"A Tacoma Daily Index Editorial -Where do you want to go today, Tacoma?"

“First, I’d like to start off by saying I’m no Harvard MBA, nor an expert of any kind, so for those of you who may be, please excuse my apparent ignorance. Those who don’t agree with me may feel free to discount my views and myself and believe whatever lets you sleep at night.After some time of watching Tacoma’s developing dot.com business community and the city’s efforts to sell itself as America’s #1 Wired City, I am arriving at some conclusions, some of which may be met with agreement, some, possibly, with derision. The odd thing that occurs to me in realizing these conclusions is that, for the most part, I agree with the message the city is selling, though I might not go about selling it the same way.One conclusion, on a number of people’s minds, but not a topic likely to be brought up in polite conversation, is what is an absolute fact in my mind – that many – possibly the vast majority, of Tacoma’s high-tech startups are going to fail, some of them in the near future.Oh, I know, I’m being negative and predicting doom and gloom. Well folks, it’s true. Not just in Tacoma, but most everywhere.Some lack capital – financial or intellectual, some lack personnel with the experience, leadership, or just the plain guts needed to get where they need to go. Some are too late with a good idea, or just don’t have one that is unique enough to catch the glazed eyes of besieged angel investors. Some almost seem like they are playing at having a business, making still-born promises to their staff, alienating possible supporters, or still believe that having a business that exists on the Internet means they are such an innovator they will automatically get rich.Get real. If you don’t apply the same sorts of standards and measures to an e-world business as you would to a real-world business, you still fail. Glitz and techie-marketing smoke and mirrors don’t replace viable business and financial planning, experience, training and management capability.But the fact that many of these businesses absolutely will fail doesn’t bother me. Businesses fail every day. Read our paper. The bankruptcies and lawsuits tell the story. During my tenure here in Tacoma, I’ve seen a wide variety of businesses fail, some which could have easily been saved, but the people running them either didn’t know how, or were unwilling to do what was necessary to save them.And that’s okay.But some of the businesses already here, and some still to come, will succeed. Those are the ones where it all comes together – not due to some magical chance circumstance – but through that combination of a unique quality idea that appeals to both investors and the intended market, a firm grasp on reality allowing for good choices, planning, honesty, integrity, experience, and a strong sense of perseverance. There’s an innumerable quantity of other factors involved, of course, and for anyone who has ever gotten a new business underway successfully, be it hot dog stand or B2B e-commerce portal, there is magic created.Another observation – the belief that Tacoma hinders a new dot.com business from succeeding because of the mere fact that it is located in Tacoma – is utter and absolute rubbish. There are people in this town who can help to refine a good concept and business plan, put together the presentation and materials needed to convey the message, and both steer you to, and coach you for, visits with high power tech VC firms. But caution – you may have to get on an airplane at some point in the process.There are startups in this town who are seeking literally millions of dollars in highly speculative funding, who aren’t willing to spend several thousand dollars to learn how to go about getting that money from the VC community. They don’t see the value in being coached by somebody who has made millions doing exactly what they want to be doing.Well, you don’t get millions of bucks sitting on your hands, whining, or asking journalists to invest in your venture. You have to meet with the folks who have the money to invest, and give them something that makes sense to them – a viable business plan with a solid prospect of high level returns for the investor. Businesses requiring huge amounts of VC funding either can play the game to VC community rules, or they can keep buying those Lotto tickets.One more topic I keep coming across is whether the political and business community leadership has the will power or ability to pull everything together quickly to truly maximize the advantages Tacoma has to attract tech businesses.There’s a lot of good people in Tacoma, and there’s many people working very hard to make this dream come true. I absolutely do not want to disparage any of their work. Still, I cannot help but wonder why infrastructure issues such as parking, high-tech training capacity and the B&O tax weren’t dealt with prior to the Click! Network’s last fiber cable being laid.There isn’t much time to take advantage of the bandwidth benefits of Tacoma as technology continues to advance and change. Chances have to be taken, political risks dared, and movement has to happen very, very soon, for this advantage to be played into a winning hand. Act, and if successful, mistakes made may be forgiven. Wait, and the moment may become yet another possibility unrealized.After the keynote address at SST2000 by Paul Schindler, I asked around about his suggestion that Click! give away bandwidth to draw tech firms here. The consensus seemed to be that it was a great idea for a speech to get people’s attention, but not a serious recommendation.I disagree. It’s actions that bold which make possible the level of success sought by Tacoma. Is there risk involved? You bet. Is there risk in not taking radical actions such as Schindler suggested?Absolutely.It’s your call Tacoma. Where do you want to go today?”