If I Could Change the World

I needed cheering up yesterday.

Start-ups that last year were dissing venture capitalists are today begging to be bought. To hear some folks tell it, the sky is falling, and it hit them on the head.

Then I had lunch with a friend who has been trying to launch a consumer service for a year. He has been going about it the hard way dealing with big companies and with committees and lawyers, and looking for assets (not just financial assets) that he can deploy and do some good with.

The good news is that the talks are finally paying off. Contracts are finally being signed, he said; the road map is in place, and all that’s left is execution and marketing. This is a service that could change the world, he promised, something that can solve some big problems in the moral and financial marketplace. And if he fails, no venture capitalists will be hurt in the process because he hasn’t used any.

When I got home there was more good news. Familymeds.com sent me a news release saying it’s solid. It has gotten strong reviews from Men’s Health and Yahoo Internet Life magazines, and it is still privately held. It didn’t get there with grand alliances and stories in the Industry Standard. It just executed on the marketing and the back-end.

It has built its house brick by brick, in other words, and while PlanetRX wonders whether it can survive, Familymeds is standing tall. Its marketing firm is feeling golden, too. A working online pharmacy, one that can make money, is a world-changing achievement.

I lay down to consider this good fortune but was awakened by a phone call. It was from a direct-marketing veteran I befriended earlier this year. He said he’s made a detour into product design, and once his product launches, it could change the world. The only tasks left to him are things he’s done all his life. He should be going to market early next year, and, again, no VCs were hurt, he crowed.

It’s possible none of my friends will succeed. The services may fail, the products may bomb, the marketing firms may go down, and Familymeds might lose its way. But all the people I talked with yesterday have something in common. They’re not letting the dearth of financing depress them. They’re using their own resources and imagination to move ahead and to build something new, and they’re all excited about the chase.

In “The Testament,” John Grisham spins a morality play about heirs who are certain to waste the fortune of a grouchy entrepreneur. They do get big money, but the bulk of the fortune goes to a lawyer who has realized that the important thing about money is not what it buys, but the good it can do.

The late ’90s were a lot like that. A lot of quick money was made. Some spent it on sports teams, and some sought political power with it. Most got greedy, and their stocks’ value went to money heaven.

Maybe there’s a lesson in all this. Greed alone isn’t good or bad, it’s just greed. The training and the race mean more in the end than the gold.

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