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Graham: We started to seem more real then. By that point, we were starting to
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get mentioned in the press a lot. Early on, people found out about us through word of mouth. We were the underdogs the guys who have better technology but nobody s ever heard of. This was the point where we stopped seeming like total underdogs and people started to know about us. Part of the reason was that we hired a fabulous PR firm with this money, Schwartz Communications. We told them, When people talk about e-commerce and they have to mention a few examples of companies, we want to be one of the companies they mention. The most valuable sort of press is not articles about you, it s when people mention you in passing as a matter of course. That s what you really want whenever anybody talks about e-commerce, for them to say, companies including . . . and Viaweb. Schwartz got us that within a couple months. Incidentally, it was one of the guys at Schwartz who came up with the term web-based software. Up till that point we d called it server-based.
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Livingston: Were you still getting acquisition offers at this time Graham: There were always people trying to buy us. There was another one just at the point where we found Fred Egan a Japanese company that later made an imitation of our software and went on to become a big success in Japan. Rakuten, they were called. Livingston: They copied you Graham: Not very well. It s sort of like if you copied a dog by taking a photograph of a dog and sticking it onto a cardboard cutout. From certain angles it would look like a dog, but if you threw a stick and yelled fetch it wouldn t do anything. The Japanese market wasn t as far along then, so in their market, this was pretty advanced. But the entire time, there were always people trying to buy us, of various levels of seriousness. Livingston: Did you have to take any more funding Graham: We did have at least one more funding round, under the most disas-
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trous circumstances. One of these companies that tried to buy us actually the second to last one; we were almost done was a big Internet portal. We had a handshake deal with them and in the process of the due diligence for the deal, it was discovered that one of our programmers had signed a piece of paper with the company who had paid for him to go to graduate school, saying that everything he thought of belonged to them.
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Livingston: So they owned the intellectual property Graham: They might have. What it said on the piece of paper was that they owned ideas relating to their business. But this was a huge company and arguably just about anything you could do with software related to their business. So we had to go and get a release from them and that took a long time, during which the acquirer welched on the deal. It turned out to be good in the end, but we had to raise our last round of funding while this was happening. You want to raise a round of funding with an
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IP cloud over your head It s just impossible, because potential investors have no way of judging how serious it is. It could be no big deal, or it could be that this other company owns half your software. That was the second low point tied for lowest. Ultimately we managed to get some bureaucrat within the big company to give us a release, so we could say to acquirers we actually owned our software. But we had to do a round of funding before that, because we were out of money. It was pretty miserable. Basically, the angel investors played chicken with us. They knew we couldn t get money from anyone else, since we didn t even know for sure if we owned our software. So they proposed to do a cramdown round where they would refinance the company, I believe, at a pre-money valuation of zero meaning all the common stockholders were completely wiped out. To keep us around, since they kind of needed us to write the software, they were going to give us options. So we called their bluff. We said, If you do that, we re leaving.
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Livingston: You and your cofounders said you were leaving Graham: Yeah, all the technical guys. So when it came down to that, they com-
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promised and we ended up doing a funding round at a low, but reasonable, valuation $12 million, I think. We got bought only a couple months after that round closed. But we had to do the round because we were in debt at that point.
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