Tag Archives: Sean Parker

Minh Nguyen: The Co-Founder Who Wasn’t

A person relatively unknown until a few days ago has rocketed to infamy for (allegedly) walking into his ex-wife’s home last Thursday evening and shooting her new husband to death. While such an awful crime would, of course, make news, this particular story is getting enormous attention, running everywhere from CNN to TechCrunch – and even to People Magazine. Why such broad uptake?

Because the story is framed as the shocking and tragic fall of a highly successful tech entrepreneur “best known for co-founding Plaxo with billionaire Sean Parker”. There’s just one problem with that narrative: Minh Nguyen did not co-found Plaxo.

Minh Nguyen

How would I know that?

I was Plaxo’s head of marketing (from 2006 through 2009), and I worked with and became good friends with the people who were there at the beginning of the company. And all of them agree that Minh was not a co-founder of the company.

Then, how do they remember Minh Nguyen?

Well, since Minh never set foot inside the doors of Plaxo, nor did a single day of work there, most of them, somewhat surprisingly, have actually never met him. To them, he’s just “that guy who keeps editing the Wikipedia page for Plaxo,” listing himself as co-founder, despite it not being true. Every attempt to set the record straight over the years has been met with a rapid re-edit by Minh.

Who are the actual co-founders of Plaxo?

On November 12, 2002, the company launched the beta version of its cloud-based address book service. In the last paragraph of the press release that went out on the wire that day, we can see that, “The company was founded by Sean Parker, also co-founder of Napster, and two Stanford engineers, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring.” No Minh.

Why would Minh Nguyen claim to be a “co-founder of Plaxo”?

The best I’ve been able to piece together is that he and Sean may have talked about the idea of a smarter address book, and somehow in Minh’s mind that made him a co-founder. Here’s why that claim is wildly off the mark.

If the term “co-founder” is to have any meaning, the following must be true:

  • The person has to actually be a part of the founding of the company. “Thoughts” or “talk” in the weeks or months before a company is founded are not sufficient; to be a co-founder, the person must participate in the actual founding of the company.
  • By definition, co-founding is teamwork. If the other co-founders, for whatever reason, don’t agree that a person is a co-founder, that person is not. Simply put, there’s no such thing as a “lone wolf” co-founder.
  • Becoming a co-founder takes an act of courage. A co-founder quits whatever else they’re doing, puts their reputation on the line, and goes all-in. A co-founder knowingly embraces the risk of failure of the new enterprise and their employment by it. There are no co-founders on the sidelines.
  • Co-founding is not something you can do for just a few days or a few weeks. Genuine co-founders throw their heart and soul into the new venture, with the hope that years of hard work can create something great.

Minh’s claim to co-founder status for Plaxo fails on all counts:

  • When the company that would be called Plaxo was formed by Sean, Todd, and Cam, Minh was not present. He played no role whatsoever in the creation of the company.
  • The actual co-founders of Plaxo that I have spoken with on the topic have always definitively rejected the notion that Minh is a co-founder and expressed deep frustration at having to battle against his claim.
  • Minh was not there when Sean, Todd, and Cam got turned down by one venture capital firm after another (in the post-Bubble “nuclear winter” of 2001). Minh was not there for the successful pitch to Sequoia Capital’s Mike Moritz. Minh was not there for the hard work of building the product, launching the service, and scrambling to rapidly scale up the operation. Simply put, he was never an employee of the company. (Not even for a single day.) His claim on LinkedIn to have worked there from January 2001 to October 2002 (screenshot below) is completely false.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 9.45.57 AM

Of course, it is possible that Minh may have been in some way a “muse” for Sean, and he may have even received a few shares in the company from Sean1. But there is one thing Minh never was: a co-founder of Plaxo.

As you can imagine, for everyone who did actually go “all in,” who took the risk and did the hard work to build Plaxo, seeing all of these disturbing news stories now about a murder supposedly committed by a “co-founder of Plaxo” (or in some headlines, just “Plaxo founder”) is quite troubling. We’re all getting emails from family, friends, and colleagues asking, “Did you know him?” And we’re all trying to explain the mystery of how, no, we actually don’t know who this guy is – or why or how he’s gotten away with his false claim for so long.

For even more on this story, I recommend Galen Moore’s well-researched piece in DCInno, entitled “Minh Nguyen Never Worked at Plaxo, Sources Say”. Among other things, it details Minh’s repeated editing of Wikipedia over the years.

In closing, I hope this post has added a small amount of clarity to a situation that is both confusing and terribly tragic. For all of us even remotely involved, our hearts go out to the survivors, the family of Minh’s ex-wife, Denise Mattison. For anyone who would like to help, please consider contributing to the Go Fund Me campaign for the Denise Mattison family.

Denise Mattison Family

1Not uncommon for outsiders to receive early shares from startups. For example, David Choe, a graffiti artist, was paid in stock by Sean Parker for spray-painting Facebook’s first office. Of course, that did not make him a co-founder (though it did make him rich).

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Silicon Valley: Top 10 of the 2000s

Kaliya's computer

It’s all too easy to view the first decade of the 21st Century as just an unmitigated series of disasters: September 11th, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and the meltdown of the global financial system, to name just a few.

But the 2000s also saw continued acceleration in the advance of technology and its impact on society, as we continued to ride the exponential curve of Moore’s Law. So, let me offer my “Silicon Valley: Top 10 of the 2000s”…

The Dot Com Bubble Collapse. (Yes, even this list starts with a disaster.) We entered the new decade and the new century drunk with optimism that recessions were a thing of the past, with a firm belief that the Internet’s transformational power had created an unprecedented “long boom“. And then, in March of 2000, the Bubble burst, sending Silicon Valley into a multi-year “nuclear winter.” Internet companies of all sizes imploded, unemployment rose, buildings went vacant, vendors started requiring cash (rather than asking for equity), and the venture capital fire hose turned into a trickle.

Broadband and Wi-Fi. While many of us licked our wounds and wondered whether Silicon Valley would ever recover, the underlying fabric of the Internet just kept getter better. Broadband access crossed over from early adopter to mainstream, and Wi-Fi hotspots spread like wildfire, fueling a rapidly growing addiction to the Internet. Ten years ago, most of us sipped the Web through dial-up straws; now we expect high-speed access everywhere, all-the-time.

Google IPO. In the first half of the 2000s, one company defied the pessimism and came to symbolize the hope of a return of the good old days. Google reminded us that the Bubble was less about the true Silicon Valley and more about the madness of irrational investment behavior on Wall Street. And their profitability and growth were so strong that they could do what no one else could since the collapse — pull off a tech IPO. Heck, they not only IPO’d, they dictated their own terms to the Street, with a Dutch auction in the summer of 2004. Indeed, for most of the 2000s, Google was the undisputed hottest company of Silicon Valley. [Correction: Dave McClure points out that another high-flier, PayPal, was the first tech IPO, post 9/11. He’s got a lot of other great additions, too, so be sure to read his comments. Thanks, Dave!]

Blogging. Though blogging started in the ’90’s, it would take until the middle of the 2000s for it to become a powerful mainstream force. But by decade’s end, sites like TechCrunch, Mashable, Techmeme, CNET, GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb, VentureBeat, and ZDnet, among many others, had completely transformed how we discover, consume, and create tech news. And it wasn’t just tech. The power of blogging was transforming every facet of the news business, from politics to sports — and even to the paranormal, like when a Bigfoot hunter held a press conference in Palo Alto.

YouTube. In the ’60’s, it was said that “the revolution will be televised”. In the 2000s, it became clear that it would be uploaded to YouTube. The video sharing site blasted off from the emerging “Web 2.0” scene in early 2005, rocketed to mainstream impact, and got acquired for $1.6 billion by Google — all in less than two years! Suddenly, Silicon Valley was once again a place where a few people could get together, build something innovative, have big impact on the world, and get ridiculously rich in the process. The Web 2.0 revolution was in full force, with hundreds of new companies with funny names popping up all over, embracing user-generated content and social virality.

Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and team did not invent social networking, but they apparently internalized all of the right lessons from those that had come before, including Plaxo (the first socially viral “people layer” network, founded by Sean Parker, Cameron Ring, and Todd Masonis), Friendster, and MySpace. Facebook exploded out of Mark’s dorm room, riding a potent exponential growth curve that continues to this day, propelling Facebook to the center stage of the Internet industry — and finally giving Google a run for the money in the “hottest company in Silicon Valley” category.

Twitter. As the 2000s come to a close, a new contender is rising, not from Silicon Valley, proper, but from the Ground Zero of the Dot Com Bubble of 10 years ago: San Francisco. Twitter, a darling of the early adopter set, launched at the cool geek confab, SXSW, in 2006, and remained decidedly niche for so long, that many thought it might be remembered primarily for its “fail whale”. But Twitter eventually connected with celebrities and mainstream media outlets, like CNN, and the chirpy little bird soared into the stratosphere.

Ereaders (Kindle, nook, and more to come). Books are one of the most important inventions in human history. Major breakthroughs (like the Internet) are often compared with the impact of Gutenberg‘s movable type press from the 1400s. As the 2000s are coming to a close, “ereaders” are revolutionizing the concept of a book, turning it from a physical object to a digital item pulled from the clouds. In the coming decade, the impact will be enormous.

Apple, iPod, and iPhone. For a company that almost died in the ’90s, the 2000s have been a truly remarkable decade for Apple, featuring a return to profitability, a string of hot new products, the launch of two new billion-dollar-plus product lines (iPod/iTune and iPhone), and the reinvention of the music and mobile phone industries. Silicon Valley sees “Big Waves” only once every 15 years on average, but we’re ending the 2000s, riding two distinct and reinforcing Mavericks, and one of them is embodied by the iPhone. The iPhone has given birth to a new ecosystem, much the same way the personal computer did in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and is inspiring vigorous competition in what had been a technological backwater. Of course, the other really Big Wave is the emergence of…

The Social Web. When Sean Parker and team pitched Mike Moritz at Sequoia, seeking venture funding for Plaxo in the dark days of 2002, it was not just to solve the real and vexing problem of stale address books. The billion dollar opportunity they pitched was that the Internet, for all its great impact, would not reach its full potential unless and until someone brought to it the missing “people layer”. If real identity and real relationships could be combined with network effect and Internet-style interoperability, they said, something really big would happen. Of course, like so many big, bold visions, getting there has taken multiple attempts, and now involves a really dynamic collaboration between big Internet companies, “Open Stack” grass-roots communities (like OpenID, OAuth, Portable Contacts, Activity Streams, the Open Web Foundation, and OpenSocial), and lots of startups, but we exit the 2000s seeing proof-points all around of the emergence of an open and interoperable Social Web. It’s becoming increasingly common to visit a new website and be able to use an online identity you’ve established at Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a growing list of other identity providers, and get a new account (without having to repeat the dreadful process of choosing a new password, filling out a bunch of forms, importing your address book, and re-friending the same long list of familiars you’ve friended so many times before). Look to the coming decade to bring us an amazing array of new startups native to this new Social Web.

What do you think? Are these the right 10? Nominate others via comments.

And, now all that’s left is to wish you all a Happy New Decade!

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