In 1989, Melody Haller was working as associate art director at MacWeek, a trade magazine, when she ran into someone who did public relations. "I didn't even know public relations existed as a profession," she recalls. "I thought to myself, I can do that." Intrigued, she jumped into the business full-time. By 1994, she and her partners were gambling on the Internet - and taking up to one-third of their compensation in stock from a handful of nascent companies. Among these were Yahoo! and Onsale, which went on to have two of the most successful IPOs in recent stock-market history.
Those deals made a millionaire of Haller, whose previous longest-held full-time position had been "Zen student." Today she runs Antenna Group LLC, a two-year-old San Francisco-based public-relations firm with 16 employees. Her seven clients include companies such as Alexa Internet Inc., Bluestone Software Inc., and Business Bots Inc. They account for about $1 million in revenue for the firm. Significantly, Haller has chosen to take options or shares in five of them.
Haller's roots in the counterculture run deep. After studying at the University of Southern California in the late 1960s, she dropped out and moved to Alaska. "I was very much a hippie then," she says. Haller went on to spend eight years as a Zen practitioner, during which time she met and married her husband, a Zen priest. Through her Zen studies, says Haller, she learned how to think. "I took apart myself, my mind, my personality, and then reconstructed it all along more intentional lines," she explains. "So instead of being who I was raised to be, I took a look at who I was then gradually shifted toward being the person who I intend and choose to be."
Now, at the Antenna Group, Haller offers her employees the kinds of financial incentives that motivated her - part of what she hopes will be the legacy of her work with Internet companies. "Early on," Haller says, "I perceived the Internet's potential for empowering people. It hit me as a very smart thing to encourage businesses to pick up the tab for building the infrastructure - for them to be financially motivated - and inadvertently to put tremendous power into the hands of individuals. I still believe that's going to happen."
You can reach Melody Haller through the Antenna Group Web site http://www.antennapr.com
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.