trouble breathing since we moved offices. I did some web research and was alarmed. I asked David Charron if my company could move back to the entrepreneurship lab while I leased some space closer to home in San Francisco, where I lived and continue to live. Charron allowed our immediate return. Thank you David. I wrote in 2011 an extensive blog article about Pacific Steel.

After the move to 10th Street in Berkeley, Haji and I stopped talking regularly. She got even busier.

World of Good took off like a rocket.

Even though they leased several thousand square feet, they outgrew the space in just months and moved to Emeryville, California, which borders Berkeley. They leased a huge warehouse I estimate filled half a square block. World of Good started buying ocean shipping containers full of product at a time, and had two forklifts to move the approximately 5,000 Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) around the giant space. I toured the space several times, and seeing conveyers and forklifts and Costco warehouse store sized shelves stacked high was impressive.

Times were sweet.

Last I heard, before the first location move, World of Good bought products for X dollars and sold them for 2X dollars. Their customers, the retails stores, then sold them for 4X dollars. These numbers are golden if you can maintain them at scale. I believe it was these metrics coupled with fast sales growth that allowed World of Good to close three rounds of venture capital investment. Venture capitalists are picky, and rarely do they invest in fair trade companies importing luxury gift items.

But then the Great Recession of 2008 hit in September, 2008.

Like many businesses selling luxuries, World of Good stumbled. They raised their last round of funding, about a million dollars, in a Series C round that was smaller than the earlier rounds. This round closed after the start of the Great Recession, which showed investors believed the company could survive even in spite of the severe gloom hanging over the world economy at the time. Haji told me on the phone this would be the last round of financing, and I took that as a sign that things were going to be OK and that company was about to be self supporting on profits going forward.

Then one day, I got an email from Haji asking me to give my vote to allow World of Good to be acquired. I had written an investment check to the company back when we were all in the entrepreneurship laboratory, so that’s why Haji asked me to sign papers. Of course, I agreed. My stake was tiny, so my input was not the determining input. I knew that if Haji said the company needed to be sold, there was no other option to keep thousands of workers busy and making money. Haji did not disclose the details of what happened in her emails to me. If I had to guess, the company was in danger of missing payroll, and no new investment funds were readily available.

While I know the purchase price, it was never published, so I will not publish the price. I caution you to not draw any price conclusions from what I have written here. The price was more than fair from what I know from what Haji directly said to me.

The company was sold in two pieces — the brand was sold to electronic commerce giant eBay and the wholesale operation was sold to GreaterGood/Charity USA. The official press release follows my article, and you can read it here at the source. I mirror the news below since at some point the link will stop working, while this blog will be online in one form or another indefinitely.

I never learned the inside details of what happened to World of Good. The investor emails did not disclose what really happened. Haji offered to meet me in person to tell me what happened, but I never got around to taking her up on that offer. I figured they hit tough times because of the Great Recession and let it go at that. I understood.

I did not want to embarrass Haji by insisting she tell me precisely what happened. I assume she was heartbroken, distraught and frustrated. The Great Recession hurt many people, including me, so I understood.

I have no reason to fault Haji’s leadership, as I know the pressure venture capitalists place on founders to grow and take risks. Even if Haji and Sangvi had wanted to go through Chapter 11 Bankruptcy prior to raising the Series C round, to shed the lease on the huge warehouse and scale operations way down until the recession ended, I doubt the investors would have approved. Professional venture capitalists have a ‘swing for the fences’ mentality, and hunkering down for years to weather a recession is not something I believe they advise or support.

The math behind World of Good was favorable, and customers liked the offerings. There were long lines at the annual warehouse sale they held each Christmas. I bought a shopping bag of product as holiday gifts each year, and I still have half a shopping bag of items on hand, with tags still attached. I still give World of Good gifts today as a result.

Had the Great Recession not hit, I am confident World of Good today would be a thriving specialty brand, with goods for sale directly online and in stores in tens of thousands of locations. I believe Haji, Sangvi and the later third co-founder David Guendelman would  have increased sales by now to hundreds of millions of dollars.

While eBay did eventually retire the World of Good brand, the eBay website continues to host a store,, where thousands of hand made items made by poor women in the developing world are sold. You can see the notice eBay published about the name change if you access the store via this link: by eBay. Note the pop up notice only apparently shows up the first time you click this link, not every time.

Here’s a story about how restrained Haji could be when she believed such restraint was warranted.

I remember that in 2005 she faced the loss of $15,000 with remarkable poise. At the time, her company had not raised much money, perhaps a few tens of thousands of dollars in total from family members.

World of Good won the USD $25,000 grand prize in the Global Social Venture Competition.

World of Good weeks later the $10,000 second place prize in the Berkeley Business Plan Competition. The grand prize amount was $25,000.

Haji later learned that the judges in the later competition voted to award World of Good the grand prize as well, but that they were persuaded to instead flip the first and second place winners so that World of Good would not win two grand prizes. No company has ever won two grand prizes in these competitions.

Many founders would have raised a stink upon learning they had lost out on a much needed extra $15,000 because of outside influence in the judging process. But Haji just shrugged the whole thing off with not even a hint of ill feelings.

I know the specifics of this story directly from Haji, and I have never shared this story in public before, and I had not planned to. But it’s such a perfect story to illustrate Haji’s ability to remain cool under pressure. She needed that money, but she did not, to my knowledge, make any attempt to collect it by complaining to the administration at the Haas School of Business which hosted these two business competitions.

Priya Haji knew how to select her battles well, and how to win friends and influence people.

Even in her private life, Haji was great at seeing around corners. To illustrate, when we were watching the Michael Douglas and Sean Penn movie The Game at my house, she predicted the dramatic ending, an ending that caught me by surprise the first time I saw it. I recall being amazed that she predicted so accurately what was about to happen next. The Game is a suspenseful movie, and I don’t believe most people predicted the ending.

Priya Haji was a star.

Hundreds of thousands of other words have been written about Haji. She’s been interviewed on television many times. She has been profiled in widely circulated newspapers and magazines. She has spoken at hundreds of events. She had thousands of friends, including over 1,400 on the current market leading (in the US) social network Many other memories will be shared. This is not an obituary for Priya. I so far have left out that she received her undergraduate degree in pre-med and religious studies from Stanford University and received her Masters of Business Administration degree from University of California, Berkeley. She founded Free at Last while at Stanford to help battered women in East Palo Alto. She started with her doctor parents a medical clinic for poor people in Texas when still in high school. She started another venture capital financed startup called SaveUp after World of Good ended. She worked at that company until her passing this week. She had two lovely children, a girl and a boy. She left a sizable mark on the world, and she will be missed by thousands and thousands of people.

Priya Haji was one of the most important people in my life for over a year, and I cried when I heard about her death. I will miss her. I write this post with great fondness and admiration for a life well lived, and a soul beautifully nourished and expanded to the point she touched so many more people than most people can even dream of.

I love you Priya.


Press release announcing sale of World of Good:

World of Good Inc. Sells Brand and Related Assets to eBay; Wholesale Division Acquired by GreaterGood/Charity USA

World of Good Brand Continues to Represent Sustainable Shopping and Market Access for Global Artisans Through E-Commerce

EMERYVILLE, Calif. – February 25, 2010 – World of Good Inc., a five-year-old social venture that connects artisans from developing communities with mainstream retail markets, announced today that eBay has fully acquired its brand and related assets. World of Good Inc. also announced that GreaterGood/Charity USA has acquired its wholesale division and line of designer, Fair Trade products which will be re-branded, while existing relationships with retailers and artisan partners will be maintained. The terms of the transactions were not disclosed.

eBay’s acquisition of the brand results from a two-year long collaboration between the two companies that led to the development of by eBay, the world’s largest multi-seller marketplace for socially and environmentally responsible shopping. The transaction reflects eBay’s growing commitment to engaging consumers to affect social change through sustainable commerce. It also represents World of Good’s commitment to creating the greatest market opportunity for small, Fair Trade and environmentally responsible producers around the world. The online marketplace hosts hundreds of sellers, with tens of thousands of sustainable products from 85 countries.

“We are excited about the opportunity to scale the World of Good mission to an unprecedented degree through eBay,” said World of Good co-founder and CEO Priya Haji. “Also, we are confident that GreaterGood will be an excellent steward of the retail partnerships we’ve built and will continue to grow Fair Trade through mainstream retail channels.”

GreaterGood’s acquisition of World of Good’s wholesale division reflects its growing Fair Trade business, including its Global Girlfriend apparel line. Since 2004, World of Good has developed extensive retail product lines for partners like Whole Foods Market, Hallmark and Disney, among others. GreaterGood will continue to work with the same retail partners and artisan groups in order to grow market access for small artisan suppliers around the globe.

World of Good was founded in 2004 by U.C. Berkeley’s Haas Graduate School of Business MBA’s Priya Haji and Siddharth Sanghvi with the mission to help small artisan producers improve their livelihoods by providing them with access to mainstream retail markets. The company has impacted more than 40,000 individual artisans across 70 countries by connecting them with millions of U.S. consumers. Haji also founded World of Good Development Organization, a sister non-profit focused on improving the lives of low-income women in the developing world. In December 2009, the Development Organization was honored by The Tech Museum of Innovation for its Fair Wage Guide, a free, open-source platform that calculates fair wages for artisans around the world and specific to their locations. The organization will continue its work to create technologies and tools that help companies ensure fair wages to informal sector workers.

Robert Chatwani, Director of eBay Global Citizenship said of the acquisition, “We look forward to this next step in our commitment to building an integrated, sustainable shopping experience within the eBay marketplace and are dedicated to applying our reach, resources and business model to create a positive impact for people, the planet and communities throughout the world.”

“GreaterGood is excited to grow the retail partnerships that World of Good built and to continue to help small artisan and Fair Trade producers reach these important retail channels,” said Stacey Edgar, founder and president of Global Girlfriend and director of the GreaterGood Wholesale Division.

About eBay:
Founded in 1995, eBay Inc. connects hundreds of millions of people around the world every day, empowering them to explore new opportunities and innovate together. eBay Inc. does this by providing the Internet platforms of choice for global commerce and payments. Building on this positive foundation, eBay’s sustainability efforts harness our technology and reach to extend this positive impact into vibrant, sustainable commerce experiences. Our sustainability portfolio includes, the eBay Green Team, the eBay Foundation, eBay Giving Works and MicroPlace.

About GreaterGood/Charity USA:
The GreaterGood Network of websites (including TheHungerSite, TheBreastCancerSite, TheAnimalRescueSite, Global Girlfriend, and others) offers the public a unique opportunity to support causes they care about through a free daily click and Gifts that Give More™ (100% of these donations go to the cause of the patron’s choice).  The GreaterGood Network’s online stores offer more than 3,000 Fair Trade items, with up to 30% of the purchase price going to charity. In fiscal year 2009, the GreaterGood Network gave more than $3 million to more than 50 charities around the world.

Media Contacts:

Lonnie Shekhtman, World of Good

Annie Lescroart, eBay
(408) 376-7458,

Rosemary Jones, GreaterGood/Charity USA

Here is Priya Haji’s bio from the website, as of July 18, 2014:

Priya Haji

Co-Founder • CEO

Priya is the CEO and co-founder of SaveUp; she has been a serial social entrepreneur since age 16; she is committed to building innovative companies that benefit people. Her most recent venture World of Good, an on-line retail marketplace and wholesaler of sustainable goods, was acquired by eBay in 2010. The brand creates market access for women artisans in 55 countries around the globe through partnering with brands like Hallmark, Disney and Whole Foods. Prior to that she co-founded and led Free at Last, which became a national model for substance abuse treatment and HIV/AIDS intervention for African Americans and Latinos while serving 3,000 people per year in East Palo Alto and raised more than $20M in special investments. Her first start-up was a free clinic in Texas with her Dad. Priya graduated undergrad from Stanford University and has an MBA from Berkeley.

Here is the text from the Priya Haji entry from the Haas School of Business newsroom, mirrored here in case the original link is ever broken:

Serial Social Entrepreneur Priya Haji, MBA 03, Passes Away

July 18, 2014


Haas alumna Priya Haji, MBA 03, the co-founder of Free at Last, World of Good, and SaveUp, passed away unexpectedly on Monday, July 14. She was 44.

Born in Detroit, Haji earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and pre-med at Stanford. After earning her MBA at Berkeley-Haas, she pursued her vision of improving economic opportunity and equality by co-founding three companies.

Free at Last is a national model program for substance abuse treatment and HIV/AIDS intervention in the African American and Latino communities. Under Haji’s leadership, the company served 3,000 people per year in East Palo Alto and raised more than $20M in special investments.

World of Good, a retail marketplace and wholesaler of sustainable and fair trade products, improved the lives of thousands of women artisans in 55 countries. It was acquired by eBay in 2010.

SaveUp, where Haji was serving as CEO at the time of her death, is the nation’s first rewards game for saving money and reducing debt.

Haji fully embodied the Haas School’s Defining Principles, especially Beyond Yourself as she was a consistent contributor to the Haas community. Haji shared her wisdom and insight at various events, most recently by delivering a keynote address at the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) in April 2014. Haji won the GSVC competition in 2005 with her startup World of Good. She also inspired students and served as a mentor for the Young Entrepreneurs at Haas (YEAH) program.

“Like many other Berkeley MBAs in the past decade, I was so inspired by Priya’s vision and leadership,” says Ellen Martin, MBA 07, who met Haji when she served as her Berkeley Board Fellow for World of Good. “She really pushed us all to approach entrepreneurship—not just social entrepreneurship—in an entirely different way. We owe her a huge debt of gratitude for that.”

Haji’s honors include being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum; a Social Innovation Leadership Award by the World CSR Congress, a non-profit organization whose annual conference celebrates corporate social responsibility; and inclusion in GOOD magazine’s GOOD 100, a list of people driving change in their communities in creative and inspiring ways.

“Priya was such a vibrant force in life—undaunted by challenges, willing to give voice and energy to her ideals and vision,” says Haas Lecturer John Danner, who taught Haji in his “Workshop for Startups” class where she co-developed World of Good. “What a profound loss first to her family but to all of us as well who were touched by her example.”

Haji is survived by two young children: a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Zen, and an 11-month-old daughter, Omi; her parents, Karim and Asha Haji; and a sister, Amina.

A celebration of her life will be held at Haas in the coming weeks. Details will be published as they become available. Friends are encouraged to share memories on a Facebook memorial page:

The Priya Haji Memorial Fund has been established to honor her inspiring life and will support an MBA student focused on entrepreneurship and social innovation. Donate at

– See more at:

My recollections of Jody M. Sherman, who died Monday, January 27, 2013

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The front page of the website, January 31, 2013, shows Jody Sherman at work on his startup Ecomom.

The front page of the website, January 31, 2013, shows Jody Sherman at work on his startup Ecomom.

I write this blog post today, January 31, 2013, with sadness.

Jody Sherman, a rambunctious, ambitious and complex entrepreneur, husband, investor and mentor, died Monday, January 27, 2013.  I learned about Sherman’s passing on Tuesday, the day after, and I had trouble sleeping that night.

Jody Sherman’s death moved me.

I learned about Sherman’s death from my friends on Facebook.

Much has been written about Jody Sherman this week, and I understand why.

Jody Sherman. Picture from

Jody Sherman. Picture from

Jody Sherman was simply a character — a very memorable and lovable character.

My association with Sherman was brief yet meaningful and intense.

In late 1998 or early 1999, I was gearing up to raise money for Document Automation Systems, LLC, my startup at the time. I later renamed it, Inc.

I met Jody Sherman by chance.

The commercial Internet was young, I was young, and I was not connected. There was no Hacker Dojo, Linked In, Friendster, Facebook, Meetup or Twitter.

Bang & Olufsen Beocord 6002 audio cassette deck. Photo from

Bang & Olufsen Beocord 6002 audio cassette deck. Photo from

One day my friend from 2nd grade John Lin asked me to pick up and ship to him a Bang and Olufsen top load audio cassette deck that he had won the bidding for on the auction website EBay.

Jody Sherman was the seller.

At the time he worked at BuyDirect, an earlier e-commerce pioneer that would later be sold for USD $140M. Sherman’s office was on the waterfront near Pier 39 in San Francisco, California, USA.

My Internet company was tiny, but I had an impressive customer list — Coca Cola, Intel and the US Marine Corps, among dozens of similarly well known organizations. My company’s revenue was tiny, but I had big plans for growth.

I was sitting in Sherman’s office getting ready to hand him the cash for the stylish stereo deck, shown above.

In his office, Sherman appeared to be working at an energetic pace, doing deals for his employer, where he was vice president of business development.

Sherman asked me what I did, and that query prompted me to give my well oiled elevator pitch. At the time, I had no idea who Sherman was — I had not typed his name into Alta Vista, the dominate search engine of the day.

While I was still pitching, Sherman tapped his keyboard and visited my company’s website and drafted a document from a template. Hotpaper was the first LegalZoom or RocketLawyer. Hotpaper created legal documents by asking users questions to then build a custom document on the server, in Microsoft Word format.

Talk about my company quickly dominated the rest of my few minutes with Sherman that day, yet I did pay for and collect the Bang and Olufsen deck for Lin.

Later, Sherman offered to help me raise financing to expand my company. He suggested I raise USD $500,000, which he said he would help me raise by getting ten of his friends to put in $50,000 each.

Jody Sherman. Picture from

Jody Sherman. Picture from

Sherman drove a BMW Z3 at the time, and I vividly remember him picking me up at my office at The Russ Building in San Francisco so I could introduce him to my lawyer Eric Jensen, in Palo Alto. I had never been in a Z3 and I was impressed — Sherman had a flair about him to be sure.

I concluded that Sherman was likely correct when he confidently said he could round up ten of his friends to allow my company to close a $500K angel round.

I never closed that round, because Sherman asked for a finder’s fee that I found objectionable — he asked for ‘non diluting’ stock among other things. I was shocked when he fell silent for several long seconds, got up and walked out of my office without a word when I asked him about the non diluting stock he was asking for. Sherman was the first and only person to walk out of a meeting with me. It rattled me.

Even though no transaction happened, I am still grateful to have met Jody Sherman, for he spurred me to greater accomplishment.

JodySherman, 1965-2013. Photo from

JodySherman, 1965-2013. Photo from

This agitation I felt in retrospect was fantastic for me.

I was mad Sherman had walked out on my deal.

I wanted to show Sherman that I was a talented entrepreneur. I wanted to show my (now late) friend Stan Pasternak, who rented my company an office in his suite, and who saw Sherman walk out on me, that I was a talented entrepreneur.

In June, 1999, my company closed a $2M round from two venture capital firms and some angels. The only fee I paid was to attend a ‘meet an venture capitalist’ event put on in part by my friend Tom Cervantez, which cost me $75. I met Redleaf Venture Management venture capitalist Robert von Goeben there, and he introduced me to Bob Bozeman, the partner at Angel Investors LP that agreed to put in 5% of the round.

Sherman deserved to profit from his advice and expertise. Had he asked for common stock with standard vesting terms, instead of what he asked for, I probably would have brought him on board as an advisor, since he represented the best chance I had at the time to get my company funded.

I still don’t know why Sherman didn’t negotiate with me instead of walking out, and sadly, now, I will never know.

I should point out that Sherman did well by walking out, because the investors I ultimately raised money from lost most of their money they invested in Hotpaper in the aftermath of the Internet bust in 2000, after I sold Hotpaper.

I wrote this post to give Jody Sherman credit for his small but important role in my life.

I knew him perhaps a month, from start to finish, yet Jody Sherman moved me to write this post a dozen years later.

It has been reported that Jody Sherman took his own life. I feel so bad for Sherman and his wife, family, employees and friends.

Life as a startup CEO is extremely challenging. There are unbelievable highs and lows, far more dramatic than what I experienced as an employee, and I’ve had some interesting experiences as an employee, including getting suspended for insubordination and laid off because my job was eliminated.

Sherman raised millions of dollars for his latest Internet company EcoMom. The pressure must have been intense, particularly because it appears lots of the money came from his wealthy and connected friends. I know nothing of the details of the pressures Sherman was under at work or elsewhere.

Depression is an insidious illness, because it can cripple.

One could argue that I suffer from depression, and that’s why I am not running a company or doing anything substantial in life right now, despite my having days of tremendous enthusiasm to change the world. Overall, I am happy and optimistic, but when I consider my age and that I haven’t started a family yet, I am sad. I worry my time for a family has already irrevocably passed.

Don’t worry though, I am not going to kill myself.

I have been close to people that suffer from depression, and in one case, I had to cut ties so as not to risk substantive harm to myself, the situation got so intense. Sherman’s widow Kerri  must be feeling crushing pain, and my heart goes out to her, even though I have never met her.

When I learn of a suicide by someone I knew, even if only in passing, like Ilya Zhitomirskiy, I get emotional and have trouble sleeping. I battle with myself over what, if anything, I should do about the people I know that are depressed. Should I tell their parents? Should I tell their close friends? Should I mind my own business? Should I speak to the people themselves, even those I cut contact with? I have cut contact with many people, especially in the last six months, as I continue to recreate myself into a more vibrant contributing citizen, but by doing so, my burden over what to do increases.

Jody Sherman. Picture from

Jody Sherman. Picture from

Mark Suster, a partner at the venture capital firm GRP Partners knew Jody Sherman well, and two days ago, on January 29, 2013, Suster wrote on his great blog an amazing goodbye to Sherman. Suster colorfully describes Sherman just how I remember him — as shown here from Suster’s goodby post:

“I remember when we met years ago. I think Michael Kantor introduced us. You were pitching me an online business selling other people’s baby food. I told you what a dumb idea it was.

You came back. You had a new plan. You had renegotiated your way out of that agreement. Now you wanted to merge with a broader-based business and sell all products. You got to keep the name of the new company – ecomom. You were so proud of that name and what it stood for. You wanted good in the world.

And in turn the world wanted good for you. But the world made you fight for it. And I did, too.

I told you to go away again, you crazy, wiry, non-stop pitching fool.

What? You back again? Who let you in here? Oh, you want to tell me about how your business is now scaling? You have repeat orders and high gross margins? Go away, I say! It’s mom stuff. We didn’t do so well in that category in the past.

Review your deck? Ok, Jody. You sure do push the envelope. But I kinda like your chutzpah. Sure, bro. Come on in. But … could you button up the shirt a couple more notches when you come to my office? I think you might have scared a few folks last time. Ha, just kidding. No, seriously. Just one more button.

Wow. Your deck looks great. Are those growth numbers real? Impressive. No. No I can’t meet for breakfast. I don’t think we can fund in that category, Jody.

Ok. I’ll have the egg-white burrito. I have to eat something healthy around you or I’ll feel guilty. Is it true that you have 3% body fat? I know, I know. I shouldn’t eat the carbs. But this is Lemon Moon – at least we know it’s healthy.

Fine. Fine. I’ll write you an angel check, then. As long as you promise to stop pitching me! Yes, Jody. I really believe in you. I always did. But when I got home and I told my wife that I had just committed $25,000 that she should just consider it a mitzvah. I didn’t so much want to see a baby products company make money as I wanted to see you succeed. You had some magic dust.

Ok, Jody. We have to have a heart-to-heart. You gotta stop pitching Sand Hill Road VCs. Look at their entrepreneurs – they are 28, computer programmers and they went to Harvard or Stanford. Now go look in a mirror. You have “weird hair.” Yes. weird hair. My cousin calls it JewFro. And you have it. And instead of hiding it you wear it Kramer style just to scare people. I think you like looking at them looking at you. Don’t you? Focus on raising money from outsiders. From people eschewed by the typical system. Raise money from underdogs like you.

You told me that was some of the most honest and best advice you had ever gotten. That most people were too scared to say that to you. And raise money you did. Millions of it.”

Suster simply brought Jody Sherman to life with this above passage, so much so that tears came to my eyes as I write this.

Jody Sherman was a hustler and a good soul. I can only imagine how many thousands of entrepreneurs he helped over his 47 years of exciting life. I pray that he rests in peace, and that his loved ones find comfort in the outpouring of sweet thoughts that have been expressed since his too early death.

Life is so precious and short.

Please do not take your own life, dear readers.

Memorial service for Lee Frederic Benton, October 6, 2012

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Cover of the program for the memorial service for Lee Benton, October 6, 2012

Cover of the program for the memorial service for Lee Benton, October 6, 2012

My birthday was yesterday, October 6, 2012.

I will long remember this birthday because I attended the memorial service for Lee Frederic Benton, held at Holy Trinity Church, 330 Ravenswood Avenue, Menlo Park, California, USA.

Benton was born February 18, 1944 and passed away unexpectedly August 24, 2012.

I did not know Mr. Benton well, but he played a major part in my life. I was able in 2007 to tell him the facts that lead to this conclusion, but, sadly, I don’t believe I thanked him for his pivotal contribution to my success in life. Thank you Lee Benton.

In about 1991 I went to the offices of Analytic Legal Programs, Inc., founded by Eric Little. Analytic Legal Programs made a document assembly software program called WorkForm. At the time, I worked at Cooley, LLP, then named Cooley Godward Castro Huddleson & Tatum. Cooley had purchased a firm wide license for WorkForm, and had asked me to lead the project. Associate attorney Jeff Zimman was to program the first set of documents, a set of 17 documents to incorporate a company in California.

Since neither of us knew the WorkForm software, we both attended a several day training session at the offices of Analytic Legal Programs in Palo Alto, California USA.

Zimman left a voice mail for Benton during our training, and the subject was Zimman’s compensation at Cooley. From that I have guessed Benton supervised Zimman, and gave Zimman his assignments. I have further guessed that Benton authorized Zimman to spend the hundreds of non-billable hours that he would eventually dedicate to the document assembly project. Without Zimman, there would have been no document assembly project, because Zimman was the only attorney at Cooley that showed any interest in document assembly back then. Without Benton letting Zimman stop billing hours to clients for a time, there also would have been no document assembly at Cooley. As a result, without Benton, I would have never become an expert at document assembly, and I would thus have not started, Inc., the first Internet document assembly platform, in 1995. Had I not started Hotpaper, I would not have sold it in 2000, and I would not have been able to buy the house I am typing this post in, or to live my life I treasure so much that I write about on this blog.

Starting an Internet company that gets acquired is very difficult. I needed every advantage along the way to get to where I am today, and Lee Benton gave me a huge advantage. He freed up hundreds of hours of time of a rising star attorney, which ended up launching my career in high technology. I simply don’t think I would have gotten into the Internet business had it not been for Lee Benton and Jeff Zimman.

When I was at Cooley, Benton had not yet led the entire firm, but I knew that he would, because Helen Gaffney, since passed, told me so. Gaffney ran the firm’s Information Technology infrastructure at the time she said this, about half a decade before Benton became Managing Partner, the title the firm then used for its top leader. The firm now uses the title CEO for its top leader, and I learned yesterday that Cooley’s current CEO Joe Conroy, joined Cooley while Benton was Managing Partner, and that Conroy greatly admired Benton. Conroy attended Benton’s memorial yesterday, but I did not see him.

Lee Benton’s memorial service was very touching to me. I recognized some of the attorneys that were at Cooley when I left in 1994, including Frederick Baron, Pam Martinson, Alan Mendelson, Gordon Atkinson, Kenn Geurnsey, Paul Renne, James Gaither, Craig Dauchy and my own current attorney Eric Jensen. That this group attended was amazing to me, because I actually received material help on my project in the 1990s from Baron, Martinson, Mendelson, Guernsey, Renne and Jensen. I hadn’t seen Martinson, Dauchy, Atkinson or Gaither since 1994, but I recognized all of them, and they appeared to recognize and remember me when I greeted them. Sadly, Martinson and Mendelson left before I got to say hello to them. I most recently saw Mendelson by chance at Nordstrom in 2008 when I was trying on tuxedos for my wedding.

My friend Tom Kintner was also there, and I learned Kintner worked with Benton and others on the USD $621 book Venture Capital & Public Offering Negotiation. ‘This book is the leading authority on the legal aspects of venture capital funds and of private financing and initial public offerings for technology companies,’ per Cooley’s website. I have known Kintner for over a decade, and I never knew he knew Lee Benton until yesterday.

When I said hello to Paul Renne, I had the great pleasure of meeting his wife, former San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne.

Benton was revered when I was at Cooley, and although I only spoke with him perhaps half a dozen times in the five years I worked at Cooley, I always knew he was extremely influential. I once had to modify the California Incorporation document set to incorporate his changes, and I vividly remember thinking at the time that they were the most impressive set of edits I had yet seen from any attorney. Even though I am not and have never been an attorney, I had by then developed an ability to identify precise and impressive edits, and Benton’s were outstanding. His dozens of edits made the documents more conclusive without being stern.

Frederick Baron spoke at the memorial. His written remarks were poignant and lovely — so much so that I suggested he post them online for posterity. If he finds this post and thinks this is a suitable place for his remarks to live on, I invite him to forward them to me for incorporation into this post, which I am happy to revise.

One of the stories Baron relayed was so sweet that I am going to relay it here.

Baron told the story of how he arrived at Cooley. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and knew of Lee Benton’s stature. He heard Cooley had just opened an office in Palo Alto, its first branch office. The firm was founded in San Francisco. Lee Benton was part of the first group of Cooley attorneys that opened the Palo Alto office. Baron applied to Cooley and got an interview with Benton himself. The story takes a charming turn when Baron told us yesterday that his son, age 4 at the time, rode in a car pool to school starting the day before Baron’s interview with Benton. Using more descriptive language than I will here, Baron described his 4 year old son as a boisterous handful. Baron was alarmed when he learned the night before his big interview with Benton that the driver of his child’s car pool was Lee Benton himself.

As you can guess, the interview went well and Baron was hired despite his fears that his rambunctious son might have harmed his chances. Frederick Baron went on to lead a department for decades.

Baron and Benton and their wives all became dear friends.

One of Lee Benton’s clients, Bob Plaschke, also spoke. He told a series of stories that elicited hearty laughs from the audience. He also spoke affectionately about Benton’s laugh, which he described as infectious, distinctive and highly memorable. I never heard Benton laugh because in total I probably spent no more than 30 minutes speaking with him, the most recent 10 minutes at a party at Cooley in 2007, when I got to have a very nice conversation with him despite the absence of laughing.

Plaschke told a great story about when one of his companies was doing a closing for a transaction. The closing happened on a weekend, and Benton dropped by the Cooley office where other attorneys were completing the work. However, Benton wanted to pitch in and help, and he asked a young associate how he could contribute. Plaschke said this young female associate tried meekly to decline Benton’s offer, but Benton persisted. Finally, using her hands that were trembling with fear, she handed a document she had written to Benton and asked him if he would review it for her. Benton enthusiastically attacked the document with his red pen, and when complete, there was red ink on every line of the four pages. Plaschke said Benton was so pleased to be able to help, and that he saw Benton commend the young associate on how well she had handled the delicate representations and warranties section.

This is such touching story for me, so much that it brought tears to my eyes as I wrote it. Benton clearly didn’t even need to be at the office for the closing, since there were others there already handing things. But Benton cared for his client’s interests, and wanted to make sure things were OK. He insisted on helping, and used the opportunity to do well for his client and to help train a young attorney, who no doubt remembers that weekend encounter with Benton.

We are all here on Earth for such a short time. How well we treat others defines how we will be remembered. How we treat those far below us in rank particularly defines how we will be remembered. All of the speakers yesterday conveyed that Lee Benton was an exceptionally kind, humble and conscientious man. He got a lot done in life while warming the hearts of those around him. Many others get a lot done while trampling over people without remorse. I consider Lee’s approach by far to be the gold standard for how to live.

Thank you Lee Benton for all that you accomplished and all the love that you extended during your exceptional time on Earth.


Here is the obituary for Lee Frederic Benton, as published in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper on September 9, 2012:

Lee Frederic Benton

Lee Benton passed away in Palo Alto on August 24, 2012 at the age of 68 due to complications following surgery.

Born on February 18, 1944 in Springfield, Ohio, Lee was the son of the late Robert and Candice Collins Benton. He was a graduate of Oberlin College and received his J.D. from The University of Chicago, where he served as the Executive Editor of The University of Chicago Law Review. Lee was a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School before joining the San Francisco office of Cooley, LLP in 1970.

Lee was a founder of Cooley’s Palo Alto office in 1980 and was managing partner from 1996 to 2001. He was a partner at the firm from 1975 until 2006 and then served as senior counsel. During his distinguished legal career he focused on the formation, financing and growth of high technology companies. While at Cooley he also served as general counsel and a member of the senior management teams of two publicly traded technology companies.

In addition to being an accomplished practitioner, he was a dedicated mentor to a generation of lawyers who value his legacy. Reflecting on what Lee stood for in his life and work, one colleague wrote, “success does not have to come at the expense of decency and humanity or be coupled with the sacrifice of principle or soul.”

Lee was a deeply thoughtful, kind, and caring man. In recent years he faced several health challenges with an indomitable spirit. Drawing from these experiences and the expertise he acquired, he was tireless in extending his help to individuals and institutions. He served on the Board of Directors of the National Headache Foundation, as a Strategic Advisor to the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3).

He took great pleasure in his unique array of hobbies. Some of his extensive collections and research included commercial aviation, single malt scotch, classical music, and country music. He was, as well, an avid and vocal follower of sports and politics.

Lee was a loving husband and father and is survived by his wife Susan, sons Timothy and Matthew, brothers Marc (wife Trish) and Bruce (wife Andrea), and brother-in-law David Wann.
On Saturday, October 6 at 1:00 pm, a memorial service to celebrate Lee’s life will be held at Trinity Church, 330 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park. For contributions in his memory, the family suggests the National Headache Foundation, 820 N. Orleans, Suite 411, Chicago, IL 60610.


Here is the August 27, 2012 press release from Cooley’s website:

Lee Benton - Photo by Julie Stupsker, July 17, 1996

Lee Benton - Photo by Julie Stupsker, July 17, 1996

We are saddened to announce that Cooley former Managing Partner and long-time colleague Lee F. Benton passed away last week.

Lee began his career at Cooley in 1970, and was a partner of the firm for more than 30 years.  He served as Chair of the Business Department from 1994 to 1996, and was the Managing Partner of Cooley from 1996 to 2001.  At the time of his death, Lee was Senior Counsel to the firm.

In addition to his formal leadership roles, Lee played a significant part in establishing Cooley as one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and important law firms.  Lee was among the first of our lawyers to move from San Francisco to Palo Alto to open our first office there in 1980.

Lee was a brilliant practitioner and a highly regarded speaker on the topics of securities law, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions and strategic partnering.  He took immense pride in his work and was a great teacher of generations of Cooley lawyers.  He devoted himself to the success of his clients, even serving as general counsel and a member of the senior management teams of two publicly traded technology companies.  Lee also served on a volunteer basis as Strategic Advisor to the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) and on the Boards of Directors of Sonim Technologies, Inc. and the National Headache Foundation.

Lee was truly instrumental in building the firm we are today.  His legacy will be a lasting one and he will be deeply missed.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Susan and their family during this difficult time.


Here is Lee Benton’s biography from Cooley’s website, as of October 7, 2012

Lee F. Benton was a partner in the firm from 1975 until 2006, and then served as senior counsel in the Securities Regulation group until his death in 2012. He was the managing partner of the firm from 1996 to 2001 and chair of the firm’s business department from 1994 to 1996. He commenced his career in Cooley’s San Francisco office in 1970 and founded the firm’s Palo Alto office in 1980. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, in “The Best Lawyers in Silicon Valley” in San Jose Magazine, in Marquis Who’s Who in America and in Madison Who’s Who in the World.

Mr. Benton’s practice encompassed a broad spectrum of fields related to the formation, financing and growth of high technology companies. He represented high technology firms from their inception through maturity as publicly-traded corporations. Mr. Benton also represented a large number of venture capital firms. His particular areas of expertise included strategic partnerships, equity incentives, initial public offerings, securities law, mergers and acquisitions, and cross-border transactions.

While at the Firm, Mr. Benton also served as general counsel and a member of the senior management teams of two publicly-traded technology companies.

Mr. Benton was the executive editor of The University of Chicago Law Review from 1968 to 1969 and a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School from 1969 to 1970. Mr. Benton authored numerous articles and lectured extensively for the Practicing Law Institute, California Continuing Education of the Bar and Aspen Law and Business Inc. His topics included securities law, venture capital, M&A and strategic partnering.  He is a co-editor and co-author of Venture Capital and Public Offering Negotiation (Aspen Law and Business, Inc., 2002). This book is the leading authority on the legal aspects of venture capital funds and of private financing and initial public offerings for technology companies.

Mr. Benton served on a volunteer basis as a strategic advisor to the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) and on the boards of directors of Sonim Technologies, Inc. and the National Headache Foundation.


  • University of Chicago Law School
    JD, 1969, Order of the Coif
  • Oberlin College
    BA Government, 1966, magna cum laude


  • California


  • American Bar Association



Here is Lee Benton’s obituary published August 28, 2012 in The Recorder newspaper (link):

SAN FRANCISCO — Lee Benton, a former managing partner of Cooley during the heady years of the dot-com boom, died Friday due to complications following surgery. He was 68.

Benton had been with the firm for more than 30 years and held several top leadership positions. He chaired Cooley’s business department from 1994 to 1996 and served as managing partner from 1996 to 2001. He was senior counsel at the time of his death.

Benton was a dedicated, meticulous and well-respected attorney who played a key role in establishing and building Cooley’s presence and reputation in Silicon Valley, long-time colleagues said. He was among the first group of lawyers who relocated from San Francisco to open the firm’s first Palo Alto office in 1980.

“He really is one of a handful of people who reshaped our firm into what it is today,” said Frederick Muto, chair of Cooley’s business department who’s been with the firm since 1980. “He helped establish us as one of the Valley’s most important law firms. And he was just a great lawyer and a terrific mentor.”

Benton, who helped take Genentech Inc. public in 1980, was considered an expert on securities law, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions and strategic partnering. Thirty years ago, he co-authored a groundbreaking treatise on the legal framework for venture capital financing that’s still used today, colleagues said.

“He was regarded as truly a lawyer’s lawyer,” said Cooley litigation partner Frederick Baron. “He was puckish and brilliant. He was a person of tremendous attention to detail, and clients loved the fact that he turned over every stone to identify and minimize every conceivable risk.”

He was also fiercely committed to helping Cooley grow. As head of the business department and managing partner of the firm, Benton not only helped it become a major player in Silicon Valley. His leadership also helped the firm weather the tough times after the dot-com bubble burst and several high-profile attorneys departed, said James Fulton Jr., co-chair of Cooley’s clean energy and technologies group.

Benton was devoted to both clients and colleagues alike, Fulton said. He was one of the first lawyers at Cooley to take a leave of absence to serve as a general counsel to his clients, such as Santa Clara-based Ungermann-Bass, one of the earliest large computer networking companies.

“He was a beloved counselor,” Fulton said. “People didn’t come to Lee time and again just because he was a good lawyer. So many people who worked with him were personally touched by him. There was his willingness and ability to mentor, on nights, weekends.”

And Benton always made time to help young lawyers, said Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr corporate partner Daniel Zimmermann. Benton began mentoring Zimmerman when he was a young associate at Cooley, and they’ve been friends ever since, he said, sharing practical jokes and conversations over breakfast whenever possible.

“He was someone who always took a difficult situation and turned it into a lesson,” Zimmermann said. “He was just a very kind person who was incredibly meticulous about his work and his relationships.”

A memorial service for Benton will be held Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. at Trinity Church in Menlo Park.


Editorial note: Normally I place many hyperlinks in my posts. I have chosen not to do that for this post, except that I did link the The Recorder article, where I encourage you read the text I copied to this post. I copied the obituaries so that they will be readable for decades, even if the original sources disappear. I hope that the authors of the text I copied do not object. My goal is for this post to endure in its entirety.

It was 20 years ago today that I got my picture in The Recorder while I worked at Cooley LLP

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Getting Computers To Think Like Lawyers

Getting Computers To Think Like Lawyers, April 11, 1991, The Recorder

Twenty years ago today I was working on Cooley LLP’s document assembly software development effort.

On this day April 11th in 1991, the project was featured in a lengthy article in The Recorder, a San Francisco newspaper for the legal profession. Here’s the PDF scan I made from the paper copy of the article I’ve saved for the last two decades: Getting Computers To Think Like Lawyers – The Recorder – April 11, 1991.

That was a big day for me, as non lawyers at law firms almost never receive any attention from the press. It was also a big day for my project because Kenn Guernsey, Cooley’s Managing Partner at the time, left Jeff Zimman and me a nice voicemail congratulating us for our work. Zimman was the attorney that got the project off the ground by personally programming Cooley’s first document set, and without him, I wouldn’t have likely started, Inc. or later created the first online office suite, gOffice. Hotpaper was the first online document assembly application. The application was live on the Internet in 1997, two years before I changed the name of the company from Document Automation Systems LLC to, Inc. I licensed this online document assembly software to 30 of the Fortune 500, which I was proud of given my company at the time consisted of just me.

I run into Zimman on the San Francisco MUNI every year or so. He made partner at Cooley in six years I believe, and later became an investment banker at Lazard Ltd. Now he is Chair of Posit Science, which makes computer software that helps improve mental functions. It’s really interesting to me that we both became entrepreneurs after our stints at Cooley.

Jeff Zimman

Jeff Zimman

I credit Cooley with teaching me to be an entrepreneur, because starting such an innovative project inside a law firm is VERY difficult. The computer department isn’t normally charged with embedding the expertise of lawyers into software, so they don’t really know the lawyers. I got to know the lawyers because I needed to get the software to mimic lawyers. I spent a lot of energy hounding the lawyers with questions that must have seemed so simple to them. Zimman was a quick learner, and didn’t need much of my help to build the document models. But Zimman had to return to his lawyer duties after creating a few sets of documents, so I had to personally recruit new lawyers to get involved. I got help from some of the top lawyers at the firm at the time, including Hank Barry, who would later testify before the United States Senate when he was the Interim CEO at at the height of its notoriety. Alan MendelsonPaul Renne, Tony Gilbert, Lee Benton, Dan Frank and Susan Philpot were also instrumental to getting the project as far along as we did. I couldn’t find Dan Frank on the Cooley website so I’m not sure where he works now.

Lee Benton

Lee Benton

Perhaps the most actively helpful contributor to answering my many legal questions was Eric Jensen. He was a young hotshot associate at the time. I think Eric started at Cooley in 1988. I started at Cooley in 1989. Jensen would return my phone calls in 30 minutes. This was astonishing, as he was working like crazy in Cooley’s Sand Hill Road office with super lawyers Mark Tanoury and Craig Dauchy. Other lawyers that answered my questions, like Michael Jacobson, would often take days or weeks to return my calls, but Jensen usually got back to me in 30 minutes. We became good friends, and I fondly recall working with him. I would even go to the Sand Hill Road office on occasion to meet in person with Jensen. Jacobson was an outstanding question answerer by the way, and he went on to strike it rich as the top lawyer at EBay. He wrote me an enthusiastic letter of recommendation when I left Cooley.

Susan Philpot

Susan Philpot

When Cooley eliminated my position of project leader for its document assembly efforts during the recession of 1994 I was devastated. The whole project quickly died and the lawyers had to stop using the time saving software, which could allow an attorney to complete 4 hours of work in 20 minutes. The reason the software couldn’t be used indefinitely is the text of the documents in law firms is constantly being improved. So to keep a document assembly system useful, someone needs to apply those language updates to the software. Once I was gone, there was nobody to implement these upgrades, so the system couldn’t be trusted to produce the firm’s latest thinking. At the time Cooley’s attorneys and staff all used a Digital Equipment Corporation VAX minicomputer cluster via dumb terminals, and the document assembly software ran under the Open VMS operating system used on the VAX. So it was not a simple matter to train someone to take over the text update maintenance of the system.

Craig Dauchy

Craig Dauchy

New applications were out of the question, because without an ‘intrapreneur’ to recruit and encourage attorney experts to turn over their expert knowledge, they would not do it. At the time, the computer staff were housed alone with the accounting staff in a building blocks from where the attorneys worked, so there was no opportunity for the computer staff to get to know or make friends with the lawyers.

alan mendelson

Alan Mendelson

I feel bad that my project died, but I consider it one of the luckiest breaks of my life that my position was eliminated.

Paul Renne

Paul Renne

Otherwise, I might never have become an entrepreneur, and my life would not have been as exciting as it’s been. It was tough on me when Cooley’s Executive Director Ken Sargent (anyone know where he is these days?) broke the bad news and helped me pack my things, but it was a highlight of my professional life. The attorneys I helped felt bad for me that I had worked so hard and then lost my job, so they helped me get started in my own business by finding me my first client and effectively vouching for me. That client, Silicon Valley Bank, paid me $30,000 and got me off to the races. My next client was Bank of America.

Antony Gilbert

Antony Gilbert

It’s funny to recall that one of the young associate attorneys down the hall from me advised me to sue Cooley for letting me go!

Hank Barry

Hank Barry

I didn’t even consider suing Cooley. Instead, I kept my head high, didn’t complain or vent to anybody beyond my closest friends, and did my best to stay on excellent terms with everyone there, non attorney staff included. Cooley paid me a nice severance package. Had I sued and somehow gotten a few extra dollars, I am 100% certain those dollars would have been ‘nothing’ compared to the value of their help in getting me established in business. In 1999 when I raised $2 million in venture capital from Blue Run Ventures, I was able to get Jensen to represent Hotpaper. His representation was key to the modest success I had with Hotpaper, and to the modest exit for $10 million 14 months later. What some readers may not know is that in 1999 is was nearly impossible to hire a good lawyer. Lawyers needed to be won over via pitching back then, and they were very selective in taking new clients. Getting a firm as impressive as Cooley was difficult, even if you did raise venture capital money. Getting a lawyer like Jensen was nearly impossible. Had I sued Cooley, I would not have gotten them to later represent me, and who knows what would have happened. I am very much against suing in general, as it doesn’t help most of the time.

Kenn Guernsey

Kenn Guernsey

My advice is to never sue your employer if they eliminate your position! I didn’t have any basis to sue anyway, as they didn’t do anything illegal. It’s illustrative to note that the attorney at Cooley who advised me to sue never made partner and is no longer there.

It’s so much better to leave nicely and stay friends.

It’s a very small world, and the people you know today you will likely still know 20 years from now. I can’t believe how fast 20 years just flew by.

Michael Jacobson

Michael Jacobson

I’ve stayed in touch with my attorney friends from Cooley, and Eric Jensen has been my attorney since 1999. He now leads Cooley’s business department, which accounts for a majority of the firm’s revenue, to my knowledge. Although Jensen wouldn’t say so, he’s what I consider to be one of the best attorneys in the United States. I’m grateful he continues to work with me, as my company must be one of his smallest clients. I have sent my friends to Jensen, including Priya Haji who started World of Good, Inc. which she later sold to EBay and Charity USA, and Andrew McCraith, who started and raised $15+ million in venture capital for Silicon Clocks, which was later acquired by Silicon Labs.

I have received glowing reports from everyone I’ve referred to Jensen.

On this 20th anniversary, I want to thank everyone I’ve ever known at Cooley, including Ben Studebaker who hired me in 1989 and the late Helen Gaffney who promoted me about 6 weeks after I arrived into a position that allowed me the freedom to become an intrapreneur and work on Cooley’s document assembly project. I only knew Studebaker for a matter of 6 weeks or so. I worked very hard during those first six weeks, one night staying several hours past my quitting time to finish a large project assigned to Gaffney by Susan Philpot. I got it done the day it was assigned and it was on Studebaker’s desk when he arrived in the morning. Philpot was and probably still is a feared partner at Cooley, and I’m sure Gaffney and Studebaker appreciated my quick work. I never mentioned I stayed overtime, and I never charged Cooley for the extra effort. But I think it had something to do with Studebaker offering me his job, which included supervising the spending of $500,000 per year, after about 6 weeks on the job. He had been at Cooley for a long time – at least 10 years I recall. He cashed out some of his retirement plan to attend Harvard Divinity School, where he had been accepted. He didn’t seem the type for either divinity school or Harvard. He did seem like he would make an outstanding religious leader, however, as he had an immensely likable personality and was very well thought of at Cooley. I certainly admired his conviction and risk taking. I wonder what became of him, and if he should find this post I hope that he will write to me and fill me in on how his life turned out. Thank you Ben, for you changed my life.

I want to remember my friend Sandy Price, perhaps the first attorney I met and talked with at Cooley. I had only been there a couple of days and I was there late and needed to make a photocopy. I didn’t have an access code yet, and I had to ask Price to activate the photocopy machine for me using her Equitrac accounting device code. Price worked really late almost every night… near midnight lots of nights. I’m still friends with her, and had lunch with her earlier this year. Her hard work paid off, as she’s been named a Super Lawyer every year since 2004. Price is now a partner with Sideman and Bancroft LLP, and if you need an estate planning attorney, I doubt you could find a better lawyer to help you.

I also want to remember my friend James Pirie, who reported to me for a while and who graciously agreed to handle some of my responsibilities so I could work harder on the document assembly project. He put himself at some risk by doing this. He never got in any real trouble though, to my knowledge, and Ken Sargent, the Executive Director, privately congratulated me for delegating what I could to Pirie, saying it was the only way to ‘get things done.’ I trained Pirie to do things he would have never normally learned in his job at the time, and I had complete faith in his ability to safely handle these sensitive computer tasks.

I also want to thank Bill Bradshaw, who handled purchasing of supplies for the San Francisco office. He was an extremely patient friend, and although I’ve lost touch with him, I fondly remember our friendship.

I want to acknowledge Carole Hearn, Cooley’s Director of Finance. I think she’s been there some three decades now. She spent hours educating me about office politics, trying very hard to help me navigate a path that was obscure to a bright eyed 25 year old who had never worked in a law office before. I hear from Hearn every so often, and the last time I saw her in person, about 10 years ago, she gave me a big hug.

I also want to thank Susan Newberry, then the Administrator for the San Francisco office. She’s still at Cooley, with more responsibility. Newberry and I fought, and I ultimately had to lobby to change my reporting relationship so that I reported to a special committee called the Document Automation Committee. This committee consisted of partners Zimman, Barry and Philpot. To my knowledge, the only other non attorney at Cooley that reported to a committee of partners was Sargent, the Executive Director. Even though my battles with Newberry were exasperating and stressful, it was educational and beneficial to have had to do battle with her. Her decades long tenure at Cooley is testament to her political skill and courage.

What’s interesting about these political battles is that they really helped me prepare for later battles with far bigger stakes, involving millions of dollars. Thus, Cooley really did help educate me to be a successful entrepreneur, as I don’t think high stakes office politics can be learned in school.

I credit my political skill with my being able, as the sole founder, to take my startup, Inc. from idea through to a $10,000,000+ acquisition.

In my experience, Cooley really does live by its values and vision, and I am a product of the firm’s many good deeds.

My 5 years at Cooley were instrumental to my professional growth and success.

Thank you Cooley.

Eric Jensen

Eric Jensen

It’s a small world after all

without comments

LinkedIn logo

LinkedIn logo

Eric Jensen has been my corporate attorney since 1999. I’ve known him since 1989 when we both worked at Cooley LLP. He still works there. I left in 1994 to become a software entrepreneur. Eric was a newly minted associate when I met him. Now he’s Chair of Cooley’s business department, which last I heard accounts for over half of the 650 attorneys at Cooley. When I was at Cooley the Chair was Tony Gilbert, who was instrumental to my rapid advancement at Cooley. Tony was a powerful guy who got things accomplished. His San Francisco office was directly across the hall from my office on the 19th floor of One Maritime Plaza, so I got to hear him on the phone for hours and hours. I felt like I knew more about his demeanor and work style than many, even though I didn’t work for Tony directly. To this day, whenever I hear Maxim Integrated Products I think of Tony, since that was one of his big clients he spoke with all the time back then. Tony has since retired, and I’ve lost touch with him. Eric and I worked together on the document assembly software I was building while I was at Cooley, and he used to return my pesky numerous phone calls within 30 minutes on average. I’m not surprised he’s risen to such a position of influence, as he worked smart and fast 20 years ago.

I was checking out the Cooley website yesterday and saw that Eric is advising the underwriters in the planned upcoming LinkedIn public offering.

Erika Rottenberg is another attorney now involved with the LinkedIn IPO that I worked with while I was at Cooley.  She worked for Frederick Baron while at Cooley, and I sought advice and assistance from Baron on my document drafting software project Eric had also helped me with. I got to know Erika a little bit during that process, and I remember taking an off-site training class with her and a few dozen others one weekend.

Erika is now VP, General Counsel and Secretary at LinkedIn. Erika rode her bike 4,200 miles in 2002!

I am confident the LinkedIn IPO will be a success.

For those who arrived at this post via a search engine and were hoping to see a video of Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride, I present this high def clip I shot last year with my Canon 5D Mark II SLR camera. The camera is simply world class in low light, so this video turned out pretty well I think.

Written by Kevin Warnock

February 15th, 2011 at 5:00 am