Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 18, 2002

Dot-com survivor to share with Hawai'i his lessons learned

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kaleil Isaza Tuzman sat in the back of a New York City taxicab, shouting his business philosophies into a crackling cell phone while arguing with his cabbie at the same time about who should get out and find change for a $20 bill to pay the $4.50 fare.

Entrepreneur to discuss the 'Seven Sins' and more

WHAT: Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, the focus of the documentary "Startup.com," speaks on the "Seven Sins of Entrepreneurship."

WHEN: Tomorrow from 7:15 a.m. to 9 a.m. "Startup.com" will be shown first at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast.

WHERE: Pacific Club, 1451 Queen Emma St.

COST: $40 in advance, $45 at the door.

REGISTRATION: Online at www.pacificforums.com or by calling 536-8911.

• • •

WHAT: Tuzman speaks on "Turnarounds & Restructurings for Troubled or Distressed Companies."

WHEN: Tomorrow from 3 to 5 p.m.

WHERE: Harbor Court, 66 Queen St., 25th floor.

COST: $125 in advance and at the door.

REGISTRATION: Online or by phone.

Pacific Business Forums will be host of Tuzman's appearances, which are sponsored by Hawai'i Pacific University, McNeil Wilson Technology Group, and the technology law firm Brown Raysman.

In one 20-minute slice of New York life trying to get to a meeting at the Chrysler Building yesterday, Tuzman's dealings with the streets of New York — and the much harder lessons he learned as a dot-com superstar and eventual failure — may provide insights for the venture capital climate in Hawai'i.

Tuzman's dot-com boom and bust were documented in the movie "Startup .com," and he's scheduled to speak tomorrow on O'ahu in two different sessions — one on the "Seven Sins of Entrepreneurship," the other on "Turnarounds & Restructurings for Troubled or Distressed Companies." His new book, "Living in the Bubble: Seven Sins of Early Entrepreunership," is due out soon.

In an interview over his cell phone yesterday, Tuzman said he plans to tell his Hawai'i audiences about the patience that investors must have with entrepreneurs, and about how entrepreneurs must identify needs and then find solutions — not develop technology and look for ways to apply it.

He also believes that one of the downfalls of the dot-com past was the disconnect between research-and-development people and those in sales and marketing — "the distance between R&D and S&M needs to be compacted."

But yesterday, Tuzman was just trying to find change for $20 at a New York City Radio Shack.

"Remember that the journey is the reward," Tuzman said into his cell phone, while waiting in line to ask a Radio Shack employee for change. "Remember that part of the bargain, so to speak, in venture capital is that you will have winners and losers. That you'll have to take 10 bets to get three of them right. It's like the proverbial baseball hitter who hits .300, which is considered phenomenal."

Radio Shack apparently won't just make change. So Tuzman ended up buying a package of AA batteries. "There's another lesson," he said. "There's no free lunch."

Back out on the noisy sidewalk, an ambulance "whoop-whooped" its siren to make a hole in the congested traffic. Drivers honked their horns back in protest.

Amid the din, Tuzman was greeted with a surprise.

"I think the cabbie left," he said. "Oh, well. ... Remember that if you're knocked down, it's your obligation to get back up again and take another swing."

And so Tuzman headed off on foot for the Chrysler Building.

Startup.com, which is now available for rent on video and DVD, tells the true story of high school buddies Tuzman and Tom Herman. They planned to get rich with their Web site govWorks.com, which was designed to make it easier for people to pay parking tickets and otherwise interact with government agencies.

Filmmakers from the Harvard Business School spent hundreds of hours with Tuzman and Herman and watched as they raised $60 million in venture capital. The movie was designed to illustrate the meteoric rise of dot-coms and also became a case-study in how an entire industry came crashing down.

In the process Tuzman was portrayed as a passionate and focused, if not ruthless, businessman who ended up firing his best friend — a friction that Tuzman said was overemphasized by the producers.

In fact, Tuzman said, he and Herman were partners again in a new venture before the premiere of Startup.com.

As he walked into the lobby of the Chrysler Building yesterday, Tuzman said: "That stuff was really exaggerated. Tom and I are still partners. For us, it would be a laughing matter if so many people didn't have a twisted perception about it."

Tuzman, 31, has been to Hawai'i many times. The first was in 1991 when he was shipped to the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific in Honolulu after surgery to repair a broken neck.

Tuzman had been playing soccer. And while trying to head a ball, he flipped and landed on his head.

"I feel it's due to the healthy Hawai'i air and the beautiful environment and atmosphere that I was able to go through a very quick recovery," Tuzman said.

On his trips to Hawai'i, Tuzman's name, Kaleil, is often mangled to the more familiar "Kaleo."

He finds it a compliment.

But his true name — Kaleil Isaza Tuzman — tells a much richer, perhaps prophetic story.

"Tuzman" comes from the Jewish side of his family who survived the Holocaust. "I'm the only boy," Tuzman said just before stepping into an elevator in the Chrysler Building. "If I don't use that, it disappears."

Isaza, he said, comes from the Middle Eastern language of Aramaic.

It means the voice of God. Or, the messenger of God.

And then the voice on the other end of the line disappeared.