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[whitespace] Mike Bertrand, Gigi Wang
Photograph by George Sakkestad

The Diamond Lane

When high-tech gets serious about commitment

By Traci Hukill

HERE'S a little story about one woman, two wedding rings, four 7-year-olds and an IPO-obsessed office.

In February 1999 Gigi Wang left her job as a marketing manager at Ascend Communications and struck out on her own, spending the spring and summer as a footloose, fancy-free consultant. "Dating around," in her own words.

And she was getting lots and lots of roses delivered to her door, figuratively speaking. One start-up, Alteon Websystems, paid her consulting fees in stock that rose from $14 to $100 a share. Not bad for a casual relationship.

But it was all so... meaningless. Deep down, she confesses, "I was actually looking around, wanting to start my own company." In private she told a friend, Dave Newkirk, "Part of me realizes I have to get married to have kids. Alteon went public but it's not part of mine. You have to get married to have a kid, an IPO."

A friend in deed, Newkirk introduced her to the CEO of the e-commerce software company where he worked.

"It was meant to be just Hi, how are you?" Wang remembers, "and two hours later we were still talking. That was 'meeting at the bar,' y'know?"

Next thing she knew, the boys of Uptime One were giving her no peace. She got a call from company founder Mike Bertrand.

"He said, 'I've been told I need to have lunch with you because you have a lot of energy,' " recalls Wang.

"So we went to lunch and one of the first things he said was, 'I don't know why you're qualified to be VP of marketing,' and I said, 'Wait a minute, who's talking about being VP of anything? I'm only doing this as a favor to my friend Dave!'"

That one turned out to be a four-hour lunch.

A study had just come out estimating that by 2003 there would be $1.3 trillion in business-to-business e-commerce revenue--what most of us slobs know as automated billing. A bigger pie was on the way, Bertrand said. Uptime One wanted to grab a fork and it wanted Wang along for dinner.

The team started inviting her to their obscenely early 6am meetings. But Wang was charmed by the hour.

"I really value people who are willing to work hard because that's who you want to be in the trenches with. And traffic's better at that time, anyway," she adds (she lives in Pleasanton).

So in early September Wang dipped a toe in the steamy waters of professional commitment.

"I said, 'I'll give you 10 hours of consulting a week," she recalls. "They said, 'No. We want you for our e-team.'

"I said, 'No, I have two kids. I need flexibility. I don't need to get into a full-time job.' I said, 'I'm having a lot of fun dating all these different companies!' "

Shortly thereafter, Bertrand popped the question.

"He takes out this ring and he gets on his knees and he says, 'Will you marry us?' "

"We could have an IPO together," he cooed, holding up a little pair of booties.

Wang was overcome. She asked if the two-carat rock was real.

Well, no, came the answer. That's fine, she assured him hastily.

"For a pre-IPO start-up to pay $10,000 for a ring?" she asks. "That would be--" she makes a face. Foolish.

Mike Bertrand is still a man on a honeymoon. "Well, there's a lot of money to be made out there," he says matter-of-factly. "We wanted to keep her."

Wang is happy too. She reports no jealousy from her real spouse of 10 years, whose wedding ring (a real one) she wears in its rightful place while the symbol of professional fealty hangs on a chain around her neck. Meanwhile the professional lovefest continues.

Besides the excitement and diversity of the team, Wang, now VP of marketing, likes the fact that three other people on staff have 7-year-olds, just as she does. That makes the Saturday barbecues more fun for everyone and gets that warm feeling going.

"It's like a family here," she says. And she wants it to last and last and last.

"Mike and me and Naresh are saying, 'Once this goes IPO, what do we want to start next?'"

Young love. So sweet. They all think it will last forever.

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From the December 9-15, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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