Bob Alvin.indd by dfsdf224s


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       He took an idea                                                                                                                                                   In 1994, with the Internet just
                                                                                                                                                                       coming of age, Mr. Alvin tapped
                                                                                                                                                                       people he knew to get underway.
          and $5,000                                                                                                                                                     “I knew some really good, long-
                                                                                                                                                                       haired people, geeky as they come
       into the garage                                                                                                                                                 in the IT department in the com-
                                                                                                                                                                       pany where I was working, and I

      and emerged with                                                                                                                                                 thought maybe I could entice this
                                                                                                                                                                       guy to do an Internet company
                                                                                                                                                                       with me,” he says.
      a company that’s                                                                                                                                                   The lure wasn’t money or stock
                                                                                                                                                                       options, as Mr. Alvin recalls, but it
       breaking ground                                                                                                                                                 did take the promise of a Sun work
                                                                                                                                                                       station and a 56k phone line.

        in e-marketing                                                                                                                                                   “I definitely had the right bait,”
                                                                                                                                                                       he says, noting that the first em-
                                                                                                                                                                       ployee — Mitchell Wright — is
                                                                                                                                                                       still with NetLine as its vice presi-
                                                                                                                                                                       dent of information technology. “I

                                                                                                                                                                       couldn’t have started with a better
                                                                                                                                                                       person,” he says of Mr. Wright.
                                                                                                                                                                         They came up with the name and
                                                                                                                                                                       got the domain name.
                                                                                                                                                                         “So what were we going to do?

                                                                                                                                                                       That was the big question,” Mr.
                                                                                                                                                                       Alvin says.
                                                                                                                                                                         The answer fell out of a maga-
                                                                                                                                                                       zine. It was one of those cards that
                                                                                                                                                                       you fill out to get a free profession-

  way to
                                                                                                                                                                       al subscription to what’s called a
                                                                                                                                                                       “controlled circulation” publica-
                                                                                                                                                                         “I missed one little box,” he
                                                                                                                                                                       says of the form. The magazine
                                                                                                                                                                       bounced it back to him, demanding
                                                                                                                     ■                                                 he answer the question or no free
                                                                                                                                                                         “So I filled it out with a zero, fold-
                                                                                                                                                 DENNIS G. HENDRICKS   ed it up and put it back in the mail.
                                             APPETITE FOR INNOVATION: Bob Alvin has the right bait to reel in and keep high-quality staff at his media services        Six weeks later it came back again
                                             company NetLine. He also experiments with various hobbies, including an aborted attempt at aquafarming blue               and it says ‘Sorry, you have to fill
                                             African lobsters.
                                                                                                                                                                       out a new card. We’ve changed the
                                                                                                                                                                       card,’” says Mr. Alvin.
             BY DOUGLAS E. CALDWELL          e-marketing firm, is not unusual,                         astic about his company since he                                  The cumbersome process, fraught
          given Mr. Alvin’s eclectic outlook.                       founded it in his home in 1994 as                               with easily-made mistakes, and
                                               His office-farming of mushrooms                         the first online registration service                           bogged down with snail-mail de-
  “What is this?” Bob Alvin asks             reaped large crops, which he of-                          for trade magazines. He makes the                               lays, inspired Mr. Alvin to come
a visitor to his Los Gatos office,           fered to his staff, he says. But with                     founding sound almost informal.                                 up with a product for his company-
holding up a basketball-size gray-           few takers, Mr. Alvin has since                             “The reason I founded the com-                                without-a-product.
ish-brownish clump of a sponge-              moved on to other hobbies.                                pany is I have a bachelors in elec-                               “So NetLine was the first com-
like thing.                                    “Bob’s a very likable guy,” says                        trical engineering and a masters in                             pany to offer online subscription
  Three guesses don’t even come              Mike Hackworth, chairman of Cir-                          computer science and I wanted to                                forms for controlled circ publica-
close.                                       rus Logic and an outside board                            learn more about the business side                              tions. We started with a small com-
  “It is a sawdust ball covered with         member for NetLine. “He has a                             of companies,” he says. “I didn’t                               pany called Integrated Systems De-
mycelia for shiitake mushrooms,”             great sense of humor. He’s inspi-                         realize how quickly you learn                                   sign and Unix Review,” he says.
he says.                                     rational and has very charismatic                         about all the administrative tasks                                But the idea and the name
  A mushroom ball in a corner of             skills. He’s demanding but that’s                         of a company such as dealing with                               evolved.
the office of the chief executive            liberally sprinkled with humor.”                          the state, payrolls and other things                              “Bob is an extremely bright, ar-
officer of NetLine Corporation, an             Mr. Alvin says he’s been enthusi-                       that really get monotonous after a                              ticulate, forward-thinking busi-

                                                                           Reprinted with permission from The Business Journal
ALVIN: Ardent hobbyist grows media services firm NetLine along with mushrooms and pet lobsters
ness person. He’s quick to come                   big heart. He will always, always,
up with new ideas and is one of                   say what he feels. There is no fil-
those unique people who likes                     ter between what Bob thinks and
to take an idea and drive it into                 what he says. You’re always going
a business practice and experi-                   to get the truth from Bob.”
ment to determine whether it is a                   NetLine was a bootstrapped op-
worthwhile effort,” says Mitchell                 eration from the first. While hold-
Levy, partner at CEO Networking                   ing down a full-time job with a
and director of the Silicon Valley                semiconductor company, Mr. Al-
Executive Business Program at                     vin devoted his mornings, eve-
San Jose State University.                        nings and weekends to nurturing
                                    NetLine       his own company. “The nice thing
                                  discovered      is it started off profitable,” he
 NETLINE CORPORATION that while                   says. It was capitalized with a to-
 Bussiness: Leads generation,     it had come     tal of $5,000 with half of it from
 online marketing, automation and up      with    his sister-in-law.”
 communication management ser-    the better        By 1998, Mr. Alvin had quit his
 vices and products.
 Address: 16795 Lark Ave.,
                                  mousetrap,      day job. “Moved into my garage.
 Ste. 210, Los Gatos, CA 95032    it had to ed-   Set up an office. Hired an em-
 Phone: (408) 884-1200            ucation the     ployee. It worked well and we kept
 Fax: (408) 884-1284              mice to use     going,” he says. “It was the pub-
 Web:             the Inter-      lishers … who pushed us into e-
 CEO & Chairman: Robert Alvin     net-based       marketing for them. They pushed
                                  product         us into doing a lot more with the
                                  at a time       data and tracking the responses,
when print publications and their                 the clicks and the links, which
fulfillment houses were unfamil-                  has brought us to our NetLine en-
iar with the Web.
   “As a technical person I didn’t
realize how old that [print] indus-
                                                  ‘A lot of people have
try was and how archaic it was                    a lot of great ideas and never act
back then,” he says. “These days
they send everything off to India                 on them. Bob is not one of those;
and other countries to get key-
punched in. A lot of this is done                 Bob acts on his ideas.’
electronically. I think for some
of the technology publications, 25                                        Mitchell Levy
percent of their subscriptions are                             Partner, CEO Networking
collected online.”
   NetLine has changed, too, now                  terprise marketing platform tools.
offering leads generation services                It really was the customers who
used by publishers and their ad-                  drove us at first.”
vertisers.                                          Mr. Alvin tries to play racquet-
   “He has a lot of ideas and those               ball three or four times a week.                                                                                                          DENNIS G. HENDRICKS
                                                                                            COMPETITIVE EDGE: Bob Alvin funnels his competitive nature into his business and on the racquetball court.
ideas in the business world turn                  “It’s good, it’s fun. I’m competitive
into companies or divisions with-                 in the fact that I just like to get out
in a company. Those ideas in his                  and play and when it’s over, it’s         with some of this stuff,” he says.                       I promised my fiancé for the first
personal life turn into a unique                  over — it’s just a game,” he says.        “My first big mate got out of the                        year, as we assimilate my three
set of hobbies,” says Mr. Levy. “A                  He’s an ardent hobbyist — and           tank and got away. I found him un-                       children and her child in our new
lot of people have a lot of great                 not just a single hobby, but dozens,                 .
                                                                                            der the TV The other guys started                        household, I will refrain from any
ideas and never act on them. Bob                  perhaps scores — say his friends.         killing each other. Finally I got                        extreme hobby that would either
is not one of those; Bob acts on his                One was aquafarming.                    down to a few and I knew I basical-                      distract or clutter our lives,” Mr.
ideas.”                                             “I had shipped from Florida             ly had to close down business so I                       Alvin says. “But I’m not getting
   Adds John Bennice, president of                some blue African lobster babies          ate the last one. He was good.”                          rid of my tanks.”
Bennice Group in Rio Vista and                    and set up some big tanks at home           Aquafarming. Mushrooms. All
an early NetLine employee: “He’s                  and got some books on aquafarm-           may be put on hold for just a
got a winner’s ego but not at the                 ing. But unfortunately, I was too         while, he says.                                          DOUGLAS E. CALDWELL is associate editor of
expense of his people. He’s got a                 busy to pay attention and to deal           “I’m getting married in August.                        the Business Journal. Reach him at (408) 299-1835.

In his own words
Bob Alvin on surviving the dot-com crash:         count and move to VC funding by           lot of the employees are still here.                    the only one around. When we say
  “We had a dot-com turning point.                the end of the year. I was ramping          The one thing we did well — and I                     we’re going to have this much cash
In early 2000, we watched companies               up the headcount … [but] in 2000 at       attribute it to our CFO at the time,                    in the bank, we’re going to have that
like Digital Impact that did e-mail               the end of the year it was basically ,    Werner Mansfield, who’s now our                         much cash in the bank.
marketing with a million-one in                   ‘nice of you to come by and talk with     president. He’s very conservative.                        As a turning point, we have cash
revenue have over a billion dollars               us. Good luck.’ And so it was tough.                                       .
                                                                                            I’m kind of more the sales guy But                      in the bank and it’s still flowing into
valuation when they went public.                  It took a lot of scrambling.              we’re really tight on cash flow. We                     the bank. We’re still growing. From
Now you have to say to yourself, we                 It’s really tough to do layoffs two     manage that thing to death. Unlike                      a company point of view, it makes
were making $700,000 in revenue,                  years in a row around Christmas           the days of the dot-coms, where you                     a lot less stress for the CEO. And
we’ve got to be worth at least half a             time. We scaled back quite a bit.         took in money and it was easy to                        I hope I’m done getting more gray
billion dollars. That’s what we were              The founders and myself cut our           spend.                                                  hairs because I picked up a lot dur-
thinking.                                         salaries in half. But we believed we        But that’s not how you run a busi-                    ing that time.
  So with that kind of logic, which               could turn it around. It was a good       ness. We knew that but we got caught                      I’ve also changed my life, too, in
really wasn’t logic, I was able to                two years before they got everybody                         ,
                                                                                            up in the frenzy but we survived.                       terms of doing more exercise, keep-
raise $1.4 million relatively easily              back to their normal salaries. It was     It’s nice to know one of our bigger                     ing my weight down because I used
from angels. The big plan was to get              tough. We had to lay off some people;     investors says that of all his invest-                  to have a sitting-around-the-desk-all-
that money in, ramp up the head                   it was either that or go under. But a     ments he made at the time, [we’re]                      day belly.

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