Small Business

Stressed for Success


By Lisa Bergson I wake up in a cold sweat at 5:00 a.m. It's the third and final day of the Semicon West Show, my market's big annual blowout, and the pressure is on. "You have to take it up a notch," my husband said when I called about the high-level attention we're getting from potential investors and channel partners. After 19 years of struggling to survive in this business, I hope I can actually take it to the next level -- and a few more after that.

If the activity at the show is any indication, we've got opportunities like never before. Indeed, after seven years of developing our new electro-optic technology -- during which almost no one had faith in the outcome -- our effort to commercialize it may finally pay off. "It's an engine for a lot of things," said the chief technology officer of an important toolmaker over lunch at the Four Seasons. His company has big plans that would transform our little business.

TOO WIRED. Yet just when I need to be fresh and clearheaded, I can't sleep. I've been wired since I got to San Francisco, three days before the show. I lie in bed and try to meditate: "Breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow." I start my affirmations, but nothing works.

My mind skitters, refusing to slow for even a minute. It has been busy planning the coming day's events and replaying those of yesterday: a chance meeting with folks from Intel, one of our competitor's failed attempt to steal the show, lunch with the toolmaker, and the dinner I hosted for the influential purchasers from a major European gas company.

"This isn't single-malt scotch," one sniffed. "It tastes like bourbon." Upon questioning, the waitress explained that the bartender told her single-malt bourbon was an acceptable substitute for what they lacked. "With ice," he sighed.

SUGAR RUSH. At 6:30 I go down to the hotel's empty Club Room and grab a sugary muffin, not what I need. Tom Mallon, our executive vice-president for sales and marketing, wanders by on the way to the gym. Everybody wants to see him at this show, creating a crazy schedule for him, yet he still manages to get to the gym. "You're good," I comment on his healthy discipline. Of course, I could join him and go work out. I take the muffin back to my room and decide to try a new hairstyle.

At 8:00 a.m., Tom, Peter Tan, our new Asian regional sales manager, and I meet for breakfast at the Grand Café with our Taiwanese sales representative and a prospective investor. The talk now -- and all week -- is of new applications. Recently we topped our initial product offering, a parts-per-trillion level moisture analyzer for ultra-high-purity gases, with a new device that measures methane. The so-called MTO-1000-CH4 not only addresses real needs in the semiconductor fab, but it also demonstrates, once and for all, the versatility of our technology.

"You can use it to measure PFCs. There's going to be a big need," says our Taiwanese salesman. In addition to PFCs (per-fluorocarbons), others talk of the exciting prospects for detecting ammonia or oxygen or arsine. We can do it all -- but not all at once. I'm going to need some solid market research to help set priorities.

HAIR TODAY. Meanwhile, my smooth and blow-dried hairdo isn't working. "What have you done to your hair?" asks one of the Europeans from last night. Tom and I are meeting with him to discuss plans to private-label and package our equipment. He had the same reaction the night before, when I let the fog have its way with my natural curls. We escort him up to the Club Room, where I avoid looking at myself in the mirrored walls.

If I can't rest, at least I can pace myself. To help keep my equanimity, I blow off the big parties and receptions. Still, it's incredibly hectic. In addition to all the scheduled meetings on and off the show floor, key people keep popping up unexpectedly. When I finally get to our booth on Wednesday afternoon, just hours before closing, I find a global buyer and good friend from one of the world's largest gas companies hanging out with Tom. Finally, I can relax -- a little. Lisa Bergson is president and CEO of both MEECO and Tiger Optics. Before joining MEECO in 1983, Lisa Bergson worked as a business journalist at BusinessWeek and freelanced for many business publications. You can visit her companies' Web sites at www.meeco.com and www.tigeroptics.com, or contact her at lbergson@meeco.com


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