The Rise and Fall of Evan Burfield – Part 1

How The Hell Did We Get Here – The Evan Burfield Story

Evan Burfield is arguably one of the smartest people in any room. He’s also proof that IQ points don’t directly correlate with the ability to build and lead a company to a successful conclusion.

1995 NetDecide

In 1995, Burfield was a freshly minted, 19-year-old, high school graduate of one of the countries most prestigious High Schools, Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria Virginia.  Post graduation, he skipped college and founded his first company, NetDecide. According to Burfield, he raised a million dollars in angel funding and eventually $20 million in total funding.

To set some context of that period, this was after the big exits of AOL, Netscape, Yahoo and many other lottery winners. Everyone wanted in on the gold mine that was the World Wide Web and startups. There were 4 times as many VCs in DC who were 10 times more active and 50 times less discriminating than today’s VCs. In 2000, Evan went out in search of institutional investors at a time when every kid with a business plan and a napkin could get funded.  Amed with a pen and a napkin, Burfield found himself a passel of soon to be out-of-work VC’s foolish enough to fund his fledgling company.

The four knuckleheads who invested an initial $7 million in NetDecide were:

  • Leg Mason – Invested in a total of 7 companies from 2000 to 2008
  • Walker Ventures – Invested in a total of 9 companies from 2000 to 2009
  • Ernst and Young – Invested in a total of 2 companies from 2000 to 2001
  • Dominion Ventures – Invested in a total of 10 companies from 1998 t0 2004

These four amateur investment funds, of which none survived more than a decade, stroked checks in NetDecide. These four dabblelers in Venture Capital invested in a total of 28 companies. Not a one of the 28 companies still exists and not one of those investors operated longer than 9 years (Incidentally a very reputable VC has nominated Walker Ventures as a candidate for Wolves of Startupland). It’s quite possible that NetDecide which was a failure was the top portfolio company of the 28.

By September 2001, Evan burned through his $7 million and was forced to raise additional funds. Dominion Ventures led a $9.2 million round and added Bank of America to the list of investors. Unlike the other bonehead funds, Bank of America continues to operate. Burfield departure coincided with Bank America’s investment in NetDecide. Apparently, it took a real investor to recognize there was a leadership issue. For whatever reason, when companies get recapitalized, they often push a failing founder out as a condition of the funding.

That’s not a horrible story. After all, we learn more from our failures than we do from success. There is no shame in a first-time entrepreneur, who had never worked for a startup to fail. No, the failure there was that there were people willing to fund a High School Graduate with little to no history of working for a successful operating company.

2002 Oxford University

According to his LinkedIn profile, From there, Evan licked his wounds and entered Oxford University where he pursued a degree in disciplines that are directly antithetical to entrepreneurial success…. Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.  All disciplines long on pondering and theory and short on action. All disciplines that promote big ideas at the cost of focus. He received his undergraduate degree from Oxford in 2005.  As usual, he excelled in his academic pursuits and graduated with a First Class degree from St. Catherine’s College at the University of Oxford. While at Oxford, he won the Webb Medley prize for most outstanding thesis for his work on the effects of organizational incentives on knowledge sharing. Did I mention this guy is smart?

While at University, Evan reports he worked as a Director of Strategy for Oakwood Global Finance from 2003 until 2006. Oakwood is no longer an operating company and if you google the company, one of the prominent results comes with this ominous warning… http://www.oakwoodglobal.co.uk/

To quote Evan, his role at this company was: “Director of Strategy for Oakwood Global Finance, a London-based global financial services firm focusing on building lending companies, acquiring and selling loan pools, issuing loan securitizations and structured credit products, and investing in support businesses. He served as the primary strategic advisor to the firm’s CEO, examining business models, markets, and potential new businesses and divestitures as well as managing the business planning process for new ventures.”

That’s heady responsibility for an inexperienced kid. That’s an impressive role, yet when you think of it:

  1. Evan’s impressive and smart so his getting hired is not surprising
  2. Remember the Global Meltdown caused by companies that were, “building lending companies, acquiring and selling loan pools, issuing loan securitizations and structured credit products?”
  3. The company went out of business
  4. It is tainted by some association with fraud according to its current URL

During this time, in 2003 while Evan was in the UK, NetDecide was sold in a distressed deal. In this interview (listen to this confusing interview), Evan asserts that he “sold the company” and walked away with enough cash to he travel the world and become a man of leisure.

Evan, if you’re reading this… would you please explain how this worked? You left the company in 2001. NetDecide was sold in 2003. You realize that’s 2 years after you left the company. How did you find time to sell the company that was no longer yours while you were, according to your LinkedIn page, in the UK, playing rugby, competing in crew, cycling and triatholoning and winning academic awards at Oxford while simultaneously Directing Strategy for a London-based global financial services firm focusing on building lending companies, acquiring and selling loan pools, issuing loan securitizations and structured credit products, and investing in support businesses.. With all that going on, how the heck were you still able to sell a company 2 years after you were asked to leave, while you were across the pond in the UK?

Wow! Impressive! Kudos! The story is better than the reality which is Evan didn’t sell NetDecide, the investors dumped it in a fire sale. A reliable source, intimately involved in the transaction confirmed Evan was not involved in the sale in ay way. The source stated that NetDecide investors barely recovered pennies on the dollar on their investment in Burfield and NetDecide.

Oh, and in 2013, Oakwood Global Finance was sold to Pepper in Australia… I’m surprised that Evan has not yet claimed that he was responsible for that sale.

2006 Synteractive

In 2006, Evan returned to his native land, back in Virginia he co-founded Synteractive, a Microsoft Partner, system integrator/software development firm or as Evan would describe it, a firm that radically improves effectiveness and efficiency for businesses. Translated that means, we are a body shop for the governement.. a boring government contractor. In 2009 the firm, partnered with Smartronix, and Microsoft to win a prestigious contract with the Obama administration to stand up a website, recovery.gov. A site designed to foster participating in the Recovery Act.

Fresh from the success of recovery.gov, Evan decided he was going back into something interested… he was going to transition from government services into the exciting world of high-tech startups. He was ready to dip his radically effective and efficient toe back in the world of venture-backed startups. That’s when I first met him. I was coaching companies that were pitching for money at local venture pitch event. I watched and evaluated his pitch and from the start made the following observations:

Evan Burfields Photo from his Team Slide

Evan Burfield’s Photo from the Team Slide

  • Great Vocabulary
  • He seems smart and competent
  • He’s tall and has a great radio voice
  • He likes to use his SAT Prep vocabulary
  • He was pitching one of the stupidest ideas I had ever seen
  • I’ve never met anyone who could use so many 3 syllable words to describe a 4 letter word of an idea
  • If Synteractive was as big and profitable as he asserted, why was he not using his Synteractive profits to keep this killer idea for himself
  • Don’t ask him why he isn’t funding this via “extremely profitable cash-rich “Synteractive” because it will piss him off
  • Didn’t he understand that with investors comes accountability
  • If it’s possible, this guy is more arrogant and egotistical than the picture he used on the team slide (that one to the right)
  • He loves titles, the three Cs
    • Co-founder
    • Cheif Executive Officer
    • Chairman of the Board

I was probably stupid because after he pitched the big idea, I didn’t “get it.” Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t “get it.” No one was smart enough to comprehend Evan’s vision. He never raised a penny on that dog. Sometime after that, the “wildly profitable,” Synteractive accepted an investment from Hollywood Maryland-based Smartronix because the wild profits were not wild enough to fund wild growth.

I have no doubt that Evan was the smartest guy in the room that day. Smart ain’t everything (I know, smart people don’t say ain’t). After my first encounter with Burfield, I came away thinking he’s arrogant, smug, a little shady, and just plain supercilious (See what I did there? I used a four syllable Burfield-ism instead of just saying asshole).

My second encounter with Burfield came soon after in November 2011. Burfield had contacted Scott Case, the CEO of Startup America and the former co-founder, CTO of Priceline. Burfield wanted Case to speak at something Burfield called, the National Piggy Bank Summit. Case wasn’t available and asked me to speak in his stead (I was Case’s executive coach at the time and helping Startup America develop their mentorship program). Evan was obviously not happy to have someone who was beneath him to share the stage. He pushed back and unfortunately for him, I was the best Startup America could provide. Evan and I shared a stage and it had to be apparent to anyone on the stage that he and I were not the same person.

Burfield Hellman
Tall Short
Young Old
Big Words Little Words
A passionate reinventor of the lives of citizens who empowers kickass startups Cranky Old Fart

Between the years 2010 and 2012, Evan Burfield was personally named as the sole defendant in 3 breach of contract lawsuits in DC.

  • 2010 – Sued by two former Synteractive Employees: Craig Atkinson & James Hirmas
  • 2011 – Suied by BB&T Bank
  • 2012 – Born and Bread

These were all settled and what I’m about to say would probably not be admissible in court but where there is smoke there is fire. This wouldn’t be the first times Evan broke a commitment.

In 2011 a credible source told me the person serving the role of Synteractive’s CFO had resigned over a squabble with Evan over accounting principles. Free advice, worth every penny, be wary of companies when a CFO departs. It can mean nothing or it can mean trouble. I wasn’t surprised to learn that soon after, Evan was pushed once again pushed out by his investors, the management team at Smartronix for accounting irregularities. In what appears a face-saving compromise, Evan was allowed to retain the meaningless ceremonial title of Chairman of the Board of a company that was now controlled by Smartronix.

End of Part 1.

Part 2 will cover the period of 2011 – 2017, and will focus on Evan’s quest to become a community leader using people, government, and the press to rise from the ashes for yet a third time. It will talk about his chess moves that got him government funding for 1776 and what to expect going forward.

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