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Sent on Mormon-News: 07Feb01

By Kent Larsen

Joe Firmage Seeks Credibility On-line

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA -- The Mormon millionaire whose claim to have seen an alien got him ejected from the boardroom of his dotcom company in 1998, has fought his way back online, and is seeking a much more credible reputation. Joe Firmage, a former LDS Church member who founded the Internet consultancy USWeb (now called MarchFirst, Inc.), will launch his new venture, this month after partnering with one of the most credible sources in the science community, the widow of famed scientist Carl Sagan.

Firmage grew up in a Mormon home, the son of University of Utah law professor Edwin Firmage. From his youth, Joe Firmage was fascinated with how things worked, taking apart the family's vacuum cleaner and reassembling it in addition to the round of science kits and educational TV shows, such as Carl Sagan's 1970s series "Cosmos." But when Firmage attended the University of Utah to study physics, he discovered he also had an entrepreneurial bent. He wrote a software program to track sales of in his mother's greeting card business, and soon grew the program into a company that wrote software programs for the Macintosh. Four years later he sold the company, Serius Inc., to Novell for $24 million.

As part of the deal, Firmage became a Novell vice-president. While working there Firmage got the idea for USWeb, and along with co-worker Toby Cory, quit the company in 1995, raised $17 million in venture capital, and launched the consultancy. Just two years later, USWeb went public, making Firmage a multimillionaire.

But his reputation took a beating a year later. In November, 1997, Firmage says, he was visited by an alien in his bedroom, in what he says was either a powerful dream or an actual alien encounter. That event sparked a year-long writing project, finished with the help of 15 friends as a book called "The Truth." More a manifesto on environmental sustainability than a treatise on aliens, the press focused on the account of the alien visit Firmage put in the book, and his credibility was soon gone. Branded a kook, Firmage soon resigned from USWeb.

But even though his credibility was ruined, Firmage was still quite wealthy, and decided to put his money where his values were. He gave millions to environmental causes, and through that giving he met Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow, who was seeking funding for science-education projects. They soon were doing projects together, and reached an agreement to form

But Druyan, like her husband, holds firmly to science ("I cling to the scientific method," she says. "I am a true skeptic. Joe is not."), and she was skeptical of Firmage because of "The Truth." Before she would work with him, she insisted that he sign a contract that he would not use to promote "fringe theories." is actually two different projects. Firmage will run a San Francisco-based operation that runs the website, a kind of scientific Yahoo!, a portal for science that not only includes links, but also images, tools, recent news and the resources to build your own science website. Meanwhile, Druyan will run a Los Angeles-based production company that will work on educational projects similar to Sagan's "Cosmos" series from the 1970s.

So far the venture has raised $25 million, but that money is from two of Firmage's oldest supporters, companies that were no put off by his alien visitation claim. In spite of the collaboration with Druyan, he is still having trouble with credibility, and it may affect how well the company can raise additional funds. "Joe is a classic visionary whose thinking is often ahead of everyone else's," says Gary E. Rieschel of Softbank Ventures, one of the firms that has bankrolled Still, Firmage--with a lot of help from Druyan--will have to prove that his latest vision is as far from "The Truth" as he can get.


From Different Planets
Business Week pgEB38 22Jan01 I2
By Arlene Weintraub
Ann Druyan and Joe Firmage form an unlikely venture into cyberspace and beyond


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See also:

More about Joe Firmage's "The Truth" at

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information