Startup – Jerry Kaplan

Start-Up is an interesting book by Jerry Kaplan and it is different for a few reasons. This book is about the life experiences of Jerry Kaplan , Founder of Go Corporation, a Pen computing company he founded in 1987. You get to read a lot of articles and also listen to podcasts of companies that are cutting edge today (Uber, LinkedIN, Facebook and more). However reading Jerry’s book was also like reading a bit of history on how things worked in the 80’s and 90’s. In a way it is no different from how the Enterprise Software market operates today. There were interesting facts in the book. At one point in time, Lotus Notes founded by Mitchell Kapor was larger than Microsoft.  Bill Campbell, (remember the Trillion Dollar coach) worked as CEO of Go Corporation. John Doerr and Vinod Khosla were some of the key investors in Go Corporation. The encounters of Jerry Kaplan with these legendary investors was fascinating to read. IBM at one point wanted to acquire Go Corporation and John Doerr advises against it. 

State Farm: Jerry’s trip to Indiana to visit State Farm, and they having a champion within State Farm to support Jerry and his team helped a great deal in the initial days of the start-up. They were competing with IBM and HP for a new project initiative. State Farm recommended them to work with either IBM or HP and love hate relationship with IBM began.  

Encounters will Bill Gates: Bill Gates visits Jerry Kaplan at his offices in San Francisco, CA and the entire visit and what happened post the visit was fascinating. Jerry Kaplan also shared an email written by Bill Gates to him. Bill details why he thought Go Corporation was not so interesting to him. Jerry was kind enough to share these conversations in his book. Bill’s emails were very detailed and clearly has action items for different folks (you get to see how one of the greatest CEOs of all time used to work). Thanks Jerry for sharing this with us. Jerry meets Bill Gates and Steve Balmer at one of the trade events and they offer a ride to Jerry to the conference venue in their rented limo. 

Conferences and Meeting the Press: Attending events and conferences, meeting the press to get their attention and more is no different than what it is today. Things have evolved with digital today. However the process remains the same. Jerry talks about the different events they attend every year, the product announcements and more.

Struggle and Need for money: Throughout the book until the very last page, Jerry talks about struggles and the need for raising money for the company to survive. They continued to raise money without a working product. Lot of it is driven by media and competition. Bill Campbell’s hugs, genuine care and connections helped them secure funding and win trust from partners (like AT&T) at critical junctures. GO Corporation was constantly threatened by IBM, Microsoft, Apple and more.  The partner ecosystem favored Microsoft more compared to the Go Corporation and they had to battle this. 

Jerry took notes throughout the start-up in the hope of writing a book on it. It helped all of us. The book does not glorify being a start-up, talks about its struggles, until the very last page. I was hoping for a happier ending, However it was not. It was a big win in terms of the number of jobs it created, the opportunities and more. The company was eventually shut down.

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