Original Story: "Soul Proprietor"
Publication date: August 2000
What's up? High-tech entrepreneurs sell their company just in time — and begin a soul-searching journey that promises to result in new companies.
The folks at smartRay Network Inc., we wrote a year ago, "face three potential outcomes. The first is outright failure. . . . The second is acquisition. . . . The third is — well, nothing."
Amid the dotcom frenzy, smartRay offered a gritty reminder of what real entrepreneurship is all about. Its three founders — Troy Tyler, Andrew Playford, and David Kidder — and their team had built a Web editor for mobile-communications devices. But competition was looming, and the capital markets were drying up. When we left smartRay, it was clear that the 18-month-old company had reached a crucial juncture.
Only a month after that story appeared, smartRay sold itself off to LifeMinders Inc., an online direct-marketing outfit in Herndon, Virginia. Most of the smartRay team made the shift from Manhattan, home base of smartRay, to suburban Virginia. By January, though, the outlook for mobile technology was growing dim. LifeMinders shut down its wireless businesses, including what remained of smartRay. With generous severance packages in hand, Tyler, Playford, and Kidder decided to hit the road.
As of June, Kidder was still on the road, enjoying a six-month tour through Europe, Africa, and Asia. Playford was living in London, where he had moved to head the European office of LifeMinders, and was working on plans to start a new business.
And Tyler? After spending a month out west, he was back in New York, focusing his energies on a characteristically intense program of study and travel — a customized "doctorate," as he calls it. He has created a 50-page "syllabus" whose reading list ranges from The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama, to a history of the Bauhaus movement. He is also taking intensive courses in Spanish and in Mandarin Chinese, and this fall, he will take two "vacations to the future" — one to South America, the other to China.
"In the future," says Tyler, "we'll see a new generation of philosopher-leaders who will be capable of more-thoughtful reflection on their own norms and values, on diversity, and on the role of technology in society."
Tyler hopes to become such a philosopher-leader. More immediately, he plans to start a new company — probably in the area where technology and design converge, probably in New York, probably next year. But if a much different opportunity comes along, he won't reject it. "I'm open to that too," he says. "I have nothing to lose."
Contact Troy Tyler by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A version of this article appeared in the August 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.