Michael Jackson: Best Dot Com Meeting Ever

Posted on June 28, 2009 by Tony Uphoff

Without question the best dot com meeting of all time was the meeting we had in 2000 with Michael Jackson-yes that Michael Jackson-introducing him to the venture investors in our Internet start up Beliefnet. Jackson was looking to raise money for a theme park venture on his Neverland Ranch. One of our columnists was the Rabbi Schmuley Boteach who was a friend of Michael's and had facilitated Michael writing a column for Beliefnet. Schmuley called one day and asked if we, along with our venture investors, would meet with Jackson and his people to discuss potential investments in his theme park venture.

This request came at literally the peak of the dot com wave. Venture Capital was riding high and it was very difficult to get a meeting with major venture players. We were lucky in that we had 5 leading venture funds invested in Beliefnet. I will note however that I was getting on average 4-5 requests a day from people trying to get investments from these funds, asking me for an introduction. I wasn't sure what sort of response I was going to get when I sent off the email, asking if our investors were interested in taking a meeting with Michael Jackson. The responses were immediate; "you mean THE Michael Jackson? Where and when and if I can make it I will".

Truly surreal meeting, even for the surreal time. Our team of 5, along with 35 other venture or new media types in Jackson's suite at the Four Season's in New York City. My former colleague and one of the founders of Beliefnet the late Bob Nylen wrote about the meeting in his book Guts.

Michael's "business partners" were a fascinating blend of Hollywood hipsters and celebrity groupies. When he was finally introduced he got up and in that halting whisper of a voice that is so familiar to millions of fans around the world, started to describe his vision for a theme park on his property called Neverland. After about 5 minutes or so he got more comfortable, his voice stronger and he proceeded to give a robust overview of the theme park business, including development costs, ride capacity and throughput, character licensing and merchandising. At one point I glanced around the room and noticed that virtually everyone was staring in amazement. At the end of his brief presentation, his associates said that he had graciously offered to pose for pictures and sign autographs if anyone wanted to. Given the time and the "master of the universe" level of the people in the room I anticipated that most would politely decline. I was almost knocked over as everyone rushed to get a picture with the King of Pop. I was right there with them. He was incredibly gracious, signing an autograph for my then 9 year old daughter Olivia. When we posed for a picture together he shook my hand gazing up at my 6'5" frame, leaned in and said "my you're a big fella aren't you"? Truly amazing.

Like many people I have mixed feelings about the legacy of Michael Jackson. No debate however. He immediately goes on the pop music Mount Rushmore along with Elvis and the Beatles. He was an innovator and a transcendent talent. I was not a big fan of pop music in the early 80's, sticking instead to rock and jazz. I can well remember the feeling however when I first heard the Michael Jackson song "Beat It" with the guitar breaks by Eddie Van Halen. It was the first time I had heard a mash up of genre's, blending pop and rock. Hadn't heard anything like it. Frankly haven't since either.

So as the world mourns the passing of a great artist, I will salute him as well by remembering his place in the best dot com meeting ever.,

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