The dictionary offers two definitions of the word mogul. The first: an industry leader, a person of influence or distinction. The second: the sculpted or groomed contours of a ski slope. Remarkably, both of these definitions readily apply to the livelihoods of Dan Sundgren and Kristine Asin, co-founders of SeattleNetwork, the leading career networking community and professional association for the Seattle Internet set. A unique pairing, Dan and Kristine combine an unusual passion for anything-but-ordinary networking and extreme snow sports. Their penchant for the active and adventurous side of life has lead them to appreciate the special freedom and mobility the Internet makes possible, whether coordinating a Network VC Speed Dating event involving dozens of parties and logistics, or breaking away to the the slopes of Whistler or Sun Valley. Their philosophy has also reaffirmed for the two that all work and no play in the Pacific Northwest is not only no fun, but no way to conduct business.
The two Seattle impresarios actually met on a mountain (a World Ski and Snowboard Festival to be more precise), which is where they also spent a good deal of time growing up and training. While Dan was racing to make the U.S. Ski Team and occupying the top slot for his college team at Wazzu (he was top 150 as an amateur in the US at one time), Kristine had gone from skiing competitive freestyle in high school (doing a lot of night skiing after-school and after-work) to snowboarding during her college days. Today, with a touch of irony, Dan coaches the children of his ski coaches as head of the Mitey Mights racing school at Stevens Pass, and Kristine teaches snowboarding at Snoqualmie Pass.
Tonight, the two kick-off a new affiliation for SeattleNetwork as it adds Seattle’s First Tuesday organization to its membership roster. We talked to the two entrepreneurs and community organizers as they they were putting their plans in motion.
Seattle24x7: You two have amazing backgrounds. What were you doing as the Internet started to take off ?
Dan: Before my dot-com days…let’s see. Well, I graduated in the hotel-restaurant program at Wazzu and was a manager at a few properties here in Seattle, like the Stouffer-Madison Hotel. I then packed all my stuff into a jeep and moved to Sun Valley for three years and ran the Elkhorn Resort which is the second biggest resort in Sun Valley.
Kristine: I went to the University of Utah and then went to work for OreIda in package design. After taking a year off and traveling around the US, then living in Portland for a while, I came to Seattle and my first job was with Deloitte-Touche in management consulting. I did that for a year-and-a-half but didn’t care for the corporate world. I’ve been on my own ever since as a graphic artist and principal of Asin Graphic Design.
Seattle24x7: When did the Internet come “a-calling”?
Dan: At Sun Valley I was heavily into the travel and hotel industry obviously and I got a phone call (in late ’97) from a colleague of mine who was part of the original team at a company called Virtual Adventures. He said, “How would you like to make 50% more salary and full benefits to be our Product Manager for an all-travel site on the Internet. “This Internet thing is getting really big!” he said.
Seattle24x7: You accepted the invitation?
Dan: Right, I came back to Seattle from Sun Valley and worked at the Tower Building downtown for Mr. Paul Pigott of the Paccar family. His entrepreneurial vision of the Internet, E-commerce and online travel was huge. The three properties he started were: Fly Fishing Travel Online, Golf Travel Online and Ski Travel Online and I was the product manager for those three. That was my entree into the Web world.
Seattle24x7: Were did you go from there?
Dan: The travel company eventually changed the focus to Destinations.com, a software play, for destination management. I moved on to become an account manager at Winstar Interactive. Since founding the network, I also worked at a small start-up called InstantCourier. We were doing digital signature and encrypted document delivery. I spent eighteen months with them and I persuaded Kristine into coming on and being our creative director and building the brand and she did a phenomenal job there. We landed Airborne Express as our first big client.
Seattle24x7: What was the inspiration for the SeattleNetwork ?
Kristine: While Dan was working with Winstar Interactive he attended an event in San Francisco that was primarily for media and marketing people connected with the Internet. He called me and said, “God, we don’t have anything like this in Seattle.” We had gone to some of the local events and weren’t all that impressed. It’s a different thing going and sitting at a hotel and listening to a speaker. The events were expensive and you really didn’t get a chance to meet other people. I wanted to meet new clients in the Internet space, and Dan wanted to get out and network with Internet professionals. So we just decided to start our own organization, one that was on the social/networking side. Obviously the more people you know in this business, the better off you are. So for us, we wanted to go out and just meet other people in the industry, exchange ideas and see what was going on.
Seattle24x7: When was SeattleNetwork’s official birthday?
Kristine: It was probably around May of ’99. We started talking about it and figuring out what the group would be and started building a Website. We had an unofficial event that July over at The Drink on Eastlake just to see if people would be interested in getting together once a month and talking about what was going on in the Internet. We figured we’d have maybe 20 people show up, and we had about 80 people show up. A month later, in August, we had our first “official” event. We probably had 200 people at that event held at The Last Supper Club.
“It was such a different approach. We created an environment where you could approach anybody from a CEO to the network administrator. Everybody was an equal.”
Seattle24x7: Where did you get the idea to hold your events at unusual venues like the Aquarium, the Zoo or Safeco Field?
Kristine: We absolutely didn’t want to do hotels, we decided it would be much cooler if we could find different places that would always be interesting. The dynamic would always be different every time. It’s like going to a party at someone’s house every month, on a much larger scale of course, but it’s different every time , you never know who you’ll run into, each time or what to expect.
Dan: We also wanted to make it fun and stay away from the tables of eight which involve an expensive corporate fee. These aren’t $100 a plate dinners. It’s just $15 bucks at the door if you want to just come to one or two events a year, no problem. Very low barrier to entry so that the guy or gal running the 8-10 person start-up can go rub elbows with some of the vice presidents of some of the larger companies around town that attend as well. It’s a not-for-profit group. We don’t make any money off of it. We just try and keep all the money coming in going back into the entity.
Seattle24x7: You’ve given us the news scoop that you’re planning on introducing some major benefits for members.
Kristine: We’re in the middle of setting up a health insurance offering for members through a company called Acordia . We’re actually less expensive than other programs. Right now, we’re working on how we can introduce it because companies’ insurance plans tend to expire at the end of the year. Benefits are important at critical times like these. Of course, we’re also working on building out an interactive network job board on the Web site too.
Seattle24x7: What has been your favorite event over the past two years?
Kristine: I think mine was our holiday party last year. We did a virtual shopping mall. We had ten e-tailers that were there, tons of giveaways about 450 people, at the EMP. It was such a high-energy event and a really nice way to kind of wrap up the year.
Dan: My favorite event was the Second Pink Slip party at the Showbox where we had a stock option burning contest. We gave away a brand new Pentium III laptop to the person who could burn the most options. We had half-a-dozen people burn their options on stage in front of a couple of live news cameras from KOMO and NWCN. And we also had recruiters there from 17 different companies. It was sort of an irreverent way to say, “We can burn ’em and move on and all is not lost! Let’s get back in the game.”
Kristine: We also started color-coding name tags as a badge option so you can come to the event and communicate whether you’re looking for a job, or that I’ve got jobs, come talk to me.
Seattle24x7: Tell us about the new “merger” with First Tuesday?
Dan: Initially when First Tuesday was looking to enter the Seattle market, they approached us about taking over SeattleNetwork. Mark Long who was running The Demo Club, ended up selling the Demo Club concept to First Tuesday and then he continued to run it. He bought the local franchise to brand it First Tuesday and he maintained Demo Club in pretty much the same format. There is demonstrator technology and a pretty good bunch of VCs and angels. It was a great way to walk around and really look at technology and talk to the guys that built it, some of the smaller scale start-ups. First Tuesday was used to brand that.
So what we’re doing is we’ll be inviting all of the FirstTuesday list members to participate in SN/FT (SeattleNetwork/FirstTuesday), and Mark Long will be joining our advisory board. Every three months, we’ll be having another event very similar to Mark’s that addresses the start-up and VC arena. At least four times a year, we’ll have a Demo Club style event. We recently did one of our start-up speed dating events at the Edgewater, just as at the Aquarium, which may be one of the formats we use. It’s a good way to meet the needs of the entrepreneurs and VC/Angels while giving that group some more information and interaction about working with SN/FT events as well.
Kirstine: From the beginning, SeattleNetwork has been about welcoming that five person start-up and FirstTuesday focused on the VC money side. Obviously it’s a perfect match.
Seattle24x7: Best of luck to you both. See you on the scene — and on the slopes!
Photo (above): Kristine and Dan in Pamplona, Spain