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.
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.
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.
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).