Back to Work and Flipping Cheeseburgers—A $100K Winner’s Tale

5/18/09

Well, here I am again, as promised. Yes, winning the $100K is exactly as you imagine it: limo rides, overflowing bottles of champagne, invitations to smoke-filled back rooms, and high-stakes poker games. Very high-stakes poker games. And you know, you really can’t fit that big check into an ATM. But I’ll talk about that at the end of the post. Instead, I want to focus on what I promised I’d focus on: a description of the big day, and a wrap-up of the awards ceremony.

As it turns out, the winner of the $100K doesn’t get selected until the day of the ceremony. There’s a dress rehearsal at noon, and in the afternoon, each of the finalist teams was given 15 minutes to present its 12-slide pitch deck to the grand prize judges, followed by 5 minutes of Q&A.

We entered the judging room—which was much more full than I expected. It was one of those long, 12-seater conference tables. Except there were what seemed like 20 people there. “Okay, Waseem,” I thought to myself, “time to be Chairman of the Board. But not in the Frank Sinatra sense. This is not an appropriate time for your rendition of New York, New York.” So we presented, and I’ll admit, I did feel just a little bit like we were top of the list, king of the hill, A-number one. (Still Sinatra here, not Minnelli. Unless you’re reading this, Liza, in which case your version is clearly the definitive one.)

Fast forward to the awards ceremony. Rodney Brooks (CSAIL professor and co-founder of iRobot and founder of Heartland Robotics) gave a terrific keynote. I’m not going to be able to do it justice, so just pull up the webcast and watch it (it starts about a fifth of the way in). If you like robots or Australian accents, you’re going to like it. It was a mini-life-story, peppered with sound pieces of advice, funny anecdotes, and just an all-around authenticity that I really enjoyed.

ksplice-mantleI was nervous about following up an act like that, because next up were the three-minute pitches from each of the finalist teams. We (Ksplice) went first, followed by YouTea, MeterLive, Cambridge Eyenovations, Levant Power, and Global Cycle Solutions, in that order. The audience then voted (by text message, American Idol-style) for the winner of the Audience Choice Award (prize: $10,000). Global Cycle Solutions snatched it up, and they deserve it. I’m certainly not going to complain about funding for a business that is essentially working to improve the lives of villagers in Africa.

My other personal favorites are Levant Power and Cambridge Eyenovations. They’re tackling very real problems with appealing solutions. If they succeed in delivering on their promises, how can they not have a serious impact?

After this, there’s not really a lot for me to say. Dr. Brooks called out our name as the winning team, we raced up on stage, and got the giant check. It’s actually a little bit smaller than I had imagined. I guess I was hoping for a check so huge that it would take two of us to carry, presented by Uncle Pennybags. Anyway, of course we dashed out of there and hit the clubs.

Except not really. I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you what we did do, just because it’s so anticlimactic. We mingled with the audience for a while, and then went home. I made cheeseburgers, and then we responded to some e-mails. The giant check is proudly sitting on our mantle, though it’s also sitting next to some old light bulbs, a roll of tape, our router, and some Linux stickers. (Seriously, we’re still keeping the burn rate super-low around here.)

Anyway, the $100K has been a blast—highly recommended. And it doesn’t organize itself, so I want to give a quick shout-out to the people (students, mind you!) who worked incredibly hard to put it all together. Finally, remember: Ksplice, when taken in combination with a high-fiber, low-fat diet, and regular exercise, can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease. Sorry, wrong pitch. Anyway, keep your eyes open for us, because we’re going to be out there, fighting to eliminate those pesky reboots.

And hey, maybe Bob will even let me post here again sometime. Thanks for reading.

Waseem Daher founded Ksplice in 2008 and was its COO until its acquisition by Oracle in 2011. He can be reached at wdaher@gmail.com. Follow @

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