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Build Your Team and Make It Strong: 
Advises Morino at Coffee & DoughNets

Success has been ripe and sweet this year for high-tech start-ups, according to the testimony of Coffee & DoughNets participants. Reflecting the positive trend, heady statistics about the vibrant interaction both face-to-face and in discussion groups online attested to the Netpreneur Program's gangbuster inaugural year. Mario Morino rounded out the program by leading a discussion about teambuilding and its importance to start-up companies.

Penny Lewandowski opened the December 19th Coffee & DoughNets at the ANA Hotel with a recap of the highlights of a year of eleven such sessions and the consumption of approximately 2,145 doughnuts. Signs of health were many, despite the high-calorie breakfasts: nearly 3,000 people have become registered users of the netpreneur web site, and 1,430 have attended Coffee & DoughNets sessions.

The Netpreneur Program has enhanced its mission of helping the region's high-tech entrepeneurs build a community of peers by responding directly to the input of its members. The Barter Board, ActionNet and the "Ask the Experts" session on Public Relations have all grown straight from C&DNet feedback.

Year-end also provided a bumper-crop of success stories from attendees. Among the highlights:

Larry Brown of Digital Now reported that Kodak has purchased 11 of the company's film-digitizing machines, and Broderbund is going to distribute Digital Now's digital-image software.

Hank Dearden of 3D Technologies ( has begun planning a high-tech entrepreneur's pavilion for the September '98 NetExpo Washington.

Matthew Pittinsky of Blackboard ( said his company will be included in a television profile on the "technology cluster" around DC to be aired in Japan, on a "Nightline"-like news program.

Hans Tallis of Explore Reasoning Systems ( has a new major engagement with Emery Shipping in Portland, Ore.

Trade Compass ( recently won a "VIP" award from CommerceNet and was ranked in the Top 50 for "business excellence" by Webmaster Magazine, according to Marketing Vice President George Atkinson.

Ann Shack reported that MapSys's online trip-planning site ( is going to be featured in CompuServe's Forums.

Michael Teitelbaum of Hot Coupons ( said that during a recent cross-promotion with, downloads of printable coupons provided by his company increased by 25%.

David Goldsmith said that his nonprofit organization, HandsNet (, has recently partnered with New Idea Engineering and iapps to develop a new web presence, and that HandsNet has raised $1 million this year to continue their work assisting nonprofits to get online.

Anup Ghosh, a research scientist for Reliable Software Technologies Corporation (, announced that his company won an award from NIST for their electronic commerce security solutions.

Anita Brown, founder of Black Geeks Online (, has been invited to address the Black Dataproccessing Association gathering in Augusta, Ga., sharing the stage with comedian Sinbad and Godfather of Soul James Brown.

Tom Graham reported that his company, At Your Office, Inc., has raised over $300,000 in venture capital recently.

Jamie Harvey is looking forward to several deals his company, Digital Addiction, has cut: Sega is going to put DA's games online, and the company will be distributing one of their games on CD-ROM, a new market for them which will include a novel based on the game.

Mario Morino updated attendees on the NBC Nightly News debut of the Netpreneur Program. Over half of the four-minute story on high technology entrepreneurialism, which aired on Nov. 8, featured local companies and Netpreneur. In February, United Airlines east-bound flights will carry the story, and CNBC will also air it in coming weeks.

Morino led a discussion about a vital aspect of company-building: team-building. "Culture" and "communication" are the two necessary elements to building great teams, said Morino, and small start-ups are in a great position to define both of these to their advantage.

Morino targeted the hiring process as one of the most rushed and overlooked in most companies. Managers must invest a considerable amount of their own energy and time in hiring, a rarity in many businesses. "As a manager, the most important thing you do is hire," said Morino, adding that "it's your butt on the line, not the [human resources] person's." He said that leaders have to commit to screening and aggressive interviewing of candidates, and suggested going not only to references named by the candidate but to ask for further references from the initial references.

While money is near and dear to every entrepreneur, Morino said that a good team member contributes so much to the bottom line success of the organization that owners shouldn't turn down a great candidate over a salary dispute. If a candidate's asking salary seems too high, "bite the bullet and cry once" over meeting it, and then make the offer.

The impulse to hire to fill a job, rather than to build a team, is a typical mistake made in high-technology companies. Morino advised hiring for attitude and values over specific skills or experience. Start-ups should weed out the people who are risk-averse and people who are not committed to learning and providing and receiving constructive feedback.

Participants responded strongly to this point, noting that one major distinction between the DC area and the Silicon Valley is that DC companies seem to hire much more to fill jobs.

Values-based hiring is the first step in the constant work of managers and owners in reinforcing the team's cohesiveness and vitality. Communicating values with the team and making sure that team members feel like a part of the decisionmaking process should be second nature to a team leader.

Some speakers talked about helping older or more traditional employees buy into the relatively egalitarian corporate culture that is de rigeur in the technology industry. The consensus was that emphasizing the shared values and goals of the team and minimizing the conflicts over specific management styles or corporate structure make the best antidotes.

Penny Lewandowski capped the meeting with her own, self-deprecating comments. Speaking as an employee, she noted that one of the hardest things about joining a great team is no longer being the smartest person in the office. She advised entrepreneurs that they need to help new hires through that adjustment period and make sure they realize the implications.

Copyright 1997 Morino Institute. All rights reserved. Edited for length and clarity.  



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