December 1 – Big Changes
In the period of less than a week – Thanksgiving week, at that – we had turned down an acquisition by Xoom, met with CMGI and Bertelsmann, received an offer, negotiated the terms of the deal, and, the evening of December 1, we signed. Oh, and ONElist also passed 1 million users. It was not a bad week. And yes, my name is in fact Mr. Understatement.
We spent the rest of the month working on the details of the deal with CMGI and Bertelsmann. We had several visits with the lawyers, and many phone conversations with Jon and Peter at CMGI. From start to finish, it took about a month to complete the deal.
December 18, 1998 – First ONElist Holiday Party
With everything going on, we still had time to gather the company for ONElist’s first holiday party. Mark Maxwell made reservations at Capalinni’s, an Italian eatery in San Mateo, Ca. The five ONElist employees and spouses attended along with Brad Bugdanowitz, one of our attorneys. In spite of the restaurant making us wait 3 hours for our table, we had a great time. Now, ONElist was really feeling like a real company.
During the course of the evening, we shared many user stories. Kate, in particular as head of customer support, had many entertaining stories. Of course without our users, ONElist was worthless. That said we liked some of our users more than others. Given a sample size large enough, some percentage of people will complain about anything, even a little free service such as ONElist. That evening, in honor of these people, we christened the first ONElist slogan, “Because it’s free you cheap fucks.” From this point on, whenever one of our customer support people had a difficult time with a user, you could hear this phrase echo through the office, chanted like a mantra. It was just a way of letting off some steam.
December 23, 1998 – Leaving Sun
While the deal with CMGI and Bertelsmann wasn’t going to be completed for another week or so, we felt confident enough to leave our jobs. Kate gave notice at her job. Mark Maxwell was already working fulltime for ONElist. That left Scott, Ethan and I. The “Sun 3”, as it were. We agreed to give notice together the morning of Tuesday, December 23. I remember waiting nervously in my cube for Scott and Ethan to arrive. They finally did, and I went and got our boss, Mark Fulks. Quitting any job is difficult, and this morning was especially difficult, as our departures would be a serious set back to the project we were working on. Plus we liked the people we worked with.
With Mark on one side of a conference room table and the three of us on the other side, I spilled the beans. I had started a company, recruited Scott and Ethan, and now that we had received funding, we were leaving to work on ONElist full time. I was moderately surprised to find out that Mark knew most of the story already! Doh! Guess my big mouth isn’t very good at keeping secrets. I still don’t know how Mark found out about ONElist, but in the end it didn’t matter.
Mark took this about as well as can be expected. He head didn’t explode in rage. He didn’t plead with us to stay. He didn’t tell us how rotten we were. He was much more calm about things than I was, in fact. After we were done, he left briefly to summon Harry Burks, his boss (and my former boss). Harry took me into a separate room, away from Scott and Ethan, and had me repeat the story. He wasn’t happy, but I think he understood. The three of us had offered two-week notice, but Harry escorted me out of the building that morning, which I understand. I came back one evening a couple of weeks later and retrieved my belongings from my cube.
December 29, 1998 – It Is Done
The deal finally closed two days before New Year’s Eve. At the time, ONElist had a simple business checking account with Bank of America, which included ATM access. After we received word that the money had been wired into the account, Mark Maxwell and I went down to the local ATM and printed out 5 ATM receipts, showing a balance of a little more than $4 million in the checking account. It was breathtaking seeing all those digits on a balance receipt. I called a meeting at my townhouse where I gave an ATM slip to everyone in the company. It was a small symbol of all that we had accomplished during the previous year, as well as a reminder of all that we had to do in the coming year.