- (IDG) -- Joe Firmage does not seem crazy.
His words do not echo like the proclamations of a zealot but rather are
delivered in a controlled, deliberate, boardroom fashion. They sound like
the words of a man who was forming a strategy for building Web sites one
day - and forming a strategy for a techno-spiritual evolution the next.
Somehow, Firmage's manner makes the progression seem natural.
- Joe Firmage wants you to believe what
he believes. To wit:
- "You are a homo sapien animal, sitting
at the top of an 8,000-mile-wide clump of geology, staring into an electronic
communications system called 'the Internet' ... 2,000 revolutions around
this globe since the birth of a man named Jesus. That's a more accurate
picture of you in the eyes of the cosmos right now."
- Joe Firmage says that without blinking.
- Joseph P. Firmage, 28, founded USWeb,
a leading Internet consulting firm, in 1995. Like his previous ventures,
the company prospered wildly. For fiscal 1998, USWeb posted revenue of
$228 million - a 100% increase over the previous year.
- During that year of intense growth, Joe
Firmage was moonlighting - working on the Kairos Project, a Web site and
book (due this summer) about human evolution and extraterrestrials.
- Word got out. In January, Firmage posted
his 700-page manifesto, called "The Truth" (www.thewordistruth.org)
which evokes both Star Trek and the New Testament. In the manifesto, Firmage
asserts that extraterrestrials not only have visited us, but also have
influenced our technological development.
- A few days later, he resigned.
- So, is he a "crackpot," as
USWeb/CKS (the companies merged shortly before Firmage left) board member
Gary Reischel recently pronounced him, summing up what he'd heard from
colleagues and investors? Or, is he a maverick entrepreneu with disturbing
ideas who is paying with his credibility for the strength of his convictions?
- Quiet certainty
- Joe Firmage does not look like a man
who's spent 3 million of his own dollars researching extraterrestrials.
In tiny Los Gatos, Calif., in a living room almost too small for its opulent
furniture, he speaks without flourish, with pregnant pauses and sustained
eye-blinks as much as with bold words. He wears a discreetly trimmed beard
and is dressed casually, as per the uniform of Silicon Valley executives
(including mandatory cellphone, which periodically interrupts an interview).
Out front in the driveway, a cardboard Jesus hangs from the rearview mirror
of his red Corvette.
- Firmage is both savvy and candid about
all the attention the world is paying him. "I've been very open to
the media for 10 years now in a business context," he says, but "I've
given nobody reason to question my sanity until six months ago. I'm just
starting to get the PR structure to deal with the media."
- When he first published his manifesto,
the news stories tended toward predictable snickering, but Firmage says
he believes"it's beginning to shift in the right direction. Rolling
Stone is doing a good piece on us. Time's already done something. I'll
be on Dateline [NBC]. I just spent the whole day with ABC News."
- How does he expect those TV interviews
to go? "Everything can and will be used against me," he laughs.
- Early achiever
- Firmage was born and raised in Salt Lake
City, where his family belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints ("It's a very cosmic thing," he says of the Mormon church).
After finishing high school in a mere two years, a scholarship in physics
led him to the University of Utah. Firmage left college in 1989 after
his sophomore year to form his first venture: Serius, which began as a
Macintosh program for his mother's greeting card business and quickly grew
into a database software company. Result? "Within six months,"
Firmage says, Serius "closed $7 million" in revenue.
- In 1993, Firmage sold the company to
Novell Inc. for $24 million and a vice presidency. In 1995, he left to
- According to Novell public relations
manager Jonathan Cohen,the company considered Firmage a "valued contributor....
We wouldn't comment on his beliefs or cultural activities."
- The real deal
- "I am convinced that the UFO phenomenon
is absolutely legitimate," Firmage says. "I have sat across the
table from people whose credibility is unimpeachable." People who
have described to him in great detail their experiences as alien abductees,
he says. Asked to mention names, he replies, "I can't."
- The cultural activities Cohen mentions
can be traced, Firmage says, to a vision he had early one morning in 1997,
shortly before USWeb's initial public offering. A mysterious figure clad
in white hovered over his bed, he recalls. The two shared a brief conversation
about space-time travel. When asked by the visitor why he should be given
the chance to travel in space, Firmage said, "because I'm willing
to die for it."
- The following year was "the busiest
time of my professional life," he says. "I held a 12-hour-per-day
job at USWeb, with Kairos (the UFO project) growing to four to six hours
per day. I had a simple system: daytime: USWeb; evening: Kairos."
- A year after the visit, Firmage posted
his manuscript online. A media flood followed. Then came investor jitters.
- "For the record, I chose to step
down," Firmage says. "And off the record, I chose to step down.
That's the truth. I was not forced out. Now, had I not chosen to step down,
I could well have been forced out. I've been 10 years in this valley. I
know how the game is played."
- Is there no room for visions like his
in Silicon Valley? "I would like the answer to be yes. But right now
... no." Maybe that's why, Firmage claims, there are several Silicon
Valley leaders hiding their own belief in extraterrestrials (he declines
several times to mention names). Why the need to remain quiet? "Well,
look what happened to me."
- Man of principle?
- "Frankly, I admire the guy,"
says author and columnist Robert Cringely. "In a world filled with
weasels who call themselves entrepreneurs and who will corrupt their business
plan to fit whatever is this week's hot technology, Firmage stands out
as a man of principle."
- And now out of the boardroom, Firmage
is free to discuss those principles. "I can say things I could never
say" when at the helm of USWeb, he says. "Every single executive
of a public company has to live that way." He says Steve Jobs and
Bill Gates are exceptions who "have a measure of freedom that anybody
just one notch down on that ladder does not have."
- One of Firmage's goals, he says, "is
to make things that have not been permitted to be spoken in open company,
speakable. Things that deal with anomalies. Things that deal with spirituality."
- Things like zero-point energy and gravitational
propulsion. Those controversial theories of physics underpin Firmage's
belief in space-time travel. Zero-point energy refers to a theory that
energy can be created from nothing, rather than matter. Gravitational propulsion
is based on the concept that the force of gravity can not only be harnessed,
but also engineered. Combined, the two provide the foundation for spacecraft
capable of warp speeds.
- Firmage's beliefs have backers. John
Peterson, a futurist and head of the Arlington Institute, a nonprofit research
group in Arlington, Va., is adamant about zero-point energy. "There's
no question but that it's real." And Charles Ostman, senior fellow
at the San Francisco-based Institute for Global Futures,says that, in 25
to 50 years, "we probably will have things like antigravity travel,
time-space continuum manipulation - all the usual precursors [to] getting
around the universe."
- Not all scientists agree. In fact, not
all seekers of extraterrestrials agree. Dan Wertheimer, director of the
University of California at Berkeley's Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence
program, calls Firmage's ideas "pretty wacko ... you'd be hard-pressed
to find any scientist that thought there was an ounce of credibility in
- Visionary or crackpot?
- You'd also be hard-pressed to find a
Silicon Valley CEO who doesn't drone on about vision and evolution and
progress. If nothing else, Joe Firmage's story is the story of what happens
when the vision becomes intensely personal, when public relations buffers
melt away and the board runs for cover.
- It's impossible not to wonder at Firmage's
motivations. Is this story about a yearning for liberation from the corporate
structure? (When USWeb and CKS merged, Firmage was not named CEO of the
combined company.) Is Firmage after a piece of history? Is this a publicity
trick, a plan to get richer? (After all, that cell phone keeps ringing.)
- Or, is this as simple as one man telling
his version of the truth- and paying for it dearly:
- "What happens in the history of
a world when its most advanced beings for the first time gain the power
to breakthrough its own gravity well?" Joe Firmage asks. "I'll
tell you what it's called; it's called birth. If Earth is a living being,
and we are created by the Earth, and we one day gain that power,the power
to touch the fabric of space-time itself, and use it,tap it, to voyage
- is that not literally a birth? And is not the history of humanity an
incredible drum roll to the opening of the first real frontier? That's
the vision that I see."