Patrick Grady, the founder and CEO of the newly minted Rearden Commerce, likes to tell his story--a tale of perseverance, technology innovation and business acumen in the risky enterprise software business. A venture capital investment of $42 million plays a key role in the story, as well as the company's unique, and likely successful, product--an XML/Web services-based commerce platform for orchestrating and automating travel, package shipping, conferencing and other business service requests for corporate employees and consumers.
Grady told me about founding his company in November of 1999 at the tail end of the Internet bubble, and then operating in stealth mode for the next five years. He explained that he kept the company under the radar during 58 months of R&D to deter potential competitors and because of what he termed the "extreme audacity" of his undertaking. "Many failed very visibly and publicly," Grady said, citing General Magic and HP's eSpeak as inspirational predecessors who developed personalized service platforms for end users. General Magic developed a communications-oriented language for distributed applications and intelligent agents and an object-oriented operating system for PDAs. The big idea was to let users create agents that would perform tasks on their behalf. Unfortunately, General Magic was pre-Internet and its ambitious remaking of computing and communications software flamed out. HP Labs created eSpeak, a middleware platform described as a universal language for services on the Internet. Grady credits the failure of eSpeak to a lack of an application that met real world requirements. You can add Microsoft's aborted Hailstorm to the list as another attempt to personalized services for users with XML and Web services.
So how did Grady evade the unfortunate fate of his predecessors? I wouldn't call it extreme audacity--more a