Discussion With Potomac Knowledgeway Founder Mario Morino Thursday, September 30, 1999 at 1 p.m.
Morino, who estimates his net worth at $140 million, made most of that money when a software company he founded, Legent Corp., was sold to Computer Associates in 1995.
Since then, Morino has founded the nonprofit Morino Institute and Potomac Knowledgeway and the for-profit Morino Group. He acts as both an informal and formal adviser to local companies, investing in some and just giving been-there advice to others. His Netpreneur Program events, which feature speakers on a variety of tech topics, routinely draw hundreds of area entrepreneurs, so many that people are turned away at the door.
Morino will be online at 1 p.m. Thursday to talk about the next phase for the Washington area technology community. Submit questions early.
Shannon Henry: Hi Mario! Thanks for joining us today. Washington is now regularly listed as one of the top tech centers, companies like AOL, PSInet and UUNet have paved the way for new start-ups, and more venture money is coming into the region. Of course it has taken years and years for that to happen. What tangible or intangible things need to happen now to take Washington to the next level?
Mario Morino: Thanks Shannon. Its great to be on this with you.
Tysons Corner, VA:
How can I be you?
Mario Morino: First, don't worry about being me, be you! Go into an area of study that you enjoy. And, then learn how to apply and exploit the net and technology with respect to that subject area. I think we are too quick to assume that one needs a computer sciences background to be a technical star. This is simply not true. We need people who know areas, with passion about what they know, and who can understand and use technology to advance the areas they enjoy most. Look at Bezos at Amazon or Steve Case at AOL! Not exactly computer science guys, but pretty good!
Shannon Henry: What kind of regional collaboration or leadership do you hope to see? Who or what group would be leading the charge? And what are the challenges?
Mario Morino: The colloboration, which has started, needs to bring the region -- MD, VA and DC -- better together around the common issues we all face, from transportation to the development of a next generation internet backbone here in the region. Fortunately, groups from the different areas are talking more with each other. We need groups like the Potomac Conference to be more direct and focused in advancing this leadership formation and we need to be a lot more inclusive to reach beyond those that are the normal folks at the bar.
People have been talking about the Washington DC metro area becoming the Silicon Valley of the East Coast. What are your thoughts on this? And if you agree with the above, what do you think are the implications for those of us who are just getting started working in the IT world here in the District?
Mario Morino: Silicon vallye is an absolutely unique place and phenomenon -- perhaps never to be duplicated again. It possesses an amazing concentration of talent in hardware and software. The New Economy, however, can be viewed as a convergence of three aeas -- the pipes (telecom and the Internet, the process (the hardware and software), and content (the information, programming and objects). While the Valley will dominate the center, we can own the bookends. We have dominant strength her in telecom and Internet services, note Intel's recent decision, and the concentration of b2b information here in the region offers an enormous ecommerce potential. So the valley will still be the valley, but the region is carving out its own reputation in the bookends.
Shannon, There is an "Internet gap" between the "have access" and "have no access". What can local companies do to help bridge the gap?
Mario Morino: Hi Tara's Dad! How you doing Randy? You've hit on what is one of my greatest concerns. When I left LEGENT in 1992 I did so with a focus on "youth, learning and community." I did so because I looked at kids that were growing up in the same neighborhood I did, who would never be given the chance to do what I was fortunate enough to be able to do. The community around these kids, that I had, basically disappeared. The latest discussion about the Digital Divide borders on naive to simplistic. This is about a fundamental economic and educational divide. We should worry less about teaching computer skills and worry more about how to apply the transformational power of the net to change the fundamental factors limiting the lives of these children. How do we help them gain self-confidence and esteem? Where do they gain a positive attitude toward learning? How can we ensure that they enjoy many positive learning relationships with caring adults? And how can we be sure they have safe places to play and grow? With all the money and smarts we're getting, certainly we can come up with better solutions to these problems that have stifled families and too many young children.
Shannon Henry: I'm one of the ones who groans every time it comes up...but it does keep coming up...does the region need a name? And how about coming up with one right here on this chat?
Mario Morino: The region has a name. Its the nations capital. If we were good marketing people and listened to our markets throughout the world, we'd come to realize this region is held in very high esteem as the nation's capital region.
Washington, D.C.: Who on earth is going to pitch for the Indians after Bartolo Colon?
Mario Morino: Wow! Great question. Wright looked good in the last outing, maybe Nagy can keep them hitting on the ground, but someone better get hot before the playoffs. Go Tribe!
Montgomery Village, MD: What is your opinion of the CIA's In-Q-It initiative to infiltrate Silicon Valley and the high tech community to protect the sucurity of the US? What about protecting the Global Competitiveness of the US.
Mario Morino: Its wild and really out of the box. Actually, I had the opportunity to meet Sue Gordon, the woman at the Agency that orchestrated the concept. She is really bright and energized and they were really seeking new solutions. I like the idea, but they're going to have to be careful to not inadvertently set technology policy by virtue of their investment selections.
Rockville, MD: I notice that you're broadening your focus from merely supporting expansion of high-tech in the area, to promoting major infrastructure alterations. Frankly, I would prefer to telecommute to driving in the traffic around here... but do you see significant upgrade in regional transportation coming, or will we all be _foreced_ to telecommute in 2015, because the roads are totally gridlocked from Laurel to Reston?
Mario Morino: Great point. I'm a little out of my league in this debate and we are certainly going to need more roads. The trouble that I see is an absence of investment to work vs transportation alternatives -- as you noted. And this will continue until there is a greater public demand and outcry.
Gaithersburg, MD: What new products-services will we see once the mass public goes Broadband?
Mario Morino: Great question, but unanswerable. I think broadband is going to have an impact not unlike that of the net's emergence -- that profound. What we learned in managing online networks were two rules you might consider. Speed actually creates more demand. We're seeing this today in ecommerce. More importantly, we will open up markets for products and services we can't even imagine and the limitation is only that of imagination. The example I like to use in comparison is to go back to 1980 (a long time for some of you) and try to sell a product that would do the following -- it will run on a screen not in use, will paint pictures when no one is looking and will make stupid sounds. And you're going to pay me for this! I'm talking about a screen saver, which in previous lives would have been considered a preposterous product, yet today is a many multi-million dollar marketplace. So who knows?
Hi again, regarding a name for the region, SF author William Gibson calls it "The Sprawl" which is pretty on-target -- and speaking of on-target, the region has long been known as "Ground Zero", especially in the online community. thought I'd mention it....
Mario Morino: Love ground zero. In fact, the tagline for the new building we've done in Reston is "Ground Zero for the New Economy." Your points are sure better than one of the names used recently called "silicon swamp."
Montgomery County, VA:
One question talked about people being forced to telecommute because of bad roads. I've been a telecommuter for more than three years. I actually -know- my neighbors. The real question is, when will employers learn to trust their workers, even hire people living hours away? Technology is supposed to make the question of where you are less important. That doesn't appear to be happening. Do you have a telecommuting policy at the Morino Institute?
Mario Morino: You hit the nail on the head. Telecommuting requries a very different management process and style. I was lucky enough to have worked with and managed telecommuter workers for over 20 years! Key was a word you used -- trust. Managing in a wired world places far greater emphasis on management's ability to influence people, build effective relationships, and provide great communications. Today, our older management systems and styles often work against the very thing we need. At our place, I wouldn't even call it telecommuting I'd call it teleworking -- we live and die by the network. We recognize that one can often work at home easily and save a trip to the office. Or, a parent is able to attend a day-time event at their kid's school and because of the net, lose very little time, if any. You do need f-to-f time -- for the basis of a great community is respect and trust of each other.
James Condon with Cybercash says that after the Computer Associates acquisition of Legent Corp., you set up career counseling sites to help those people find new jobs. Is this so, and how did you feel about the demise of Legent?
Mario Morino: Bob hi! At the time we did this as a family action. We did not seek publicity nor did we say much about it at the time. What we did was to set up offices in four cities -- here, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Boston. Each office was staffed with a person to handle admin items, PCs were installed and net connectivity provided. A Web site was built to provide contact info and news. A good friend, Carolyn Redmon, came onboard full-time with us to lead this program. We also provided some seminars and counseling sessions in the various cities. At the time, over 1,100 were impacted from mid-August 1995 to the end of that year. Most, if not all, were highly employable and would, and did, find new positions quickly. But there is something demeaning about losing a job -- no matter how it happens. And corporate america has been unnecessarily negligent of this psychic cost. All people want is to know that you give a damn. We did very little. Yet, the fact that some had a place to get a cup of coffee and meet friends meant so much.
Mario Morino: Jen I know TechCorps well and have a lot of respect for Karen Smith and her work with this organization. I think work is required on both the nonprofit and corporate side to make volunteering more effective. First, many nonprofits are simply not staffed or structured to use volunteers well, beyond rather basic tasks. Candidly, help is needed in this area. Second, too many volunteers, especially from our field, want to come in and give answers to the folks in nonprofits and they've not even taken the time to ask the questions. This said, there is a great opportunity to cross this divide. I'd like to single out Landmark Systems, the firm run by Kathy Clark, as a great example here in our region. They adopted Edison high school sometime back and they've enjoyed a productive relationship that has survived management changes on both sides. Their problem is often getting their troops to come back to work! They've set a model for how an effective program could work.
Silver Spring, Md: With so much competition in the job market today, what steps would you recommend for someone with about 10 yrs. of experience who is looking to move up from a tech support position in the Washington Metro area? I have put out my resume to various companies but not getting the response I expected. Thanks.
Mario Morino: Good question. If you're in a tech support, you are really in a great position to learn a lot that can position for other roles. First, a great tech support person, is by nature, an account manager -- or should be in their mind. So if you're sales inclined, use the opportunity to position yourself to move into field support and from there, maybe into sales itself. If you're more technically oriented, use the job to learn as much as you can about the products and position yourself to move into technical quality control or system testing positions and, eventually, into product development. Finally, the experience you gain also really positions you to go out on your own as a consultant to customers of the products you've been supporting. In fact, there have been examples of all of these in our previous firm.
Shannon Henry: Mario, what personal technolgies can you not live without? And can you also tell us why and how long you go offline every year on vacation? Seems like a healthy idea for such a wired person!
Mario Morino: Well, email is firmly entrenched in my life and my family's. The PC as a processor, communicator, and research tool has also become essential -- in fact, its absolutely seamless. And the PC is a laptop -- a must. Soon, wireless technology will be in this essential class. To the second part of your question, I go offline for 2-3 weeks a year. This year my family and I took off the entire month of August-- something we are fortunately able to do. And for 30 days, there were no emails, faxes or even phone calls from the office. Ironically, life has changed enough that we probably used the web each day for something --from entertainment to information on the children. The separation is really key. The downside of the fast-paced, wired society is that it takes away think time and forces us into a soundbyte mentality -- everything quick, short, terse, fast. Somethings in life just don't fit this mode and its healthy to step back from time to time, separate yourself from your environment, and ask yourself those really hard questions -- Am I enjoying life? Am I with the people I love and want to be with? Am I doing the things I truly love? Worse yet have I fallen into a trap and am actually doing the very things I hate most. Life in the fast lane makes it so easy to fall into a rut and because we're the activity is constant and fast, we can actually delude ourselves into believing that we're actually achieving something. Introspection is a necessary part of our lives and our growth.
Gaithersburg, MD: Is there a particular Netpreneur event you might suggest to attend...We were contacted to join awhile ago but were not sure where to jump in. We are interested in recruiting a few key positions and of course angels. Thank you
Mario Morino: I'd encourage you to register at the site -- netpreneur.org -- and subscribe to the weekly Netpreneur News to stay abreast of the activity in the region. We run Coffee & DoughNet sessions monthly around the region -- the last one was on email marketing and was dynamite. And, join in one of the online forums or use ActionNet to connect with others.
Washington, DC: Why doesn't the DC Metro area have a "cooler" tech scene? There is a very corporate atmosphere in this area and nothing that truly resembles a Silicon Valley-Silicon Alley environ. Why don't we have that here?
Mario Morino: Real good point. True in large part, but not totally so. The region is, by definition, more buttoned-down. This comes more from the Federal Government and cultural base of the region than the corporate world -- its more East Coast with a government twist. But there are a lot of spots in which the activity is intense. Now that I'm married and "retired" I couldn't tell you the locations as well as i could have 10-15 years ago, but Georgetown, Ballston, Bethesda, Tysons, Old Towne, Reston Town Center are taking on some fun aspects. Actually, one of our efforts with the Netpreneur program is to counter the exact issue you've noted. Come out to our new place and I'll bet you'll see a truly laid back world.
Mario. Hello. Nice to learn about your new whereabouts and work. I recall you coming to Montreal more than 20 years ago and giving us a pitch on your MVS performance philosophy and products. You were a fabulous speaker. You are doing great work now. Keep it going.
Mario Morino: Ved, can't believe. How you doing and great to hear from you!
McLean, Virginia: How active have you been in "lobbying" the local legislature to improve some of the fundamentals -e.g. transportation, schools-, so that this area can really become the Internet Capital of the US?
Mario Morino: Not at all. We're supportive of a number of efforts in the area: the Technology Councils, CapNet, the Internet Policy Institute, TechForum and others that are now reaching the politicians and appointed officials. Because of the many roles we take on with the nonprofit Morino Institute we steer clear of direct lobbying or legislative influencing.
Mario Morino: No deciding moment. When your family is discriminated against because of their nationality or language -- you never forget. When you work cleaning other people's homes and you see the demeaning way that hired help is looked at - you never forget it. When you understand that some of your best friends could have just as easily been business successes with their brains, but because of luck and the lack of family support ended up ruining their life -- you don't forget it. Our family was open, loving and embracing of others. We had little money, but were rich in every other way. If anything, I'm just doing what Tony & Emma (my parents) would have done naturally were they alive and had the resources and freedom I now enjoy.
Alexandria, Virginia: Intel, locating a new server farm in Chantilly seemed like a huge coup for the region. Any comments on how this may offer a boost?
Mario Morino: It is a good action. The jobs it creates are important, but it is the recognition and symbolism of this decision that is so important. It simply states that we have the Internet pool to attract such names. And, as I relayed to a reporter yesterday, this is not a new action, but one more step in a momentum that continues to build here in the region.
Mario Morino: I can't give you specifics, but you have to give the Governor credit for recognizing the importance of the Internet to the Commonwealth's economy and future.
How does our region rate in terms of its support for entrepreneurs? It seems that we've seen a sea change since you first started in business. And, how do we rate in comparison to other parts of the country?
Mario Morino: HUGE change! Things have come a long way just in the last 2-3 years. The flow of VC money has done nothing but increase and quickly. An angel network is building -- Capital Investors, the Dinner Club and others. And the institutions, from the tech councils to the universities are now much more entrepreneur-friendly. We've come a long way baby!
Beltsville, MD: Mr. Marino, I have often heard that one should never "cold call" a vc, that one should always be introduced. How does one with no "connections" get in touch with vc's? I have had a very hard time trying to present my business plan to vc's who invest in my industry-retail-, and it is very frustrating.
Mario Morino: Ideally you want to make contact through a trusted introduction. But when you can't, don't hesitate to cold call. Remember, they want you to knock the door down and show your persistence. I've been impressed with someone's enthusiasm. Just make sure you have some substance behind you when you make the call -- they just might answer. What I hate is the person who makes the big fuss and then when you open up to them you find out they've not done their homework, know little of their competition, and don't have the foggiest idea of an economic model. Go for it, but go armed!
Alexandria, VA: What personal characteristics are necessary to be an entrepreneur in the digital economy?
Mario Morino: Passion. Persistence. Focus. Speed. Resilience.
MD: What is the coin of the realm in advancing technology: money or ideas
Mario Morino: People. Money is always there for the right opportunity.
We represent a group of Internet start-ups and will seek funding in the near future.
Mario Morino: You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I in turn will probably route you to the following:
Washington, D.C.: I've read previous articles in the Washington Post about the 11600 Sunrise Building. What do you expect to achieve from this venture and where will you focus your efforts next to help develop further the advancement of our region in technology?
Mario Morino: First, let me point out that 11600Sunrise is done by our for-profit arm, the Morino Group. The idea was to create a knowledge cluster, that made work easier, and brought fun into the workplace. The building only has Internet firms and private equity funders who all have a fairly common purpose -- and represent the knowledge cluster. You can walk into the cafe and get questions anwered! The features and amenities -- internet ports in every common space and back-up power for the entire complex -- make work more effective. But, more than anything, its to make the place fun and a little crazy or weird. We have a pool table, pin ball machines, a basketball court, barbecue pits, a fitness center, a TV theatre area, and probably the only bocce court in Northern Virginia. You want to work hard, blow off steam, and be able to be around others that think like you.
Alexandria, VA: How does one go about submitting ideas or business plans to Mario?
Mario Morino: Prefer that you interact with the Netpreneur prograrm and the folks their in turn will help get it circulated.
Wow. Thanks Mario for some great thoughts. And for giving out your e-mail! Time to wrap up for today, but I'll be back in two weeks with Linda Mallison, who will talk about real estate and technology.
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