Composing a list of new CRM vendors didn't take long. Fewer than half a dozen major players offered stable, well-tested systems. Google's tech evaluation team would ensure we weren't sold a bill of goods (though they hadn't kept us from choosing Miasma), and Larry had a college friend who would advise us on desirable features. The friend, David Jeske, counseled us on what to ask for, then added that, by the way, he and a buddy were building a CRM product called Trakken—if we were interested. It wasn't really finished yet, but Larry's other Stanford pals at Wunderground.com were using it.
Interested? Interested in an untested CRM product still in development with one tiny client? Created by a company of two people? Sure, that's just what I was looking for—another risky technology with no support and no track record behind it. I thanked David for his help and, because he was a friend of Larry's, assured him we'd be happy to send him our request for proposal.
Meanwhile, our real search was well under way. One vendor couldn't provide any support for non-English email. Another had a terrible UI because it was a first-generation product. A third seemed overpriced and their salesman's aggressive stance made us wary of doing business with them. Only one company offered a reasonable solution, and we began negotiating with them in earnest. With our leading contender scheduled to make a presentation to our finance, operations, and sales departments, I felt confident I could convince Larry and Sergey to loosen the purse strings and do it right this time: spend money for a high-quality, stable system from a respected vendor.
I hoped Larry's friend had taken the hint and forgotten about us. It would be a frosty day in Hades before we'd make the mistake of buying a bargain-basement CRM solution again. No such luck. Jeske came back ready to present his proposal. He emailed us his slides and let us know we should print copies for the attendees and that we would need to set up a projector for his demo. I had to laugh at his chutzpah. I didn't really have the time for what I knew would be a dead end, but a friend of Larry's is a friend of Larry's, so I agreed to give him a half hour. What he showed us was surprisingly well thought out, but still not ready for beta testing. Many of the essential features we required were missing, and the interface lacked the polish of the others we'd seen.
"Larry," I explained slowly and carefully, "we just went through hell with an undeveloped product. I can't burden my team with another flaky piece of software that will just slow us down. We're close with a real CRM company and should have a proposal in a couple of days. I'll let David down gently."
"No. Really," Larry repeated. "You should hire these guys. Look, they're a small company and they'll be very responsive. We can give them space in the office and they'll live here and build their product to our specs. We'll be their most important client, and we'll benefit from their growth based on our product design ideas. Have Biz Dev negotiate the contract and make sure we get some equity."
That guy was kind of a jerk anyway, so telling him no didn't bother me, but I'd still be cursing Larry's decision today if not for one small thing: Larry was absolutely right. Though we wasted weeks negotiating our investment in Jeske's nascent company NeoTonic (we squeezed just an extra one-tenth of one percent in equity out of them), by the end of October 2001 we had the new Trakken CRM system running in parallel with Miasma. David and Brandon lived in our office and Denise Griffin, our user-support manager, gave them a daily list of desired features and bug fixes. Unlike the big "reliable" company I had wanted to hire, NeoTonic didn't have hundreds of customers using the same product. They didn't release upgrades only twice a year. They fixed things as they came up, in priority order. Within a couple of months we had the CRM system we wanted, built to our specs, fully stable and intuitive to use. We cut our ties with Miasma and never looked back. A year and a half later, we bought the rest of NeoTonic, making its two founders full-time Googlers.
i mean yeah nepotism seems bad and all but from a business perspective, larry is obviously in the right here (given that he wants people who will work their asses off to make him happy), and it's almost cute that the author genuinely did not recognise this aspect