Tag Archives: Tom Jermoluk

What We Didn’t Know When We Did the “Big Pitch”

[20 Years Ago, Part 11. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

This post is kind of a footnote to the story of “The Big Pitch to TJ and the Exec Team“. It’s the revelation of two key pieces of information that Ciemo and I did not know at the time, but that were very helpful in setting the stage for our pitch.

The first piece of information was something that I would learn minutes after the pitch, and it was something that everyone in the room (but us) knew.

The second was something I wouldn’t learn until years later, and it was information known to only one person in the room.  (And that person was the company’s President and COO, Tom “TJ” Jermoluk.)

The First Piece of Information

Victorious in our Big Pitch, Ciemo and I exited the Board Room and returned to the waiting area, not because we had anything to wait for, but just to take a few minutes to let it all soak in. We had landed $2.5 million, but to keep our end of the bargain, we would have to create and launch a whole new product line in less than 76 days. And we’d have to do it in a period of time that would include Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s!

As we stood in the waiting area, various execs came up and offered their congratulations, encouragement, and compliments on the presentation. Tom Furlong, our division’s GM, came up with a big smile on his face. “Nice job,” he said. “By the way, you have no idea how good your timing was.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “What do you mean?”

“The call with the country managers could not have set you up better,” he said. “The main topic of conversation was the Web. Multiple countries reported issues of losing account control, with Sun servers starting to penetrate some of our most strategic SGI-only accounts, driven by a desire for an Internet server. The big question everyone was asking TJ was ‘What are we going to do about this Web thing?'”

The Second Piece of Information

It wasn’t until almost three years later, in a lengthy and depressing BusinessWeek cover story entitled “The Sad Saga of Silicon Graphics,” that I would learn the other key piece of information we didn’t know. As it turns out, TJ was more than a little bit familiar with what we were pitching him; in fact, just a few months earlier, Jim Clark had been wooing him to take on the CEO role at Netscape!

Tom Jermoluk, President and COO

And that means he would have had quite a bit of knowledge about the Web’s rapid growth, its potential as a server market, and the degree to which the company at the center of the action was leveraging SGI boxes for development and serving.

Here’s what Rob Hof wrote (in August 1997) of the incident and the reaction of our then-CEO, Ed McCracken:

The Internet’s singular potential should have been more obvious to Jermoluk than to anyone. In late summer, 1994, Clark had offered him the CEO spot at Netscape. But McCracken didn’t want to lose Jermoluk, least of all to Clark. So to keep him, SGI offered the young president a new compensation package valued at $10 million-plus over four years. He stayed1.

In Silicon Valley, more than any other place, it is often said that “timing is everything”. And certainly it is now clear that our timing could not have been better for that historic pitch.

Speaking of timing; did I mention that we now had 76 or fewer days until launch?

To be continued

1But he would not stay the full four years. In fact, he would resign in less than 18 months to become the Chairman, CEO, and President of @Home.

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The Big Pitch to TJ and the Exec Team

[20 Years Ago, Part 10. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

The big day was finally here. I’d made it down from the city ahead of the rush hour, and arrived at SGI well before the start of the exec team meeting.

I headed down to the Building 6, where the execs had their offices, and found the Board Room. Meeting me there was David Ciemiewicz, a.k.a. “Ciemo,” an engineer as passionate about the web as I was, who had in recent weeks gone from being a friend and occasional technical advisor to becoming essentially the technical co-founder for the new business we hoped to get green-lit. And this morning, he would also be handling an important, if not glamorous task — hitting Page Down to advance the slides of the Showcase presentation, so I could focus on speaking.

The Board Room was enormous and brightly lit, with a long table running most of its length. Ciemo went about getting the presentation on the Indy, while I stashed my props in the belly of the lectern at the head of the table. After a quick run-through of the deck, we exited the room and camped out in small waiting area outside.

We’d end up being there for a while, as our presentation wasn’t scheduled until after the weekly conference call with country managers. Soon, the execs started showing up for the meeting. Though almost none of them recognized me (and vice versa), most of them knew Ciemo, who had been at the company for eight years, so there were a lot of smiles, greetings, and small talk as they headed in.

I was on the lookout for one of the few execs that I actually did know, our division’s GM, Tom Furlong. You see, I hadn’t had a chance to let him know about my last-minute addition to the presentation. By the time Tom arrived, the Board Room was more than half full, as the meeting was only a few minutes away. “All set?” he asked.

“Yep,” I replied, “But I need to tell you something.”

“Shoot,” he said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get to discuss it with you in advance,” I said. “But last night I decided to end the presentation with a request for investment.”

“How much?” he asked.

“Three million.”

“Okay,” said Tom, with a bit of a chuckle. “Good luck with that!”

He headed into the Board Room, leaving us to ponder whether he thought I was smart or crazy.

After all the execs made it in, the doors closed, and the long wait began. The country manager call took something like 30 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Finally, the door opened, and Ciemo and I entered a room that now looked dramatically different. What had been bright, empty, and roomy, was now mostly dark and jam packed with people. The long table was full, with five execs on each side and another two on the end. And the back of the room was crowded with another dozen or so folks, including each division’s director of marketing.

Ciemo got the presentation up on the big screen, and I took my place at the lectern, which was now in the only brightly lit part of the room. A few small lights above the table provided just enough illumination for me to see the faces of the execs. Everything else, including all the folks at the back of the room, was in near total darkness.

I looked around the table, and made eye contact for the first time with the company’s President and COO, Tom “TJ” Jermoluk. He sat halfway down the left side of the table. His blond hair and relaxed confidence gave him a surfer vibe. He gave a big smile and said, “Let’s go.”

No recording was made of this presentation, and the digital copies of the Showcase file have long since been lost. All that remains, aside from memories, is one color photo that I used to illustrate one of the slides. But here’s what I remember of the pitch…

After introducing myself, I started with a slide introducing the World Wide Web, illustrated with example web pages.

“The Internet has been around for 25 years,” I said. “But recently it has entered a new phase of explosive growth. Why? Because the Web makes the Internet visual, media-rich, and interactive. And that makes it both compelling and easy and to use. In the process, it is now creating one of the fastest growing new markets for visual computing…”

I should probably point out that I did not have a script or notes, and that this was a true SGI-quality presentation, which is to say that there were no words on the slides other than titles. But my pitch flowed like water that morning 20 years ago, as I was delivering a narrative I felt deep in my bones.

“Let’s take a look at what I mean by fast growth,” I said, and Ciemo brought up the next slide, showing a graph1 that looked something like this:

Early Web Growth

“By every important measure, the World Wide Web is growing exponentially. The number of websites is now doubling every three months! And here’s why that growth will not slow any time soon…”

From there, I showed and talked about a virtuous cycle. (More people getting online, inspiring more websites to be created, leading to more compelling content, leading to more people downloading the browser and getting online, and on and on.)

“As that cycle continues,” I said, as we advanced to the next slide. “It’s giving rise to two ‘picks and shovels’ market segments, that we should not only enter, but that we should, in fact, lead. Those segments are web authoring and web serving.”

“On the authoring front, I should say that I’ve been incredibly frustrated by our experiences in the multimedia authoring market. With Macromedia unwilling to port to IRIX, we’re frozen out of the main action. But with the web authoring market, we have no such disadvantage. In fact, we can (and should) jump in, feet first, and create a visual, media-rich HTML authoring system that highlights the differentiation of our workstations. But even if we don’t do that, we don’t have to stand on the sidelines. SoftQuad, a small software company in Toronto, has created the very first HTML editor and is open to a deal to port it to IRIX.” I paused, reached down into the belly of the lectern, and pulled out my first prop, a shrink-wrapped box of software. “It’s called HoTMetaL Pro, and it’s currently available for Solaris2.”

“Can I see that?” asked TJ.

Attention quickly shifted, first to TJ, then back to the box in my hands. I leaned forward and handed it to the exec seated closest to me on the left. It was quickly passed along to TJ. The room was silent as he slowly examined all sides of the box. “Why don’t we make something like this?” he asked, looking around the table, and then handing the box not back toward me, but to the exec to his left. For the next couple minutes, each VP repeated the little ritual of accepting the box, examining it carefully, then handing it to the guy to his left.

As the box made its way around the room, I returned to my pitch, shifting over to the web server market. Here, I would have emphasized the central role of Netscape (the company having just renamed itself the prior week), and the incredible good fortune of having our recently departed founder, Jim Clark, at the helm there; and them using Indys as their development environment and as the server hosting the downloads of the browser. It was a hot new server market being born on our platform; we just needed to license their server software and bundle it.

I laid out my proposal, at high level, to enter these two market segments with a new product line, comprised of workstations and servers, bundled with all the right tools for kick-ass, media-rich web authoring and serving. To make it more tangible, I teed up a product line slide by saying, “Introducing Spider from Silicon Graphics.” The slide made it look like the product line already existed and was already supported by print advertising. And then I reached into the lectern to get my second prop, the black plastic Indy shell. Holding it up, I said, “And the entire product line will come in black.”

I paused, hoping TJ would chime in, but instead, someone from the other side of the table piped up. (I would later find out that it was the company’s VP of Manufacturing.) He said, “I have to draw the line there. We don’t want that kind of inventory headache.”

TJ added, “Agreed.”

“Okay, not a problem,” I said, as I quickly disappeared my prop. “A different color shell is not a critical success factor.”

My pitch would go on to show how we were already had a warm welcome from the market, with prominent sites already “Powered by Silicon Graphics,” including HotWired and the Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA)3.

“The web is bringing Silicon Graphics to a whole new set of customers.” I said, as we hit our second-to-last slide. “And these first-time buyers are blown away by our products. For example, the team at Sound Print Media Center were so happy with their purchase of an Indy for web authoring and serving that they mailed us this photo!”


And then came the final slide, entitled “To Become The Market Leader”. This was the one I added the prior evening, and did not look like any other slide in the deck. Instead of one main image and no words, it was really just a spreadsheet with pretty small font. It detailed what I thought we should spend money on to create and launch the product line — and how much incremental revenue I projected we would deliver in the first two quarters.

I wasn’t sure what detail to go into in my pitch, but at some point TJ stopped me, having absorbed the level of detail he wanted.

“Okay,” he said. “Let me get this straight. If I give you two to three million dollars, you’ll get us into the market in January and take up your outlook for the next two quarters by 15 million?”

All eyes were now on me. It was pretty clear that the right answer was “Yes.” But a few things prevented me from speaking. First, I had never been in a conversation about quarterly “outlooks”. Second, since I didn’t personally have one hanging over my head, I wasn’t sure what it would mean for me to modify one over someone else’s head.

With the extended silence starting to get awkward, my boss, Jim White, stepped forward from the darkness of the back of the room into the dim light near the table’s end. “That’s right,” he said.

TJ turned in his chair, and all eyes followed.

“We will take up our outlook for Q3 and Q4,” said Jim.

TJ nodded and turned his chair and gaze back to me. Then he said the best five word sentence of my career, “Make it so, Number One.”

After a moment, he said, “Okay, let’s take a 10 minute break.”

Someone turned on the lights. Ciemo and I shook hands. Jim White came up close to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and whispered into my ear, “Your top priority now is hiring.”

To be continued

1DBased on data from an M.I.T./Matthew Gray report, “Measuring the Growth of the Web, June 1993 to June 1995

2The flavor of Unix of our arch enemy, Sun Microsystems

3Our second website sponsorship deal. This one only cost us one Indy, I believe, and was done out of Corporate Marketing’s budget.


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Finalizing the Most Important Presentation of My Career

[20 Years Ago, Part 9. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

It could be said, as I prepared for my big exec team presentation, that I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. You see, I was pretty green – in more ways than one. I’d been at SGI less than a year, and aside from a summer internship at Tandem, this was my first job in Silicon Valley, my first job in tech. Heck, it was even my first job in the for-profit sector! And unlike all the other product manager types at SGI, I did not have an engineering background, so I was essentially learning Computer Science on the job. Oh, and although I was 32 at the time, I looked way younger.

And now I was stepping forward, asking to be put in charge of an effort to launch the company into the web authoring and web serving markets with a whole new product line that would span multiple divisions.

The people I was about to present to, on the other hand, were leaders of the hottest company in Silicon Valley, and they were all incredibly technical, with real depth in domains like 3D graphics, chip design, systems architecture, networking, and so on. In attendance would be the GMs of four hardware divisions and two software divisions, a VP of manufacturing, as well as other execs (finance, legal, and marketing, I think). Running the meeting would be Tom “TJ” Jermoluk, the hotshot technical leader who had rocketed up from engineer to President and COO in less than eight years.

In other words, I probably should have been more than a little nervous. (And it might have been a good idea to do some homework on my audience.) Instead, I stayed calm, cool, and keenly focused on building up an SGI-quality presentation.

Fortunately, my colleagues on the Indy marketing team had my back.

For example, on Monday, two days before my presentation, Sanford Russell, who had done the Hotwired site sponsorship deal that planted our flag in the web market, asked me, “Have you ever presented to TJ before?” I didn’t realize it at the time, but in hindsight, he surely already knew the answer.

“No,” I said. “Honestly, I haven’t even met him yet.”

“Hmmm,” he replied. “Would you like a tip?”

I nodded.

“TJ is very tactile,” he said. “You may want to bring a prop or two to make your pitch more tangible.”

I thanked him and ran off to look at my draft presentation through a whole new lens.

How to enhance it with “props”? The first thing that came to mind was the part of the presentation on the web authoring market opportunity. In that, I had planned to make an impassioned plea for creating an SGI-quality, drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG HTML editor, and to only make brief mention of “Plan B” (just getting SoftQuad to port HoTMetaL Pro). Suddenly, I recalled the shrink-wrapped box of HoTMetaL Pro that I brought back from Chicago. I had my first prop. (Photo below is pretty much what it looked like, although this is actually version 2.0 and for the Mac.)

HoTMetaL Pro

To find a second prop, I pondered how I could make more tangible the new product line I was proposing to create. And so I headed over to Manufacturing. On foot. (Yes, we were not manufacturing in China.) I walked across the driveway of our office park in Mountain View (the same one that today is headquarters for LinkedIn), and entered Building 1, where our workstations were assembled and packed for shipping.

Within minutes something caught my eye. Indy had a very distinctive bright turquoise shell. But sitting on a shelf a bit to the side of the assembly line was something that looked just like an Indy shell, but it was pitch black. I asked what it was for and was told that it was for the Indys sent to Tandem via our OEM partnership.


(BTW, the one that my friends in Manufacturing lent me did not have a Tandem badge on it; it was just the shell, not the whole system in the picture above.)

Now, I had two props, but I also had a new puzzle. To make the proposed product line truly tangible, I’d need something more that a distinctive black shell. Suddenly it was clear that I was missing something vitally important to the pitch – a name for the product line!

As any of you who have ever named a product or company can attest, coming up with a great name can take days, weeks, or even months. I had less that 48 hours. Fortunately, the pitch black shell yielded some inspiration. If this were to be the first product line for the builders of the web, and it were to be all black, then it should be called, “Spider1”. And the name gave rise to a tagline, “For some, making a Web comes naturally.” (Okay, kinda hokey and a bit tortured in hindsight, but certainly good enough for creating a slide that would make this product line truly tangible!) And based on this image I found in my notebook, it looks like I may have ended up creating a mock print ad as the primary image for one of the slides in the deck:

Spider Ad Mock

By Tuesday evening, I was ready. My presentation was done, and I had my props. My plan was for a quick dinner, a few hours of rehearsing, then heading home at a decent hour for a good night of sleep. My presentation was at 9:00am.

I was in a great mood as I headed down to Café Iris with Sanford Russell and another deeply experienced member of the Indy Marketing team, Peter Hubbard. Peter had taught me a lot about how the workstation business works. Originally from the U.K., he had a quick wit and the remnants of a British accent. As we ate our free dinner (a now-common perk that SGI helped to pioneer), Peter asked me if I was “all ready” for my big presentation. Indeed, I was, I assured him. Then he asked with a smile, “So, how much are you asking for?”

“Um,” I said, a word that I rarely use. “I’m not actually asking for anything. Tom asked me to not go hat in hand.”

Sanford, as if on cue, jumped in. “So, let me get this straight. You’re going to take 20 or 30 minutes on the agenda of the COO and exec team to get them excited about the company’s biggest market opportunity, and then you’re not going to ask for any investment?”

Without missing a beat, Peter added, “Sounds like you’re wasting their time.”

Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry any more. This evening would no longer be about rehearsing and going to bed early. Now, I had one more slide to create: the business case for a multi-million dollar investment request.

To be continued

1For those who know how the story unfolds, this interim name is no doubt a surprise.

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Making an “SGI-Quality” Presentation

[20 Years Ago, Part 8. Other options: prior post or start at the beginning.]

It was Friday evening, and my big break was now just five days away. By Wednesday morning, I needed to be ready to present my Big Idea in front of the company’s COO, Tom “TJ” Jermoluk, and the exec staff. And I didn’t have even a first draft of a presentation!

Oh, and did I mention that it was 1994? I didn’t have access to PowerPoint; and there were only a few thousand websites total (so not a lot digital images available online).

Fortunately, my boss, Jim White, was a master of creating SGI-quality presentations, and he had recently shared his secrets with me. While the specific tactics will strike the modern reader as charmingly antiquated, the strategy behind them is as relevant today and remains at the core of my communications toolkit.

Before I share the system with you, I should explain that by “SGI-quality presentation” we would have meant a digital slide deck as boldly visual and differentiated as our smoking hot, colorful, media-monster 3D workstations.

Indy 3DOnward…

Start with a Stack of Blank Paper

Don’t think about what will go on your title slide or the headline of slide number one. In fact, don’t worry at all about sequence when you’re just getting started. Instead, just focus on the key concepts that you need to convey in order to get your audience to believe what you want them to believe. Write each concept on its own sheet of paper.

Spread the Sheets Out

Now, it’s time to think about order. Use a long table or an open area of floor space to layout the sheets of paper. Start re-arranging them and keep at it until you have an end-to-end flow that feels right.

Find High-Impact Images

Once you know your narrative arc, it’s time to find an awesome image to illustrate each key concept. This image will fill most, if not all, of the slide. In fact, each slide will be nothing more than a big image, a one-line headline, and, perhaps, a sub-head or caption; no bullets. This was truly a “visual computing” approach to making a slide deck.

Today, it’s trivially easy to find great images online, but back in 1994, we needed other tricks up our sleeve, such as…

Bring Out Your Box of Magazines

Yes, a box filled with National Geographics, Times, Newsweeks, and so on. Once you know your storyline, just start flipping through your stash of magazines. Keep an eye out for high-impact images that make you smile or laugh. When you find one, see if you can logically tie it to any of your key concepts. If so, yank out the page and set it aside.

Here’s an example image (from National Geographic) that I ended up using a few months later, but I’ll tell you more about that when the time is right:

Chimp Ballet

Head to the Scanner

With your stack of eye-popping, emotionally-charged photos, head on over to the scanner and turn them into digital files. If I recall correctly, this took a while and was kind of a pain. I think the files ended up on a network drive, and we had to use Unix commands to find and move the files over to our own workstations. Nonetheless, the process worked, providing high-quality color images that looked great even when projected on a large screen.

Now, You’re Ready for “Showcase”

Although PowerPoint had been around since the late ’80’s, we did not have access to it for two inter-related reasons. First, it ran only on PCs and Macs, not Unix systems. Second, SGI had gotten rid of all PCs an Macs; the company ran its entire business only on SGI hardware. And so, if you were going to make an SGI-quality presentation, you were going to make it with our very own, SGI-made presentation tool, “Showcase”.

Showcase and Desktop

Showcase was a very powerful tool, with better media and graphics features than PowerPoint at the time. You could compose slides by dragging-and-dropping images, audio, and video. It even allowed for creation and editing of 3D objects, scenes, and text. (Not too surprising, since it was built to literally “showcase” the differentiation of our 3D workstations.) Here’s the “3D Gizmo” UI with, among other features, material and texture palettes:


I have to say, these old screenshots still look pretty damn good!

But for all of Showcase’s strengths, it was also more than a little bit buggy, and prone to freezing or crashing in the middle of editing. Frequent saving was a critical part of any successful project. For all of these reasons, marketers at SGI often lovingly referred to this vital tool as “Slowcase”.

So, that’s how SGI-quality presentations got made 20 years ago — and a taste of what I was in for over the weekend and into the early part of the coming week.

To be continued

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