by Nick Hall

Denis Browne had a stellar career at Oracle before he made the jump into the startup world. Nothing could have prepared him for the ride he was about to go on as CTO of Productopia.

The last piece is just believing the hype. We continued to believe the hype that our leaders were selling us, even though looking back I can see that they had no business telling us the things they were telling us about how the stock price was going to continue to go up. There was absolutely no foundation for their stories. Robert Shaw came in from Oracle after Joe Firmage left and he flew down to our offices, telling us how he could see the stock price going to $100 and you could just see the eyes in the room glazing over. He had no way of knowing that. He had no business selling the masses on a vision constructed out of ether. And many of us, while suspect, didn't really push back. We didn't really question him.

I had lines outside my door many, many days with employees scratching their head, trying to figure out what was going on with the company. Unfortunately, most of the time I didn't know much more than they did.

What was it like at the end?

Painful. I got out before things fully collapsed. I oversaw the downsizing of our office by at least half. It was hard for me because I had that sense of having failed a lot of people who were important to me. The irony is how you measure failure. I continue to be good friends with them. Some of us started another company together. And many of them got a good amount of money off the table.

Regardless of the financial results of the company, we can look back and know that we played an important role in the revolution of communication, community and entertainment. We were part of a social revolution in the way that communication and commerce gets passed.

By far the hardest part was letting people go. Near the end it seemed like I had to do it every week. We also hired a lot of grey-haired, experienced people in the last 12-18 months who left some great positions in exchange for a lot of stock; and boom, it was all gone. We screwed up their pension plans, their home ownership. They came in with their eyes open, but it is hard not to look back with disappointment.

What was the experience like bouncing back from the marchFIRST collapse?

It was at least six months to unwind and get my internal spring back and get back to who I was. I did some travel. I had to get out of the environment that represented what I just went through. I know lots of people that went into therapy. I did a bunch of work in the non-profit space so the sense of giving back and getting back to my core values was important.


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