Stick a Fork in 1776 DC… it’s done
Super Deduper Uber Startup Accelerator 1776 DC…
What do you get when you:
- Take one smarmy serial startup entrepreneur failure. A guy who founded two prior companies and was fired from both (NetDecide and Synteractive, see notes below)
- Take a shared office space that brands itself as a Coworking Space, Venture Capital Fund, an accelerator, incubator, peanut butter restaurant and a frat house
- Mix in a bunch of shady deals and investments from the shady former Mayor of DC
That’s a formula for success if you judge success by the noise level and not forward motion. That’s a formula for distraction, chaos and wasted effort. That’s the formula for a gold-plated turd that should never have lasted 12 months. To my surprise, this turd has made it for more than four years and only appears to be caving in under the sheer weight of its turdatude as I write.
I’ve never been a fan of DC’s Startup Animal House yet I have to hand it to the Blutarski of the 1776, Animal House, Evan “Blutarsky” Burfield. I salute you Evan for beating my over/under by 4 years buddy! Sweet!
A Little History
Founded in 2013 by Evan Burfield and Donna Harris, 1776 DC opened with a bang. Quickly announcing that Mayor Vincent Gray was burning taxpayer money by throwing cash at Evan Burfield. Keep in mind that prior to starting 1776 DC, “boy wonder,” Burfields had 2 prior “successful” startups and exits (NetDecide 1996 – 2001, and Synteractive 2003 – 2013). Every prior investor who had thrown money at Burfield wound up losing it all.
Had Mayor Gray searched the DC Court database open to anyone he would have seen that Burfield had 3 lawsuits filed against him for breach of contract. Maybe Gray checked and none of this bothered him (see note below).
Had Gray checked with Burfield’s former investors in his two prior “successes,” the Mayor would have found that Evan was fired from both. Burfield’s successful exit from NetDecide occurred in September 2001 when investors put 9.2 million in the company while simultaneously showing Evan the exit and slammed the door on his ass as he left.
Had Mayor Gray made a few phone calls he would have found out that just a few months after the CFO of Synteractive left the company, for what I have been told was a disagreement with Evan over accounting principles, the Synteractive investors pushed Evan out the exit door in an ugly dispute. According to multiple sources, Evan was made available to industry for perpetrating financial irregularities. Other sources report that Evan was billing Lemur Retail, a company in which Burfield was an advisor and a stockholder, a low rate for development services while fudging the books and reported a much higher rate and revenue to Smartronix, an investor in Synteractive. Smartronix eventually placed a lean on Lemur, taking control of the company and wiping out any interest that prior investors had in the company.
Then perhaps the Mayor should have checked his staff for conflicts of interest issues. The Mayor’s Business Development Manager, David Zipper engineered a $400,000 “investment” of DC Taxpayer money into 1776… then in typical Burfield, you-scratch-my-back-I’ll scratch-your-back fashion, landed Zipper a job with 1776. A few months after writing a DC Government Check to 1776, Zipper went to work as an employee for 1776. Essentially he put $400 thousand into Burfield’s pocket and then among other questionable expenditures, Evan gave a portion of that cash to Zipper in the form of Salary. Could there have been a prior agreement? Something like Evan whispering in Zippies ear, “Hey Zippy…. give me $400K and I’ll pay you half of that.”
Funnily enough, Zipper, the guy who engineered a $30 million giveaway to Living Social, and wrote a big check to 1776 is recommending caution about offering any incentives to Amazon. I guess Jeff Bezos hasn’t offered Zipper a job…. yet. What’s the problem Zippy? Didn’t Bezos offer you enough money?
1776 and the progress of the DC Tech Scene
What has been accomplished in the years since Evan started 1776?
Well, let’s see. Hmm, let me think. Well, I hear there was a party. There was another party. There was a contest. There was another party. There was a meetup. Jordan’s Queen Rania, toured the facility and got lots of Gee Whiz press for Evan and 1776. Tons of free peanut butter sandwiches were consumed with gusto. President Obama came for a visit. There was another party. Another Contest. A community was built…. just not a community of great companies. But lots of people had fun. Fun is good.
While the companies at 1776 floundered, Evan was out enhancing his reputation. He got lots of press, elbowed his co-founder Donna Harris from the spotlight. He created a foolish world global BS global tour cloaked as a contest called the Challenge Cub. The Cup was great vacation junket for the Evster and yet what was its value to DC? How did DC benefit while Evan toured Moscow? Check out the first Challenge Cup tour.
Challenge Cup Boondoggle Cities
- Washington DC (Okay, maybe this one makes sense)
- Los Angeles
- New York
- Sao Palo
- Cape Town
- Tel Aviv
- New Delhi
- San Francisco
Meanwhile, while Evan became a world traveler and hogged the spotlight… Donna Harris had the unenviable task of trying to achieve something that few had ever achieved. To make a combined Venture Capital, Accelerator, Incubator, Co-Working Space, and Frat House… profitable.
Looking back… how did any of this help anyone in DC? Well not counting Burfield, who collected great airline mileage. Sure it’s exciting to meet a queen or a president. How many companies got a sale, or a better product from Obama’s visit? If you said…. Zero… you win.
Four years after 1776 was founded the DC Tech scene is weaker than it was before. Many VCs and pretend-VCs like The Fort are gone. Competition from a government-subsidized shared office complex forced early co-working spaces like Affinity Labs, that invested their own money instead of DC Taxpayer dollars were unable to compete with the government subsidized blingdom. VC’s Novak Biddle and Valhalla are either gone or complete zombies. Living Social… gone. There have been too few exits in DC and zero exits of any significance out of 1776. But boy there was a great launch party for Social Radar… a company that made all DC giddy before crashing to earth like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. DC is a shadow of its startup-self from the heady days of Micro-Strategy, Proxicom, Web Methods, UUNet and PSI Net exits. 1776 may not have caused the contraction but they didn’t deliver on any of the promises. DC ain’t as good a startup joint as it once was.
Great communities aren’t built from the top down. Great communities are not built by a zero-success, two-time failure and accused swindler who lined his pockets and built a reputation with other peoples money, hopes, and dreams. Great communities are built by great companies and great companies are not built on Peanut Butter Sandwiches. They’re not built on visits from the Queen of Sheeba or from parties and hoopla. At 1776 the lack of quiet spaces makes it difficult to get real shit done… People routinely leave their offices at 1776 to accomplish serious work. If you have to leave your office to get stuff done… then why have an office?
Great companies are built by focused entrepreneurs who don’t have time to mingle, celebrate nothing for the sake of celebration. Great companies are built in garages… in a tunnel of focus. With blinders from distraction. Yet 1776 might have been called Distractify… it’s noisy, expensive and full of companies that are the equivalent of drowning swimmers pulling each other down while trying to build each other up. You know what? Two, ten, twenty drowning people do not a swimmer make. If you’re downing, you better worry about your survival and focus on getting to shore… any energy spent on anything else is wasted energy. 1776 is wasted energy for its drowning swimmer clients. Drowning swimmers should not hang together. That only ensures that no one will make it to shore alive. And they shouldn’t take swimming lessons from Evan Burfield who proved he didn’t know how to swim in his two previous companies.
Great startup communities are built from the ground up by great companies, who are not focused on building community and partying and garnering glitter traction and imparting wisdom. Great communities are built by singularly focused entrepreneurs who just build great companies. 100 great startups make a great startup community. 100 frat boys and sorority gals make a frat house.
End of Part 1 of a 2 Part Series
In Part Two I’ll take a look at the alienation of many of the inhabitants of 1776. The nickel and diming that took place once the sweet rent incentives and DC Government hand-outs ran out. The lack of focus and constant business model pivots… and new lines of business. We’ll review all the staff turn-over and talk about the top-level departures to come. I’ll review some of the people that Evan walked over to make it to the top of his pile of poo.
In part 2, I’ll discuss why it’s time to stick a fork in the over-cooked turkey called 1776.
Sep 2001 – NetDecide Raises $9.2 Million in C Round, Evan Burfield leaves the firm (no reason was given) and layoffs announced.
Oct 2011 – Smartronix Announces they made a strategic investment in Synteractive, May 2011 – Burfield leaves Synteractive, leaving behind an unhappy, vengeful, SmartTronix CEO. The terms of the “departure” are confidential and yet there is definite animosity from Smartronix aimed at Burfield.
Oct 2013 – Zipper Joins 1776 after directing $400K of DC money to 1776
DC Courts Search: 3 Breach of Contract Lawsuits Naming Burfield as a defendant or co-defendant.
- Filed 12/21/2012 by Born and Bread /Case # 2012 CA 009491 B Closed Civil II 12/21/2012 BURFIELD, EVAN Defendant
- Filed 4/120/2011 by BB&T Bank / Case # 2011 CA 003065 B Closed Civil II 04/20/2011 BURFIELD, EVAN Defendant
- Filed 4/13/2010 by Former Synteractive Employees, Craig Atkinson & James Hirmas/Case # 2010 CA 002355 B Closed Civil II 04/13/2010 BURFIELD, EVAN Defendant