Holding the Tech World in the Palm of Her Hand

She's Donna Dubinsky, and she's got a little list of how to be an entrepreneur. Plus, Amazon's deals.
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It's the Age of Lists. I've got a list, you've got a list, everybody's got a little list. Or two, or 10. Including, it turns out, Donna Dubinsky.

Dubinsky is one of the tech managers I most admire. After the so-called pen computing wave rippled through the PC world a few years ago, washing away a few hundred million dollars -- a conservative guess -- Dubinsky, along with co-founder Jeff Hawkins and a tiny development team, jumped in with

Palm Computing

, cooked up the original

Palm Pilot

... and the rest is history.

They eventually ran out of cash and had to sell out to modem maker

U.S. Robotics

to get the money to bring the Palm to market. U.S. Robotics was in turn acquired by

3Com

(COMS)

in mid-1997. That was a problematic acquisition: 3Com paid $8.5 billion in stock, and the U.S. Robotics modem line soon slipped into the miasma affecting most dial-up-modem suppliers -- but the Palm Pilot assets blossomed nicely. Indeed, the value of 3Com's Palm division, and the appeal of spinning it off as a .com after an acquisition, is surely one of the reasons

Ericsson

(ERICY)

and

Siemens

have supposedly been sniffing around 3Com lately. I value the Palm.com business at something north of $2 billion, or almost a quarter of 3Com's market cap today.

Dubinsky is long gone from 3Com, having decamped with Hawkins last year to form

HandSpring YASVS

(Yet Another Silicon Valley Start-up). Privately held HandSpring has been quiet about its plans, but it's widely understood to be bringing to market what amount to next-generation palm-computing devices. Investors have filled Dubinsky's and Hawkins' pockets with enough cash for HandSpring to hit the market running this time, and the company is given a good chance of success, even against

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

huge push for its

Windows CE

minioperating system and the (non-Palm) palmtop devices that use it.

Last week Dubinsky received the annual Entrepreneurial Achievement Award from Silicon Valley's Forum for Women Entrepreneurs. Amid the usual encomiums at the awards dinner, Dubinksy's generous speech stood out, in large part because it included her three lists for success in life. (I am indebted to Chris Nolan, who included these in her excellent column in the

San Jose Mercury News

on Sunday.)

Without elaboration -- they hardly need any! -- here are Dubinsky's wise rules for survival. Just watch: These are so good that someone's going to build a graduate business school course -- or a whole curriculum! -- around them ... or should.

Dubinsky's Five Entrepreneur's Lessons

    Incumbency can be a disadvantage. Partners are not a panacea. Great products matter. You must challenge conventional wisdom. You can never have too much money. ("I don't mean you, personally, I mean your company.")

Dubinsky's Five Business Lessons

    It takes a team. Strategies don't move mountains. Bulldozers move mountains. ("I stole this from Peter Drucker.'") You've got to be smart and you've got to be lucky -- and you've got to know which is which. You should aim for a win/win. Ignore sunk costs. Just because you've spent money on a project doesn't mean it was a good idea.

Dubinsky's Five Life Lessons

    Have your go-to-hell money. Everybody shows up again, particularly in this Valley. Get a life. Wealth is worth sharing. ("You can give away more than you think.") Integrity is No. 1.

Amazon's Big Triple

No, not a tripling in price, and no triple-witch at work here. But

Amazon.com's

(AMZN) - Get Report

triple-header $645 million acquisition spree announced yesterday afternoon is another win for Bezos & Co.

The wisdom of two of the acquisitions is self-evident; the third remains something of a mystery. But there's no mystery to what's going on here: Amazon is using its sky-high stock as cheap currency, acquiring while the acquiring is good.

Exchange.com

was first up, and is a natural fit. Its used-and-rare-books site,

Bibliofind.com

, is one of the best of the online books site. It's a natural extension of Amazon's present out-of-print book-find service -- but on a vastly larger scale: Bibliofind current has about 9 million books listed and available from its cooperating antiquarian booksellers.

In addition, Exchange offers

MusicFile.com

, which presently lists about 3 million used, rare and hard-to-find CDs and, miraculously, vinyl disks. (Am I the only one here old enough to still collect, and treasure, classic vinyl?)

Next up was

Alexa Internet

(www.alexa.com), an unusual service that, downloaded and added to your browser, offers comments on sites you find and suggests related ones. Alexa's database of sites is huge; and it also has a 13-terabyte database of Web archives. Alexa is what I often call addictive software: Put it on your machine and you're not likely to take it off, because you quickly get hooked.

Amazon hasn't said how it's going to exploit the value in Alexa, but don't make the mistake of assuming that it's going to disappear into Amazon's home page. As with the

Internet Movie Database

(www.imdb.com), which Amazon acquired last year, Alexa makes a great external or satellite site, with rich advertising-revenue opportunities. Of course, Amazon can also use that vast database as an extension to the information it provides visitors about the books, CDs and videotapes it offers at Amazon.com

The third buy,

Accept.com

, is the mystery. Refugees from

Netscape

and

PointCast

put Accept.com together, and have said only that they're working on tools to improve, long-range, transactions over the Web. I'm willing to give Bezos' management team the benefit of the doubt here, without knowing any more than I do about Accept: If Amazon is to fulfill its goal of becoming the Big Gorilla of e-commerce, strong tools to speed and smooth the process will be critical. (As well, of course, as a potentially rich source of licensing income.)

It must be fun to have the share price to make acquisitions in batches like this, eh?

Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, neither Seymour nor Seymour Group held positions in the companies discussed in this column, although positions can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are consulting clients of Seymour Group, or have been in recent years. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at

jseymour@thestreet.com.