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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Jan > Jan 16

'The Truth Is Out There & Joe Firmage Is Paying

From: Stig Agermose <Stig_Agermose@online.pol.dk>
Date: Sat, 16 Jan 1999 06:18:32 +0100
Fwd Date: Sat, 16 Jan 1999 02:26:18 -0500
Subject: 'The Truth Is Out There & Joe Firmage Is Paying


[List only]

Source: The Industry Standard,

http://www.thestandard.net/articles/display/0,1449,3177,00.html

Very thorough article with many details that haven't been supplied by
other media.

Stig

***

January 15, 1999=BF=BF

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE and Joe Firmage is Paying for It

By Laura Rich 

**

You can tell the story of Joe Firmage a number of ways: He's a
saint, he's a wacko, or he's just a rich guy with good
intentions and questionable means.

Firmage, 28, is the former CEO of Internet start-up USWeb, the
successful interactive agency that made headlines in September
1998, when it was announced that USWeb would merge with CKS to
form Reinvent. One month later, Firmage himself made headlines,
when his involvement in a project he calls "Kairos" was revealed
and he stepped down as USWeb's CEO. On Jan. 8, 1999, he resigned
from the company completely, after the press had taken the
Kairos story and run with it, portraying him as a UFO nut.

Now Firmage is off on a new project set to launch by the end of
the year -- EarthCity, an e-commerce venture that will allow
consumers to direct revenues from their purchases to nonprofit
organizations. But until he makes a new fortune, creates a new
empire, he will be hounded by those who mock him for pursuing,
as he puts it, "The Truth."

It all started with a vision.

It was just before El Nino came to town, in October 1997, when
the sun was still unwaveringly beating down upon Silicon Valley.
Joe Firmage was working endless days to smooth the edges on
countless drafts of papers to be filed with the Securities &
Exchange Commission, so that the company he founded with Novell
colleague Toby Corey in 1995 could make a run on the public
stock market.

One morning, before the SEC papers were due but after he'd
pressed the "snooze" button on his alarm clock, Firmage fell
back to sleep. During that time, he says he was visited by a
"remarkable being, clothed in brilliant white light," carrying a
glowing blue sphere, the size of a basketball. The two exchanged
words about space travel.

Just before Firmage was about to make that most symbolic move of
taking his company public and "cashing in" -- a leading motive
for most entrepreneurs -- he suddenly shifted his mental course.
He says he realized he was in a position of power, and that he
could do good with it or do evil. In the last hours before he
was about to "sell out," Firmage was struck by a desire for a
more rewarding avocation. He was prepared to give it all up to
better society.

One year later, Firmage shocked the industry, which, it should
be noted, is not closed to creativity, by revealing a project --
a Web site called Kairos -- that he'd been working on. Kairos is
a Greek term with many definitions. Firmage's meaning is "the
right moment." or "opportune."

"Ours is a Kairos moment," the site read. It posed a series of
questions ("What is the future of learning? Will wars ever end?
What is the future of religion? What would life from another
world be like?") and went on to offer some "clues." The site
prompted a wave of speculation about Firmage, mainly in the vein
of Gary Reischel, a partner at venture capital firm Softbank
Technology Ventures, who sits on USWeb's board. "A crackpot," he
told The Standard, summarizing what he'd been hearing on the
street.

The Kairos Web site turned out to be a teaser campaign for the
ultimate product, a 600-page online "book" on life, religion,
science and spirituality called The Truth . "That was what you
call 'good marketing,'" Firmage says of Kairos, which logged
10,000 visitors per day at the time. The clues, of which there
were 10, included links to books, writings and art by Carl
Sagan, Vanevar Bush, the Pope and others.

"I want people to understand something here," Firmage says. "I
have spent well over $3 million on this project. And I'm not
expecting a single dime in return."

Before there was Kairos, before there was a focus for derision,
Firmage was both liked and not liked. Wall Street types liked
him because he made them money. More experienced competitors
didn't because he was young and successful. Within USWeb, he was
not a natural manager. He was always, however, respected as a
visionary.

Firmage's career started taking off early. In 1989, he launched
Serius Corporation, a software company, in his hometown of Salt
Lake City, Utah. He sold it in 1993 to Novell for $24 million,
and went to work as vice president of strategy in Novell's
NetWare division. The unit's purpose was to promote and sell
NetWare, an operating system for wide area networks (meaning it
would provide the same computer language and interface for
machines that were linked together, so that they could
communicate more easily). The computer language for NetWare was
Unix, which is what much of the Internet is based on.

In 1995, Novell decided to sell its rights to Unix, which
Firmage thought was a terrible idea. "They had a wondrous
opportunity with their Unix operating system," he says. "Novell
owned the rights to Unix, which, today, ultimately runs the
Internet. And 60 days after Netscape went public, Novell decided
to sell its rights to Unix. I thought that was an insane
decision and, therefore, I decided to leave. I was not
optimistic about the prospects for Novell. And, of course,
between then and now, it's taken a long, long time for Novell to
even start to look like a turnaround."

Before Firmage left Novell, he met Toby Corey, a former Ashton
Tate executive who was NetWare's vice president of marketing.
"We saw the world the same way," says Firmage. "We were both
frustrated with Novell. It was like birds of a feather."
Furthermore, "Toby is one of the most brilliant operational
managers I've met. And he has a deep understanding of
marketing."

Corey, who would not return phone calls for this story, said
last fall in an interview about his last days at Novell with
Firmage, "We felt there was an opportunity, a shortage of people
who could help businesses take advantage of the Internet."

With the Internet in their sights, the two decided to strike out
on their own. Corey and Firmage moved to Silicon Valley, where
the money and necessary talent for start-ups was more readily
available. In March of 1996, USWeb was launched as a joint
venture with Ziff-Davis, which owns Softbank Technology
Ventures. Ziff-Davis is no longer a partner in USWeb, but
Softbank is still on USWeb's board.

The first round of criticism could best be termed the "McWeb
complaint." Competitors said the company was making a commodity
business out of a service business, and that Web design should
be based on individual attention to clients -- not an entirely
inaccurate claim. Firmage and Corey say they could not become
the major consulting firm they hoped to be if no one knew who
they were. So they built their brand by licensing their name and
business model for $25,000 per year and 7 percent of revenues to
affiliates, who would also gain access to USWeb's growing base
of technology partners. "We signed 40 or so affiliates and
gained a recognizable brand early on," Corey explained last
fall.

In March of 1997, enough brand equity had been built. The
company's roster of technology partners included the cream of
the crop, including Microsoft, Novell, Cisco and Sun
Microsystems, and $20 million had just been raised in a private
capital round. USWeb hired a mergers and acquisitions team led
by Bruce Gilpin, a former venture capitalist, and set about
building a network of wholly owned firms.

They swallowed up companies such as San Francisco-based Ikonic,
W3 Design in Los Angeles and Reach Networks in New York:
smallish, creative firms considered specialty boutiques. USWeb
also bought Gray Peak Technologies, a technology firm on Long
Island for $100 million in stock. The idea was to amass a
balance of talent across the creative, technology and strategic
sectors of Internet marketing and business operations. Although
USWeb officials made statements to the press asserting that the
original brand names of the shops would not be changed, once
each deal was closed, what happened was the equivalent of a
truck backing up to the new acquisition: A USWeb team would take
over the shop's existing ways with the goal of making their
processes more organized and efficient, like USWeb's. Logos were
changed, new business cards were handed out and all computer
systems were exchanged for USWeb's own. Employees were expected
to download their expertise onto a companywide network called
the Knowledge Base.

In this way, Firmage became an Internet mogul and a respected
businessman, even if he was somewhat disliked for his smugness.
Critics complained USWeb's tactics drained their acquisitions of
the freedom to be creative. Firmage and Corey countered that by
taking over administrative tasks, the shops were actually freer
to be creative.

In the meantime, Firmage was working on The Truth. Over the
course of the book, the author, with contributions from others,
runs through the history of the planet from geological,
biological, physical and spiritual perspectives. Links off of a
sort of poem act as a guide, or menu. The poem, his thesis, goes
like this:


"Evolving in a place called Eden Is a promising young
civilization. We grow more dangerous yet wiser each day.

Teachers have taught us through the ages.

They are watching us now. The Cosmos is their ocean,

and they have been mindful of our need to develop.

At what moment in history would these visitors want us to join
them? What will we become when we do?

We shall meet them as the Men and Women of the Earth.

And ask them for their Truth."


An image of a DNA strand bisects the poem.

Firmage's primary hypothesis is that the Earth has been visited
by extraterrestrial life forms who have contributed their own
developments -- such as fiber optics -- to our scientific history.
These visitations have been expedited by time travel.

He also has no doubt that humans will, before long, resolve the
mystery of gravity. Firmage describes a "new vehicle" in The
Truth -- a self-propelling, antigravity machine (only its
technology, not its assembly, has been determined, he says).
But, for the time being, he drives a red Corvette convertible.
"And I will be the first one to turn it over in exchange for one
of these new vehicles, believe me," he says.

In the last section of The Truth, Firmage describes his
dream-state encounter with the hovering Christ-like figure.
That's where you find sections beginning, "I am the body," "I am
the civilization" and "I am the creator of everything that comes
after me," in which it's unclear about whom the pronoun "I"
refers.

Plans for a new CEO at the merged USWeb and CKS had been in the
works, but were accelerated when the company began to receive
unwanted publicity over Kairos. Sources say Mark Kvamme, CEO of
CKS Group, the company with which USWeb was merging at the time,
went berzerk when he heard about Firmage's Web site.

On Nov. 3, 1998, Firmage stepped down from his post as chief
executive officer of USWeb, the company he built, to make way
for Robert Shaw, a former top executive at Oracle and a Silicon
Valley heavyweight with the Booz, Allen & Hamilton resume and
salt-and-pepper hair to prove it. Kvamme, unreachable for days --
"at merger meetings," according to his assistant -- finally
returned calls only upon news of Firmage's replacement. He
continues to refuse to discuss Firmage or his book.

A few weeks after his resignation as CEO, two days before
Thanksgiving and a day before his online book was to be
launched, Firmage showed little outward signs of last-minute
jitters. He wasn't distracted by the merger, or by his book, or
by an interview in the midst of it all. He chose to discuss his
reputation, saying he would lose nothing with the publication of
the book and noting that he's in a good position to take risks
with his ideas. After all, he has a proven track record.

"Outside the Valley, the spin will be however the newspapers
choose to report it, right? So let's say it's the Wall Street
Journal," which has written several stories on him and knows his
business history, a confident Firmage asserted. "That's a
national circulation. USA Today knows me. So, when they report,
they'll always say, 'and this guy built this company,' 'a bright
young guy,' whatever. So, I get credibility, because of my
history."

But Firmage's credibility was strained throughout the next few
months as he continued to receive more and more disparaging
publicity. On Jan. 8, he cut his ties to USWeb, saying he wanted
to protect the company from the flak he was receiving for The
Truth.

But Firmage insists he's not a martyr, nor a cult leader (in an
interview with USA Today, he said, "Someone said I'm trying to
become the next L. Ron Hubbard," referring to the founder of
Scientology. "I don't know of any comment that could be less
appealing."). He says he's simply trying to spread some of the
inspiration he's found to others, so that they will change their
lives to better all of humanity. The outcomes include an end to
consumer behavior that strains natural resources and the
empowerment of individuals to become independent of the
"system."

"A lot of people -- in fact most people -- don't know where that
inspiration can come from. And what has replaced a God in their
life is consumerism. How much do we worship the dollar? Think
about that," he says. "There is a load we are placing on
strained, limited natural resources. It's a very fragile planet.
And unless we wake up and start to realize a different way of
life, a more ecologically sound way of life -- frankly, a
slower-paced life -- I very much fear for the survival of this
species. And that sounds like a remarkable, bold statement. But
it's also absolutely true. Talk to any biologist with a good set
of credentials and they'll tell you exactly the same thing: The
world is headed for disaster. If we're not smart enough and
we're not courageous enough to look ourselves in the mirror and
say, here's what we look like, here's what were doing, than we
deserve to die in an ecological disaster."

Firmage recounts his years as a "youth" -- his word -- as the
fifth of seven children in a Mormon family. His father had
worked in the White House as Hubert Humphrey's press secretary
and ran for a U.S. Senate spot as a Democrat during the '70s --
"which is about as close to suicide as you could possibly come
[in conservative Utah]," notes Firmage. He remembers that his
parents fought against expansion of land-based missile tests. He
says that his father was a senior member of the Mormon church
and a famed lecturer on theology. He doesn't mention that his
parents split up when he was 18, when his father left the Mormon
church, and that he dropped out of school to live with his dad.
And in all the times he mentions his father -- whom he seems to
respect and adore very, very much -- he does not mention that one
of the biggest moments in his father's life was when he came out
as a gay man a few years after his divorce.

Lots of people do like Firmage, recent media coverage
notwithstanding. Those who have spent any time with him are
ready to sing his praises. And he realizes this. In several
interviews, in The Truth and several times within this
interview, he refers to "people who know me."

Last October, he sent out an e-mail to USWeb employees,
informing them of the project on which he'd spent $3 million and
countless hours over the past year. Drew Stepek, 28, responded.

Stepek had been toiling away in USWeb's Los Angeles office,
working on scripts for the online version of NBC's Homicide and
The Practice. He was a frustrated writer, looking for an outlet.
He wrote Firmage and told him he wanted to help. They bonded
over the discovery of their ages. Stepek was five days older
than Firmage, but, they concluded, they couldn't have been more
different. Firmage had been raised in the orderly, conservative
town of Salt Lake City. Stepek grew up in a fast-paced,
middle-class town on the East Coast. Firmage wore suits. Stepek
died his hair yellow and wore baggy pants. Firmage was a
businessman. Stepek was a creative type.

"He thought I was part of this hip-hop crowd," says Stepek.
Firmage ultimately asked Stepek to write 10 pages on what life
is like for a "youth" these days. The result is found in the "We
grow more dangerous" section of The Truth. It's a
"semiautobiographical" account of Stepek's last year in high
school, in which his best friend is shot to death right before
his eyes and another friend commits suicide because she can't
escape her stepfather's molesting advances. The story is
intended to be Firmage's way of giving readers a glimpse into
the lives of "our children."

"Joe is a really nice dude," Stepek says. "I can't really
dispell anything in his book. He believes it. That's what's
important."

Stepek isn't the only one who's standing -- at some distance -- by
Firmage throughout an ordeal that has put him in the awkward
position of UFO poster boy. "I was his critic, until he told me
his epiphany," said Ed Firmage, Sr., Joe's father, in December.
"It's clear that Joe had experienced something profound. He's
always been intensely rational, except for this last thing. What
he's doing now, I can understand. But I could see more clearly
than Joe what it would do to his corporate life."

Firmage behaves as if he's the first to discover the troubles
many people have, or the ties between various religions and the
points where they intersect with science. Furthermore, his
naivete shows no more clearly than through the thoroughly
Christian and Western slant of the entire book, a book that
claims it is a resource that can tie together all walks of
thought and types of people and lend them the knowledge to
change their lives and the world. He says on the day before the
book launches that those people who don't have the werewithal to
take his knowledge and improve their lives "don't deserve to be
a part of the future society."

And he believes that all critics have to do to be convinced is
to read the book. But skeptics did read the book. And they
lambasted him.

He's not pleased with the way the media has skewered The Truth.
The free paper, the Silicon Valley Metro, featured the Firmage
story on its cover, giving it full tabloid treatment with the
headline "Silicon Valley CEO Meets the Aliens," and adorning the
article with illustrations of aliens. Once Firmage revealed his
complete departure from USWeb/CKS earlier this month, the San
Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News followed with
their own stories, similarly portraying him as a flying
saucer-chaser.

Over the Martin Luther King Day weekend, Firmage was expected to
release a condensed, printable version of the book. He also says
he will continue to communicate directly with those who have
visited The Truth.

But why call it "The Truth"? He utters two words: "Monica
Lewinsky."

"You look at the consequences of a relatively minor lie in the
office of the President, and you look at the consequences," says
Firmage. "If you really wanted to change civilization, for the
better, what would you do? If there was one thing you could do
to change civilization for the better? Tell the truth. Because
ultimately, the truth will guide people where they need to go.
If we knew how we were damaging the environment, we could fix
it. If we knew when a President was lying, we could deal with
it." The Truth, says Firmage, will set you free.


Mentioned in this article

PEOPLE
*Joe Firmage Chief Strategist, USWeb/CKS
*Toby Corey President and COO, USWeb/CKS

COMPANIES
*USWeb Santa Clara, CA
*Novell Provo, UT
*Netscape Mountain View, CA
*Ziff-Davis New York, NY
*Microsoft Redmond, WA
*Cisco San Jose, CA
*Sun Palo Alto, CA


Related Articles

*USWeb Founder Quits Over UFO Views
USWeb founder Joe Firmage resigned Friday, saying that he
believed continued publicity over his belief in UFOs would
damage the company's reputation.   (January 11, 1999)

*Why USWeb's CEO Had to Go
If you think your CEO is about to make you lose face with your
clients, what should you do? Speed up the process of replacing
him, of course.  (November 06, 1998)

*USWeb's Firmage Steps Down
UPDATE In a surprise announcement Thursday morning, USWeb's Joe
Firmage said he is stepping down from his role as CEO.  
(November 05, 1998)

*USWeb CEO Prepares Book on Universal Order
In one month's time, the way to deal with the chaos of the
universe will be clear. That's the message of a Web site
promoting an online book coming out from Joe Firmage, the CEO of
USWeb.   (October 29, 1998)


Copyright =A9 1998 The Industry Standard
All rights reserved
E-mail:
webmaster@thestandard.com

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