Giving credit where credit is due.

I have been through a lot of drama in my day with all sorts of different people from different statures in life. I don’t particularly care for drama though I have also created my own share of it. Thankfully I have been reasonably good at keeping it out of my life lately – even when it is being forced on me through the actions of others. As Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements, “don’t take things personally”.

This is perhaps the hardest of the Four Agreements to keep – even more so than “don’t make assumptions” – but it is often the most important as it can really throw a curve ball in your day when you are bounding along, happy as a lark and suddenly find out that someone you thought was your friend does something or says something against you, behaving more like a competitor instead of a collaborator.

So what to do when you find out that someone you trusted is actually trying to discredit you instead of working together towards common goals? What to do when someone smiles at you and lies to your face? What to do when you hear from other people the wild things they are saying about you behind your back? Simple. Don’t take it personally. It is their problem, not yours, so all you need to do is remain true to yourself and keep living your life with right speech, right action and right intent. Easier said than done – my initial reaction is usually one of anger, but with age and some experience I have learned to let go of most of it – even while the deep hurt remains inside as yet another scar to be healed.

Still, it has never stopped me from being the person I am, from trusting again, from sharing my insights with others or from loving everyone I meet – even when I don’t particularly like them. The other day I was talking with Kristie about the many places my ‘Idea DNA’ resides across the Internet. We discussed the many people I have spoken with – who appropriated my ideas as their own or merely built on top of them without even a word of thanks for the inspiration. Instead of this happening inside a big organization where the person leveraging the ideas would be a boss/supervisor/vp, it has occurred across multiple organizations, in the wild wooly entrepreneurial landscape. I can’t begin to post all of these experiences here, but there are nearly a dozen companies or products that were influenced by my insights through conversations with founders or key team members. In each case, it would have been great to get some sort of consulting contract from it. It would have been even better to have been acknowledged as a contributing influence.

While I usually don’t like to call people out by name for this sort of thing, this is one story whose time has come.

The most prominent example of where I believe my Idea DNA was appropriated without recognition is with BuzzMetrics. (The most recent situation will be written about another day after I have dealt with the matters personally and directly.) I have never written on this situation or publicly discussed this before beyond conversations with friends, but it is a good point of reference for this post with the intention of highlighting the important issue of honesty and attribution together with the issue of how to deal with people who are seemingly your friend but are perhaps working against you. Their recent acquisition by Nielsen, their subsequent acquisition of Intelliseek and some links sent to me about them being sued by New Media Strategies make it a good time to at least set the record straight regarding my involvement in the story.

If you are wondering, I am not worried about being sued for writing this, because it is all true. I am not making any claims against them, and besides, if they decide to sue they will just end up giving me a bigger platform for the truth which could possibly taint the company’s stature more than the recent lawsuits. This is the story of how I met the founders of a little known, barely launched portal called PulpFree and how my Idea DNA was imprinted on their company leading to a change in their business model.

I first met Jonathan Carson and Braxton Robason through Matthew Slaughter, whom I believe I originally met at a Netpreneur event on March 7, 2000 via an introduction from Sacha Cohen – it was the same night that Christopher Locke signed my copy of the Cluetrain actually. It felt like Matt was an old soul, who was smart and on the rise after leaving the Carlyle Group to pursue dotcom fame and fortune like all good MBA’s did back in 1998-2000. Matt had made an introduction for me to his VC firm which was playing incubator in Old Town Alexandria. The firm was called Paladin Companies and had not yet moved into their huge 32,000 square foot space – in fact we met over in a temporary office on South Union Street in Old Town. The first meeting with all of them (after giving Paladin an executive summary without an NDA – b/c they never sign NDA’s) was in early April of 2000 – the VC (I believe it was Michael Hartman, but am honestly not totally sure without digging up the records from storage) wanted to have the PulpFree technical team (Braxton) review my ideas for Conversal on the technical merits – so they brought Braxton in and I had a discussion with him in the conference room, sketching out the basic models for what I wanted to do. Jonathan came in briefly later and I had a separate conversation about the potential of the conversational intelligence industry with Matthew, Jonathan and the VC.

After pitching my plan for developing a conversational intelligence system, laying out the business model and explaining the backbone of the plan being based on The Communications Strategy, I got the usual VC pessimism about how it could not work and how PulpFree was the smartest, greatest opportunity etc… It would seem that after these conversations, and their follow on conversations with New Media Strategies about possibly working with them, that the PulpFree team may have realized their model was not going to make them money at the time. With the bubble bursting, they, like I, were seemingly forced to drop the B2C angle and look for a B2B opportunity (also something I discussed with them at length). [See an Internet Archive/WayBack machine version of their site from October of 2000 and one from May of 2001.] Funny thing is of course, aggregators are the hottest things right now, so in a sense they were seemingly on track with the PulpFree model, just not at the right time.

At the time we first met, Braxton and Jonathan had just finished working on a spider that I believe they called ‘Harvest’ which was being used to populate what was called in the now immortal words of Matt, “a portal for smart people – for twenty and thirty somethings who were not happy with the dumbed down content offered by Yahoo! and Lycos”. I told them I thought it was utter folly to try to compete with the big portals – especially on what I saw as a flimsy premise for distinction, but they were undeterred and seemingly offended by my challenge to their model. Over the next few weeks I tried to followup but got no more responses from their VC. I did speak with Matt though (supposedly with Jonathan on the speakerphone though I don’t recall hearing him speak) and given that I was running out of cash myself, I suggested we work together towards using their spider to mine all of the online personal communications out there on personal web pages, message boards, public chat rooms and especially comment systems. We would use it to analyze conversations, identify key influencers, monitor what was being said and most importantly, to enable companies to engage in the conversations where they were happening – to be proactive with customer service instead of reactive. I also referenced this thinking as eCKM (electronic customer knowledge management as opposed to CRM) and have lots of power point decks on this with original time stamps that support the story in addition to several emails with them.

In one phone conversation with Matt, I suggested that if they could perhaps come up with a few dollars to pay me, I could work out a discounted rate so we could all work together towards making this a real success. To see how we might be able to work together. He responded that he barely had enough money to pay the team he had. I never really heard from them again, though I occasionally saw Matt at various events – in fact I still haven’t heard from them or spoken with them actually and until recently, chose to stay away from WOMMA and the whole industry as I would rather not be associated with those who talk about “Pimping word of mouth” or paying people to blog about something without transparency.

After moving to Silicon Valley in 2001, I saw that they had moved offices to New York and changed their name to BuzzMetrics. I tried to reach out to Matt at that time, but never heard back from him. In fact, he is still pretty invisible in the online world and I can find no real traces of what he has done since. The interesting thing is that although they had access to my business plan and I explained my philosophy behind conversational intelligence in detail to them, I feel that they still have not gotten it right – then again, their experiences likely morphed what they did as a result of the needs of customers. While admittedly they became successful with the idea and I did not – I rest comfortably with my opinion that they really never got the big idea and have yet to do it right, despite the fact that others look to them as ‘leaders’ in the industry – this is a huge opportunity and why I have chosen to invest my time helping others who do ‘get it’.

A friend just asked me if I thought they stole my intellectual property – to which I replied that ideas are a dime a dozen, though good ideas like this one was worth considerably more. All I can say for sure is that I feel my ideas influenced their direction and it seems that the DNA of my idea may have been a key chromosome for the birth of their company. If they had just been more open to collaboration instead of seemingly focusing on their equity positions, we all would have been the better for it. Is this sour grapes? No, though I obviously have a tinge of disappointment that I did not make it as big with Conversal – but that was my fault and is separate of my reasons for writing this now despite what all the trolls and attackers may say tomorrow.

So why share this today? Because this is just one example of how I believe my Idea DNA is within the foundations of many different companies which choose to not recognize the contribution – how many other people has this happened to? Millions. And it is just wrong and has no place in The Open Web that is called Web 2.0 – it has no place within an open society that collaborates in the commons. I am reminded of the old VC adage, “100% of nothing is still nothing – you need to share the wealth in order for it the idea to grow”.

For me, it has always been about the recognition of the contributions. So when I take pains to recognize the contributions of others with honor, respect and link love, you now know why I do so. When other people, who approach me with hand extended in friendship, seek input or ideas on what they are doing, I gladly offer my insytes and will continue to do so. After all, it is better to have the ideas living in the world than stuck in my head. I just wish I did not keep running into assholes who seem authentic outside but are seemingly still holding onto narcissistic, ‘fuck everyone else’ beliefs behind false facades. I have gotten better at identifying those people, but occasionally one slips through the cracks as happened recently.

As much as I want to sit at the cool kid’s table like everyone else does, I am happy to be me and surround myself with truly genuine people who are respectful, loving and willing to share – and who give credit where it is due. In fact, I prefer to be with genuine people who are respectful of all people rather than those only concerned with power, fame and fortune. Everyone we meet has something of value to contribute – it is our job to figure out what that is.

It is important to point out here that I don’t want money and I don’t want to stir shit up (though I suppose it probably will given the stature of these guys now). I just want the truth to be set free and I want us all to make sure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated as the market begins to heat up again. I would like to see that the values of authenticity, transparency, honesty, collaboration and accreditation is at the heart of this important era of our economic recovery. For if it is not, we are doomed to repeat ourselves and watch a bubble boom and then bust.

[Disclosure: While I am now consulting with BuzzLogic, a company that might be considered a competitor of theirs, I can assure you that this has nothing to do with why I am sharing this story today. In fact, BuzzLogic would probably prefer I did not write this, but since it is truth and I am now active in this industry in many ways, it is time to set the story straight and also time to speak up to prevent it from happening again. In the future, I won’t be as silent as I have been for the past six years.]

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  1. #1 by Kristie Wells - February 22nd, 2006 at 22:09

    Chris, I am proud of you for putting this out there. It takes guts as there will be some who are offended by it – others will commend you for speaking up against the ills of the world. I am of the latter mind and appreciate anyone willing to practice what they preach. I only wish everyone had the same set of standards.

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