Future Visions of Global Telecoms with Bjarni Thorvardarson and Hibernia Atlantic

Bjarni Thorvardarson is a rare telecom visionary. He thinks on a level of telecoms at an intercontinental level, rather than a national or local level. Hibernia Atlantic is his current project, and with recent news the submarine and terrestrial cable system is now in the global media distribution business, he is shaking up the telecom community. An Icelandic native, he has brought his knowledge and skills to the United States, basing Hibernia Atlantic in Summit, New Jersey.

Pacific-Tier Communications series on Entrepreneurs and Thought Leaders continues with Bjarni Thorvardarson, CEO of Hibernia Atlantic (www.hiberniaatlantic.com)

Pacific-Tier: Bjarni, what’s been happening with Hibernia Atlantic in the past few years, since I had my last opportunity to visit with you in Summit?

Bjarni Thorvardarson CEO Hibernia AtlanticBjarni Thorvardarson:
We’ve actually had a busy couple years – a very busy couple of years.

As you may recall, we started this business by buying a submarine asset that was formerly owned by 360 Networks. We’ve been busy trying to build our terrestrial network to try and connect this submarine cable to anywhere. We no longer refer to ourselves as simply a submarine cable, but rather a capacity provider in the eastern North America region and in Europe. Less than half of our business is now in trans-Atlantic capacity.

Even though that remains our core competence, and the core of our business, in terms of our business it is less than half of our revenue.

So that is part of the transformation that has happened over the past few years.

In terms of revenue, in 2005 we generated about $2 million in revenue, then $7 million, the $18 million the following year, then $28 million, and last year we generated about $38 million dollars.

And now the target for 2010, with our addition of MediaXstream, is about $75 million dollars in revenue. So, we’ve been growing about 40~50&, up to 80 or 90% a year. So you see it’s a very rapid growth. We are riding on a couple things. One is that we are operating in the biggest capacity market in the world, which is the Northeastern part of North America and Europe. And we are focused on a niche sector, which is the big bandwidth market – which is by itself growing about 40% in volume terms a year

And now, since we still have a relatively small market share, we are growing even faster than the other (traditional) markets (players). That’s how we’ve been successfully growing our revenues.

Last year, in 2009, we were confident for the first time, and we were profitable. We are very happy with the way things are going.

Pacific-Tier: That’s excellent! Can you tell me a little about yourself, and how you got into the business of both submarine and terrestrial bandwidth and capacity?

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
Sure. I’ve been in the IT and telco business for about 17 years since I finished my business studies. By education I have a degree in engineering from the University of Wisconsin (At Madison). Later on I added a science degree from the London Business School.

I went into the telecommunications business, and from there into investment banking (around 1998). Then shortly thereafter I started a fund that was investing in telecommunications and IT. That was 1999 into 2001. From there Ken Peterson actually got interested, Ken Peterson was the owner of Columbia Ventures (CVC), got into an investment in telecommunications. He brought a co-investor in with me, and bought the fund eventually. That’s how it came about that I started working for CVC.

And I’ve been investing on their behalf in telecommunications since 2002.

Now one of the investments that we had made was indeed Hibernia Atlantic. That was 2003. Then in 2004 we sold an investment that I was responsible for here in Ireland. Then I took over the responsibility of Hibernia Atlantic. Since 2005 I have been with Hibernia Atlantic, running it for CVC.

That’s how it came about that I’ve been investing and spending my time in telecommunications.

When it came that I was to take on the Hibernia Atlantic project, it was meant to be a 6 month project. We’d see what we could do, fix a couple things, and recruit the right people. It’s one of those things that a 6 month window turned into a sliding 6 month window. And during the next 6 months we ended doing something exciting. That’s what happens when you get interested in what you are doing.

You see the potentiality, you see what can be done, and you kind of stick around – and so its 5 years now. I no longer refer to it as my 6 month project, I now refer to it as my passion. It’s what I do. I’ve been commuting between Ireland and the US now for the better part of 5 years, and relocated to New Jersey where we have the Summit headquarters, or US headquarters a few years ago. So I am pretty heavily enrolled in the Hibernia project.

Pacific-Tier: That’s good. You mentioned earlier the topic of moving from telephony to broadband. Where does Hibernia and your plans fit into what I would call the “globalization of communications,” or the “flattening of the communications architecture…” How do you fit into that model?

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
Hibernia is very much a long-haul provider. We started in the long-haul wholesale capacity business, so provided the infrastructure provider to other service providers – the likes of BT and France Telecom, Cogent and the like… We did a very good business connecting the biggest consumer markets to places like New York, London, Amsterdam, Chicago, connecting those markets and enabling service providers in those markets to connect to different parts of the world.

Our business is really predicated, it is built on the globalization of business, or the globalization and international movement of information. That was the core part of our business model.

Now since then we have moved on to going up the value chain (if you like) to become the service provider to enterprises ourselves, and begin focusing on the finance vertical, which is a very demanding market. They (financial markets) are demanding and expecting low latency circuits between different trading markets and centers. That was a big first step into the enterprise world.

The next step we took was to the media sector, which we did first when we were acquainted with or partnered up with MediaXtreme, investing in MediaXstream a couple years ago. Then finally culminated in the acquisition of MediaXstream last month. So that’s our big step into the media market.

So now Hibernia’s approach to the market is threefold:

  1. We are still very much the legacy we started, which is the wholesale provider to other service providers and telcos around the world
  2. Second is the finance sector
  3. Third is the media sector

But they all are very much relying on the globalization of business and people’s general view of the world. So we have to look and depend on it.

Pacific-Tier: So in a traditional sense submarine and terrestrial long-haul networks relied on SONET or SDH technologies as the basic (communications) protocol. Is Ethernet playing a stronger role in anything Hibernia is doing now?

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
We started providing waves (2.5 or 10 Gigabit) via SDH and SONET as a product to the wholesale sector. For technical reasons including that was the technology Hibernia was built on. And also that was the product the wholesale providers relied on. They need to connect their different POPs (Point of Presence) equipment. A POP in New York, to a POP in London, that equipment relied on and called for SDH/SONET to connect the POPs.

Now as we grow into the enterprise sector, then the guys, the traders, or whoever we are doing business with – they don’t have SONET or SDH equipment. They have Ethernet equipment or equipment that calls for Ethernet protocols. So it is incumbent on us to be able to provide that without cumbersome translation from one protocol to another.

So we have since built Ethernet at the core of our protocols. Now we can offer Ethernet over SONET, which is dedicated Ether net point-to-point. And we also built, using H3C equipment, a product that we can connect customer to and point-to-point to multipoint capacity.

So moving from the SONET/SDH world to the Ethernet world, or switched Ethernet is very much what we are doing. I am right with you there that we are phasing out one world and moving to another one. Even the telco providers are increasingly moving into the Ethernet world. Especially when it comes to building out their ISP or Internet networks.

Pacific-Tier: When you see organizations like the Carrier Ethernet Neutral Exchange (www.cenx.com) and things like that popping up that are basically designing their product on the old bilateral telecommunication company design,… Do you believe that bilateral Ethernet, or that bilateral carrier relationships still have a role, or will companies like Hibernia make many of those old relationships irrelevant?

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
Hibernia, in its traditional sense, is not going to replace bilateral agreements. But bilateral agreements are going to be phased out when it comes to the exchange of Internet traffic, because exchanges are going to replace them. It is like the minutes (telephone settlement) business extremely cumbersome. If you want to build a bilateral relationship with other telecommunications providers you want to exchange traffic with through some of the voice exchanges you can do business in a matter of days.

And that is the same with the exchange of Internet traffic. If you want to do peering on a bilateral basis with companies it takes you years to build up. If you want to do it through an intermediary (such as a public internet exchange Point), clearly it is moving from the bilateral agreements to the exchanges.

Now how does that related to the price a carrier has to pay when going through the exchanges? To transit pricing? Or what have you?

And we can see where these intermediaries are actually charging less and less for the service of being in-between the delivery of the data and the content origination. You can see that in transit pricing, and how transit pricing is continuing to plummet. So I think that we are becoming less reliant on the bilateral agreement. And I firmly believe the opportunity and the necessity of getting more exchanges up and running is important.

And I think the same transition, you can see the same transition when it comes to not only Internet peering, Internet traffic is also the interconnection of Ethernet circuits, the same transition occurred that we saw 50, 60, 70 years ago when it came to voice traffic. If you wanted to make a call from London to New York you had to call an operator in London, and he made a physical cross connect to a long-distance line that terminated in New York.

The operator in New York then made the physical transition to the local tail line to the customer in New York.

That’s very much the same as when you are setting up an Ethernet circuit today. You have to build up a physical cross-connect in New York between the local tail provider and the Hibernia facility, and then in London to the tail provider over there.

With INNs and with proper Ethernet virtual cross-connects which are relying on a virtual exchange, or like exchanges that you are referring to, it’s going to revolutionize the provisioning and setup time of these Ethernet circuits. We can see a leap in that direction over the next couple years.

Pacific-Tier: One other thing I’d like to ask about Hibernia’s role in the Internet and international community in particular. I’ve been spending a lot of time in developing countries myself over the past year or so. So does Hibernia play a larger role, more than just an economic role,.. Do you also have a larger role in supporting the global community to provide a product that will bring global communications, education, entertainment, media, – can you bring that type of thing to another level?

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
I think that when you have a major company, a large company on the global economic scale, then you have to sit back an think about what your global social responsibility is to the world, and what you can contribute to the world. Hibernia is light years away from being at that size, and we can best fulfill our role now by looking for what is our economical role in this world.

Today that role is to provide large scale, high interconnectivity in all the market we operate in at a very attractive price. And by doing that we can contribute to the successful globalization commerce that will facilitate the business which will break down barriers that might prevent doing business, or from offering access to multinational companies.

That’s really what I think is our role in the world, to enable companies and people around the world be operating seamlessly as if they were sitting at two desks right next to each other (companies), and thus taking away the physical barriers of being located thousands of miles apart.

Pacific-Tier: If you look at the ideas, of say Carr’s concept of the “Big Switch” (Nicholas Carr), where telecom companies, and computing companies, and storage companies actually become nothing more than a huge, ubiquitous utility that people expect. Do you agree with that idea, or do you believe companies like Hibernia should be able to offer much higher value than the idea of a utility “big fat pipe?”

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
Well I think everyone has to know which business they are in, and that people can be in more than one business at a time. I say that from experience, because CVC (his prior venture capital company) was in the manufacturing of aluminum, and the manufacture of advanced products that were made from aluminum.

Making or smelting aluminum is very much a commodity business. The success of the business is predicated, or based on you operating a business efficiently. It’s about cost, cost, and cost. If the price per pound of aluminum that you smelt is higher than your competitors, you are out of the market. So that’s how we operated in the aluminum market.

But we also had exclusion companies. That is changing the aluminum ingot to bars that can be used by manufacturers, and be converted to door frames, and window frames, and converted into materials that could be sold to the end users or consumers.

So we were very much aware of the different needs of the value-added service market and the commodity market.

And I think the telecom business is very much the same. You have to know whether you are in the commodity market, the utility market, and there is a fair amount of utility market in the telecommunications world. I think the core of what Hibernia does is just that. It is a utility capacity between the POPs. It is providing 10G (Gigabit) capacity between London and New York, or London and Amsterdam, connecting all these high capacity markets, and it is a utility market.

You have to be very efficient in terms of how you operate your market.

Then, when you go up to the media market, or to the finance market, it is no longer a commodity market. The trader that is trading between London and New York, he does care about the price he is paying, but even more concerned with no having a second-rate service.

So you have to know which market you are operating in, and telecommunications will remain within the two markets.

Now Nicholas Carr’s concept or theory of the “Big Switch” where the world is going to cloud computing as a utility, where you plug into a socket in the wall and you are connected to a network of computing power is a noble one, and a very interesting one, and I think it certainly is going in that direction, but the difference between the bits and bytes, and the electrons that flow on the wires of the utility companies or the electric companies – it is bits and bytes of sensitive information that you do not want leaving the company or be flowing on the wires outside of the company.

So there are many challenges the “Big Switch” theory or concept. But there are a number of companies that are building up a very successful business model. Amazon being one, and a number of other companies offering cloud computing and growing extremely fast.

I am fascinated by the concept and the model of business, but I don’t think there is quite the pure cut between computing and the traditional utilities.

Pacific-Tier: Any other vision or looks into the future Hibernia may be able to share as you peer into the next 3 to 5 years?

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
I wish I could pretend to have a crystal ball, and say what our visions are, but our vision, really for the near to mid-term future is to continue our growth into the different enterprise verticals. We need to continue to service the market we comfortably define as our core markets, being North America and Europe. That’s where we will continue to focus our attention.

But we will to some extent continue to introduce new products that will leverage our network, and continue focusing on different verticals that we can also continue leveraging the network. The game for Hibernia over the next couple years is leveraging the asset. Those assets are not only our network, but also the experience of our company (employees) – the people we have, the processes, and the systems we have. Our competence and the network – that is what Hibernia is going to be not only for the next few years, but beyond.

Pacific-Tier: Do you see any potential partnerships or expansion across other parts of North America or into Asia at some time in the future?

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
Without any doubt, I am sure we will find partnerships that will benefit both parties, but it is nothing I can speak about or speculate about right now.

Pacific-Tier: Fair enough! Any final words on Hibernia, yourself personally, or what you see as interesting things happening in the market?

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
Not really, I am just enjoying working in this space, and I’m looking at a number of exciting opportunities. M&A opportunities, growth opportunities, and I am just excited to be here.

Pacific-Tier: As we all are, and thank you very much for your thoughts – it has been a great discussion.

Bjarni Thorvardarson:
Thank you! It is my pleasure!

Mr. Bjarni Thorvardarson is the CEO of Hibernia Atlantic since January 2005. Mr. Thorvardarson joined CVC, Hibernia’s parent company, in 2002 from ISB bank where he launched and managed the listed Talenta-Technology fund which focused on emerging communication and IT opportunities. Prior work experience includes investment banking at FBA bank, management of an MIS department and European Sales Director of an IT company. Mr. Thorvardarson holds an M.Sc. degree in Engineering from UW-Madison, an MBA from ISG in Paris and an M.Sc. in Finance from London Business School. Mr. Thorvardarson serves on the board of One Communications, Magnet Networks.

Read the Pacific-Tier series on Entrepreneurs and Innovators

Trouble at the Telecom and Communicator’s Bar

Have you heard the news? Unemployment is skyrocketing, companies are closing, there’s no investment money for startups, and the sky is falling, the sky is falling? Don’t I know, as the layoff frenzy hit my own Hanging out at the communicator's barhome, that it is a scary economic place to take a swim… Sharks, really hungry sharks, circling with an eye to take every last cent you have been able to hide.

And the outlook remains bleak. The New York Times reports that Europe is suffering in youth unemployment – even more than the US. 42.9% unemployment is Spain, 28% unemployment in Ireland, an EU average of 20.7% Makes California look like the “promised land.”

And, California may actually be the “promised land.” California still attracts the best of global engineering to the Silicon Valley, and the most creative minds in communications and entertainment to Los Angeles. Whether you are a European, Chinese, Indian, or even Canadian, Silicon Valley and LA offer an environment that is unsurpassed around the world. Our universities embrace people from other cultures and countries, and our ability to support entrepreneurs draws not only students, but the best engineers and thought leaders from around the world.

Back at the Communicator’s Bar

There are still tables with discussions reviewing the indignities of being laid off by struggling companies. There are still discussions with the whine of people talking about the “damn foreigners” who are here stealing our jobs. Still “barflys” slopped over the bar worrying about their Audi payments and how their ARM mortgage has put them under water.

Then there are other bars with tables full of Americans, And A scatter shot of foreigners talking about fun stuff. Fun stuff like cloud computing, virtualization, globalization, distributing computing, “the network is the computer,” “the computer is the network,” and how the carriers will return to their roots of providing high quality “big, fat, dumb” telecom pipes. The talk is of how we can finally start putting all this intellectual property that we’ve spent billions n producing Powerpoint slides into reality.

Green is here

Virtualization is here

Data Center outsourcing is here

2010 is a blank whiteboard set up to codify the thought leadership and technology spawned in the waning years of the 200x decade and put it into business plans and CAPEX budgets.

2010 is the year we aggressively deliver Internet-enabled technology to every man, woman, and child in the world who has a desire to live a life beyond killing their own food for dinner. Here is a funny though – if a radical 8 year old in one currently scary country is able to Yahoo chat or Facebook their way into discussions and relationships with kids in California and Beijing, doesn’t it make just a little sense the desire to blow each other up would be diluted, even just a little?

If the guy living next to me is producing a telecom switch that is head and shoulders above what is currently on the market, do I really care if his brain was conceived in Hanoi?

2010 is also the beginning of a true period of globalization. That doesn’t mean out hillbilly friends in Duluth, Minnesota have to quit drinking 3.2 beer and hanging out at setup bars watching Vikings reruns, it means that the hillbilly’s kid can participate in a lecture series online from Stanford or MIT. The kid might eventually invent a pickup truck that runs on pine cones, and a 3.2 beer that is actually palatable.

Embrace 2010

If not for the simple fact you have no other choice, consider all the great ideas being pumped out by companies like 3tera, the Google borg, Microsoft, VM Ware, and all the other companies with tremendous innovative ideas. Never before in our history have some many new intellectual and business tools been put on the shelf at the same time. Never before have we had such good reason to consider implanting those ideas (yes, I am a tree hugger and do believe in global warming).

So, even if you are currently living in a car under a bridge near you former upscale Orange County community – shave, wash your car, take a shower at the beach, and let’s get our depression, anger, tacit knowledge back into the business saddle. The young guys still need our experience to get their feet on the ground, and we need them to ensure we will have social security in the future.

Welcome 2010 – you have taken a long time to arrive

John Savageau, Honolulu

Evaluating San Diego’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

How attractive is San Diego as a place to start a company compared with the Silicon Valley? Santa Barbara? Los Angeles?

On Thursday evening the “Sweat Equity” series of seminars sponsored by San Diego’s Software Industry Council (SDSIC) brought together a distinguished panel with a venture capitalist and successful entrepreneurs answering questions, drilling into their experiences, as well as exploring perceptions they’ve developed over several years doing business in San Diego. More than 50 interested attendees with the hope and aspiration of either starting their own company, or breaking away from the corporate world with a startup, provided an enthusiastic audience to support the discussion and Q&A.

Panel members included:

  • James Adams, Moderator, Fortress Secure Payments
  • Russ Mann, Entrepreneur, Covario
  • Ted Alexander, Venture Capital, Mission Ventures
  • Allen Drennan, Entrepreneur, WiredRed

The panel tried to answer the question, through their experience, of whether or not San Diego is a good place to start a business. Starting with the question “How start up friendly is San Diego?” the panel thought the city rates a “good.” The universities around San Diego are graduating high quality workers, with a small community spirit nurturing fresh ideas and enthusiasm.

However the panel agreed that San Diego has shortfalls in the amount of investment money available less than in the Silicon Valley. Ted (the VC) cited that “last year there was around $7~10 billion in venture capital committed in the Silicon Valley vs. $1~2 billion in Southern California.” However he also added that “if you are a talented individual you can overcome the challenges.”

On the question “Do San Diego-based legal firms provide adequate support for small companies?” the panelists were all generally positive. Russ Mann gives the San Diego legal community “two thumbs up,” but Allen Drennan cautioned that his only bad experiences with San Diego law offices were when he tried to save money with cheaper representation that his company ultimately suffered.

Ted reinforced the need for good legal representation, and closed the topic by adding “San Diego legal firms are busy, but if you are willing to pay they are as good as any in the country.”

Attracting Outside Talent to San Diego

The panel tackled the question “What is the quality of CTO-level game-changers in the San Diego area?” The general consensus of the panel and attendees was that San Diego lacks high powered CTOs, and start up companies generally must go out of the area to attract the talent they need to provide the vision and technical leadership need to get a tech-sector start up off the ground.

“I am much more bullish on CEOs than on CTOs (in the San Diego area)” pointed out Russ. “Risk-taking CTOs do not like Southern California and San Diego, preferring the east coast and Silicon Valley.”

The panel discussed the idea of industry clusters. Those grouping of similar companies that normally follow one successful company in a location, and highly qualified engineers and leaders “gravitate” towards the clusters. Unfortunately San Diego does not have any strong industry clusters at the level of an El Segundo (military/industrial), Silicon Valley, Boston, or similar clusters. This makes some highly qualified people somewhat reluctant to take the risk of moving to San Diego.

Those who do find San Diego a good area to work are at a point in their life where they are interested in a better lifestyle, and the potential of a higher quality of life (as possible in Southern California).

The same opinion passed through into the question of availability skilled technical developers, where the opinion of the panel was low, concerned with both local talent, as well as difficulty attracting high quality developers to the area.

Funding SD Startups

San Diego does not appear to be friendly for funding startup companies. Ted’s company, Mission Ventures, may be the only company that is located in, and focused on the San Diego market. Ted stated “it is very difficult to build a large company in San Diego.” He continued “the reality is not every startup should get VC funding, and angels may give you a better deal or solution.”

The low confidence in getting funding in San Diego continued into 2010, with Allen quoting a San Diego Business Journal article which indicated “there is very little investment money expected in San Diego” over the next year. All members of the panel added stories about VCs and companies they know who are aggressively going after potential investments in other parts of the country, with an emphasis on Silicon Valley – but not in San Diego.

Ted tried to lift the spirit of the panel by ending the topic with “of course the right idea will always find a way to get funded.”

Comparing San Diego with other California Cities

Having visited several areas in California over the past couple of years, including San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and the Silicon Valley, the differences are very clear. Enthusiasm and aggressive threshold for innovation is most visible in Northern California. Returning to the idea of clustering, it is easy to meet clusters of innovators and visionaries by simply going to a “cluster watering hole” (bar) near the tech community, such as the “Fault Line” in Santa Clara. The people you meet are fearless, unconcerned with the economy or other external factors, and just want to talk about their ideas.

Santa Barbara has a very enthusiastic community, but tend to be more interested in the business side of their future rather than working out strategies on how their ideas could be realized, and find a way to change the world.

As a great place to live, it is impossible to beat Southern California. As a place to build a company, the Silicon Valley offers a pool of talent, better access to funding, well-defined technology clusters, and a buzz of excitement that is not easily located in other locations. On a personal note, I have been searching for the buzz in the OC, San Diego, Long Beach, and other areas of LA, but have to finally admit the buzz is much stronger in Northern California.

We can change that, but the process requires a major shift in the local city governments, financial community, and aging business leadership to re-engineer Southern California as a valid competitor to the Silicon Valley. With notable exceptions such as Qualcomm, Boeing, Northrup, and some bio-tech leaders, it is hard to argue the percentages.

Los Angeles and Southern California provide a great environment for manufacturing, logistics, entertainment, and other operations-oriented industries. But for today, the burden is on the south to provide an environment that will spawn the next Google, Cisco, HP, National Semiconductor, or Apple.

John Savageau, Long Beach

Wise Words for Entrepreneurs – The Fast Pitch Competition

There are several really good organizations around southern California supporting startups and entrepreneurs, including the Tech Coast Angels and Tech Coast Venture Network.  One of the more endearing activities is the grand old tradition of “Fast Pitch Competition.”  The Fast Pitch Competition brings a large group of enthusiastic, energetic, and hopeful  young entrepreneurs into the lion’s den of venture capital and investment banking critics.

Here’s how it works.

The Fast Pitch.  30 seconds to accomplish the following:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Introduce your company
  • Describe the market pain point your product or service solves
  • Describe the target market, and size
  • Present how your product or service makes money
  • Sell why you believe you and your team can win in your market
  • Tell the panel what you want (how much money)

The “pitchers”

  • Entrepreneurs
  • Startups

The “Panel”

  • Investment bankers
  • Venture capitalists

You go to the fast pitch venue, sign up for the competition, and wait while a “panel” representative introduces the competition to the listening audience, reviews the rules of engagement, makes a couple jokes (mostly bad), and tries to put some of the pitchers at ease (actually, he makes them really, really nervous).

When the competition is ready to start the pitchers line up in single file, and wait for their turn in the shark’s pit.  The pitchers get up and try to give their best.  They show enthusiasm, practice, pride in their product, and the hope their efforts will be recognized.

The next step is a critique of the top 5 or so pitches, and the rest of the pitchers are left to assume they did not catch anybody’s interest, and quietly move to the back of the room hoping nobody has noticed them.  Their enthusiasm showing signs of dilution.

The top 5 have the luxury of a warm, supportive, nurturing, and completely positive critique of their presentation, product, and quality as a human being.  OK, not really.  It is actually a brutal shredding of the pitcher’s presentation, product, with a healthy personal character assassination mixed in so nobody harbors any misconception of who has money and control.

One entrepreneur survives a critique that makes Simon from American Idol look like Mother Theresa.  The others walk off to the back of the room looking like deer caught in the headlights, searching for a table or chair to crawl under and tend to their emotional wounds.

The winner gets to have a coffee with the panel, and a crisp $100 bill.

You can have one of two reactions to the Fast Pitch Competition.  You can either let it go, much as you try to forget driving by a horrific car accident on the freeway.  Or, you can learn from the efforts and mistakes of those who tread before you.

In personal and professional networking you have an obligation to make contact.  There is a certain amount of truth to the idea that any recognition is good recognition – unless you are being accused of something nefarious.  Watching how these entrepreneurs deliver the goods, then deal with the response is about as fun as watching the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.” For a moment you kind of put your hands over your eyes and peek through your fingers.  Why?  Because deep down you know that will be you some day.  And you are already feeling the pain, rejection, humiliation, and fear of those pitchers who have walked before you.

At some point in most entrepreneur’s careers we will face the same panel of skeptical venture capitalists who are trying desperately to ensure their hard earned cash is not wasted on a substandard business plan with substandard management.  If you know what they want to hear, and are able to articulate your ideas in the format they want to hear, you may have a much better chance of getting past the fast pitch and into a one-on-one discussion.

The Fast Pitch Competition is brutal, but necessary.   Attend one near you.  Take notes.  Practice your Fast Pitch.  Earn some experience, and let’s get out there to innovate.  

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