The notion is tempting. Retire by the time youre 40, share more of your time with your family and still keep your hands in the business world. Sounds like the Silicon Valley Dream.
Mark Juliano wants to live the dream, and hed like to see it become more common in Pittsburgh. The former Fore Systems executive and entrepreneur who led Islip Media, now MediaSite, to a successful raising of $7 million in capital earlier this year decided that hed had enough 16-hour days.
Now hes spending more time with his family, planning to go back to school in January and trying to figure out what the next stage of his life is going to look like.
Retiring at such a tender age may not seem like much of a chore, especially if you possess the financial wherewithal. But as Juliano tells it, mixed emotions surface when one contemplates such a move, not the least of which is fear: Fear of losing your skills, of what others might think, of the unknown, fear of whatever I do next, I wont be good at.
While Juliano may be getting off the corporate track, its clear that he plans to make the years to come as exciting and interesting as his career in high tech has been. He has retired as MediaSites president, although hes not completely withdrawing from the business. He plans to continue to spend some of his time as a board member and adviser to MediaSite.
And he wants to fashion himself as a booster for Pittsburgh business, promoting the region as a fertile valley of entrepreneurial activity and working with other local business people to burnish that image. Heres what he has to say:
Was there a defining moment when you realized that you needed to make this change?
Id say there really was not. But there definitely was one time when I started thinking about this, and that was the day Fore Systems went public, which was five years ago now. I consider that a defining day in the sense that I was never allowed to have this conversation with myself before that day. Financially, theres a good chance I wont have to work again, so what do I really want to do with the rest of my life, if you will?
I decided what I really wanted to do was continue to work. I actually went through the whole scenario of not working and doing what Im doing now and concluded, I guess, I hadnt quite finished what I set out to do from a career standpoint.
Over the last four or five years, Ive achieved what I set out to do on a career point. So I guess those two goals were taken care of, both the career goal and the financial goal, and thats when I pretty much decided it was time.
So you decided early on that you wanted to do this?
I wouldnt say I decided early on that I wanted to do this. What I decided early on was I wanted to seriously consider it. It was now an option that could be taken. Many people at the point of making some kind of financial windfall say, Youre crazy, I would never do anything but what Im doing now. I did not say that to myself. I said, Gee, theres this other possibility. Id like to go down that road.
When I left Fore Systems, one of the things I did, for example, was go to Europe for two months. That was my debriefing time. I didnt know if I wanted to get right back into it. I went through the motions, certainly, thinking about what if I stopped working. What would this mean in terms of my career, what would this mean in terms of what Id do with myself, and decided that it did not make sense.
Would you say you satisfied the career and entrepreneurial goals you set out to achieve?
What I would say is I exceeded my career goals. I never really had the goal of necessarily being the CEO of a small company, but it was obvious that I could do that after my last company (AVIDIA). MediaSite moved from the incubator/pure start-up phase to the growth phase. I feel successful in doing what I started out to do, which was to start a company. I didnt set out to finish a company.
What plan did you make for the transition from busy entrepreneur to retired executive?
Basically, I really see two phases of a plan. I have one right now, but to be honest, this whole deal is about not having a plan. I consider myself now in a transition phase. There is still work to be done at MediaSite. Im coming in half-time or so, maybe a little less as the weeks go on.
On the other side of the transition, which is starting up new things, I didnt have any plans and this kind of proves it: If Id had plans six months or a year ago, I would have just jumped into something new, but I didnt. So now Im really doing a lot more investigation. Ive talked to folks ranging from the heads of departments at the school of drama at CMU to a guy at Point Park College. Ill be attending school pretty much on a full-time basis.
Ive put out feelers for getting involved with a lot of things with my kids. I was just at a Cub Scouts meeting this weekend, something I probably never would have done in the past. People were talking about maybe starting a new den, and I said, Ill lead it. I would never have been able to say that before.
What kinds of economic development activities will you be involved in?
Ive been very involved with two groups. One is called Next Step (a group of CEOs of Pittsburgh-area companies). The other is the Hot Team group. There have been a lot of studies done, but one in particular was done by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance over the past year with a consulting firm from the Silicon Valley that looked at what it took for cities to become hot in the high-tech and entrepreneurial areas. They studied Pittsburgh, and now were at the implementation phase.
One of the things that they found is that the city is not taking advantage of its own base of high-tech entrepreneurs, any-tech entrepreneurs, for that matter, so they formed this group. We have a series of projects we have recommended. One project that I will be involved within a smaller group is something that doesnt have a name yet. We just call it The Entrepreneurs Club.
It will have a real name pretty soon. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is an alternative to the Duquesne Club for the year 2000. Its different in the sense that we envision having cybercafes, hookups for your PC, no dress codes, that sort of thing.
Do you think you will be able to resist the entrepreneurial urge?
I just got off the phone with somebody about an hour ago. He asked me if I know of anybody who was interested in a very senior executive job at a regional telecom company thats being formed around here. He said the salary would be somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000, with a huge amount of options. Thats easily the kind of job that I could say yes, Id be interested and probably get, and Im just not interested. Everybody is enticing in the world. You read Time magazine and you find out about all of the dot-com companies, but youve got to look at them and say, Ive been there, done that, Im moving on.
Its definitely not easy. People value people based on their jobs. What you do is about the most common question someone asks you after Whats your name? Thats something at this point in my life Im ready to deal with. Perhaps five years ago at Fore when I thought about it I was not ready for the question. Now, Im confident in the answer.
What do you believe that you have to offer to the entrepreneurial community?
I think certainly one of the main things is Ive been involved in successful ventures, but Ive also lived in Silicon Valley and New York City and worked there. Those are the kinds of places that Pittsburgh aspires to be like or to (adopt some of their) a ttributes. Very few of us in Pittsburgh have actually done that and succeeded out there. I had a venture that I worked at before Fore that was quite successful. I think thats real key, having a link to other places.
One of the major problems in Pittsburgh is in marketing. Whether were good or not doesnt matter if nobody knows about us. The old perception is the real issue. I think my marketing skill is of value to the organizations Im working with. The third thing is, Im the kind of guy that gets stuff done. I dont need a lot of data to make a decision and move. Thats an attribute, I think, that comes with a lot of entrepreneurs. We may not always be right, but were certainly moving somewhere.
Are you surprised by the ventures that have been spun out of Fore Systems?
One is, it didnt surprise me at all to see the success of people who left Fore and started companies. What did surprise me, frankly, is how few companies spun out of Fore Systems. I expected by now at least a dozen companies to have formed from Fore, and there really have been three, maybe four, depending on how you define it.
Why do you think that has been the case?
I think some of the reason is a lot of the senior guys at Fore who did leave got pulled outside of Pittsburgh. Fore continued to do well, so a lot of them just stayed put and got promotions and made more money, so there were opportunities there. When I was [in Silicon Valley], a dozen spin-offs out of a successful company was nothing. Every company that was successful spun that many off.
So maybe, and this is the part Im really guessing, this area isnt exactly one that fosters entrepreneurship in the high-tech arena, at least that was it five years ago. Maybe today it is, and youre starting to see more of these smaller companies getting started from Fore and Transarc and from all of these other companies.
How to Reach: MediaSite at (412) 288-9910 or www.mediasite.net Ray Marano (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor at SBN.
Ray Marano (email@example.com) is associate editor at SBN.