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April 09, 2012


I have resigned from Emergent Discovery, LLC. I'm the main founder of the company (although I wasn't the CEO), so it is a sad thing. But I finally came to feel I'd be happier doing something else, and that my family would be happier too if I didn't come home as frustrated as I'd been.

Actually, I will go so far as to say that Steve Jobs' death had something to do with it. In his Stanford commencement address he said:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

After Jobs died, I watched that address, which I hadn't seen before. And I noticed that he'd been moved by something he'd happened to see, and that it had, perhaps, been an influence toward changing his life. And I thought, why shouldn't the same happen with me? The fact is that when I looked in the mirror and asked myself the same question Jobs asked himself, the answer would have been "No." For too many days in a row.

The fact is, life is very short. I probably have a more visceral sense of that fact than some people do because I've had cancer. I never talked about it on this blog, but my voice here, moving forward, will be more personal than it was in my Emergent period. This cancer, oral squamous carcinoma, led me to undergo two major surgeries. The upper part of my mouth is largely replaced by a prosthesis (I do have five upper teeth left, which the prosthesis attaches to).

One article says:

For carcinoma of the palate and tonsillar area, 5-yr survival is 68% if patients are treated before lymph node involvement but only 17% after involvement.

The cancer was caught earlier enough that I had no lymph node involvement. But I was highly conscious of the fact that I might die. A year after the first surgery, which removed a good part of my palate, the cancer came back. That, obviously, was quite scary. I had a second surgery, continuing to work hard for Emergent all that time except for basic surgical recovery periods.

Since then there has been no sign of cancer for more than five years.

But, I don't take life for granted. Anything can happen; cancer can return, and there are certainly many other ways of exiting the stage! Life is simply too short and precious to waste a minute of it.

I was therefore primed to hear the combined message of Steve Jobs' speech and, not many years later, his death. And it became one of the catalysts (there were others) leading to a long period of trying to work out what could change so that I would feel differently about working at Emergent. In the end, for a number of reasons, the best answer seemed to be: I should resign.

I don't think it's the time to go into a detailed post-mortem. I wish Emergent well, and I'm moving on. At this point, I'm much more interested in the future.

I'll probably be posting more to this blog, and I'll certainly use it to talk about my next project. I haven't decided yet what that will be. I'm researching and considering various, very diverse options now.

But I do know that I won't have a cofounder. In fact, I'm going to try to get a web services or mobile app off the ground without even an employee.

The technology is vastly better than it used to be. Cloud services like Heroku eliminate many of the technical and hardware barriers.

Virality can lessen the need for traditional marketing expertise, though that can will occur if and only if you have the right idea at exactly the right time, and build a good-enough, attractive-enough embodiment of it. Of course, you can create and test a series of minimum viable products representing different ideas strategies, which gives you a few shots at coming up with the idea. But it's still a Very Hard Thing To Do. On the other hand, if you can achieve it, you can build a business with precious little marketing expenditure.

That's what I'm going to try to do. Build the technology myself, leveraging "the cloud," and try to spark virality. Of course, I may fail, but I think I'll succeed. This view of the world may be wrong, but no one will accuse me of not acting in accordance with it.

Once the product is off the ground, and has achieved a non-trivial degree of critical mass, I'll consider looking for investment and people who can come aboard and help scale it.

I do have some reason to think this is not impossible. For one thing, I created one of the first viral computer services that ever existed. This was a voice-mail-based dating service called 212-ROMANCE, which I started in the early 1980's. As far as I know, it was the first such service. It was enough of the right-idea-at-the-right time, that after I initially ran one small ad once in the Village Voice, usage grew continually until all phone lines were busy continuously. It was spread entirely by word-of-mouth. Eventually, I could go to a party and people I met there would already know about it.

As an aside, because it took a long time to listen to personals ads, I needed a way for the system to play the ads that were most appropriate for each caller first. I designed and implemented a solution that would now be referred to as "collaborative filtering". I'm not aware of that concept being written about or implemented before that (if you know otherwise, please let me know).

So anyway… this post has covered a lot of ground, though none of it particularly in-depth. I wanted to bring this blog up-to-date and prepare the ground for more blogging in the future, and hopefully I've succeeded in that.



April 9, 2012 | Permalink


Dear Gary,
As I posted on Facebook I,too, was not happy with my work. I am not a survior of cancer but a caretaker of my son, Steven. I know you must have faced difficult decision and treatment. Five years cancer free is awesome. I wish you luck with your new life. You need a "road trip" Our 35th class reunion changed my life. Going made me know I was just treading water and I needed to start swimming. Lossing my son was so difficult I needed to start living again and not just coasting through life.. Good luck with living again.

Posted by: Abby Ryan at Apr 9, 2012 5:48:58 PM

Wow, Gary, that's a lot to put in one post!

I agree with you on the cofounder question.

Best of luck on your next venture.

Posted by: Graham Morehead at Apr 9, 2012 7:20:08 PM

Thanks Graham!

Abby, I'll respond to you by email, using the address you gave when you entered your comment.... if you don't see an emailed response today please let me know!

Posted by: Gary Robinson at Apr 10, 2012 10:00:50 AM

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