Joel Jewitt became a de facto mentor during grad school. Encompass, his latest start-up, had been purchased by Yahoo and we met as I wove my way through the big Y! recruiting process. We immediately hit it off and when, midway through my interviews, Joel left Yahoo, I took that as a sign and recused myself as well.
A few months later we almost worked together for a second time when Joel invited me into what would later become Good Technology. Although the timing wasn’t right, we stayed in touch and still grab the occasional breakfast near his home in Woodside. Our conversations spanned New Yorker articles, meditation, The Selfish Gene and other deep thought items.
In addition to founding a number of companies, Joel was an early employee of what would later become Palm. My work at Second Life, Google, and YouTube has given me the chance to work with a number of notable founders but it also left me interested in what degree the early employees of these companies contributed to the overall success (I can only answer that for Second Life having been the first non-engineer on the team; the others I came in much later). So I’m looking to track down folks who were hired in the very early days and asking them about the experience. Joel was game for answering a few of these questions re: Palm.
Joel Jewitt, Early Palm Employee
> was it the idea or the people that attracted you to Palm
Bruce Dunlevie introduced me to Jeff and I liked him and the idea
> how did you first meet jeff and donna
Bruce Dunlevie intro to Jeff and two engineers, Ain MckEndrick and Art Lamb. We incubated Palm at Merrill Pickard Anderson and Eyre (now the Benchmark offices). Donna joined Palm when we moved to a new building (across from Lozano’s brushless carwash in Los Altos, but usually we didn’t have to tell people Los Altos, all we had to tell them was that it was across from Lozano’s)
> what stage was the company at when you signed on
Jeff and Ain and Art had just incorporated, I wrote the first business plan
> what was your most meaningful contribution to Palm’s success
I have three: (i) I created a spinner that we put on the wall that had on one half “Mother of All Markets” (which was John Sculley’s view of the PDA market) and on the other half “Pipe Dream Driven by Greed” (which was Andy Grove’s view of the PDA market), and we could spin it each day and see what our prospects were, (ii) I had a Brooks Brothers 15 1/2 – 35 shirt and we used its front pocket to determine when the Pilot design was “pocket sized”, (iii) In 1996 we were trying to raise money but by then Sand Hill Rd had given up on PDA’s (Apple Newton and GO/EO had failed). Our valuation was dropping and we were headed to a bad place in terms of needing money and no one wanting to bite the bullet and invest. I flew over to Stockholm and got Ericsson to give us a letter of intent to invest in the company as part of a project to build what would have been the first smartphone. The valuation in the letter of intent put a floor on our value and propped up our confidence, basically kept us above water until John Zakin from US Robotics swooped in and bought us (I still have the US Robotics shirt that he gave us at our deal party).
> when did you know it was going to be incredibly successful and/or did you ever have significant doubts about the company’s prospects
It wasn’t until the first developer’s conference at the Javitz Center in NYC in 1997 that folks at Palm got the visceral feeling that it was going to be big. Jeff was always confident (at least relative to everyone else). In 1994 and 95 we all crossed a desert and Jeff was Moses.
> did you have any traditions or rituals that helped define the company’s culture
Donna brought in some great best practices about creating solid culture, but the tradition I remember was that at 5:59PM all was quiet around the office, and then at 6PM all hell broke loose in most of the cubicles as we worked our way through Wolfenstein 3D and then DOOM and Duke Nukem (Ain McKendrick was the best at it.).
> when did you know it was time to leave
When we got bought I wasn’t going to end up as a top level exec so I left to start another company (Adaptive Media).