Kevin Warnock

Entrepreneurship, ideas and more

Archive for the ‘Hotpaper.com Inc.’ tag

Consumers should be permitted to voice record conversations they have with companies

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http://AntiGodaddy.com home page, February 26, 2013 screen capture

http://AntiGodaddy.com home page, February 26, 2013 screen capture

To my knowledge, in the United States it is illegal to record conversations unless you have permission of the parties you’re recording. I believe the rules are more lax in some jurisdictions, but those exceptions are not that helpful if one wants to record a phone conversation with a company representative, because call centers are so dispersed over the planet. A representative could be anywhere.

I think United States Federal law should be changed to specifically permit consumers to record conversations they have with employees and other representatives of companies. Nothing stops me from asking for permission today, but I have never been granted permission when I have asked, so that’s why the law should be changed.

Companies routinely give themselves the right to record calls, so they should understand why a consumer would also want to have that ability.

I came to my recommendation January 29, 2013, after I had a frustrating conversation that day with Brian G., a supervisor at Godaddy, the Internet domain name giant. Brian’s email address is briang@godaddy.com. Brian refused to give me his last name, citing a Godaddy security policy.

On or around December 14, 2012, I learned a domain I’ve been wanting for a dozen plus years was in ‘redemption.’ This means the prior owner didn’t pay to renew it, so the registrar placed the name into redemption, a kind of holding place for domain names before they are eventually released to the public for purchase.

My heart raced. I was going to finally be able to reacquire the Hotpaper.com domain. I sold the name in 2000. My first reaction was to write to my friend Dan Luis and ask if I could pay the redemption fee to Purple, the company I sold the name to a dozen years ago, so they could retrieve the name from redemption status. This would then give Purple the right to transfer the name to me.

But after I composed the email to Luis, who I have been in touch with as recently as 2012, I decided to run this idea past GoDaddy, which was the registrar for Hotpaper.com.

I told the representative about my connection with Purple and proposed doing what I just outlined. The representative then advised me to  not bother, and just sign up for GoDaddy’s Domain Name Backorder service, which cost about USD $20.00 and included a full year of registration. This made the cost for getting the domain about $8.00, which is just 1/10th what it would have cost me to pay Purple to get the domain out of redemption status.

The representative told me that since GoDaddy was the registrar for Hotpaper.com that they would be able to get the domain name for me through their backorder service. He said that if Hotpaper.com had been with another registrar then they would have had to fight to try to get the name. The representative assured me multiple times that in this situation their backorder service was a sure thing. Not once did he even hint that I would be rolling the dice. Had he alerted me that I was speculating, I would have hung up and pursued the sure thing of contacting Luis.

Either Luis would have redeemed the name for Purple to hold on to, or he would have allowed me to redeem it through Purple. Luis would not have ignored me and let the name hit the open market — he’s my friend, and even though we haven’t seen each other in ages, we share a bond, for we both sold our companies to the company that is now Purple. Why am I so sure of this? Luis is the one that keeps our association alive by saying hello to me from time to time, not the other way around. I believe Luis respects me and does not want to upset me, so he would not take an adverse position, especially on something like this that is of no consequence to Purple, since they retired the Hotpaper name around a decade ago.

I would have been fine had Luis redeemed the name and had Purple hold on to it for decades to come. My desire is for the name to not fall into third party hands, so it was great that Purple paid the registration on the name for so long after they stopped using it. I saved over USD $100 over the last decade thanks to the kindness of Purple. Thank you.

I have explained to GoDaddy that their representative promised to get me the Hotpaper.com domain and failed, and to fix this failure they need to buy the domain and give it to me for the backorder fee I paid. This is a case of an employee being insufficiently skilled and trained, and their failure led to this sad result. GoDaddy the company is at fault, I believe. Yes, there may be some fine print somewhere on the GoDaddy website explaining the backorder process is akin to gambling, but GoDaddy’s sales representative negated that fine print.

I believe I was behaving reasonably when I took the word of the GoDaddy representative.

I figured that GoDaddy would have an advantage in ‘catching’ domain names dropping from their registry in the same way that high speed Wall Street traders benefit from extremely close proximity to stock exchange computers, so much so that high speed traders rent space in premium Wall Street colocation space to get faster connection times, since the speed of electricity is only so fast.

I have never bought a domain through a name catching service, so I was not an expert when I placed the order. But I felt the representative I ordered through knew what he was talking about, because he was so articulate, well spoken and because his explanation of why GoDaddy would definitely get the name sounded technically and practically believable.

If I had recorded that conversation, I believe GoDaddy would buy Hotpaper.com on the open market and give it to me for the backorder fee I have already paid. The conversation was so crystal clear and frankly damning that GoDaddy would not want to risk the recording and this story hitting the front page of Reddit, where I predict GoDaddy would have taken a beating from the readers of that news site.

This domain issue is of little importance. I survived a dozen years without the domain, and I’ll be fine without it for the next dozen or three dozen years. I have Hotpaper.net if I ever want to do anything Hotpaper related in the future.

The right for consumers to record calls with businesses, without notice, however, is a right US residents should have. There are so many business that will only correspond with customers over the phone. All banks I know are like this, and will simply not engage a customer by writing emails or letters back and forth. If you try to send a letter, often you’ll get a letter back asking you to phone. Banks I am sure force business to be conducted by phone because they know there will not be a record the customer can keep and refer to or publicize if the customer is mistreated.

Customers need to be able to believe what they’re told by company representatives, which, sadly, is a bigger and more difficult issue. I appreciate and recognize that I should have independently verified by reading the fine print on the GoDaddy website what the representative told me. I didn’t do it because the representative was so confident and self assured, and because the stakes were not material. Frankly, I’ll save hundreds of dollars over the years by not having to pay to keep the Hotpaper.com domain for myself, so you can even say GoDaddy did me a favor by the failure of their representative to explain how their backorder service works.

Companies should do the right thing by their customers when their representative makes such an obvious and glaring error. If a car dealer sells you a lemon, they’ll have to buy it back from you. If a doctor amputates the wrong limb, they’ll pay you plenty. If a lawyer drops the ball and forgets a filing deadline and you lose your case as a result, she’ll pay you.

Here we have a salesperson that sold me a product by misinforming me about its most important workings — whether intentional or not is irrelevant. This strikes me as fraud, though I am not a lawyer. GoDaddy should fix this apparent fraud by buying the domain and delivering it to me.

While researching this story, I found the website Anti GoDaddy, which collects GoDaddy horror stories from consumers. I posted a screen shot of this site’s home page at the top of this article. Notice the reach of GoDaddy — the embedded advertisement near the top of the page is for GoDaddy.

If this domain had been really important to me, I would have not handled the matter so casually. On a scale of 1 to 10, the Hotpaper.com domain ranks a 0.1. Note that I have not linked to the domain so as to not give traffic to the domain name speculator that ended up acquiring the name. The last time I checked, which was just once, there was a generic page offering to sell the domain.

The US Federal government should allow recording of conversations by consumers with businesses to reduce the harm that comes from currently insufficiently documented conversations. I suspect there are thousands of people that lost their homes in recent years because a bank told them verbally not to worry about their loan modification delays, but then foreclosed anyway. Had those promises been recorded by the consumers, the banks may have not been so quick to make promises they couldn’t respect, and homeowners could have pursued other options with more awareness of their true situations. The ramifications of only the business being able to record conversations are likely widespread and quite substantial, in every field, with every size business. It’s simply not fair to let only one party avail themselves of voice recording technology. Society would not stand for lopsided court reporting during trials, where the transcription was for the benefit of only the defendant or only the plaintiff. Why does society permit injustice with documentation outside the courtroom?

Laws need to change. I don’t know about the laws outside the United States, but I suspect this post applies to most of the planet.

Written by Kevin Warnock

February 26th, 2013 at 2:35 pm

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

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

The front page of the website Ecomom.com, 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 http://8newsnow.com/.

Jody Sherman. Picture from http://8newsnow.com/.

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 Hotpaper.com, 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 http://vintagecassette.com/.

Bang & Olufsen Beocord 6002 audio cassette deck. Photo from http://vintagecassette.com/.

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 http://8newsnow.com/.

Jody Sherman. Picture from http://8newsnow.com/.

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 http://tech.co

JodySherman, 1965-2013. Photo from http://tech.co

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 http://8newsnow.com/.

Jody Sherman. Picture from http://8newsnow.com/.

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.

Having fun with the Nokia phone ringtone

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Much of the modest success I have achieved in life has resulted from Nokia Ventures (later renamed Blue Run Ventures) investing in Hotpaper.com, Inc., which I later sold to Purple Communications.

While that investment was in 1999, I still have a warm spot in my heart for Nokia Ventures and for Nokia the company that makes mobile telephones.

The Nokia default ring tone is so well known and so associated with Nokia phones that I suspect most people in the world can sing the ringtone by heart. That’s assuming the ring tone is the same throughout the world, which I strongly suspect it is.

Watch what happens in this video I found on YouTube when a talented violinist encounters the Nokia ringtone during a public solo performance in front of an audience.

This is a funny video, and you have to watch through to the end for it to be funny.

Written by Kevin Warnock

January 23rd, 2012 at 5:00 am

Mobile Office, a product I helped create, wins CNET/PC Expo Best Business Solution award

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GoAmerica home page, January 2002, via WayBackMachine.org

GoAmerica home page, January 2002, via WayBackMachine.org

On August 31, 2000 I sold my Internet company Hotpaper.com, Inc. to GoAmerica, Nasdaq: GOAM. The news was announced the next day.

Hotpaper’s technology was incorporated into the new owners’ product line. The new product is called Mobile Office. One of the features of Mobile Office gives users the ability to perform sophisticated document assembly on a Palm or Blackberry PDA. To my knowledge Hotpaper invented and was the first to reduce to practice document assembly solutions for mobile devices.

I created the first prototype for mobile document assembly in about 1998 when I attached with Velcro hook and loop fasterner material a Ricochet Internet service radio to the bottom of my Palm III non wireless Portable Digital Assistant. I used the HandWeb web browser to access a stripped down website document assembly website I built. I used Microsoft Word ’97 running on the web server for core document assembly functionality. Word mail merge fields are very powerful. If/then/else blocks may be nested 10 levels deep, for example.

My prototype worked fine and was reliable, but it was painfully slow.

The Ricochet wireless data network my radio could connect to operated at best at 28K, but I suspect it was more like 9.6K on a normal day. I demonstrated the handheld assemblage to my friend Jerry Engel, the Executive Director at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. His office is in a huge concrete and steel building, so the network was even slower than normal, but when I stepped into the hallway it worked, and I was able to draft a nicely formatted Microsoft Word document with embedded graphics and email it to Engel, all wirelessly. I recall he was impressed. Not long thereafter, Engel joined the board of advisors for Hotpaper.

I relate this early history to show how long I’ve been fascinated with mobile productivity solutions.

I am proud that an idea I conceived of years ago is now a polished commericial product sold by a noteworthy public company that’s a leader in wireless connectivity solutions.

I am particularly proud that today both CNET and PC Expo have voted Mobile Office the Best Business Solution of 2001. Here’s a screen shot of the press release, to guard against the story being deleted in the future.

Mobile Office CNET best business app 2001

Mobile Office CNET best business app 2001

Mobile Office has a lot of features, and my technology is only part of the overall offering. But I think it’s fair to say that Mobile Office would not have won this award if not for my technology, because my technology is the unique feature that makes you take notice — being able to complete richly formatted Word documents pages in length using a small handheld device like the Blackberry. To my knowledge, there is no competing service in the world today.

###

I wrote this article June 28, 2011, ten years after the date that appears on this article.

I wrote this article to commemorate what was big news for me in 2001. To learn more about my sale of Hotpaper to GoAmerica, please read Hotpaper, my first Internet company gets acquired, published in 2011.

I hadn’t thought much about the CNET win until June 27, 2011 when I was telling my friend Kevin Casey about the history of Hotpaper. I didn’t notice today marks the 10 year anniversary of the CNET win announcement until I was nearly finished writing the article. What an astounding coincidence.

Thank you to GoAmerica’s Joe Korb for suggesting to me late one night in May 2000 that GoAmerica acquire Hotpaper.

GoAmerica is still in business but is now known as Purple Communications. Purple is a leading provider of communications services to people with hearing disabilities.

Kevin Warnock

Written by Kevin Warnock

June 28th, 2001 at 11:00 pm