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Oct. 31, 2013 Volume 35, No. 11

Internet pioneer offers caveat for technology entrepreneurs

The Lloyd B. Thomas Lecture and Performance Series

In his 1971 song “Wild World,” Cat Stevens crooned: “I hope you make a lot of friends out there / But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware.”

Stevens was conveying a father’s warning to a maturing daughter. On Oct. 24 in the Arts and Science building’s Allen Auditorium, David Peterschmidt gave a similar warning to entrepreneurial-minded students and faculty about the people involved in high-stakes startup technology businesses. 

“Along life’s road, you’ll meet a lot of interesting people. You’ll meet heroes and you’ll meet villains, and it’s not always easy tell them apart,” said Peterschmidt, a 1969 MU graduate who was described in a 1999 Businessweek story as one of the “architects of the Internet.”

Peterschmidt, the speaker at this year’s Lloyd B. Thomas Lecture and Performance Series, has had a stellar 35-year career in technology. He’s held top positions with a string of technology companies. Currently he’s CEO of Ciber, a global IT consulting firm headquartered in Greenwood Village, Colo. 

And while Peterschmidt certainly didn’t invent the Internet, he was a factor in its “startup” growth.

Raised in Puerto Rico, Peterschmidt arrived in America as a young man with most of his worldly possessions stuffed into two suitcases. After earning his bachelor’s at MU and MBA at Chapman College in 1975, Peterschmidt embarked on a whirlwind of experiences, from U.S. Air Force officer in the Vietnam War to salesman at computer technology companies. 

In 1996, the commercialization of the Internet was taking off. That year Peterschmidt joined the startup company Inktomi, founded by nine professors at the University of California–Berkeley, including 19-year-old Paul Gauthier and 21-year-old Eric Brewer. 

Inktomi became the dominant Internet search engine, but it wasn’t easy. Early on, as money was running out, Peterschmidt headed across the Bay Bridge to the Silicon Valley south of San Francisco to obtain emergency funding, he said. He finally got it from the 23rd venture capitalist group he met with. 

“Vision creates passion, and passion drives human beings through roadblocks,” Peterschmidt said.

Inktomi went public in 1998 and eventually was valued at $17 billion. Yahoo bought the company in 2003. “Inktomi is all of the technology of Yahoo today,” Peterschmidt said.

His technology “heroes” include Gauthier and Brewer, as well as eBay founder Meg Whitman and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. His villains are mostly technology investors now in prison. Of one serving a 14-year sentence for insider trading, Peterschmidt said, “He fooled us. We thought he was straight up and down. 

“Villains are out there.”