His company is barely a year old. his first product is just in the beta stage. But he's gunning for $1 million of revenue in a market whose size is now only $10 million. And he's taking dead aim at his former employer, Oracle, as well as Netscape and Microsoft.
On a dusky afternoon, Jay Verkler, a neat, considerate-looking 33-year-old — the sort of guy almost anybody would want for a neighbor — is flush with victory. He's just stolen another sales rep from Oracle. That makes 10 Oracle alums out of 17 employees at inCommon, the "push technology" startup in San Mateo that Verkler cofounded.
Push technology retrieves personalized information from the Web and delivers it straight to individual computer users. That's the idea, anyway. It's unproven. But CEO Verkler, like his better known rivals at PointCast and Marimba, has planted a flag in the hottest new place in cyberspace. Microsoft has counterattacked already. It announced an alliance with PointCast to create a software standard for how users receive their content. Microsoft's move could annihilate startups like Verkler's, unless he surrenders or finds a safe niche.
"We saw this coming," he says, sounding like a general who finds himself surrounded on the eve of battle — and likes his odds. "Everything in this industry has to have Microsoft in the picture, as either an ally or enemy." But "Netscape and Microsoft have been too distracted with each other. They've left a technology hole in this space. Sometimes you've just got to trust your feelings."
Jay Verkler has been trusting his feelings since he was a boy. "I know how I'm wired," he says. "I've known since I was 10 or 12. I want to make a dent in the world. But I don't spend a lot of time thinking about whether I've been successful. I just look for the next hill to take."
In fact, at age 12, Verkler was programming computers for a bank in Salt Lake City, where he grew up. After high school, he spent more than a year in Japan on mission for the Mormon Church. He learned Japanese, studied Buddhism, and returned to the United States to earn a degree in electrical engineering from MIT. He was happily writing software in Boston, where he met his wife Tamiko, when friends in California urged him to take a look at Oracle. "They said it was a happening place," he remembers, embarrassed to be invoking such a surfer-dude phrase. That's not how he talks. He is a straight arrow. With a sharp edge.
"I know what I have to do in the coming year," he says. "I've got to grow this company into something solid. I've got to become a business strategist and win the hearts and minds of publishers who would be our partners. By April 1998 our revenues will be $5 million. But we'll operate an expense line to run on $3 million."
There is a certainty to Verkler's manner that does not come naturally to someone this young. It is a certainty acquired through a process of trial and error — and victory. "I think you can will long-term success," he says. "You alter your life to achieve it. You get inspiration from your home, prayer, insights from conversations, using others as mirrors. But you can't will short-term success. There are huge market variables. The key is to understand when you are in control and when you're not."
Verkler joined Oracle in 1987, in John Luongo's international division. The operation was on a ferocious growth mission. "It was always 'I need this done in no time,"' Verkler remembers. "I loved writing software. But I hated the urgency. The sales guys were banging on us: 'I need the product and need it now.' It turns out they were doing deals before we even had the technology."
Verkler credits Luongo with helping him interpret his frustrations. "John was frustrated, too," he says. "We were pretty insular back then. But John always said: 'Every successful company has to learn to overcome its initial success.' That stuck with me. Building success means building a culture."
The longer Verkler stayed at Oracle, the more equity — in wealth and knowledge — he accumulated. It was equity in a company whose values he did not share, but for whose opportunities he was grateful. His six years there, he says, taught him "the athletic skills you need to succeed." They did not, however, stir his soul — not in the way Tom Siebel's years steeled an already steely resolve, or in the way Kathryn Gould's trial by fire taught her about herself. It was just one station stop on a long journey.
"All sorts of things shift your life in the long haul," Verkler says. "Oracle was short term. This is personal. I'm trying to build a business as I believe it should be built. It's my idea, my team, my company."
In short, inCommon is a company founded on an education at the Oracle school of hard knocks. Which is why it's no coincidence Verkler keeps recruiting other graduates from his old company. "I need driven, results-oriented people who have clarity of thought, communicate well, and work with little management," he says. "People who are committed and dependable, and who communicate without lots of politics. There are three or four other people at Oracle who want to work for me. But I know them too well."
Verkler is a millionaire, but he is reluctant to discuss the details of his personal wealth — or put a financial value on the kind of success to which he aspires. "Anyone can be independent with $10 million in the bank," he says. "That's low by contemporary standards. To me the real question is: How do you know when things are right? Money doesn't have a lot to do with that. It's more about what you achieve through your life's energy."
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.