By David Martin
May 4, 2006
Today's seminar on raising venture capital will be presented by a man
wearing a long-sleeved checkered shirt, blue jeans and black tennis
shoes. "This is dressed up for me," John Flowers announces at the
outset of his PowerPoint demonstration. "Usually, I'm dressed in
sandals and shorts and a T-shirt that says something offensive."
Flowers is the 35-year-old founder and CEO of an Overland Park
technology company called Kozoru. He is standing at the front of a
room at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. His audience is a
group of two dozen young entrepreneurs, guys and gals in their
twenties willing to sacrifice a Friday evening for the opportunity to
learn the ways of parting investors from their money.
In spite of his casual appearance (or maybe because of it), Flowers is
well-qualified to make the presentation. The Silicon Valley veteran
says he's raised $70 million in his career. He has even been backed by
the government: Kozoru received $500,000 from a Kansas state agency
that spends lottery and race-track proceeds on economic development.
Flowers assures the entrepreneurs that his lesson will be something
special. "Every time I do a presentation, I start from scratch," he
His head shot pops up on a projector screen behind him.
"Let's talk about me," he says.
Flowers' story begins with his doing "skunk works," or secret
projects, at Microsoft in the early 1990s. "There was a time when
Microsoft was actually cool," Flowers says.
In addition to working for Bill Gates, Flowers says he was a computer
hacker. He talks about having attended Def Con, a 1994 hacker
convention. Six companies that sell computer software meant to keep
out hackers offered $10,000 to anyone who could crack their security
systems in a Capture the Flag contest, he says. Flowers claims that he
scored five of the six "flags" and then went for drinks with friends.
Flowers used his hacker background to start a network security
company. Hiverworld, which became nCircle, today employs 300 people.
Forty-foot brass lions stand sentry in the company's San Francisco
One of the young entrepreneurs, Mark Pydynowski, stops Flowers. "Why
did you leave nCircle?" he asks. Clad in a dark suit, Pydynowski seems
curious to know why someone would walk away from a flourishing
company. Flowers says he's the type of person who needs to move on and
do something new after a while. He says there were "no hard feelings"
when he left nCircle.
Flowers moves on to his current project, Kozoru. He created the
company to develop a search engine that understands natural language.
Instead of typing keywords, users would enter questions to find their
answers. Getting computers to understand linguistics has been called
the holy grail of search technology. Ask Jeeves built a brand name on
the idea, but the technology itself didn't really work. Flowers came
up with what he thought was a unique approach =97 and a hell of a back
story. He claims that he decided to start the company after studying
Buddhism at a temple in Thailand.
Flowers moved to Johnson County in 2003 and started Kozoru a year
later. He raised a total of $3 million and recruited a team of
computer experts from the Bay Area and Austin, Texas. The company
planned to launch its service in the summer of 2005. But the deadline
came and went without a product debut. The problems, it turned out,
were more difficult to solve than Flowers had imagined.
Also, the appeal of a question-and-answer search remains in doubt. At
one point, the Kozoru team brought in a focus group. Test subjects sat
in front of computers and were instructed to enter questions into the
Kozoru search bar. "Nobody asked it a question," Flowers says in an
interview. "Every single person typed in keywords. It's the funniest
thing. You put a search bar in front of someone, it's like someone has
trained you to think like Google rather than you thinking like you."
Kozoru is now concentrating on a search engine for instant-messaging
and mobile devices. The technology is supposed to be available to the
public sometime next month. A successful launch would quiet doubters.
On more than one occasion, Flowers has compared Kozoru with the
Manhattan Project. He's undoubtedly intelligent and knowledgeable. But
like A Million Little Pieces author James Frey, a talented writer who
embellished the facts of his addiction to drugs and alcohol, Flowers
is not all that he says he is. The daring of his hacking exploits is
disputed. He lied to the state of Kansas about his education.
And Pydynowski was right to wonder if there was more to the nCircle
story. In fact, a fellow programmer accused Flowers of stealing his
A "serial entrepreneur" in denim, Flowers has dazzled the local
business community. But his relocation here looks as much like the
arrival of a Silicon Valley washout as it does the coming of a hero.
Flowers is sitting in a chair at the Kozoru office. A small hoop hangs
from his left earlobe. His beard is full today, but his facial hair
goes through frequent revisions. A bottle of Fiji water, his brand of
choice, is within reach. His mien is calm and friendly, like that of a
Flowers reminisces about his days of studying English literature and
philosophy in college. He was attracted to the liberal arts, he says,
because he didn't want to be near the nerds in computer labs. "I'm
socially awkward, but they were way more awkward than I was," he says.
A man of diverse interests (he edits video and writes novels and film
scripts in his spare time), Flowers built Kozoru in his image. Eleven
people work at the company, which leases space in a bland office park
near Metcalf and Shawnee Mission Parkway in Overland Park. Most
members of the Kozoru team are in their thirties and strike a hip
pose. Flowers met the communications manager, Justin Gardner, through
the Kansas City Screenwriters club. Network Administrator Chris Downs
plays in a death-metal band and wrote and directed a horror film,
Downs left Kozoru earlier this year to work at Kansas City design
agency VML. Downs says he thought that quitting a start-up would allow
him more time to work on his outside projects. He immediately
regretted the decision and returned after three and a half weeks.
"We're happy you're back," Flowers tells Downs, who is headed outdoors
for a smoke break. "You don't want to work there anyway. Bureaucracy."
"First day I was there, this is what happened," Downs says. "I walked
in and sat down at my desk, and I went, 'Holy shit, what have I
The Kozoru work schedule is flexible but demanding. Flowers asks his
crew to be present or available via video chat from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
An approaching deadline typically means late nights and seven-day
workweeks. "I'm pretty tough," Flowers says of his management style.
Early spring felt like final-exam week for Flowers and his staff. Last
month, Kozoru invited a group of industry types to use a trial of the
new cell-phone and instant-messaging search engine.
Originally, Flowers talked about Kozoru taking on search giants such
as Google. The plan was to build a search engine that responded to
questions with authoritative answers. In Flowers' example, the
question "Who is Gordon Downie?" would return a pithy reply describing
Downie as the lead singer of the Tragically Hip, a Canadian rock band.
Kozoru sought to deliver needles where so many keyword searches
Search technology has always frustrated Flowers. He says he can
remember being 9 years old and asking his Tandy TRS-80, "Why is the
sky blue?" The computer simply beeped at him.
Flowers says he began talking with friends in the late '90s about how
cool it would be to build a better search engine. If he was going to
improve search, Flowers decided that he needed to use mathematics.
Math, after all, is something that computers do very well.
"Our approach is to take a mathematical or statistical approach to
language," he explains. "You don't care what the words are. You don't
care what the words mean. You just map them to numbers and then figure
out how close they are and how far they are and put them in a big
graph. And then you just keep doing that and doing that until you get
this nice set of patterns."
Flowers says Kozoru has found something valuable. Experts may
disagree. The idea is nothing new, says Marti Hearst, an assistant
professor in the School of Information Management and Systems at the
University of California-Berkeley. "This is a very standardized
approach in the field," Hearst says. "In fact, this is what everyone
in the field does now. It's like saying about FedEx that they use
airplanes to deliver packages."
However unique its approach, the Kozoru team ran into problems. For
one thing, not all questions are as simple as "Who is Gordon Downie?"
Ask an Irishman "Who is the Great Emancipator?" and he's apt to say
radical Catholic lawyer Daniel O'Connell, not Abraham Lincoln. A
question like "Does God exist?" introduces even more variables.
"The big realization for us along the way was that we built this
system that's really powerful, and it's right a lot, but there's a
subjectivity to questions that you can't produce mathematically,"
Flowers says. "It's like trying to understand emotion =97 you just can't
So the holy grail of natural-language search remains elusive =97 much
like Flowers himself.
Flowers says he was born in Topeka in 1970. He tells the Pitch that he
was adopted and his father (now deceased) was in the military. His
grandmother bought him his first computer. "I grew up really poor, so
it was a big deal," he says. "It was a $600 computer."
Flowers does not volunteer much information about his childhood. One
event that he has mentioned on his blog and in other settings is his
arrest at age 13. Flowers tells the Pitch that the FBI kicked down his
door one day. "I had committed wire fraud, which is making free
long-distance phone calls."
Flowers says he made the illegal calls to connect to bulletin-board
systems, which were precursors to the World Wide Web. "I thought it
was ridiculous that I had to pay long-distance charges to connect to
another computer, so I figured a way to get around it."
Flowers says he spent several months in a juvenile-detention center in
San Diego run by the FBI. He says his confinement coincided with the
popularity of the 1983 geek classic WarGames. Adult counselors, he
says, worried about his ability to start Armageddon with the push of a
Flowers says he survived detention by befriending a big, tough guy
named Andre. "I think he blew up a building =97 it was awful," Flowers
recalls of his protector. Flowers showed Andre how to make free calls
from a cellblock pay phone. In gratitude, Flowers says, Andre "kind of
Juvenile records are sealed, so no public documents exist to support
or refute Flowers' story. But the FBI does not run detention centers.
Juveniles convicted of federal crimes do their time at facilities run
by state or local governments. "It sounds kind of fishy," Sandra
Hijar, a spokeswoman for the Western Regional Office of the Federal
Bureau of Prisons, tells the Pitch after hearing Flowers' tale of
incarceration at age 13. "I have never heard of a juvenile FBI
True or false, Flowers' story bears similarities to the plight of John
Draper, a famous figure in computer circles. Draper discovered in the
1960s that a toy whistle found in certain cereal boxes could be used
to manipulate long-distance calling switches. The subject of a 1971
Esquire story, in which he was identified only as "Captain Crunch,"
Draper taught future Apple founders Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak his
secrets. He was later tracked down by the FBI and spent time in
After his release, Flowers says he left home when he was not quite 16
and moved in with a friend who had an apartment. He got a job
delivering pizza and tried to stay in school, he says. Often unsure of
dates and places ("Temporality eludes me for some reason," he says),
Flowers guesses that he lived in Texas at the time he left home. He
says he moved to Massachusetts and then Berkeley.
Flowers' teenage years would provide still another amazing
technology-related story: He claims to have come up with an idea for
making movie times available by phone.
Flowers wrote a version of the story on his blog two years ago: In the
early 1990s, Flowers was staring at a poster for the movie Three Days
of the Condor when lightning struck: a computer program that generated
lists of theaters and show times from zip codes. Flowers submitted the
idea to a contest run by the telephone industry. "Six days later," he
wrote, "someone wrote a check for what we called 444-FILM and I
purchased a brand new, 1990 Porsche Carrera 911 4X4 with the profit
In an interview, Flowers does not say that his application became
Moviefone, the company behind 777-FILM. Rather, he notes that he came
up with the idea the year before Moviefone launched. Editing the story
he told on his blog, Flowers tells the Pitch that he wrote the program
in 1988, not the early 1990s, perhaps remembering that Moviefone
launched in 1989.
AOL bought Moviefone in 1999 for $388 million, but Flowers claims no
bitterness. "I was 17, and somebody wrote me a check for $80,000
because of a computer thing that I did," he says.
Like the arrest, the 444-FILM story is unverifiable. Flowers says
confidentiality agreements prevent him from revealing the identity of
the person who wrote the $80,000 check.
But Russ Leatherman, a Moviefone founder (as well as the famous voice
of 777-FILM), tells the Pitch through a spokesman that he's never
heard of Flowers.
Doubt surrounds another story that Flowers likes to tell: his
contest-winning performances at Def Con.
The annual Las Vegas hacker convention called Def Con was founded by
Jeff Moss in 1993. When a Pitch reporter recounted the story Flowers
told at the Kauffman Foundation, Moss quickly answered: "Utter
The convention didn't include a Capture the Flag contest until the
fourth Def Con in 1996, Moss says =97 not 1994 or 1995, years in which
Flowers has claimed to have won the prize. Moss recalls that another
individual won the first two Capture the Flag contests. "It was this
guy called A.J. Reznor, who won it in a pretty famous way," Moss says.
"This guy won it with no monitor, attacking the machine with a
keyboard only. He memorized the entire attack and did it."
When asked about the discrepancy last week, a Kozoru spokesman said
Flowers may have misspoken at the Kauffman Foundation and that the
issue is one of semantics. In fact, Moss does acknowledge that Flowers
may have a Capture the Flag victory to his credit. The problem, Moss
says, is that Flowers has continually claimed he won on years when he
didn't, and he fails to mention that he was part of a hacker team.
Flowers did present a paper at Def Con 8. A video of his speech,
available on the Internet, shows an overweight and grungy-haired
Flowers talking in a hotel conference room about network security. At
one point in the hourlong presentation, he pops open a bottle of beer.
At another point, he holds up a white paper by Network Associates, a
leading security company now known as McAfee. Flowers expresses his
contempt for corporate network security by flinging the document into
"Fuck that," he says.
Flowers, who is 6 feet 1 inch tall, is standing next to his blue 1994
Mazda RX-7 in the parking lot outside the Kozoru office. He is wearing
a "Cult of Chuck Palahniuk" T-shirt under a light jacket. Palahniuk,
the author of Fight Club, is one of Flowers' heroes, along with Steve
Jobs and the late physicist Richard P. Feynman.
Like the T-shirt, the car speaks to Flowers' identity. A decal of his
beloved Apple Computers is stuck to the rear window. Below the Apple
sticker is a word in kanji, a Japanese writing system based on Chinese
characters. The word, Flowers explains, translates to elite, a term
hackers use to identify themselves.
The workday is over. Flowers leaves to meet his 3-year-old son, Case.
He calls the boy "my own little organic learning engine."
Flowers is learning what it means to be a divorced father. Flowers and
Case's mother, Gretchen, separated last year after 12 years of
marriage. The divorce was finalized last month.
The couple married in Arlington, Texas. They lived in Kansas City for
a time in the mid-'90s, when Flowers helped UtiliCorp (now Aquila)
install an e-mail system. He moved to the Bay Area in 1996 for a job
at Farcast, a now-defunct Internet company.
Flowers founded Hiverworld, the network security company, in 1998. He
left in 2003. Five years, he says, is about twice as long as he can
spend doing anything. "I left and decided, 'That's it. I'm done with
technology. I'm going to write a screenplay. I'm going to write a
book. I'm going to find a million things that aren't technology.'"
Whatever his artistic yearnings, Flowers did not leave the company in
a blaze of glory. A year after founding the company in 1998, Flowers
was accused of lifting the work of security expert Fyodor Vaskovich.
Several employees left the company after the incident, which
contributed to the decision to rename the business nCircle.
Restricted in what he can say by a confidentiality agreement,
Vaskovich tells the Pitch that his copyright dispute with Hiverworld
was "settled amicably" in 2001. "Since their reincarnation with new
management, nCircle has become an important partner and a pleasure to
work with," he writes in an e-mail.
Flowers calls the copyright claim "complete and utter bullshit" and
says it has been settled. He adds: "I was accused of stealing
something, but you know what? People get accused of stealing stuff all
the time. The resolution was, there was no resolution. It never went
anywhere. There was no trial. There was no case =97 nothing. Never went
anywhere. It was just an accusation by someone who was mad at me when
they quit. I have kind of a strong personality, and some people don't
respond well to that."
Flowers says he stayed on for three years after the accusation was
made. He also notes that he was able to convince a few nCircle
veterans to join his new venture.
After leaving the Bay Area, Flowers says he and his wife were
traveling around the country when they found a house they liked in
Mission, Kansas. They hit the road again a few months after Gretchen
gave birth to Case at Menorah Medical Center. "One of us had a
rucksack, the other one had the kid, and we just took off."
What follows is another remarkable John Flowers story.
The young family went first to Boston and then visited several
countries in Europe. "It was total Zen travel," Flowers says. "We
would just wake up [and say], 'What do you want to do today?'"
Flowers wanted to see Hong Kong, but during a layover in Bangkok, he
became captivated by Thailand. John, Gretchen and their toddler son
moved about the country, staying in bungalows, before arriving in a
place called Chiang Rai. There, Flowers knocked on the door of a
temple and announced that he wanted to study Buddhism. A person who
answered the door spoke some English and told him that his request
would be difficult to meet. Flowers asked to see the teacher in
With the man who answered the door serving as interpreter, Flowers
spoke with the teacher. "I said something that apparently impressed
him," he says. Flowers received an invitation to spend a month in the
temple. Gretchen and Case returned to the States.
Flowers says the teacher gave him the arduous task of grinding pepper
with a mortar and pestle. His eyes watered, and his skin blistered. "I
did that for hours every day," Flowers says. "It was brutal."
Using broken Thai, Flowers was eventually able to communicate with the
teacher, who, he says, was "a fairly well-known Buddhist monk." When
he was not grinding pepper or taking walks with the monk, Flowers
meditated. He discovered that he wasn't very good at meditating. "Sort
of on the dirt floor, staring at the white wall, that's when I
decided, 'You know what, I think I have another company in me.'"
He says he was back in the United States for only 30 days before
convincing investors to fund Kozoru.
As for the Thailand story, Flowers agreed last week to show his
passport after a Pitch reporter asked for evidence of the journey. But
as of press time, he had produced nothing.
Mike Peck met John Flowers in the spring of 2004. Peck was serving as
the fund manager at the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation
(KTEC). A state economic-development agency, KTEC has the authority to
make direct investments in promising Kansas tech companies. With his
stories of raising seven figures in investments and his journey in
Thailand, Flowers left quite an impression on Peck.
Peck is no rube. He received an MBA from Northwestern University and
worked at C-Tribe, a failed San Francisco dot-com of the late '90s. He
spent time with Flowers as KTEC considered investing in Kozoru. Peck
sat in as Flowers made a presentation to venture capitalists on the
West Coast. Eventually, KTEC invested $500,000 =97 double the size of
any of the agency's previous investments. Additionally, KTEC has
awarded $372,000 in tax credits to private investors in Kozoru.
"From the first meeting with John Flowers, it was pretty apparent that
he was an exceptional individual and had an exceptional vision," Peck
told the Pitch in 2004. Peck said Kozoru was a "perfect storm" of an
outstanding board, management and idea. Now a partner in the
private-equity fund Open Prairie Equity Partners, Peck subleases
office space from Kozoru. Today, Peck calls the KTEC investment in
Kozoru the right opportunity at the right time.
KTEC has $6.8 million invested in Kansas companies and funds,
according to its most recent annual report. Tracking the performance
of the investments is difficult. Of the 15 companies KTEC helped in
1998, 10 had either closed or had failed to grow beyond nonfamily
employees, according to a 2003 state audit. KTEC President Tracy
Taylor tells the Pitch that his staff does due diligence when looking
at possible investments. "[It's] good governance and good partnering
rather than just giving somebody money," he says.
On paper, Kozoru looked like the kind of company that Kansas =97 with
only two Fortune 500 companies =97 should recruit. In addition to
Flowers, Kozoru had two prominent Bay Area board members: David
Warthen and Ridgely Evers. Warthen was a co-founder of Ask Jeeves.
Evers conceived QuickBooks accounting software.
Though associated with recognizable products, Warthen and Evers were
not exactly ascendant figures at the time they joined the Kozoru
board. Ask Jeeves had raised $42 million in its initial public
offering in 1999. But the company failed to deliver on the promise of
a question-based search. Ask Jeeves acquired new technology in 2001,
and the site now looks and feels very much like Google.
Warthen left Ask Jeeves and stayed mostly out of the news until 2004.
That year, Warthen married Cristina Schultz =97 who, federal prosecutors
claim, paid her way through Stanford Law School by working as a
high-priced call girl under the name "Brazil." Schultz made headlines
in the Bay Area when the federal government seized $61,000 from her
that prosecutors say she earned as a prostitute.
Warthen later stepped in to claim that the money was his, not proceeds
from unlawful activity. Warthen gave the money to Schultz to hold
prior to their marriage, his attorney, Doug Schwartz, says. "Of
course, they were going to use it for vacations, weddings and/or a
honeymoon, to be precise," Schwartz tells the Pitch.
The case is still being fought in federal court. Warthen declined to
comment to the Pitch about the incident. But he spoke highly of
Flowers, who he said is always full of ideas. "He has not only a very
strong technical knowledge, but he is a very creative thinker," he
Evers became president of Hiverworld in 2000. He left the business at
around the same time that Flowers did. Evers says he took a vacation
and "did something approaching nothing [in the technology field] for a
while." He joined the Kozoru board largely because of his belief in
Flowers. "One of the things that I like about John is that he is
interested in =97 maybe only interested in =97 solving big problems,"
Evers tells the Pitch. "What he was setting out to solve with Kozoru
was nothing less than the unfulfilled promise of search. That's really
what it comes down to. That's a big challenge. I like that."
KTEC officials appear to have done little but talk to Flowers
believers like Evers. A section of Kozoru's application for KTEC
funding is subject to open-records laws. In the description of the
management team, Flowers claims to hold bachelor's and master's
degrees from Berkeley and a master's degree from the University of
Texas in Austin.
The degrees do not exist.
Kathleen Maclay, spokeswoman at Berkeley, says the university has no
record of a John S. Flowers attending the school in the past 25 years.
Officials at Texas also could not find record of a student named John
Flowers who was born in 1970.
In response, Flowers replied: "That's bizarre. I don't know what to
tell you. That's pretty strange. Maybe I should give them [Berkeley] a
call and figure out what's going on."
"When we started, we sort of naively thought we were going to create
an Ask Jeeves that works," Flowers says.
Turns out, nobody really cared if they could.
"That ship has sailed," Flowers says. "I think people, either they
don't want it or they were burned by it or they believed and then they
lost faith because it didn't work the way they thought it would."
The Kozoru team regrouped and decided to create a search engine that
catered to mobile devices and instant-messaging software. Flowers
describes a scenario in which a cellular-phone user finds the right
restaurant with Kozoru's help. "Imagine being able to say, 'I want
Chinese in San Francisco that's cheap, that's good for me to bring a
date to and is run by the Mafia,' and getting that kind of answer,
which is way outside of 411 or even what the Web is doing for you
right now," he says.
A few weeks ago, Kozoru gave a group of people in the
information-technology business access to the system. Flowers says the
early feedback has been "extremely positive."
Even if a launch is successful, Kozoru is unlikely to become the
area's next Sprint. Flowers itches to sell the company.
Flowers spent time last fall talking to officials at Google, Apple and
Yahoo. On his blog, loneronin.net, he wrote with unusual candor about
his experiences as a possible acquisition target. Flowers described a
visit that he and members of his team made to Google headquarters in
Mountain View, California. "Everything we saw and heard and felt
seemed like we were getting along great with everyone there," he wrote
on December 1. "Everything, that is, until three weeks ago when =97
without warning =97 they stopped responding to e-mails or returning our
In a December 19 post, Flowers moaned that Google had "banned" Kozoru
from using its system after a demonstration in which Kozoru had
improved on Google search results.
The posts shook a corner of the blogosphere that keeps watch on new
computer technology. "If I were Google, I wouldn't return this guy's
calls either," technology writer Nicholas Carr wrote on his blog,
Rough Type. "A crank is a crank." Carr also made fun of Flowers for
glossing himself as a "Futurist, Strategist, Technologist, Visionary &
Polymath" on his blog. The description was later removed.
Another blogger, Scott Reynolds, called Flowers "Mr. Ego" in the
comment thread on Carr's blog. Reynolds faulted Flowers for creating
his own page on Wikipedia, the user-edited online encyclopedia.
Showing a measure of sportsmanship, Flowers participated in the
comment thread, saying he agreed with a lot of what Carr had said,
"except for the part about me being a crank."
Addressing Reynolds' comments, Flowers said he edited but did not
create the Wikipedia page. Logs showed that the original author lived
in Missouri. "My guess is someone I know wrote it. I do =97 after all =97
have actual friends," Flowers responded.
Whoever originally authored his Wikipedia page, Flowers certainly
approved of its existence. "If I ever get an entry in the Wikipedia
system, I will consider myself successful," he wrote on his blog seven
months prior to the page's creation.
As for Google's nonresponsiveness, Flowers tells the Pitch he learned
later that a company rep he was expecting to hear from took a
five-week vacation in Fiji.
Unbowed by the banned-by-Google experience, Flowers continued to
negotiate in public. In January, his blog listed the 11 reasons that
Apple should buy Kozoru. A few days later, Flowers shared the comment
of someone named Mark who said Flowers had "hung his dick over the
Flowers wrote that he was "pretty much joking" when he had entreated
Apple to purchase Kozoru.
During Flowers' speech at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center,
the phrase "The Spooky Art" appears on a PowerPoint slide. Flowers
uses the term to describe the process of raising venture capital.
The term has a familiar ring: The Spooky Art is the title of a 2003
Norman Mailer book about writing. Flowers, however, does not credit
the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
A whiff of plagiarism notwithstanding, Flowers proves to be an
engaging and informative speaker. Gone are the nervous laughs and
incessant throat clearings that tarnished his performance at Def Con
"Your idea is not what is going to get you funded," Flowers explains
in an effort to get the entrepreneurs to think about the importance of
attitude and technique. Flowers seems to delight in debunking
conventional wisdom. At one point, he tells the entrepreneurs to
forget about writing a business plan. "Every time I say this, people
throw tomatoes at me," he says.
Flowers dispenses practical advice, too, much of it surely of value.
He encourages the entrepreneurs to incorporate early and file a lot of
patents, which he compares to arrows in a quiver. He even recommends
what fonts to use in PowerPoint presentations =97 Trebuchet, Georgia
and, in a pinch, Monaco.
Flowers says his ideas are based on "15 years of pain and suffering."
A little imagination also went into the presentation. Flowers tells
the audience that he served for a time as "entrepreneur in residence"
at Industry Ventures, a San Francisco venture capital outfit. But Hans
Swildens, a principal at Industry Ventures, says Flowers is mistaken.
"We funded his last company, but he never worked here," Swildens tells
Flowers says later that he misspoke. Instead, he says he was a
"technical adviser" who looked at some deals.
Toward the end of the talk, Flowers produces a list of
reality-challenged statements that every successful tech entrepreneur
needs. Valuable fibs include "We have clients" and "Microsoft won't be
a threat." Flowers justifies the deceit on the grounds that venture
capitalists expect to be told a few whoppers. Besides, the moneymen
have their untruths, too.
Flowers begins this section of the presentation by saying, "Here's a
collection of lies you need to tell them."
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