My friend Jeff Hilimire and my first business partner is leaving the roots of the company we co-founded some 14 years and 10 months ago today. It’s a sad moment for me (and him) as we’ve shared a journey and this is the first time in our professional careers we’ll be apart. We have been close friends from the day we met 17 years ago and I know we’ll always be close friends regardless of our professional lives.
I met Jeff in August 1996 when I was an international exchange student at UNC in Charlotte, NC. Jeff was my roommate and we quickly became friends. At the time Jeff was a straight A student, great at math, tennis, computers, and a master of Tetris (really, the guy is bad-ass at Tetris). He was dating his high school sweet heart, Emily (his wife and the rock now behind him), and was the oldest brother to sisters that all looked up to him. His family took me in as another member of the family, especially his mum who welcomed me into a country I knew little about. Jeff’s commitment to his family has never waivered, and I’d say it’s been a model for a lot of us who know him and his family well.
Jeff and I had very different social lives (I think he’d agree), but one thing that bonded us was our love of the internet and the uncharted possibilities for a couple of guys who didn’t know any better. To observe us back then, we were unlikely friends or business partners; in fact, I’m not sure either of us ever considered working together. Yet, fate and pure luck brought us together a few years later and we never looked back.
We started our company (Nov 1998) when I was working in a backpack Hostel in Toronto, Canada (Exploring the world after graduating) and Jeff was in his final year at UNCC. I’d like to share some memories throughout our professional career together. These have meaning for Jeff, so I apologies to everyone else if they don’t make sense:
- Jeff explaining to me what FTP was.
- Buying our first Fax machine. Jeff might still have this, but I remember it was almost an acknowledgment that we actually had a company.
- WEMOCO GIF lighting I created and the HTML Jeff wrote in the basement. I think we designed and coded the entire site in 2 days. You can tell ;-). Thinking back, it was always so easy for us to piggy back on each others ideas and just knock things out.
- Pirates of Silicon Vally and the “Gates it” revelation we had. I remember that changed the rules of the game.
- Flying Jeff to New Zealand to join me as an expert Web Strategist (21 years old) and then buying domain names right as we talked to the client. The hugh floods in New Zealand and his plane trying to land several times. What a crazy ride that must have been for Jeff. I think his first time out of USA.
- Ping pong table as our conference room table. Off the walls and ceiling rule counts as a point. Jeff can play, don’t bet with him. I’m pretty sure I lost some creative direction ideas based on a few games of ping pong betting.
- Walking into eGateMatrix and the CEO telling us we were too young to tell him what they needed digitally. We killed that meeting and felt like we could take on the world.
- Jeff hated going to Chamber of Commerce networking events and all the breakfast events for small business. But he did it anyway. That was and is Jeff, he’ll get it done.
- Attempting to re-name our company and then having Wade send us back in after we came up with a crap name (we’d been in a conference room for 8+ hours). He was always humble to realize when we needed to change things around.
- Going down to Destin, Florida to meet with an investor and being told no. We showed him Jeff! Thank god we didn’t take that deal if he had said yes.
- Can’t remember his name, but Donovan used to work for him and he offered us a Job with real money (we didn’t make much back then) to join his company instead. Somehow money didn’t mater to us back then, maybe becuase we didn’t know any different.
- Re-naming the company from NBN Designs to Spunlogic and having the party in the atrium of Colony Square. That’s when we really had a company. Speeches by the fountain, I remember that was a proud moment for us all.
- Building the interior door at Zonolite (next to your office), it looked really bad, but a lot of plaster and nails made it standup. Still there by the way.
- Lots of ski trips and cruises, the company was our family and I know that’s probably the hardest thing for you to leave.
- Picking up Balser checks in order to make payroll. You always managed the stressful elements of the business, so the rest of us could create. Most folks including myself never knew when things were really bad with cash flow, revenue and payroll. Thank you for protecting us all.
- Working with our advisory board and the cool toys we’d get them and for us. Being told expanding into new markets was a bad idea. They were right, we didn’t know enough yet, but I love that we’d always just try new things.
- Getting our first real offer for Spunlogic and being told that’s the best offer we’d ever get. Again, so glad we said no.
- Jeff beat me in Ping Pong using a CD case; I’ll never live that down.
- Dinner to celebrate selling the company and the first wire transfer of funds into our accounts. I think my first ever wire and probably Jeff’s as well.
- Seeing Jeff happy again at work and playing with what became DIG.
- The advice you gave me about children and the difference of having a boy vs. a girl. The video you sent me from the company meeting when Nina was born (everyone singing happy birthday). Thank you!
- Winning HoneyBaked Ham again, but this time all of it. I think that meant more to me, Jeff, Danny and Raghu than anyone else in the agency.
- Giving money to the homeless guy as we walked to get Coffee. Leadership Atlanta had a big effect on you, I hope I experience the same one day.
- Somehow Jeff became a Biz Dev king and closed out the sale of Engauge. He would never say it, but it wouldn’t have happened without Jeff. Remember your Chamber networking days as you go and build and sell more companies. You are gifted my friend.
Jeff, I’ll miss you at work old friend, but I know we’ll cross paths again one day. Best of luck with the new adventure – I know you’ll do amazingly well (it’s in your blood now).