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"Sometimes letting go is the only way to open yourself up to new opportunities," says Jeff Schwartz.
At thirty-something, Schwartz became a millionaire from his first start-up company Techs International. He sold the company, which produced a tech encyclopedia for hardware and software, to New York-based Ziff Davis Media Inc. in 1991.
Schwartz remembers the day well. His family was on a ski trip at Big Bear. Schwartz had brought his fax machine. When the last signature was done, Schwartz went to meet his wife, Sandra, and their two children.
"I met them up on the ski slopes," he recalled. "'You don't have a company anymore. It's gone'," he told them.
San Clemente scenery
Although Ziff offered him a position in New York. "I decided it wasn't for me," Schwartz said. The Schwartzes, who were living in Anaheim Hills, liked Southern California.
San Clemente, Calif., the city in Orange County best known as the once-and-famous West Coast hang-out for Richard Nixon, was the place to move.
"We bought a real nice place down by the ocean on the same bluff as Nixon's Western White House," Schwartz said.
Secret of his success
But Schwartz took a tumble in his next venture, a company called Remarkable Moments that produced talking picture frames.
This merited a write up in Inc. magazine with the headline: "Failure: The Secret of My Success." Schwartz was featured with other entrepreneurs whose companies went on the skids for one reason or another.
"Everybody loved the product, but nobody bought it," he said. "I couldn't walk away." After three years with no salary, he eventually sold the company at a loss.
This setback caused him to write to Inc. magazine. "You guys promulgate this Vince Lombardi crap," he said he told Inc. "There are thousands of idiots like me who hung in there and didn't get anywhere. You owe it to people to ask when should you walk away."
When to walk away?
Schwartz says he still doesn't have all the answers. "I'm still wondering when is stubbornness an asset, and when is it a liability."
He surmised that his first success with Ziff made it harder to leave the second business. He has learned there is something to the old saying: Those who run away live to fight another day.
That day came on Schwartz's third major business venture, a dot-com called SuperCalendar. This time, he kept the company but walked away from the place where he'd tasted success and failure -- Orange County.
By then, San Clemente had lost some of its cache. "In San Clemente surfing means on a board in the water, not on the Internet, " Schwartz said. "Orange County is not a technological hotbed."
On to the blueberry patch
Schwartz moved his family to Palo Alto where he hoped to prosper in Silicon Valley, also known as "the blueberry patch."
This isn't Schwartz's term, but is attributable to Fred Hoar, co-founder of the Silicon Valley-based Band of Angels. Hoar is also chairman of high tech public relations firm Miller Shandwick.
"What Fred meant was you go to the blueberry patch to pick good things to eat," Schwartz explained. "And you go to Silicon Valley to pick the venture capital money. You've got to come up to the orchard to do the picking."
So, Schwartz put his house on the market and moved to Palo Alto. He's not exactly disappointed about the move, but admits his timing could have been better. "The irrational exuberance of the Internet is over," Schwartz said.
Startups in Catch 22
Now that he's in Silicon Valley, the struggle continues with his new business, 1calendar.net. "Silicon Valley is definitely the blueberry patch," he said, "but with lot of thorns and potholes. It's not a 100 percent win."
Northern California is changing, he said. "Silicon Valley probably will always be the hub of things." Real estate prices and finding talented people to hire can put start-ups in a Catch-22.
Still, Schwartz said "you can certainly make connections faster up here than any place else." If not friends.
"It's harder to meet people in Palo Alto," said Schwartz' wife Sandra, busy with her own company HangUps!, which makes accessories for computers.
"The plus side is that we, of course, have a great interest in technology," she said. "People up here in Silicon Valley understand and use the technology."
That lesson was clear when she first moved to Palo Alto and started using a Website called Waiter.com that lists local restaurants. Orange County had the same site, she recalled, but with maybe one or two restaurants. In Silicon Valley, Waiter.com had 20 or 30 restaurants listed.
And, at Palo Alto High School, where both of the Schwartzes' children attend, parents get updates from teachers via e-mail. There's a baseball team at Palo Alto High, but there's also a Robotics team.
Networking at Stanford
Jeff Schwartz is himself a student again, having enrolled in evening classes at Stanford. One class was about Internet business models. It's a class, he said, you wouldn't find in Orange County.
The day he spoke with LocalBusiness.com, Schwartz was to present his new business plan to a panel of venture capitalists at Stanford.
"Stanford has a lot of venture capitalists who teach there," he said. "It's not theoretical. It's real world." And real world is what he needs for now.
"Ten years from now it may not be necessary to be up here," he said. "But I didn't have time to wait until Orange County developed. Up here everybody lives on Internet time."
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science
CURRENT POSITION: Founder, chief executive officer, 1calendar.net
PREVIOUS POSITIONS: Founder, chief executive officer, Remarkable Moments, 1993 - 1997; founder chief executive officer, Techs International, 1988-1991.
PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS: Software Development Forum, San Jose; Silicon Valley Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth; Churchill Club
FAVORITE CHARITIES: Breast cancer; Alzheimer's, Greenpeace
HEROES/MENTORS: Physicists Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein
FAVORITE AUTHORS: Issac Asimov, Lawrence Sanders, Clive Cussler
MOST USEFUL WEBSITE: SuperCalendar.com; CNN.com; TSNN.com
FAMILY: Wife, Sandy; Son, Greg; Daughter, Lauren; Dog, Scout
MOST IMPORTANT LESSON: "Never give up isn't always the best advice. There's a fine line between the persistence it takes to win and the stubbornness that keeps you fighting a lost cause. Sometimes, letting go is the only way to open yourself up to new opportunities."
Jayne Fried covers the Orange County region for LocalBusiness.com. E-mail her with story ideas or comments.
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