Shannon Henry's The Download Live
Discussion with Evan Burfield, founder of NetDecide
1:00 p.m. EDT: Thursday, June 15, 2000
Good afternoon. Welcome to another edition of The Download Live, I am your host Shannon Henry.
Wondering where to find the next generation of tech entrepreneurs?
A likely spot on a recent night was Third Edition in Georgetown, where the mostly under-30 tech exec members of the "Brat Pack" gathered for their monthly schmooze session.
Washington has always been a networking town, and the tech community is no different. The Brat Pack is one of a new breed of networking groups--younger and less "organized," where conversation ranges from company market valuation to the wild world of dating, are sprouting up as fast as start-ups themselves.
Evan Burfield is the founder of and an executive vice president for NetDecide. He is also the founder of the under-30 CEO group, the Brat Pack. Burfield has received numerous accolades as one of the region's newest, and youngest, entrepreneurs. After receiving his education at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology, Burfield decided to postpone an Ivy League education for real world management experience.
Join us Thursday at 1 p.m. to discuss the trend of tech-savvy teens skipping college to start their own ventures and other issues facing youthful techies.
Hi Evan! Welcome to the chat. Can you start out by telling us how you founded NetDecide at the ripe old age of 19? What does NetDecide do?
Evan Burfield: Hi, Shannon. Thank you so much for having me! I feel like Kornheiser or Wilbon!
I founded netDecide when I was approached by CC Chang. CC was the father of a high school friend who had some exciting ideas about better ways to deliver financial advice. He wanted help in building a business around that idea, and we've had a great partnership since then.
Quite simply, netDecide provides large financial service firms with software that helps them intelligently manage their clients' wealth and brings them the right financial products.
Congratulations on your early success.
I am a young Assistant Controller with leading IT company the Washington metro area. Since you are still at the beginning of your career and -I presume] still gaining experience and knowledge about how to perform successfully in the "Business World", what is your source of knowledge to make strategic decisions regarding capital requirements, new lines of services, etc. ?
Evan Burfield: Well, Bethesda, I think the answer is trite but true: I've had GREAT advisors and mentors. From my father to CC (the other founder) to Chuck Stein (our Chairman) to Kate Armstrong (our incredible new CEO), I've had people who have taught me stuff and guided me all along the way.
I often wonder is make millions in the Internet world before you're 30 is akin to winning an Olympic gold medal at 14 or being a child TV or movie star--what could you possibly do for an encore?
Evan Burfield: I haven't actually made millions yet. The money that we've received from our great partners and investors is focused entirely on building the company. I wouldn't be surprised if you made more than I do!
Beyond that, we at netDecide are always redefining success. No matter how far we go, we're always setting the bar higher. Otherwise, it would get boring...
Having just raised your first big round of venture capital, $7 million, what did you learn from the money hunt? What surprised you, terrified you or thrilled you about the process?
Evan Burfield: Everything about it was surprising AND thrilling AND certainly terrifying. To raise a great round of funding, we had to get a critical mass of interested investors. The result was that for a long time we had lot's of people saying "maybe". That was painful and rather trying. Then overnight we had everyone saying "yes" and more money than we needed. The lesson we learned is persistence and faith.
I don't know if this is because you're the youngest guest I've had on, but you are the fastest typist!
Why did you choose not to go to college? Would you take the same path again? And do you ever consider going back (tell us about the two classes you recently took at University of Maryland).
Evan Burfield: I didn't choose not to go to college. I chose to start a company. College would not have given me the chance to grow that I got with great mentors and partners like Chuck Stein and CC Chang and great experiences like writing a business plan.
One of the core personality traits of netDecide is diversity. We really like people who have unique perspectives. Over the past five years, I've taken two classes (at UVa actually, Shannon). One was Roman Republic and Empire; the other was Improvisational Acting. Both have helped me bring another perspective to my job.
New York, NY:
How is NetDecide's solution different from the many calculators and toolkits on other financial planning web sites?
Evan Burfield: Most financial "calculators" look at one part of your financial life to a relatively shallow degree. The netDecide platform allows financial services firms to show you how one decision impacts everything else in your financial life.
Rather than using a "calculator" that tells you the monthly payment on a mortgage, netDecide tells you how that mortgage will impact the vacation you had planned to take next year, sending your kids to college in five years, your retirement in 15 years, and your overall asset allocation plan.
how do you handle older employees who do not show as much respect to you because of your age? Or is this never an issue for you?
Evan Burfield: The Washington technology community is a very fertile environment for creative and hard working people. I've never really felt all that "different" because I started my company a few years early than normal.
In regards to netDecide, my age has always been accepted as a part of the strength of the team. From CC (the other founder) five years ago agreeing to work with someone a third his age to Kate (our CEO) consulting me on strategic direction today, I've always been treated as a creative and critical part of the team.
What are some issues or problems that have come up that made you think, "ok, I don't have the experience to deal with this myself." What did you do then?
Evan Burfield: Shannon, I do what any smart business person does! I consult my advisors. I encounter issues everyday that I have no experience with ranging from nuances of venture capital term sheets to how you structure a marketing team as effectively as possible.
As a company, netDecide has done a great job of bringing in the team to be able to do all of that. We have a great Chairman, Chuch Stein, a great CEO, Kate Armstrong, a great CFO, John Calnan, and of course my partner in crime, CC Chang. We are always looking to bring to netDecide people that are smarter than us in a particular area whether as an employee or advisor. It's part of being a confident business person, regardless of age!
I understand that today you secured new financing form Steve Walken Associates, Legg Mason, Bank America and others. What are your plans for the money. And do you plan on utilizing the public markets anytime soon.
Evan Burfield: Our round of funding was for $7 million from an amazing group of partners and investors. Bank of America, Legg Mason, and Ernst & Young bring their strength and experience in the financial services industry. Dominion Ventures brings national venture capital exposure and operational advice. Steve Walker and WomenAngels.net bring local exposure and support.
The money is being used for three things: 1, push our leading wealth management technology forward as rapidly as possible, 2, launch a major marketing initiative, and 3, build the infrastructure to support the rapid growth necessary to meet our huge market demand.
What's your favorite part of your job?
Evan Burfield: Shannon, I love the people. The netDecide team is hardcore. They are smart, dedicated, and good people to boot. (I'm sending out a shout to my boys back in the office...)
It seems the image of a great CEO or executive was an old guy in a nice suit with years of experience. Being young and relatively inexperienced, how do you see the role of leaders changing/evolving? What qualities are most important?
Evan Burfield: Actually, my image of the greatest CEO possible is a dedicated woman with great vision and a rowdy sense of humor... her name is Kate Armstrong and we are incredibly lucky to have someone with her experience and vision leading netDecide.
Do you plan on going to college ever or now that you are becoming a financial success is a degree irrelevant?
Evan Burfield: Chicago, I LOVE to learn. I hope I'll always have opportunities to learn informally from people like Chuck and Kate. I also intend to take classes when time permits for the rest of my life. A "degree" is a piece of paper. I'm more interested in knowledge.
Is the position you are in now something you dreamed about i high school or was the idea for the company more happenstance?
Evan Burfield: I'm at netDecide because I had the good fortune to meet someone in CC Chang with some great ideas and the self assurance to let me play along. He deserves all the props!
Can you give a sense of the importance for local tech execs to share common insights and "growing pains" experienced by local start-ups?
A Fellow Brat Pack Member
Evan Burfield: Is that you Mike? Elisa? I think that any business person who doesn't consult his peers as much as possible is doomed. The Brat Pack is a great forum for me to get together with people (like Michael Chasen from Blackboard) who have been through some of the same things I'm going through. It's also cool to work with some of the exciting ideas coming down the pipe (such as Michael Makowsky with Mighty Acorn or Mike Appelbaum with VitalContact).
18th & M:
Generally speaking, a lot of people are trying to get their piece of the "dot-com" pie. There are as many people who dream about doing it, but do not want to take that "leap of faith." What would you say to those people? I'm sure there is a lot of potential out there that may go unrealized.
Evan Burfield: The four things that I think are required to do a startup are: confidence, the ability to recruit people smarter than you (hey Kate!), the ability to listen to people smarter than you (hey Chuck!), and a nose for where the money is...
To answer your question directly, starting the company isn't going to be close the the toughest thing you'll experience. That will come a few months later. The first time you almost run out of money and you've got employees depending upon you and you have to mortgage your house to keep things a float (thank you forever, CC!). That's when things get tough. You need to be very sure you can handle risk.
I was trying to figure this out recently when I was writing a column on a local university class on entrepreneurship. Can entrepreneurship be taught? What do you think?
Evan Burfield: Yes, but probably not in a classroom. Chuck Stein has lectured me on entrepreneurship from 101 to an 800 level.
Tysons Corner, VA:
Evan, I have a lot of friends that graduated from Thomas Jefferson, and I can say with some knowledge that I'm impressed with that accomplishment. I have several questions: answer what you like. After being in TJ's incredibly technical, competitive environment, how did you find the transition to working in the "real world", where there is a huge dicotomy in skill level between the technical and non-technical? In addition, did many of your classmates make the same decision you did and decide to put off college? My last question is: I've read a few studies recently that suggested that a college education is becoming less and less relevant to the technology field. How much value do you think a college education has to a technology company such as your own?
Evan Burfield: For a great perspective on adjusting to the "real world", read Bill Gates' recent book. His point (I'm paraphrasing more than a bit) is that performing to expectation is the hardest thing about the "real world". Even Jefferson was nothing compared to CC and I having to sit down with our board each month and tell them why we were or weren't executing.
There must be a lot of pressure gaining so much success so fast. I'm curious as to your thoughts about young kids (preteens) being pushed through schools at a faster pace. My son is 11 and is in the 10th grade now and my wife and I have concerns that while he may be learning a lot that wil help him career-wise, he may be missing out on life at large.
Evan Burfield: It's tough. My parents (hey Mom! Happy father's day, Pops!) made the decision to hold me back. I was always the oldest kid in my grade. I have no idea whether that helped me or hurt me. The one thing I can honestly say, and it may seems strangen given why I'm here on this web chat, is that I've never been in ANY hurry to jump into things before I am ready and my parents have never pressured me to be more than I am.
Even though you don't think college was right for you, do you think it has value for others? Personally, I learned a lot in college and don't at all think of it as a mere piece of paper.
Evan Burfield: Ha! Touche! You're right Shannon, it is more than a piece of paper. I think college has tremendous value. And it could have been a wonderful experience for me, it just wasn't the wonderful experience I chose to pursue. I do however think that people shouldn't feel life or death pressure to follow a traditional educational path.
It seems that young minds have been valued so much in recent years because they were the only ones that understood the technology of the new economy and marketplace. Now that Wall St. and VCs seem to be focusing more on the basic fundamentals does that change the environement for you minds looking for leadership positions? Inother words, before they were pushed to the forefront and now it seems they may be relegated to the background.
Evan Burfield: That's a very insightful question, and some companies might be hurt by that. In general though, I think the technology companies in the Washington area are built on great business fundamentals, not gimics.
netDecide has funding from a premier group of committed investors because we have great fundamentals: proprietary technology that enable intelligent wealth management, a huge and hungry market, and a solid and mature management team.
I'm decided start my own company has well but need help and advice writing the business plans. I have a backer who own's his own company and said he would supply VC money about he hit's the 10 million dollar mark. (Which will proably be this year) But i need mentor's who can help me right now? Do you have any suggestions on how to find mentors and How to write a good business plan?
Evan Burfield: I think there are a lot of great resources for entrepreneurs in the Washington areas that perhaps did not exist five years ago. Mario Morino has done AMAZING things with the Netpreneur program and Steve Walker has a very progressive venture capital fund that looks seriously at early stage deals.
Oh, and go to www.netpreneur.org and look for Mario's speech on how to write a business plan. It's very accurate.
I hung out with Evan's under-30 networking group, The Brat Pack, one night at the Third Edition in Georgetown. The conversation ranged from hunting for venture capital to the difficulty of meeting girlfriends (a predominently male crowd. Why did you start the group? What goals does it have and what do you like most about it?
Evan Burfield: Hey! I don't need advice on meeting girlfriends. I have a wonderful one (hi babe) that is everything I could want.
I originally started the Brat Pack with the guys from ToFish and Newsletters.com so that I could talk to people in a similar situation. We are evolving from an informal group of emerging entrepreneurs into a business network focused on more formal mentorship of entrepreneurs at various stages of development. It's really fulfilling for me to work with people who are focused on growing entrepreneurship in the Washington area and with great sponsors such as Steve Walker (your my godsend, Stacey) and Ernst & Young.
Time's up for today. Evan, you were great. Thanks so much for being our guest. We'll be watching NetDecide and to see how the Brat Packers make their way in the techworld. Thanks for all the good questions, too. Bye!
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