Pehong Chen

ou might call Pehong Chen a stealth pioneer in the internet's growth from a medium for particle physicists to humanity's first crack at universal artificial telepathy. His Broadvision never became a household name like Jerry Yang's Yahoo or Sergei Brin's Google, but Chen's fingerprints are all over the net's transformation into the premier medium of commerce. Way back in 1992, when media giants began mulling the possibilities of video-on-demand as the ultimate goal of interactive TV, Chen saw the need to create a completely personalized home shopping network that could tailor information to each home. In 1993 he founded Broadvision and, after 100-man-years of development, released One-To-One, the world's first e-commerce software. The investment community fell in love with the concept, sending Broadvision shares into the stratosphere.

     Two years later investors decided the internet wasn't real. The ensuing NASDAQ meltdown forced Chen to take his company through a humiliating 9-for-1 reverse stock split on July 24, 2002 just to return share prices above the $1 threshhold. By that October Broadvision's valuation had plummeted to a puny $37.7 million, essentially the amount of cash and liquid assets on hand. Ouch! In one dizzying fall, one of the tech boom's brightest stars had lost 99.87% of its brilliance. At the age of 45 Chen had been reduced to a mere millionaire. It would have been easy to throw up his hands and find some tropical island on which to lick his wounds.

     But Pehong Chen stayed and continued the brutal cost-cutting begun in 2001. By the end of 2002 Broadvision's workforce had been reduced to 449 full-time employees. Chen's reward came in the very next quarter: Broadvision reported a $1.3 million profit on $24.5 million in revenues. The numbers were humble, but they proved that, even in a post-bubble economy, the company and its enterprise portal software were real. Its client list had grown to 1,200, including 8 of America's 30 largest companies, the State of California and the U.S. Air Force.

     Pehong Chen was born in 1957 in Taiwan. At age 7 he became an aspiring violinist. By the time he started National Taiwan University, he had switched to guitar and joined a rock band. He got a degree in computer science, served his two-year compulsory military stint and immigrated to the U.S. with his wife. Both received fellowships to Indiana University at Bloomington. Both earned masters degrees in computer science before moving to Northern California. Chen attended Berkeley for his Ph.D., and his wife went to work for a database company called Ingres.

     Chen was recruited by Italian electronics giant Olivetti to do leading-edge multimedia development with top researchers recruited from Xerox Park. By 1988 Chen was developing a computer teleconferencing systems which Intel still sells as ProShare. After only three months Chen grew frustrated. He finished out a full year and left in 1989 to found Gain Technology with $4,000, half from Chen and half from a partner. They wrangled a meeting with Matsushita execs and proposed a multimedia software system to enhance its computer business. They were rewarded with a $15 million contract. To this day Matsushita aggressively sells the software as Gain Momentum. In 1992 Sybase offered $100 million for Gain. Chen sold and signed a three-year contract as vice president of multimedia. When the contract expired in 1993 he started up Broadvision.

     Chen's influence is also seen in companies he didn't directly run but helped get started. In 1993 he provided startup capital for Siebel Systems, a leader in front office automation that was acquired by Oracle in 2005. Chen is also on the boards of Sina, China's top portal, and UFIDA, China's biggest software company which provides enterprise management software for the Chinese market.

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Pehong Chen

“In one dizzying fall, one of the tech boom's brightest stars had lost 99.87% of its brilliance. At the age of 45 Chen had been reduced to a mere millionaire.”

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