Graduation Year: 1992
- Founder, Intersé
In engineering, we hire enthusiasm and creativity.
Duke engineering graduates aspiring to work for Microsoft are by no means a rare breed. But when Terry Myerson, class of 1992, moved to Seattle early last year to work for the personal computing giant, it wasn’t because of his GPA or his creative responses to interview questions. The move came when Microsoft bought IntersÃ©, the internet technology company Myerson founded in June of 1994.
The lure of entrepreneurship was not new to this mechanical engineering graduate. He transferred to the Engineering School from Trinity after his first semester at Duke, but did not enjoy the engineering internship he had the following summer. Disillusioned with engineering in the business world, Myerson took a job waiting tables at Darrell’s after his sophomore year.
“Even then,” he recalls, “Starting a business and entrepreneurship had this allure to it ... I used to read all these books about businesses and how they grew up.”
Myerson’s switch from mechanical engineering to the computer graphics industry began later that summer when he took a job with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Because of the High Performance Computing Act of 1990, he recalls, “these two brand spanking new computer graphics workstations showed up, and I fell in love.” Although he enjoyed his mechanical engineering coursework, Myerson continued part-time computer simulation work for the EPA throughout his junior year, and participated in a joint project between the EPA and the North Carolina Supercomputing Center (NCSC) the following summer. During his senior year, he graduated early to work full-time for the NCSC in Research Triangle Park.
Throughout the next two years, Myerson’s innovative work with computer graphics won recognition for the center and for himself. Although he enjoyed the job, Myerson eventually began to feel that it might be time for him to move from the area of non-profit research work into the fast-paced business world which had always fascinated him. When an opportunity arose in the form of a sales position with Kubota Graphics Corporation, Myerson took the job and moved to Washington, DC. “The exposure to real business issues [as] part of a sales team was a pure thrill,” he says.
Through associations at Kubota with large government research organizations such as NIH and NASA, Myerson became quite familiar with the Internet. Kubota’s main competitor. Silicon Graphics, Incorporated, won approval from these customers by setting up a web-site called “Silicon Surf.” Frustrated that his company considered opening such a site to be a waste of money, Myerson recalls, “I decided the world needed a company to create websites.”
On May 25, 1994, he left his job at Kubota, and on June 1 of that year, he founded Intersé.
Myerson enlisted the help of Ed Hott, his Kubota sales manager, and Midori Chan, the director of marketing communications. “Recruiting these folks to join my twenty-one-year-old self when each of them was 36 with 15 years of experience I consider my greatest accomplishment. I owe these folks everything,” Myerson says.
It was Chan who hit upon the name Interse’ (pronounced “EN-ter-say”), which means “between or among us.” The young company began work with a single 14.4 kbps internet connection from its base in the attic of a dress shop. Early contracts included creating websites for two California-based customers, Hewlett Packard and Windham Hill Records. In January 1995, Myerson moved his company to Sunnyvale, California.
As Internet use became more common, clients began to ask questions about the effectiveness of the sites in reaching their desired audiences. This led to an interesting discovery. “We quickly noticed that these marketing sites produced data.” Myerson explains. “When I applied my data analysis skills to this data, customers absolutely loved it. Aha! — the world needed a product like this!” Intersé began to shift its focus to developing software which would allow companies to take advantage of marketing data gleaned from their web sites. In July of 1995, Intersé Market Focus 1 (IEv[F 1) hit the market. Soon, although website building remained more profitable, IMF 1 had generated such a strong interest among customers that Myerson decided to bet the company on the success of this new software product. With the release of JMF 2, Interse’ jumped from 6 to 32 employees and from a $300,000 to a $3.5 million run rate, and its customer base increased from 15 to 1,000, including a hundred Fortune 500 companies.
At the Gartner Group conference in October 1996, Myerson met Bill Gates, who showed an interest in Intersé. After meeting with Gates in December of that year, Myerson agreed to sell. IMF 3 was released in January 1997, and in February the company was acquired. A large percentage of the IntersÃ© employees, including Myerson, Hott, and Chan, moved to Seattle to work for Microsoft.
Addressing the first class of Duke’s new Masters of Engineering Management program in February 1998, Terry Myerson freely discussed his experiences and observations with the small and attentive audience. Questions covered subjects from technical issues to advertising budgets to actual interview scenarios the company used. “You inherit a bowling alley which is losing money,” Midori Chan would hypothesize for a candidate. “What do you do?” Myerson explains, “Anyone who answers ‘I don’t know anything about bowling’ is not getting a job ... in engineering, we were hiring enthusiasm and creativity.”
Myerson also recounted advice he received but did not follow: “Write a business plan, try to make the business scalable and size the market.” These things, as well as an exit strategy, Myerson asserted, should be seriously considered by anyone planning to start a business. Despite describing the long hours, anxiousness, and financial sacrifices involved in starting the business, Myerson maintained that it was a wonderful experience. “I’d recommend it to anyone. Do it while you’re young. You don’t know anything, but I was never afraid to ask.”
He also observed that the Internet and software industries were ideal because of the small initial capital required. “I didn’t need a factory. What I needed was smart people.”
What is in the future for Myerson now? “I’m probably in the same stage you guys are, saying, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”’ he told the students. “The only difference is that maybe the financial goals aren’t as relevant, but everything else, the quest for challenges, the search for personal satisfaction, is still there.” Asked if he would consider starting another business, Myerson grew thoughtful. “The thing that motivates you once you get started is fear of failure. I’d love to build that small size of a company again, but the thing that made it work is not there anymore.” However, while he is enjoying the breather from the frantic pace required to get IntersÃ© off the ground, Myerson has not lost his fascination with starting and running his own business. Eager to apply the experience and knowledge gained with IntersÃ©, he remarks, “The small, intimate start-up won’t happen again, but shooting for something bigger is definitely intriguing and worth pursuing. Give me a few years,” he says, “and I’m pretty sure I’ll be there.”
DUKENGINEER SPRING 1998
by Bethany Broom