On The Net, No One Knows You’re a Maxwell

Posted 02.01.99

__ The daughter of a infamous media baron makes a title for herself within the Valley. _

Take a assembly and that is what you get: You get a girl with 48 years of character constructing beneath her belt, a tightly wound aggressive dynamo. You get a brilliant cardinal blazer over a sundress, or a collarless black leather-based jacket lower on the midriff. And jewellery, all the time a number of jewellery: large shiny earrings, a number of gold bracelets, typically a necklace. Her face is tanned, her quick hair naturally curly however gelled down into a wave.

This is just not a girl who’s going to vanish into the noise.

You get an ultraprofessional demeanor, you get a Take Me Seriously ray beam targeted on you want radar. You get the large weapons. The dialog stays locked on agenda. Repeatedly, she is going to reinforce her declarations with the assertion, “I’m not in the business of wasting your time.” If she cannot promise you one thing, she’ll say so up entrance, bluntly, which provides credibility to the phrases she does promise. All of that is delivered in a voice that’s excessive British, with rapid-fire rat-tat-tat enunciation – a voice that transforms the comically obfuscating dot-com jargon of the Valley into a device of precision.

Afterward, you get follow-up that’s so frequent and point-by-point complete that it is practically a dwell feed – two or three emails a day, and an equal variety of cellphone calls.

This is just not a timid girl.

The Internet trade immediately is a large recreation of cat-and-mouse deception – everybody taking conferences, giving demos, negotiating partnership contracts, providing ensures. Players of this recreation lead one another alongside, all the time fishing for a superior choice, a higher deal, and these circumstances have inspired a type of doing enterprise that’s sinisterly two-faced. Someone you talked to daily for 2 weeks will immediately ignore your emails. A handshake on phrases means nothing. Contracts are loaded with escape clauses. It’s a hurricane that sweeps from one Internet technique to a different, altering the face of the terrain.

With Isabel Maxwell, you get the other: an abrupt forthrightness. WYSIWYG, 24/7/365.

Seeing that you simply get all this, and solely this, is a sophisticated matter for her. She is the daughter of Robert Maxwell, the discredited and deceased titan of British publishing. She is the dual sister of Christine Maxwell, who sits on the board of trustees for Vint Cerf’s Internet Society. She is the ex-wife of David Hayden, chair and cofounder of the fast-track start-up Critical Path. But take a assembly and you do not get any of that; these details are behind her, simply classes realized. For the first time in her life, Isabel Maxwell is on the excessive wire alone, with out the household assist internet. She has discovered her personal type of doing enterprise, and he or she is proving it really works.

But as she inches towards success, it will get much more sophisticated.

Back at first of 1998, the builders of Web websites in all places awakened one morning to the conclusion that they might maintain their customers on the website longer – and create a loyalty to the positioning – in the event that they supplied free (ad-supported) e-mail: yourname@oursit.com. The roving hurricane of offers had landed on what’s now referred to as branded e-mail. This realization was echoed within the media, and immediately each director of enterprise growth was beneath strain to companion with somebody who might carry customers the standing and comfort of a good deal with. Once a portal firm, as an illustration, had connected with a branded-email supplier, it might supply its stream of fickle guests one extra tease: their very own e-mail field, ficklevisitor@portalcompany.com. The customary phrases of this deal had been to share advert revenues from the following e-mail site visitors 50/50.

Established portals now started selecting between the dozen companies that would present the service, the greatest of which had been iName, WhoWhere?, and USA.NET – and a self-described dark horse referred to as CommTouch (www.commtouch.com). Based in Israel, and with solely 25 workers, CommTouch had created the profitable desktop e-mail shopper ProntoMail. Ready to tackle the US shopper market, the Israeli firm wanted a new president, somebody with “local clout.”

In February 1997, CommTouch CEO Gideon Mantel received Isabel Maxwell to take the job and bounce straight into the e-mail mania.

“We knew precisely what we had been in search of,” says Mantel. “Someone who is aware of her method across the Valley. When you come right here from overseas, the best shock is how plugged in it’s essential be to get your organization above the noise degree.”

After watching Hotmail explode for a yr, Maxwell and the corporate’s board determined to shift their consideration away from the desktop app and get in on the webmail celebration. And to flee the worst of the competitors – Hotmail, for one – it might deal with branded e-mail.

Meanwhile, seeing large alternative, lots of the branded-email suppliers had began nearly shopping for offers, some by guaranteeing fats advances in opposition to future advert revenues. USA.NET, for one, paid Netscape to supply yourname@netscape.com. As the frenzy intensified, Electronic Mail & Messaging Systems predicted that the variety of webmail packing containers would bounce 230 % in 1998 and that the variety of e-mail accounts worldwide would explode from 300 million in 1998 to 1 billion by 2002. Getting in on the motion was Critical Path, a new email-hosting service cofounded by David Hayden, who can also be Maxwell’s ex-business companion and ex-husband. All these gamers hoped that by the point the hurricane had handed on, they might have market share and management standing that may thereafter be self-fulfilling – that there can be winners and losers, consolidators and consolidatees.

CommTouch merely did not have the cash to compete for these offers. Instead, Isabel Maxwell would pitch her product’s options, together with each bell and whistle recognized to e-mail – foreign-language spellchecking, spam filtering, SSL encryption and authentication procedures, automated notification for when the person is on trip. Impressed, the highest Web websites would say, “Well, you’ve got received the most effective characteristic set, however so-and-so is providing us $three million. Can you match that?” She could not, she would not, and so she’d hammer house different causes to decide on CommTouch – the power to customise the e-mail interface’s feel and look and to maintain a person solely on the positioning’s URL area; the choice to host the service on the positioning’s inner servers for further safety. These tremendous factors of her argument had been up in opposition to the brash assure of fast money.

And then, the craziest factor would occur. There can be a lot of tried renegotiation, a few weeks of consternation, after which the positioning would select CommTouch over the money. Excite, Netopia/iMac, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, LookSmart, GameSpot, Business Week. “The ticket to enjoying the webmail recreation is parity on product,” says Martin Hosking, senior vice chairman for distribution at LookSmart. “But you win by being versatile across the companion’s wants.”

CommTouch pushed by means of the hurricane, pushed by means of the fad stage, and has emerged as an trade innovator. In June, because the hurricane was at its peak, I took a 6:30 breakfast assembly at Il Fornaio in San Francisco, and Maxwell took a second to look past the present frenzy and description what she noticed because the way forward for the trade. With Internet utilization in Europe rising at 300 %, research confirmed that by 2000, extra non-English audio system than English audio system can be on the Web, so CommTouch was additionally specializing in international languages in partnership with international manufacturers.

That made sense, I believed, writing down “2000” in my pocket book and making a little time-line graph. The subsequent pure evolution can be a translation characteristic, a button that would roughly convert English to different languages (probably for a small payment). Yes, that made sense, and I notched the time line to the best of 2000.

Then, Maxwell went on, it made sense that branded e-mail must be accessible for “the rest of the Web,” in the best way that LinkExchange makes promoting accessible to Web websites not sufficiently big to strike their very own offers. She envisioned a Web website for different Web websites, at which they might join such a service, and he or she believed this may unfold like a virus – each little Web website would wish to get in on the motion. I put one other notch farther to the best of 2000, virtually off the web page.

In the longer term, Maxwell imagined, e-mail can be only one characteristic of a true “communications portal,” a one-stop store with one button every for fax, pager, e-mail, voicemail, and even chat. That appeared a little too far-fetched to deserve a notch.

But boy, I seemed at the moment line 4 months later, and I simply laughed. Because Isabel Maxwell’s CommTouch had already carried out all these issues. Service is now accessible in 9 languages, with others developing month-to-month. The translation filter, as simple to make use of because the BCC: characteristic on most different e-mail, has been constructed. A LinkExchange-like service referred to as ZapZone (www.zzn.com), launched in November 1998, is really easy to make use of that 4,000 Web websites discovered it on their very own and signed up within the first 10 days. And with each new main companion, the communications-portal options are actually customary. By placing CommTouch’s cash into the know-how, reasonably than into the offers, Maxwell has received her share of offers anyway. She says she is on the verge of signing a “white whale” of an account, and CommTouch has continued to develop at a charge of 120 % per 30 days.

“Isabel is a hard-charging ultra-entrepreneur,” says Jesse Berst, editorial director of ZDNet’s AnchorDesk report. “She wants a foldout card to checklist all the companies she’s in and all of the hats she wears.”

But the query left lingering is what Isabel Maxwell desires, and why she has discovered it on this unknown international agency whose core enterprise is “back end,” destined for a low profile.

Robert Maxwell was the archetypal media big, Britain’s personal Citizen Kane – and he was self-made. Born in Czechoslovakia, he misplaced his quick household and 600 family within the Holocaust. He escaped by means of the French Underground at age 16, was put in a British jail camp digging ditches, and received out by volunteering for the British military, which modified his title from Jan Hoch to Robert Maxwell. By D-Day he was a sniper with the rank of sergeant. He led an assault in opposition to the 12th SS Panzers, captured a hundred Germans, was awarded the Military Cross, and was then enlisted by British army intelligence.

As the warfare progressed, Maxwell turned enthusiastic about scientific publishing and later based a press referred to as Pergamon, now headquartered in Oxford. He had a knack for conversing in granular element with physicists and chemists, to make them really feel understood. In time, he turned the world’s preeminent scientific writer and constructed a diversified media empire, shopping for the Mirror Group Newspapers, writer of the UK’s Sunday Mail, Daily Record, and Mirror; the ebook writer Macmillan; and the New York Daily News. From 1964 to 1970, he served in Parliament. At his peak Robert Maxwell was working not only one firm, however 350.

Back then, Isabel would possibly come house from faculty to seek out Sir Robert Robinson, the Nobel laureate in natural chemistry, on the dinner desk, or Mrs. Pandit Nehru, the spouse of the prime minister of India. Or Professor Murray Gell-Mann, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering the quark. Politicians, too – like former British prime minister Harold Wilson. Like her father, the dinner friends had been all of heroic stature. Life was grand, however demise was all the time close by. Her youthful sister died of leukemia, and her oldest brother died after six years in a coma that resulted from a automobile crash.

There was no place for dilly-dallying in lifetime of this scale. Over each mistake, each mishap, her father would demand, “What did you learn from that?” He made her assume. “Why did you say that?” he would insist, pushing for readability. He berated individuals for what he referred to as “mental laziness” and for stumbling, imprecise dialog. “He had boundless confidence,” Isabel remembers, “but over time his manner became authoritarian. He could dress you down pretty rotten. If it was time for training, it was time.”

And what did Isabel study from that? She captained sports activities groups, and he or she realized to steer by instance reasonably than by command. But Isabel additionally realized to keep away from his disapproval – which she completed by being oblique. “It was very arduous to not defer to Dad. I could not stand as much as him.”

When they received older, Isabel’s brothers and sisters went to work for his or her father, however Isabel refused (and continued to refuse until he died). She needed to know that she might succeed on her personal. She was a sororal twin, although she and her sister Christine look related sufficient that many individuals assume they’re an identical, and between her father and her sister it was arduous to really feel impartial. Wherever she went, coworkers sneered, with the belief that her dad – whose attain was huge – received her the job, received her admitted, received her the project. While she confirmed loads of initiative, she additionally remembers having a “nearly genetic-level inclination to defer to men.”

In 1972, when she graduated from Oxford, she went to the University of Edinburgh – as far north from London as she might get – turned a tv producer, and made a pupil movie adaptation of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (set in Edinburgh) and one other movie about lesbian tradition. In 1981, she got here to the US for love and continued to provide and direct documentaries for PBS.

Then, a decade later, in the midst of a world recession, her father’s money owed had been referred to as in by the banks. Robert Maxwell by no means drew a line between his private life and his skilled life – his empire was a patchwork of private and non-private firms. He’d realized from the warfare to outlive in any respect prices. In an try to prop up his personal inventory worth, he misappropriated about £450 million from his workers’ pension funds.

In November 1991, he was discovered floating lifeless within the water close to his yacht off the Canary Islands. Isabel heard the information on the radio whereas sitting at her desk in Berkeley, California. Robert Maxwell died as he was born – penniless. In a daybreak raid, the British authorities seized all his belongings and indicted Maxwell’s sons, who had labored for his or her father’s firms. They had been finally exonerated.

The demise of her father was a life-defining level for Isabel. She and her sister needed to circle the wagons and rebuild. Christine was working a largely on-line information-brokerage firm, Research on Demand, so it was solely a little hop from there to the Internet.

In early 1993, the sisters and their husbands created McKinley.com, a listing with a rankings system – a form of Michelin information to the Net – that advanced into the early search engine Magellan. They noticed it as a likelihood to re-create a little bit of their father’s legacy, combining media and science as he did, and spent two and a half years constructing the McKinley Group. Isabel’s husband David Hayden was the CEO, Christine the writer, and Isabel the senior vice president. She struck partnership offers with Microsoft, AT&T, and IBM, however she did not step up as a chief till the corporate struggled and shifted from disaster mode to catastrophe mode.

In late February 1996, the corporate was on the verge of being the primary search listing to go public when Robertson Stephens dropped Magellan in favor of Excite. The IPO market collapsed earlier than McKinley might get out in a second try led by Lehman Brothers, and by June the money was working out. The traders had been livid, and the board fired Hayden. Christine was about to go away, and in the long run there was no one left to salvage the firm however Isabel.

“I’ve never been in a more tense situation than those final few weeks,” says Mike Sullivan, then at the regulation agency of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, which represented McKinley.

Maxwell closed a cope with George Bell of Excite to promote McKinley for $18 million in Excite inventory. She needed to meet certainly one of McKinley’s traders in San Francisco’s civil court docket for the deal to go by means of. She needed to lay off 20 of her workers. But she held the middle.

“During our acquisition of McKinley, Isabel was probably the most dependable and secure of the senior managers and was the only real motive we had been capable of conclude the deal,” George Bell remembers. “I’ve a lot of admiration for her. At the time, she needed to separate tough private points from current enterprise points to get this deal closed.”

“What it’s a must to find out about Isabel is that she by no means geese in a disaster,” says Gideon Mantel of CommTouch, who has seen this habits a number of instances. “She all the time fees. She has no worry. Of course, it’s from her father. It is in her blood.”

“What did you study from that?” her father had all the time demanded, and after the sale Isabel took three months off to ponder that query.

“At the end of the day, all the responsibility had been mine. And I survived. After that, I felt that I could handle pretty much anything in business.” She had misplaced her father, and now she had misplaced her marriage, misplaced her firm, and strained her relationship together with her sister. She had nothing left to worry. “Once you get your fear out of the way, you let go of all those early childhood survival techniques that you just don’t need as an adult. It’s an amazing revelation.”

With CommTouch, for the primary time in her life, no one can accuse Isabel of driving the household coattails, and he or she lastly has a true likelihood to show herself: “No household, no cash, no assist. I have no one to defer to. I’m noticing that I can do it.” Her resolve was examined this spring when, in response to Maxwell, her ex-husband proposed coming by the workplace. (Hayden’s spokesperson insists it was Maxwell who made the primary transfer.) Critical Path had simply obtained a high-profile first spherical from traders, together with Benchmark Capital and Mohr, Davidow Ventures, and Hayden was providing to play a back-end function in CommTouch’s e-mail internet hosting. Her intestine response was to inform him to buzz off, get out. But Maxwell referred Hayden to Gideon Mantel. “If the deal he gives is nice for our firm,” she told Gideon, “do it.” No partnership got here of it, and now they continue to be opponents.

Both CommTouch and Critical Path preserve that e-mail is “a huge space” – i.e., this city is sufficiently big for the 2 of them – and Hayden and Maxwell have gone face to face solely a couple instances. Until just lately, when Critical Path started eyeing a bigger market, that they had been concentrating on several types of companions (Critical Path pitches webmail that’s “carrier class,” “bullet-proof,” and “mission critical” – learn: pay a premium and do not lie awake so many nights worrying about community safety). They do not discuss, and Maxwell insists that her ex-husband is no totally different than some other competitor.

But the man who employed her, Gideon Mantel, chuckles, lifts his eyebrows, and says, “She doesn’t reveal it, and doesn’t talk about him, but she must feel something. How could it not affect her?” He repeats, “Like her father, she is a fighter.”

Being a fighter is a lot of what CommTouch’s company tradition is about. All the Israeli workers have spent two to three years within the army. “They have a trained mind-set,” Maxwell says. “They’re far more prepared to assault a activity with out criticism or whining, and once they have a drawback they report it, reasonably than bury it.” Gideon Mantel was in a particular bomb-squad unit, and he gives one other consequence: “We work significantly better beneath stress. With-out stress, I disperform. But on this enterprise, it’s all the time a disaster.”

It is a part of Israeli tradition to not sink cash into fancy workplaces when it might in any other case go into R&D or advertising and marketing. “Spartan” is a beneficiant time period for CommTouch’s Sunnyvale headquarters (additionally a beneficiant time period). Maxwell’s workplace is perhaps 9 by 11 toes. The furnishings is of the ready-to-assemble selection – chosen, it appears, by dropping an workplace provide catalogue to the ground and ordering from no matter web page falls open. Her workdays are incessantly 16 hours lengthy, and three mornings a week she’s on the fitness center by 6:30. For lunch, she grabs a 16-ounce blended juice in a styrofoam cup from throughout the road on the mall.

All of which begs the query: Can working a one-of-the-pack branded-email firm out of an nameless workplace in Sunnyvale probably fulfill the mental ambition of a girl whose father drove her to excellence, a girl who as a woman got here house for supper to seek out the president of Liberia or Valentina Tereshkova, the primary feminine cosmonaut, on the desk? (Of course, she remembers what her father all the time advised her: “They all use the identical potty.”) She’s extremely nicely learn and nicely versed, a girl who’s been nearly in all places on the planet. How can a little e-mail gig be sufficient for her?

On the skilled aspect, there may be one reply. According to Maxwell, e-mail is not only immediately’s killer app; it is the serial-killer app – one which kills and retains on killing. In the webmail class alone, the variety of energetic mailboxes has leaped from 18.eight million to 61 million.

“Twenty years in the past, you might have stated that the phone’s been carried out – it is grow to be ubiquitous. But the market saved developing with new variations – the mobile phone, voicemail – and the market saved rising. In the approaching years, there will probably be makes use of for e-mail that no one may even think about immediately. Yes, everybody has e-mail. But now that everybody does, the comparative benefit goes to who has the most effective e-mail. And that is me. I’ve received the most effective.”

On the private aspect, there may be a totally different reply. Here within the Valley, the Maxwell title means virtually nothing, and I’m positive she likes it that method; individuals’s consideration spans are too quick to recollect far more than that Robert Maxwell was some form of well-known businessman who mysteriously drowned. Silicon Valley often is the solely place on the planet the place Isabel’s life will be her personal. Of her upbringing, she says, “While that life was splendidly stimulating, and I really feel extraordinarily lucky to have had the expertise, it was lived at a large worth. It meant zero privateness, it meant all the time being ‘on parade’ – a big distraction.”

Not right here.

Combine each components of this clarification – private {and professional} – and it begins to make sense why CommTouch is such a good match for Isabel Maxwell. She’s a aggressive particular person, and he or she’s not going to surrender in her struggle to make her firm nice. But that it is nonetheless largely based mostly in Israel, and that it places different firms’ model names first, that its perform is to be as seamless and unnoticeable because the copper is to a cellphone caller, permits her to stay considerably behind the scenes. She can keep low profile sufficient for her life to be her personal and but nonetheless pursue her ambition. And her ambition is just not tame. After all, it means taking cost of a serial killer.