Archive for the ‘Ilya Zhitomirskiy’ tag
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last Friday, November 18, 2011, I attended a memorial service for Ilya Zhitomirskiy. I wrote a blog post about the service.
In that post I mentioned I had met Zhitomirskiy once, at a party at the offices of CloudFlare, the red hot website performance and security startup that just won the Wall Street Journal’s Innovation Award in the Network and Internet Technologies category. After my memorial post, a friend of mine that read the post sent me the above photograph from that party. As you can see, I’m standing there on the left next to Zhitomirskiy.
I just had to post the picture here because it’s such a great picture.
The panelists were:
- Rob LaFave, Founder and CEO of Foodzie
- Nikhil Arora, Founder of Back to the Roots
- Alexa Andrzejewski, Founder and CEO of Foodspotting
- Rajat Suri, Founder and CEO of E la Carte
- Nate Gallon, Partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, PC
- Ananda Neil, Founder of Artisan Growers and Producers
Wade Roush was the moderator.
Wade Roush was a staff member at MIT’s Technology Review (a very good magazine my father gave me a subscription to for my birthday on October 6th), serving multiple roles, including senior editor, San Francisco bureau chief and executive editor of the magazine’s TechnologyReview online presence. Roush was also the Boston bureau reporter for Science magazine and managing editor of supercomputer publications at NASA Ames Research Center. Roush graduated with honors in the history of science from Harvard University and earned a PhD in the history of science and technology from MIT.
I captured the entire panel discussion to video, and I have embedded it here.
Since the video is available, I will reserve my written remarks for the most entertaining highlights of the evening.
The most remarkable startup story was that of Nikhil Arora. Arora founded a food company that is brilliant. It’s called Back to the Roots. Their product is mostly recycled trash I presume they either get for free or are paid to take away. Sounds unappealing you say? It’s not. Back to the Roots gathers tons and tons of used coffee grounds from San Francisco Bay Area coffee shops and resells the grounds to consumers for about USD $8.00 a pound.
That’s not much less than the coffee cost before it was earlier flooded with hot water to make coffee.
The secret sauce is that Back to the Roots adds mycelia to the coffee grounds and then boxes up what others consider trash in attractive boxes that when opened form the container for the buyer’s mini mushroom farm.
The farm is started by opening the box and misting the grounds with water from a tiny 1 ounce spray bottle that’s included with the kit. After misting twice a day for 10 days, the first harvest is ready, and one box can be harvested multiple times until a pound and a half of oyster mushrooms have been picked. Then the unbleached cardboard box and the grounds can be recycled. Genius.
The founder is a Haas School of Business graduate that knew nothing about the food business when he started in 2009. His company now operates a 10,000 square foot warehouse and his mushroom growing kits are for sale at Whole Foods Markets and Home Depot. Those are two customers not frequently paired in the same sentence.
Arora had the approximately 50 people in attendance enthralled when he described an early sales visit to a Whole Foods Market grocery store. Without an appointment, he brought in a plastic bucket of used coffee grounds and somehow captured the attention of the rank-and-file worker (whoops… associate) he first walked up to. He was ushered in to meet with a manager and an order flowed from that bold move. I found it to be an inspiring and moving story.
This Food Startups event was sponsored by:
The stories of the other panelists were fascinating as well. Please watch the video. I’m sorry I don’t have the time to write detailed summaries of the other fine and worthy companies.
Entrepreneurs are rewarded for being bold and outrageous.
“I thought I had met some tenacious people in my life, but Justin is ridiculous. In some super weird, proud way, he reminds of some little mangy dog that bites your leg and just won’t let go. If Justin decides he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it, no matter how scrappy he needs to be to get the job done. Keep going you scrappy little dog… make us proud.”
Another bold and outrageous entrepreneur sadly passed away recently, and this seems a fine place to focus additional attention on his remarkable life.
I took all the pictures and video for this and posted the pictures at full 21 megapixel resolution. Click on the pictures to see the full size versions.
While I was researching Nikhil Arora for this post, I discovered his TEDx appearance where he talks about his urban mushroom farming enterprise Back to the Roots. I embed the video of the talk below, since I think it’s worth watching. Enjoy.
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Tonight I attended a public memorial service in San Francisco, California USA for Ilya Zhitomirskiy, co-founder of the start-up social network Diaspora*. The service was held at McAvoy O’Hara mortuary at 4545 Geary Boulevard. I took the picture below of McAvoy O’Hara as I was departing.
Ilya Zhitomirskiy died Saturday, November 12, 2011 at his home in San Francisco. The preceding link is to his lengthy obituary in the New York Times newspaper, a testamant to Zhitomirskiy’s influence. Such coverage is remarkable for someone whose idea that made them famous has not officially launched yet. Such coverage is remarkable for someone just 22 years old at their passing.
I met Zhitomirskiy only once, and I don’t remember the meeting except in the vaguest sense. My friend Matthew Wise introduced me to Zhitomirskiy at an office warming party for CloudFlare, which I wrote about here at the time. Wise reminded me two days ago at his Foods Startup event that he had introduced me. I recall that Wise had mentioned Diaspora* at the CloudFlare party. I had heard of Diaspora* back then, but I didn’t appreciate the significance of meeting one of the co-founders because I wasn’t aware how much attention the project had already garnered.
With that introduction you might wonder why I went to the man’s memorial service. On a group hike some weeks back I had a long and interesting conversation with Bobby Fishkin. Fishkin was a good friend of Zhitomirskiy, and yesterday Fishkin sent out a broadcast email to his connections inviting them to attend Zhitomirskiy’s memorial, which was described as ‘open to all.’ Fishkin can write a moving email, and his text was so descriptive and colorful that I decided to attend. In part, Fishkin wrote:
“He was a visionary and revolutionary. He approached the world out of love and then used a profoundly gifted analytical mind to approach what could be done based on that love to circumvent all the forces of the world that would otherwise get between us and those we love. He founded Diaspora to achieve this. But more than this, he sought solutions to global challenges and gave us all further confidence to speak our truth.”
How could I not attend the memorial after an introduction so uplifting?
I am glad that I did attend, as this was the most moving and thought provoking memorial I have yet attended.
It made me cry many times and I wasn’t even Zhitomirskiy’s friend.
Over 100 of Zhitomirskiy’s friends were in the room, and I estimate 20 of them came to the podium to share their memories. I feel like I learned the essence of who Ilya Zhitomirskiy was in the course of this memorial. I wish I had gotten to know him better, as he seemed like a remarkable thinker.
A recurring theme his friends recounted was that Zhitomirskiy kept extensive to-do lists on Post-It notes on how to change and improve the world. He collected these notes on one of those skewers pointing in the air that restaurants stick their filled receipts upon. These notes and lists apparantly are so profound that one of his friends collected them and made a website dedicated to just displaying Zhitomirskiy’s to-do lists.
Zhitomirskiy talked of slaying metaphorical dragons frequently, I learned.
He dreamed of traveling the world as a public speaker, and longed for a way to have such travel and talking paid for. I have that in common with him…
He talked too much, but in a way that mesmerized his friends. One of his most ardent friends, Elizabeth Stark
(I didn’t learn her last name, and it seemed the wrong place to ask), an instructor at Stanford University, described passionately how she could stay up until 5am talking with Zhitomirskiy, and that such conversations seemed to just fly by they were so engrossing. I got the distinct impression that Elizabeth is a very smart woman, and she looked to be 10 years older than Zhitomirskiy. He must have been quite an impressive guy to keep her attention until nearly sunrise.
His friends over and over promised Zhitomirskiy that they would work hard in life to help finish his to-do list. They said Zhitomirskiy lived by a code where he advised keeping good company and making outrageous demands of them. He was known for his epic (sic) parties, and for his intense drive to introduce people to each other at said parties. He even started a website themed around these parties, but I couldn’t find a working site at the domain name mentioned, epicparty.com or epicparties.com.
Zhitomirskiy’s passing brought so many of those in attendance to tears. They clearly and dramatically loved him. His friends and family I hope will take tremendous comfort that Ilya Zhitomirskiy so profoundly touched so many impressive people. The whole room seemed to be filled with impressive and thoughtful people. One Asian woman who spoke at the podium had only known Zhitomirskiy for a month, yet her remarks were insightful and lovely. I meant to tell her so after, but she was engrossed in a conversation and I didn’t want to interrupt her.
It’s so sad when a bright light goes out too soon. I reflect on my own life at times like these. I pledge to redouble my efforts to help others and bring more happiness and good to the world. Thank you Ilya Zhitomirskiy for the inspiration you gave me to write about you and reflect on your short yet meaningful life.
I predict your influence Ilya Zhitomirskiy will remain upon the globe for many moons. May you rest in peace.
PS – I particularly invite Zhitomirskiy’s friends to introduce themselves to me by sending me a message or friending me on Facebook here. I’d like to learn more about your friend, and I’d like to know you as well, as it appears he kept quite good company from what I saw this evening.
[Additional: I added this November 24, 2011. After I wrote the above post, a friend of mine sent me a picture taken March 3, 2011. The picture is from the CloudFlare party I mention above, and it shows me with Ilya and four others. It's a great picture, so I posted it to my blog here.]
[Additional: I added this February 9, 2012. I added the last name of Elizabeth to this post, as I found out her last name.]