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'Entrepreneur residency' yields Newmerix.

NIEL ROBERTSON WAS A 27-YEAR-OLD WHIZ KID WHO had already launched one company and sold it for $280 million when Brad Feld, a managing director at Mobius Venture Capital, hired the youngster as an "entrepreneur in residence."

Entrepreneur in residence? I pictured Doogie Howser reclining in a comfy ergonomic chair, drinking Jolt Cola and throwing darts at a wall to induce an entrepreneurial brainstorm.

That's not how it works, of course.

Robertson's mission as a resident entrepreneur was to come up with an idea--any idea--for a new company. There was not much relaxing to it.

"It's a research-oriented position," says Robertson, an MIT grad (as is Feld) who co-founded a company called ServiceMetrix at 22 and sold it to Exodus Communications of Santa Clara, Calif., 1 1/2 years later, in 1999. "You do everything from reading every technical magazine you can find, to chatting with your peers in the technology industry. You go to conferences, and you just try to sort of feel the trend a little bit.

"Once you feel the trend, you have to back it up with solid data. That's probably the hardest part."

The trend that Roberston "felt" was that PeopleSoft, Oracle, SAP and other packaged application-software vendors were switching from a client-server environment to a Web-based environment and thus asking customers to switch to a new version of software. This impacted for customers who had put in a lot of time and money customizing their original software to fit particular business needs and would now have to re-customize a new version of the software.

Solving that problem and filling that middle niche was the basis for Newmerix, a company Robertson launched in May 2002 with Ed Roberto, 44, a veteran of seven previous startups. Robertson is Newmerix's CTO, Roberto the CEO.

Tonya McKinney, vice president of marketing for Superior-based Newmerix, likens the startup's product to the "search and replace" function of a word-processing program. "Think about writing 100 pages of material and discovering that you've mis-spelled a name or term used throughout the document," McKinney explains. "With most software testing tools, finding that mistake is like having to read every single line on all 100 pages and manually fix the mistake. With our tools, it's like having "search and replace" in Microsoft Word--it can find exactly where that term was used and show you how to fix it."

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Newmerix got an early $2.5 million stake from Superior-based Mobius and IDG Ventures of San Francisco--in virtually the hardest time for a startup to raise venture-capital money. With that, Newmerix grew to 15 employees, secured a partnership with PeopleSoft and landed its first two customers, SpectraLink and Wild Oats Markets.

That was encouraging enough for Mobius, IDG and San Jose-based Siemens Venture Capital to issue a B-round of funding for $7 million this past fall. The capital infusion will allow Newmerix to begin marketing throughout North America after initally focusing on Colorado. In mid-December the company hired sales reps to work on the East and West coasts.

Roberto jokes that he and Robertson lived off potatoes and rice during their frugal launch of Newmerix, and that the subsequent $2.5 million infusion amounted to adding beans to their diet.

"I think we exemplify the new breed of startup operation that's smart with money, very economical with how we operate, and we're positioned to return a hell of a lot of value to the investor group," says Roberto.

During his "entrepreneur residency" at Mobius, young Robertson says he interviewed about 50 CEOs to gauge their need for the products he envisioned providing through Newmerix. He also sought assurance.

"Most of entrepreneurism is convincing yourself that you're not completely out in left field," he says. "Once you've convinced yourself, then you have to go out and convince the venture capitalists."

Robertson says the Front Range has been the ideal location for launching Newmerix, because of the large number of PeopleSoft customers in the area, including Coors, Qwest and Boston Market. PeopleSoft's purchase of Denver-based J.D. Edwards and the more recent takeover struggle between PeopleSoft and Oracle adds to the potential customer base.

"It's a great place for us to run around and garner those first few customers that are critical for a startup," Robertson says. The rest, presumably, is up to those newly hired salespeople.

MIKE TAYLOR IS THE MANAGING EDITOR OF COLORADOBIZ. HE WRITES ABOUT SMALL-BUSINESS MONEY ISSUES AND HOW STARTUPS ARE LAUNCHED. READ THIS AND TAYLOR'S PAST COLUMNS ON THE WEB AT COBIZMAG.COM AND E-MAIL HIM AT MTAYLOR@COBIZMAG.COM.
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Title Annotation:Small Biz
Author:Taylor, Mike
Publication:ColoradoBiz
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:759
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