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A Horrible New Beginning
A bi-weekly column with timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the BC technology industry.

Something Ventured:
Sep 14th, 2001

By Brent Holliday
Greenstone Venture Partners

"But there's a warnin' sign on the road ahead
There's a lot of people sayin' we'd be better off dead
Don't feel like Satan, but I am to them
So I try to forget it, any way I can.
Keep on rockin' in the free world "
Neil Young, Keep On Rockin In The Free World

"I can't believe the news today,
I can't close my eyes and make it go away.
How long, how long must we sing this song?
How long? Tonight we can be as one...
And the battle's just begun,
There's many lost, but tell me who has won?
The trenches dug within our hearts,
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart...
And it's true we are immune.
When fact is fiction and T.V. is reality,
And today the millions cry,
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die. "
U2, Sunday, Bloody Sunday

"I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps "
George Harrison, My Guitar Gently Weeps

On Friday night, 4 days before the world changed forever, I made a friend. At the Banff Venture Forum, I started talking to a tall, fun-loving Finn named Marko. Within three hours (and six beers) of meeting, we had covered everything from venture capital today (he's a former VC turned academic in Tampere), to the condition of Saku Koivu (the Finns only good center for the Olympic team), to the fact that both of our six-year-old sons seemed eerily similar in personality and likes/dislikes. As I stood inebriated in a pub in Alberta close to 2 am, the hair on my head pinned straight back by the sonic assault of the house band, I grinned as I formulated the topic for my next column. Despite all of the bad news in technology markets, you can still lighten up, have fun and meet interesting people. It's not so bad.

That was my world. That was your world. And now it's different.

I really don't have much to say tonight that hasn't already been said. I can't really be poignant or dramatic. It's not my style. I leave the poignant part to the lyricists that I quote every week. I feel sick to my stomach every few hours. I have imagined a hundred times the horror of the last seconds of those on the planes or those on the roof as the WTC collapsed or those on the street as a million tons of metal rained on them. I have imagined the horror of holding a child in my arms as any of those things happened. I have imagined the horror of leaving a child behind to take on the world without a father or mother. It is too much to bear at times.

I can understand the rage that is building in the United States. I know what to expect next. I fear for the escalation, but I understand the sentiment. Now is not a time for finger wagging at the US ("I told you so", "You brought this on yourself"). This only enrages them more. The key point that we all must remember is that by engaging the faceless terrorists, we open ourselves to more attacks. Canada is really not safe. Don't count on it in a future of biological and nuclear capabilities in the hands of madmen.

It is not just a cliché... they have attacked our very way of life. They have taken advantage of our freedom. They killed innocent, unarmed civilians. They have no code of honour that requires you to attack military targets only. They could have hijacked Fed Ex planes with no passengers and gone after unpopulated symbols of America like the Statue of Liberty and the Washington monument. But they decided that a 4 year old girl in one of the planes was not collateral damage, but a prime target. And 10,000 workers were prime targets, most of who were blissfully unaware of the reasons that America is so hated in parts of the world. They went after the people of the free world. Hundreds of people missing today are Canadian, British, Australian, Japanese, South Korean and German.

It seems so stupidly ironic that I wrote my last column about a possible light at the end of the tunnel for technology market recovery. Some prediction! It seems so trite to even discuss business at a time like this. But we have all wondered what will happen to our businesses and our money in the next few weeks and months as the "war" begins. Many of the pundits have predicted that the world's economy is irrevocably pointed to recession now. I can't help but believe them. We are on the other side of a hill now, racing away from personal freedom and business recovery. It will be tumultuous and painful for a while. Unemployment will surely rise in technology and elsewhere as businesses succumb to the long drought of funding and non-paying customers. I can't even dredge up an optimistic crumb to hang on to. I'm completely bummed.

In Canada, business will be dreadful if the border with the US remains tight. Free passage of goods and people has made for fantastic growth in Canadian companies and any slow down will have dramatic effects. We may actually get a brain re-gain because the renewal of TN visas will be harder forcing many Canadian ex-pats back to Canada. But it doesn't matter much if that increase in talent can't sell products south of the border easily. And what about the few hundred or so BC technology companies with operations (subsidiaries or headquarters) in the US? (Broadcom, Electronic Arts, PMC-Sierra, Redback, eTunnels etc.) What a drag it will be if you can't move people in your own company between offices readily. Ask AnorMED how they are doing with the top executives living across the border in the US and facing 2 hour border line-ups just to come to work!

My guess is that we will survive. We will figure out how to work in the new world. Adaptation is one of the keys to the success of the western business world. The entrepreneurial spirit will always find a way. But it will take some time through all this uncertainty.

I'm extremely disappointed by the turn of events. I have a pain in my stomach again, just thinking about a sunny day a week ago in Banff when everything seemed to make sense. It angers me that the innocence is gone. It petrifies me to think of the horror that could come again. I wish it was all a bad dream.

What Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday


Something Ventured
is a bi-weekly column designed to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the industry. I hope to share some of the perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC. The column is always followed by feedback (if its positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to myself, thanks).

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