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When I was running Lotus, we never had a single employment discrimination lawsuit; we had a whole bunch of different alternative dispute resolution conflict management approaches, through the employee relations function. And then we had a diversity committee that had out gays and lesbians on it this was in 1984. We were the first corporate sponsor of an AIDS walk. We had a corporate philanthropy committee in which the employees actually made decisions about where the money went, not the pet projects of senior management. So for many people what was memorable and important about Lotus was that it was the best place they ever worked. The other thing to say is that because I lost control of the company I felt overwhelmed by what I had created, did not know how to step up to it, put enough brakes on, hire the right people and be collaborative I wound up jumping ship and leaving pretty early, in 1987. And my successor, a very poor choice on my part, did not share the same vision or values and he wound up disassembling most of what we put in place. So it was a bittersweet sort of thing. It was ultimately not sustained. Learn from that, too.
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Livingston: Can you remember anything else that surprised you Kapor: Oh, almost everything. I didn t expect to find myself in this situation. I really didn t. Being successful surprised me enormously, shocked me, especially the magnitude of it. VisiPlot was a success and I had made some money, but I didn t understand how big the industry was going to get; how big we were going to get. Our original business plan called for $3 to $4 million in sales. Ultimately, in 1983 it was $53 million. So it was a 1,700 percent forecasting error. And then it tripled the next year to $150 million. I was totally unprepared for the magnitude of the success and the rate of growth. It would have been psychotic to say it was going to get that big that fast. Or you d have to be prescient, but I m not. So mainly what I was thinking in those days was We d better make sure that we don t blow it, having gotten here. And worrying that it could all fall apart as quickly as it came about. So I was terrified! Inwardly. And excited. And unprepared. I became a minor league celebrity in Boston, being recognized in restaurants, and that was weird. And people started to act differently around me, because when people are seen as having power or they re seen as having some special resources, people get weird because they project their fantasies onto the person or they start telling you what they think you want to hear. If you watch people around Sergey Brin and Larry Page from Google, it s very amusing, but, to be the recipient of that . . . I wasn t particularly prepared for, nor did I want most of that. I mean, I liked attention, but it s a lot to get used to and a lot of it made me profoundly uncomfortable. And there was a series of values challenges that came up with running a business that I was unprepared for that were very painful. Livingston: Can you describe one Kapor: Lotus as a company wound up suing some other companies that
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were copying our look and feel. Now, that was not done on my watch. I was
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Mitchell Kapor 99
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transitioning out. But I was actually still on the board at the point when we voted to bring the first two suits, and I voted in favor of the suit out of company loyalty a decision that I regretted the next day and have regretted since then, because I felt that it was an inappropriate use of copyright law to try to prevent someone from making a product that looks and works the same if they develop it independently. I was really torn about how to handle this, and all my net worth was tied up in Lotus, so it was kind of a mess. There was too much, too soon, and not a lot of time to grow up in and not a lot of mentoring. There weren t elders or people to learn from who had been through it whose values I shared.
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Livingston: Who were your mentors Kapor: Ben Rosen for a while in some respects, but then he made his money,
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cashed out, stepped off the board and went on to other things. And plus, he was not a business guy, he was an investment analyst. So there were some people that were somewhat helpful, but nothing like what I would have liked or what exists today. I try to give back now and help other people try to sort through stuff. I m also much clearer about my values, and have been for quite a while now. I think business at all costs is just wrong. I think there are certain things that you just don t do, and that acting with integrity and decency in business to me is just a given. I simply don t compromise on those things. When a person has those types of values, you have to be careful what type of project you undertake, because as soon as you undertake a project and you have those values, you re just going to be so conflicted you won t know what to do.
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Livingston: What advice do you give to people who want to start startups Kapor: It depends on what type of advice they want. You can t tell people what they don t want to hear because they won t care and it s just a waste of breath. And everyone comes in with some kind of agenda. I like working with entrepreneurs who have a compatible set of values and are inspired by a vision and are passionate about some piece of disruptive technology who are going to create something that actually has value for people in a way that can be a game changer. That s sort of my sweet spot. But every project is different, so the specific advice needs to be customized. The most important thing for me is, I don t want to work with someone who says, Just help me make the business be more successful. I want to work with entrepreneurs who are personally passionate, committed, and believe in what they re doing. Not all entrepreneurs are like that. Some people may be just as happy selling canned tuna Just show me an opportunity where I can make money and I m going to go do that. You think Mark Cuban really cared about what they were doing at This is not to criticize him as a businessman I m just observing but I don t think he had a fundamental passion about that business. There was an opportunity, he saw it, he built something, he sold, and he cashed out at the right time.
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