Entrepreneurship in Perspective

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It’s pretty easy to be self-obsessed when you’re in a startup, or immersed in the world of startups. Tune in to TechCrunch50, the Silicon Valley startup pageant that wrapped earlier this week — sparring with DEMO, running simultaneously down in San Diego, and you’d think nothing much else was going on in the world — “More on hurricanes, war, election year, and trillion-dollar bailouts . . . later in today’s program.”

Seven years ago yesterday, things got put in perspective real quickly. I was attending a morning panel session on raising capital at Accenture’s Reston, VA headquarters, organized by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce. The details of the panel have long since faded from memory. I remember local VC Don Rainey was on the dais — at the time running the VA office of Durham, NC based Intersouth Partners — because I was in the middle of asking him a question, when my wife Cecilia interrupted me (happens at home a lot; in public, not so much). She was managing the event, and stepped up to the mic to let everyone know “there’s been some kind of attack on New York,” and everyone had best just go and check on their families.

My recollection following that moment remains quite vivid. Very first thought (after the interrupting thing): what presence of mind Cecilia had, to quickly transition the context of the meeting to the important one — family — without causing panic. Then she and I immediately devised our plan: she would continue to try to reach our daughter in DC, while I would drive down to pick up our son at school. Come what may, our family would be together.

I remember how details of the attack were just trickling in over the radio — a plane or planes, one or both of Twin Towers — as we sat anxiously in our cars, crawling through the crush of cars trying to exit the multilevel parking garage. I remember the constant beeping of failed cell-phone calls from an overloaded system. I remember getting my son with me in the car, trying not to alarm him. I remember finally hearing that our daughter was okay.

I remember my heart going out to the thousands, and their families, who would never be okay.

What I was not thinking about were the consequences the terrorist attack would have on my startup at the time — client/server systems providing music and information in hotel rooms. (The hospitality industry sank like a stone after 9/11, as did our prospects for success.)

Then, at some time, days or weeks later, I remember an oddly comforting feeling of being united with people I’d never met.

Things had really gotten into perspective, for a while anyway.