Seventeen years ago, Ed Terry started working at what he calls "the itty bitty baby" company my then-AT&T Wireless boss and I co-founded in 1993.
THAT WAS THEN
WetheP, Inc. reminds me of those early years at PeopleNet Communications Corporation, which we bootstrapped for two years of after hours development, while working at another start-up McCaw Cellular (which was sold to AT&T just before we left).
Every time we talk, Ed reminds me he was PeopleNet's 14th employee--a fact that gave him a very different perspective than mine at the time.
Ed and I had come from years of experience in technology. I was still in my twenties then, and like at least one of our early techies who was still in his teens--was still very much learning on the fly.
UNPROVEN PATHS, DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES
We built our ideas almost entirely from scratch -- without any path or proven plan to follow. We plowed forward fueled with far more impassioned idealism than practical experience. A fact that gave me more than a few sleepless nights.
But Ed recalls those times as about us envisioning and innovating the foundations for a growing real-deal company. One that created valuable products and, just as important, critical jobs -- hundreds since. He's right. But at the time, I sometimes wondered how we'd make it.
HOPE FROM HINDSIGHT
I'm happy to report my fears are far less with WetheP. Likely in part because my confidence is informed by hindsight. What seemed so daunting during those developmental years looks far different from this distant future.
I can't take much credit for PeopleNet's success today. Colleagues like Ed were the reason we finally took off. Something I expect will happen with WetheP colleagues, too.
Until Ed started in 1997 we hadn't yet shipped any billable product. His belief in our mission, can-do-anything attitude, pragmatic business sense and resourcefulness was just the boost we needed to finally release "LD1" -- our first version device -- to the market.
TAKING ON THE BIG GUY
Meanwhile, the big 'guy' I set my sights on taking down was Omnitracs, the Qualcomm system that all but owned our market then--and did so well it was responsible for nearly all of Qualcomm's revenues, literally holding up its then-nascent cellular phone business.
In Ed's words: we offered a 'fleet-footed' Internet-based solution. It was made of locating, communications and predictive technologies. As well as GPS, which had just been made available by the US Gov't for common-good business applications -- for free no less! Qualcomm operated its own satellite-based system and software that was installed directly on powerful but unwieldy computer systems in large transportation companies.
Our pitch was simple: we offered a much more practical 'mousetrap.'
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD
We'd give all companies, including the most humble, what, until then, only their wealthiest competitors until then could afford. Our "InTouch" system would be as effective or better. Easier, more inclusive, flexible and affordable. It would allow any company to compete on level playing field in ways few would have believed possible until then.
This ethic of empowering the 'little guy' is very similar to what WetheP is offering. A simple, open process that will allow any citizen to create culture change -- for free.
Now Peoplenet's closest competitor wasn't Qualcomm. They were just the big 'Goliath' I wanted to kick in the shins. Closer to us was a flashy Company flush with funding and a system more like ours. At trade shows or in front of potential clients, we didn't look as impressive. We were relative unknowns.
INVESTING IN SLOWER-GROWTH
Having strategically chosen (and not only because we had less money) to invest more in developing a strong company and products. We avoided creating the kind of appearance that might whip us up to the industry early on, but could hurt us in the long run if we didn't deliver on them.
It was a calculated if stress-inducing risk to not respond to every shouting press release and sales claim of our competitors.
But whenever I began feeling my confidence flagging, I distracted myself from the fears by going 'head down' with my colleagues to mind our work and sometimes slow but always steady progress. For the most part, in fact, I really wasn't all that worried. I had a sense sooner or later our competitor would trip on their superficial solutions, over-inflated egos and 'yeah-right' projections. Which they did.
CONNECTING TIPS AND ROOTS PeopleNet's marketing staff was, in effect, 'evangelizing' both the 'tips' and the 'roots' of the industry. While our tech team was doing roughly the same, hustling to engage and integrate with systems we could. While also trying to convince old guard companies to let us connect with them, as well. This proved to be a good strategy that helped keep PeopleNet stable through the years.
It's not unlike what WetheP, Inc. is doing now. In what Malcolm Gladwell might consider a worthy 'David and Goliath' strategy, since it's similar to what Gladwell wrote about in his most recent book by the same name.
We're not only making like a petulant David, we know Goliath could use help, too. We engage both the 'little people' -- grassroots types and the big guys (and girls) in government and industry, too. With our 'all are valued, all bring value' constructivist methods.
THIS IS NOW
Today, Qualcomms once-untouchable system is limping its way to Dallas, where a company recently bought it. Likely because "they weren't willing to adapt," as Ed notes. It's now only a tiny fraction of QCs revenues, while PeopleNet made a big dent in the industry. Since the days when, as Ed puts it: 'We were just a pimple on their ass." And, PeopleNet's technology group recently bought a behemoth data company who wouldn't even take our calls in those early days.
HARD WORK, FLEXIBILITY PAYS OFF -- IN TIME
I asked my old colleague Ed what is different now at the once 'itsy bitsy' ech start-up I co-founded two decades ago. "Everything is the exact transverse (opposite) of what it was then," he said, laughing. "There's a whole lot more bureaucracy now."
An important hint and reminder to WetheP, as this tech start up continues with our 'heads down' while doing 'tips and roots' development for what still sometimes feels 'itsy bitsy' company.
My mission, as I see it, is to be sure we keep a sustained balance by bringing together users from both ends of the civic-power continuum. Meaning the known leaders and the heretofore largely unheard from real people. Which is what WetheP colleagues tell me they came on board to do. 'Not my job' is rarely heard in great start-up teams.
Why I know the one I'm with now again has what it takes to do great things.
Or any of the colleagues WetheP works with. As we develop and grow -- tackle a Goliath or two, then invite them to join us in connecting our 'fleet-footed' solution to their less flexible by nonetheless valuable girth.
SOLUTION FOR ALL
One that's far more inclusive, easier to use, flexible, affordable and way more effective than what citizens and groups have now!
So all people and groups -- no matter how humble or small -- can co-create the culture that only the largest (or wealthiest) groups have been able to of late (more so thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United). And, who, as we all know too well, hasn't done all that well for the rest of us.
It's what WetheP wants to do -- serve We the People -- whoever, wherever or even however 'big' they are -- to create the change we all need!