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by Wayne McVicker

Ravel Media © 2005, 409 pages, $22.95 (ISBN 1-932881-01-8).

An Entrepreneur’s Tale of Control, Confrontation And Corporate Culture

In 1996, entrepreneurs Wayne McVicker and Jeff Kleck started a company called Neoforma to sell a software product for the health care industry. In Starting Something, McVicker describes the story behind his startup and how it eventually went public with an IPO that was the 16th most successful IPO in history. His tale takes readers through the five years in which he was involved with the company and over which the organization grew and took on a life of its own.

What makes Starting Something different from other books written about dot-bust startups, most of which exploded onto the market only to implode in the next few years, is that Neoforma is still alive and well. Although McVicker eventually stepped aside from his now independent company, he paints a detailed portrait of his personal experiences during his time with the company, depicting the raw excitement and drama that accompanied the venture.

Step by step, McVicker takes readers from his first thoughts of journeying out on his own to his eventual departure from Neoforma. Early in his career, he was an architect who worked at a large architectural firm for nearly a decade. Next, he joined a radiotherapy medical equipment company called Varian doing computer design and drafting. After nine years at Varian, McVicker jumped at the opportunity to become an entrepreneur with another colleague from Varian and create a company that quickly became a thriving success. In Starting Something, he presents tales of bosses, lawyers, venture capitalists and investors while revealing the human side of his new business.

Names and Logos

While walking readers through the process of creating an organizational identity, McVicker describes the dilemmas associated with choosing a company name and logo. After detailing how he and Kleck created the name Neoforma, a made-up name that implies the creation of a new model for doing important things, he describes how many investors tried to have an impact on the new business by applying a new name of their devising to it. McVicker explains that he did finally change the company’s original maze logo to one that looks much like many other dot-com logos, but he points out that customers simply saw what the company was and associated its name with it, so the name stayed.

As Neoforma grew, many legal issues and technical difficulties had to be overcome. McVicker offers an inside look at the heavy emotions that accompanied the financial challenges of running a new company. “Because I had so much invested, financially and emotionally, into Neoforma, I was anxious that the company depended so much on me. I felt that if I dropped my guard for a moment, the increasing pressures on the company would overwhelm me,” McVicker writes. With thoughtful candor, he reveals the tension that accompanied the work and how it led to a deteriorating relationship with his wife. As a remedy, he hired an executive coach who helped him work through the stress and his own depression so he could get back to work.

Other issues covered in Starting Something include finding adequate office space, battling competition, leadership crises, hiring new blood, creating a healthy company culture, going public, and the ongoing stress of personal debt.

‘Things to Keep in Mind’

At the end of Starting Something, McVicker offers a dozen “Things to Keep in Mind When Starting Something.” These include the following:

• Be who you are. If you aren’t true to yourself, your company’s culture will suffer. So will you.

• Communicate empowerment. All employees powerfully influence a company’s success and direction. Let them know they are valued and their voices are heard. Do this often and in many ways. Don’t waste the potential of any employee.

• Listen to all advice, but trust what you know. As you confront frequent obstacles, you might begin to question your core beliefs. Don’t. Be patient. Ideas that require customers to change behavior often take 10 or more years to implement.

• Enjoy yourself. It is very easy, during the inevitable times of monetary starvation and market inertia, to lose sight of how much fun it is to create something new and useful. ~

Why We Like ThIs Book

Although McVicker writes that his book is not a how-to guide for entrepreneurs, it does, in fact, offer many lessons for new business owners about what worked and did not work during the formation of one successful company. With candid observations about the company and his own personal adventure, McVicker presents a straightforward recollection of his ups and downs in the driver’s seat of a new venture. ~

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