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The Almighty Buck

Rebel.com Autopsy 34

halo8 writes: "There is a story on the Ottawa Citizen about Rebel.Com - how they were private, went public during the tech boom, made millons, spent millons (buying james dean logo and rebel.com address). See part I and part II.
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Rebel.com Autopsy

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  • Coming soon (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tyler Eaves ( 344284 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2001 @08:46AM (#2277042)
    James Dean in "Rebel.com without a clue"
  • it's funny... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by turbine216 ( 458014 )
    ...to look back at the mistakes of the "not-so-long-ago"...

    The .COM "boom" and the associated bust was a gold rush, plain and simple. We're all aware of that now...some of us were even affected by it very heavily. Rebel.com and its proprietors are only one of probably thousands of similar ventures that failed miserably because they thought they had the market cornered. EVERYBODY thought they had the market cornered (especially PETS.COM), and most of them went broke.


    Moral of this story (and every other identical story that we've read for the past 6 months)...if it seems too good to be true, it is. Now let's move on, please.

    • The .COM "boom" and the associated bust was a gold rush, plain and simple

      Well in the UK we're just about to finish the process of removing well nigh all Telco and Tech stocks from our FTSE100 Stock Exchange measurement.

      This will stop the market going up and down like a Yo-Yo, and inspire small investors to keep some faith in their investments.

      I'd like to take every Boo! backer, and stupid Venture Capatalist that started this mess and show them the misery caused by a recession. We're suffering badly in the UK and we're no worse off than anyone else.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        This will stop the market going up and down like a Yo-Yo

        What the hell?

        That's exactly where the profits are made!

    • They probably did have the market cornered. Unfortunately for them, there turned out to be no market.
  • If I recall correctly, this story is very similar to (but albeit perhaps more detailed than) other stories that disected other IPOs and Internet Startups back when everything started crashing. I can see how it would be interesting, but nothing seems like particularly big news or anything that an intelligent person not blinded by the .com craze would not have seen coming.

    I'd say that unless you're really interested in reading another ".com failure" saga, or have an interest in Rebel in particular, this is probably a really long article you can afford to skip.

    As they say in Buffalo, just my Canadian $0.02
    • Actually, its quite interesting from the perspective of how not to fail when you've got a good thing going. The key points to the failure of rebel.com become apparent as you read the article and are worth noting.
  • Their story sounds like one out of "Fire In The Valley". Pretty much the story of dozens of computer companies. I think their path is more like Digital Research: hard partying CEO, Good Technology, Dumb Mistakes.
  • The .com was a symbol of a new business structure, a new economy with only profit on the horizon. But as the saying goes, a fool & his money are soon parted.

    I feel no sympathy for these people. Maybe if they had been wise with their money instead of having $50k parties and spending $2 million on a house, they wouldn't be bankrupt today.

    I bet Rebel had a lot of Aeron chairs...
    • I feel no sympathy for these people.

      I feel sorry for the Netwinder engineers. They had put together quite a nice little product, and there probably was a real market opportunity for it at the time (if they could have brought the unit cost down through increased production volume). Like the Amiga, however, there was just too much cluelessness at the top for the company to have any chance of succeeding.

      And yes, at home I have both an Amiga (boxed up) and a Netwinder (running as a DNS/FTP/NTP server).
  • Am I the only one who is bothered in a major way when JPEG images are compressed to ridiculous levels and then posted to a website?

    Check out the pic of Colin Beaumont in the first article.

    Fro crying out loud people! Use some retraint with the compression slider!

    Neurotic
  • Slashdotted, Part I (Score:1, Informative)

    by artemis67 ( 93453 )
    Rebel without a company: Part I
    In Too Deep: Mac Brown had the world by the tail two years ago, when Michael Cowpland sold him a promising but rising computer business. In the end, Brown lost a company he had spent 12 years building. And half-a-dozen of Ottawa's biggest tech stars took hits along with him

    James Bagnall
    The Ottawa Citizen

    Monday, September 10, 2001
    In the end, with his company hanging by a thread, Rebel.com chairman and majority owner Mac Brown didn't recognize his peril. He was in his lawyer's office in downtown Ottawa on July 6, wrapping up a three-hour conference call with Fuji Xerox executives based in Tokyo and Palo Alto, California. It was the latest of a series of talks over the terms of a proposed partnership that carried huge possibilities for Rebel. Fuji Xerox is $7.9 billion-a-year conglomerate that markets digital colour copiers and other office technologies. The Japanese firm wanted to market Rebel's flagship computer server, the NetWinder, to its own customers in Asia.

    The key provision of the proposed deal was that Fuji Xerox was prepared to invest heavily in Rebel's NetWinder unit -- the line of small business computers Brown acquired from Corel in exchange for roughly $5 million worth of Rebel shares early in 1999.

    Negotiations had been running off and on for nearly eight months. The Fuji Xerox team had examined Rebel's operations and technology to the point of exhaustion. Brown and his colleagues were convinced Fuji Xerox was ready to sign. But the July 6 call should have set off alarms. The Japanese were questioning Brown about the pricing details of the proposed licensing agreement. They also wanted Rebel, not Fuji Xerox, to pay the Japanese withholding tax applicable to future sales of NetWinder products in Asia. Brown figured that arrangement could mean a substantial reduction in Rebel's profit margins.

    "That's not what we agreed to," Brown complained. More discussions ensued between Brown and Jim Baker, the point man on this deal for the Japanese. Baker was president of California-based FX Palo Alto Laboratory, a wholly owned research arm of Fuji Xerox, and he had been an early champion of the NetWinder technology. Now Baker was urging Brown to reconsider his position. The call ended with a promise by Baker that he would try to persuade his Fuji Xerox bosses to give a little on the question of the withholding tax. Brown didn't appear concerned. He believed it was just another negotiating point along the way.

    But he was dead wrong. Sometime that weekend -- probably Saturday morning Tokyo time -- Fuji Xerox deputy chairman Hideaki Takahashi decided to kill the deal. Baker called Brown at home on Sunday, warning him the talks "may be in trouble." That was an understatement. The following day, Baker telephoned again, saying the deal was dead and the decision was final. Baker listed a dozen or so points of contention, including the withholding tax and Fuji Xerox's view that Brown was asking too much for Netwinder's inventory. "It was a plethora of things," says Baker. "The red flags were there."

    Without the Fuji Xerox alliance, Rebel collapsed like a house of cards. Rebel's biggest creditors -- the Bank of Montreal and HSBC -- called in their loans immediately. Rebel's senior managers and remaining directors of Rebel resigned Tuesday. By Thursday, the company was in receivership, under the control of KPMG executive Bob Wener.

    Brown was stunned. "We had conceded most of their points," he says. He was now facing personal ruin. Unless KPMG can sell Rebel's assets for at least $12 million -- and Wener is unlikely to get close to one-quarter that amount -- Brown will be unable to pay Rebel's secured creditors and he may be forced to sell his home.

    making merry in manotick

    Brown's turn of fortune has been extraordinary. Early last year, Rebel completed a round of financing that valued his company at $50 million plus. More than half that paper fortune belonged to him personally. A few months later, Brown was telling would-be investors that Rebel was worth at least $200 million.

    It's a common enough tale of woe in this year's tech meltdown. But Rebel's demise also sheds much light on Ottawa's tech community generally. For years, Brown had operated on the edges, running a small but profitable computer services firm.

    It was staffed with relatives, close associates and girl friends -- people who enjoyed a good time and ending the evening in Brown's hot tub or the dock at Horizon Point in Manotick, the $2 million pleasure palace Brown calls home. They would drink champagne until dawn, fly anywhere on a whim and celebrate their good fortune as loudly as local bylaws or restaurant owners permitted.

    As long as Brown's company was a private, stand-alone firm, it was no one's business how he conducted his private affairs, but with the acquisition of NetWinder, Rebel became one of a handful of Ottawa companies with a chance to score big. To make it happen, Rebel needed money and solid managers who knew what to do with the new property. And that meant Brown for the first time had to consider the opinions of outsiders.

    Unfortunately, Brown was not equipped -- by experience or temperament -- to strike when the opportunity was greatest and waited too long to seek advice. When he got it, he became suspicious of those who provided it.

    It took Brown and Rebel president Mike Mansfield nearly a year to nail down Rebel's first significant financing -- a $12 million round, at $2.50 per share, led by HSBC Securities in January, 2000. By then the first euphoric wave of Linux technology -- which had driven up the market value of Rebel's competitors to undreamed of heights -- had passed them by.

    HSBC Securities told Brown that his company urgently needed professional management and an independent board of directors. Brown went along, but not before his family decided this was the time to take advantage of the strong interest shown in Rebel by individual investors in Ottawa. Brown had earlier transferred about 20 per cent of his Rebel holdings to family members, including two brothers, a sister and his parents. Within weeks of the completion of the HSBC round, Brown family members privately sold at least half million Rebel shares at $10 each. Not a penny of that share sale went into Rebel's coffers.

    From the outside, though, Rebel still appeared to be a smart investment. Corel had spent $20 million U.S. to develop NetWinder. All Rebel had to do was market it and keep the technology up to date.

    "We were all convinced this was the next big thing," says Colin Beaumont, a Rebel director, "The technology was so close (to being completed) and the idea of a low-cost server for the small business market was compelling."

    Indeed, considering he was a relative unknown in Ottawa's tech circles, Brown attracted a surprisingly large number of Ottawa's leading lights to his cause.

    Rod Bryden, the chairman of WorldHeart Corp. and owner of the Ottawa Senators, agreed in March, 2000 to serve as a director on Rebel's board, joining Beaumont, the former head of R&D at Nortel Networks. John Kelly, a partner at Reid Eddison and the founder of JetForm and other high-tech firms, in August heeded Bryden's call to serve as chief executive. Kelly, in turn, tapped Solly Patrontasch as president. Patrontasch had been one of Accenture's top consultants for years. Corel founder Michael Cowpland was also a director for a time.

    Brown stepped aside, taking on the role of chairman and keeping a careful eye on developments through his network of company loyalists. From early 2000 on, he was rarely seen at company headquarters but he made his presence felt through e-mail, company conference calls and the occasional meeting with directors.

    Bryden and the other newcomers meanwhile invested their time, money and reputation for what looked to be a reasonable shot at riches. But they quickly discovered Rebel's strengths had been exaggerated and that they had underestimated how much work it would take to set things right, such as building a global sales network for NetWinder and arranging to finance its continuing development. What little margin of error they had at the beginning was made even smaller by a year of confusion about who was actually running the show. None of these hired guns was able to win Brown's confidence. The result in Rebel's final year was a company at war with itself, with no one firmly in charge of its destiny.

    In the end, Bryden and those he persuaded to join, emerged from Rebel poorer or personally bruised, often both. Bryden lost nearly half-a-million dollars; Kelly could lose even more. But they at least have other assets and jobs to fall back on. The same is not true of dozens of Rebel employees who were urged by Brown and company president Mike Mansfield to buy company shares. Many did, to their now profound regret.

    Brown still has allies. Last Friday, backed by U.S.-based lenders, he submitted a second bid to buy Rebel's NetWinder assets. "You haven't heard the last of me yet," he told The Citizen. Maybe not, but he will likely find that earning investors' trust is not so easy the second time around.

    no easy ride in ottawa

    It amounts to travelling a full circle. Brown, a native of Woodstock, N.B., was very much alone when he arrived in Ottawa in 1982. Brown, now 43, had just graduated from Moncton Community College with a certificate in electronics engineering. He says he chose Ottawa because its "streets were paved with gold." He was misinformed. Brown was so broke he spent his first nights in town sleeping in a tent on Lebreton flats. He then had trouble landing a job, partly because he had no permanent address to give prospective employers.

    Eventually, Brown secured a job involving the maintenance and repair of photocopiers. He left a copy of his résumé on every machine he serviced, displaying an early talent for self-promotion. One résumé wound up in the hands of a recruiter from ORCAtech, a seller of Unix computers and one of Ottawa's early technology stars. Brown was hired as a salesman.

    He immersed himself in the world of computers, particularly the expensive, heavy-duty ones built by California-based Sun Microsystems. In the mid-1980s, Brown worked as a service technician for Sun's Ottawa operation. In his spare time, he accumulated used computers and components in his basement in south end Ottawa and sold them to small businesses in Canada and the U.S.

    In 1987, Brown formed RMEB Services (short for his full name, Randolph Malcolm Eugene Brown) and won a few computer service contracts. He would ensure his customers' computer networks ran smoothly by agreeing to fix machines or replace key parts.

    Brown's big break came in the early 1990s, when he got a late-night call from Dan Greenwood, then in charge of Newbridge's information technology network. One of Newbridge's Sun-built servers had crashed and Greenwood heard Brown might be able to fix it. Brown had the right part on hand and he solved the problem by 4:30 a.m. He and Greenwood celebrated by tapping into Newbridge's beer keg. "Over the next hour we became very good friends," Brown laughs.

    Brown soon won a bid to service Newbridge's network of Sun servers -- a contract that eventually ballooned to $5 million-a-year, employing more than 30 full-time technicians. As KPMG began disposing of Rebel's assets this summer, this contract attracted the most attention from would-be buyers.

    Shortly after landing the Newbridge contract, Brown also won the right to distribute Sun clones on behalf of Axil, a subsidiary of the Korean conglomerate Hyundai. Within the space of a year, Brown's company -- which he had renamed Hardware Canada Computing in 1991 -- had moved from being a $1-million-a-year operation into a thriving $10-million-a-year services and distribution business. Brown soon began building routers (specialized computers) for Newbridge, adding manufacturing to the list of his company's skills.

    By the late 1990s, Brown was on top of the world. Revenues at Hardware Canada Computing were approaching $40 million annually and the company was solidly profitable, boasting net margins of 8 to 12 per cent of sales, according to Brown.

    Already though, there were warning signs. Most serious entrepreneurs plow their company's earnings back into the business to help finance new projects, research and growth. Brown was already diverting a significant portion of his profits into supporting an extravagant lifestyle. Generous with his money when it came to family and friends, he had moved many of his New Brunswick relatives -- including his parents and two brothers -- into well-appointed homes in the Ottawa area. Brown built himself a 12,000 square foot home and marina on the river near Manotick.

    He was single and played hard. Brown was a regular patron of some of Ottawa's more notable strip clubs including Barefax, Gypsy Rose and the Silver Dollar Exotic Club. Dancers from these and other clubs would regularly show up at Brown's house parties. A fellow high-tech entrepreneur recalls his surprise when he showed up for the first time at one of Brown's afternoon parties. "There were maybe half-a-dozen young women there who suddenly stripped down and began frolicking in Mac's indoor pool," he recalls, "I'm no prude, but Jesus! We're not 18 years old anymore."

    The strippers could be found many nights at his firm's entertainment suite at the Corel Centre. Later, when Rebel was presenting itself as a more respectable firm, they became an embarrassment. On one occasion in 1999, a group of Rebel managers was using the company's Corel suite to entertain Nortel managers and their spouses. When Brown showed up with several dates, some of the Nortel wives collected their husbands and left early. Events such as this prompted a debate about whether Brown should be encouraged to stay away on nights when Rebel managers were trying to entertain business clients. Mac's response, according to one senior executive: "Screw you. This is my company."

    Brown liked his pleasure but was also an ambitious businessman. As early as 1996, when he hired Mike Mansfield as president, he was thinking about ways to expand his operation. Mansfield ran a family-owned printing business, Mansfield and Rodney Printing, but was looking for a new challenge. Brown, who he met through a mutual acquaintance, gave him one. Mansfield's task was to help Brown turn Rebel (HCC at the time) into a professionally-run organization by installing human resources executives and proper accounting systems. In other words, he was to begin preparing Rebel for the day it might go public or be subject to scrutiny by outside investors.

    Mansfield had difficulty convincing Brown to stop behaving as though Rebel was his personal fiefdom -- not surprisingly, given Brown's complete ownership of the firm at the time. But the two found a personal connection at some level that was quite strong. Brown and Mansfield would usually travel together to see customers and prospective business partners. In part, Mansfield saw his own role as that of protecting Brown's business interests.

    Another key executive was Bryan Smith, a retired Nortel manager who was hired as chief technology officer. His son, Michael, was a top HCC salesman. The elder Smith concluded that if the company really wanted to crack into the big leagues, it needed to create its own computers -- rather than simply build and service machines designed by others.

    Coincidentally, software maker Corel was close to completing the development of NetWinder, a versatile and powerful little server that would be ideal for meeting the computing needs of small businesses. (A server is a specialized computer that doles out programs and performs other essential networking tasks.) While Corel was a software company, Cowpland has always had a soft spot for computer hardware. In the early 1980s he helped finance the Hyperion, a desktop computer designed to challenge IBM's PC.

    The NetWinder was meant to serve as the brains of the typical small business office, connecting computers, copiers and fax machines and linking the whole setup securely to the Internet -- all for less than $2,000 per server. Trouble was, Corel itself was in financial difficulty and couldn't afford the millions to promote the product.

    Early in 1999, Corel's chief executive Michael Cowpland began calling those who might be interested in the NetWinder division. The hunt took him to the doorstep of Colin Beaumont, at the time chief executive of Plaintree Systems, the Stittsville-based manufacturer of data switches. Beaumont wasn't interested but he was familiar with the thinking at Hardware Canada Computing. He and Bryan Smith were former colleagues at Nortel Networks. Beaumont suggested Mac Brown might be a potential buyer for NetWinder.

    "Mike roared off and that was the last I saw of him for a while," says Beaumont who later that year agreed to join Rebel's board of directors.

    Brown clicked with cowpland

    Cowpland, accompanied by three Corel executives, called Brown from his car phone and told him he'd be right by Rebel's offices, then along Colonnade Road. It was their first meeting and they hit it off. "The chemistry was perfect," says Mansfield, "We shook on it almost right away and it took us only 44 days from start to finish to close the deal."

    Brown gave Corel a 25 per cent stake in his firm -- about 5 million shares -- in exchange for the NetWinder business. A few weeks later, Brown renamed his firm Rebel.com and threw a party at the Hard Rock Cafe in the Byward Market. The company originally budgeted $10,000 but Brown insisted on a free bar all night -- Rebel got stuck with a $50,000 tab.

    The company had already distinguished itself by spending more on its Corel Centre entertainment suite than most of the other, much larger corporations with a presence at the arena: Aside from the $120,000 annual rental, Rebel was shelling out more than $1,000 per night for food and drinks.

    Brown, Mansfield and other Rebel executives were invited to private dinners at Cowpland's mansion in Rockcliffe. In fact, the Rebel.com name emerged from a Cowpland party. The guests seized on the notion of Brown and Cowpland as true rebels -- individuals who conducted their lives outside the normal rules of society. Someone threw out the name Rebel.com and Marlen -- Michael's wife -- said "That's perfect." That sealed it.

    Michael Cowpland took a seat on Rebel's board of directors and, initially at least, paid a great deal of attention to Rebel's plans for marketing the NetWinder.

    For all the initial euphoria, Rebel was actually a strange beast. The vast majority of its revenues were generated by the original, HCC unit, which employed about 75. Another 25 or so workers belonged to Mask Systems, a contract computer manufacturer acquired at roughly the same time as NetWinder. The latter group was about 30 strong. There were huge cultural differences separating the three groups. HCC, which sold big, expensive computer systems and managed computer operations, was stuffed with people loyal to Brown. Many were sales people and frequent guests at Brown's home.

    The NetWinder crew was top-heavy with hard-working engineers. When Brown held a party at Horizon Point to celebrate NetWinder, most attended out of politeness, then left before the 'hot tub' portion of the evening got underway. "We had a job to do," explains one NetWinder engineer who left early, "There wasn't that much for us to celebrate yet."

    Many of the newcomers were also uncomfortable with Brown's personal style, which combined fearless aggression with a frankly sexist outlook. Brown would push the envelope on both counts when it came to marketing. Shortly after Rebel acquired NetWinder, Brown put out a company press release that claimed his company had spent $5 million to acquire the Rebel.com website.

    The release was misleading. The terms were as follows: Rebel would pay $10,000 upfront and additional payments would not follow until Rebel hit at least $1 billion in sales. It's not clear whether this meant cumulative or annual revenues but either way the likelihood of Brown having to pay more than $10,000 was remote.

    The reason he was willing to promote himself as profligate is revealing. Brown wanted to attract enough notice to get an invitation to appear on CNN. He never succeeded. "It was worth a shot," he said in a recent interview.

    Around the same time, Brown tried his hand at personally organizing a print advertising campaign for Rebel's computer services group. The ad featured a topless model with her arms crossed over her breasts. "Are you looking for a little support?", the ad read, "Finally, you can relax. RebelNetworks is your complete worry-free networking and internet solution." Rebel's marketing department explained to Brown that many women run small businesses and would be offended by the ad. Mac on this occasion deferred to his colleagues' views. The ads were never published.

    The coolness between the two main sides of the company quickly escalated. The main reason: it was becoming apparent to HCC workers, many of whom had invested in Rebel, that the NetWinder group was racking up big losses. Nor was it clear when NetWinder sales would start showing some life.

    This was a matter of some concern as Mansfield and Brown tried to line up significant investment capital to finance NetWinder's marketing effort. "We talked to all the major investment banks," Mansfield says, "and things would always go well until they asked us 'how much money does the NetWinder generate?'"

    Rebel at that point had sales of nearly $40 million (fiscal 1999 ended May 31) but less than $1 million came courtesy of NetWinder sales. The investment bankers not only had trouble seeing the true potential of the NetWinder unit, they wondered why it was being included under the same Rebel umbrella as the services unit. The latter was a low-risk, relatively slow-growing business with its own sales force. For Netwinder to succeed, on the other hand, Rebel had to get its servers into customers' hands as quickly as possible. That meant setting up a global network of third-party sales agents.

    Mansfield and Brown believed there were advantages to keeping everything under the Rebel name plate, not least of which was being able to present a common family of computer products.

    However, investment banks, didn't share his enthusiasm. In December, 1999 independent investors approached Rebel in a deal brokered by CIBC World Markets with the support of Michael Cowpland. The transaction, which was never completed, envisaged the split of Rebel into two companies and the addition of new management.

    But late in December, Mansfield delivered a $12 million financing led by HSBC Securities Canada. Mansfield met HSBC representative Dan Hachey at a fall trade show. Hachey kept calling. "(Hachey) came in Friday with a term sheet (the document outlining terms and conditions)", says Mansfield, "and it was the first one I'd seen."

    Hachey offered a deal that valued Rebel at more than $50 million and allowed Brown to retain majority control of the company. The deal closed in January. HSBC sold 4.8 million shares at $2.50 each for a total of $12 million. Rebel received three-quarters of the proceeds while $3 million went to Brown personally. Rebel employees and managers -- in part at the urging of Brown and Mansfield -- bought $3.2 million worth of the shares while institutions and other private investors snapped up the rest.

    In late December, 1999 when the deal with HSBC seemed assured, Brown surprised many of his bachelor friends by marrying Mari-Josée Naim, a 24-year-old fashion model. More than 400 guests were invited to St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. After the ceremony, the couple settled into a horse-drawn carriage which conveyed them to the Chateau Laurier Hotel. In the new year, they set off on a honeymoon, beginning with a stop in Rio de Janeiro.

    Meanwhile, the proceeds from the HSBC financing were disappearing with almost stunning speed. Rebel used most of itto pay down a $6-million line of credit owing to the Bank of Montreal. The company then spent millions to build inventories of NetWinder servers and spare parts. "We assumed we would sell more than we did," says Mansfield. "The spending on other things like advertising also took off."

    More crucially, the company had failed to take advantage of Linux-fever. Investors in late 1999 were frantic for shares in companies that could build machines based on Linux technology -- considered a credible alternative to Microsoft's Windows operating system. NetWinder was a Linux-based machine that competed against computers built by California-based Cobalt Networks.

    Cobalt had a stunning debut on the Nasdaq exchange. It went public at $22 U.S. in November, 1999 and saw its share price soar to nearly $169 U.S. within days. That gave it a market value of more than $5 billion U.S. Cobalt was bought by Sun Microsystems in late 2000 for roughly $2 billion.

    Rebel's employees could only look on in envy. None of the firm's most senior executives had experience dealing with the public stock markets and therefore lacked contacts with aggressive investment bankers such as New York-based Goldman Sachs, the firm that took Cobalt public. "Bay Street is new to me," Mansfield had acknowledged in 1999.

    The opportunity to play the Linux card proved short. By spring the Linux craze was already a memory -- and little wonder. Few people were actually buying Linux gear. In the fiscal year ended May 31, 2000, Rebel sold a paltry $2.4 million worth of NetWinders. (The next year, NetWinder revenues fell to $1.7 million.)

    The weak NetWinder sales, combined with Rebel's inexperience in dealing with capital markets, prompted Brown to seek outside help. Mansfield had already indicated he needed a break and was ready to step aside. Rod Bryden inadvertently stepped into the gap.

    Bryden, one of Ottawa's highest-profile technology players, was soliciting donations to the Ottawa Heart Institute. He met Brown at a Senators hockey game and the Rebel founder chipped in 50,000 of his company's shares -- then worth at least $125,000. He then suggested Bryden could do something for him.

    In March, Bryden agreed to serve on Rebel's board of directors. He also offered Brown the assistance of SC Stormont, his management consulting firm which would eventually help Rebel re-organize and line up fresh financing. Bryden, 60, was intrigued by the NetWinder opportunity and, besides, he was being paid amply in Rebel share options and management fees.

    At the time, Bryden's willingness to sign on seemed a shrewd bet. From the outside, Rebel was a high-profile firm with some exciting prospects. Add a little professional advice, the thinking went, and Rebel could soar.

    Stormont president Bob McInnes and David Keys arrived in April to examine the health of Rebel in more detail. Keys, a lawyer, had handled legal work for Bryden at WorldHeart Corp.

    They found a few problems at Rebel but, they felt, nothing that couldn't be fixed with a little effort. But there was one odd thing -- McInnis and Keys were surprised to discover they were left pretty much in charge of the firm.

    Just as they had arrived, Brown and Mansfield -- still chairman and president respectively -- left on a lengthy trip to China to hunt for NetWinder customers. Their guide on the tour was Ottawa businessman José Perez, a close friend of Michael Cowpland's. Perez had contacts in the Chinese government who he introduced to Brown. Later, upon their return to North America, Perez introduced the Rebel executives to potential sources of finance. At one meeting in New York, involving Whitney & Co., Brown suggested that Rebel should be worth at least $200 million. Unfortunately, that was more than double the valuation Whitney executives had been prepared to consider. Mansfield says there was only one meeting with Whitney.

    As Bryden's allies assumed key positions within Rebel, Brown and Mansfield faded into the background although they would run what amounted to a parallel organization within the firm. Brown would make rare forays into the office but he was in constant contact by phone and e-mail with long-time associates. Mansfield dropped out of sight for a time, but then returned to the office almost daily to manage relations with potential customers he personally found promising. Throughout 2000 and 2001, Brown and Mansfield would arrange private meetings with potential investors without notifying Bryden's managers. Mansfield explains he and Brown would have brought important financing or customer deals to the attention of the board, had these occurred.

    Shortly after Brown and Mansfield returned from Asia, Keys resigned. It's not clear why -- he had been on the job only six weeks. Those who worked with him say he was simply uncomfortable with the loose and easy management styles of Brown and Mansfield. If true, Keys was not the first to resign for this reason and he wouldn't be the last.

    Bryden decided to take matters in hand. In May, 2000, he persuaded Mark Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Ottawa Senators, to take up similar duties at Rebel. And he prevailed upon his good friend John Kelly to become chief executive. Kelly, along with Bryden and five others, had co-founded SHL Systemhouse in the early 1970s and had recently become a partner at Ottawa-based Reid Eddison, a high-tech consulting group. Kelly, 61, is active on the boards of many companies and charities, and recognized he had precious little time for the top job at Rebel. But he felt he owed Bryden. "He felt I could help, so I agreed to pitch in," says Kelly.

    ©Copyright 2001The Ottawa Citizen
  • by andrewm ( 9862 ) <andrewm@netwinder.org> on Tuesday September 11, 2001 @02:12PM (#2279771) Homepage
    Rebel.com was _NOT_ a public company. It never went IPO.

    The Rebel.com offices are _NOT_ gilt in gold. They are quite simple and plain.

    The majority share holder (remember it was a PRIVATE company) was Mac Brown. He is gregarious and ostentatious. He was probably the only one that made any money.

    Many Rebel.com employees lost a lot of money by investing in this PRIVATE company. Many borrowed and re-mortgaged their homes to invest. I personally didn't invest. I lost only my stock options which were never worth anything since they could not be traded (becaue it was _NOT_ a public company).

    If you want more facts, let me know. I still work there for the receiver, KPMG.

    --
    Andrew E. Mileski
    Former Senior Software Engineer at Rebel.com
  • terror (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kilgore_47 ( 262118 ) <[kilgore_47] [at] [yahoo.com]> on Tuesday September 11, 2001 @03:08PM (#2280221) Homepage Journal
    Somehow the terrorist attacks have drawn interest away from his story! Amazing...
    • I was just scrolling down and noticed the tiny number of comments (compared to ~2000 on one of the WTC stories above) and was going to make some snappy remark about how lively this discussion was. However, it may get livelier. The economy is going to boing back and forth as a result of the bombings. Let's hope opportunistic bastards who think they're going to profit from this are put in public stocks and have model jetplanes thrown at them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 11, 2001 @09:09PM (#2283275)
    Never again.
    It's all different now.

I haven't lost my mind -- it's backed up on tape somewhere.

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