Kandoo attitude


POSTED: Sunday, June 14, 2009

Robert J. Maynard Jr. is rolling the dice in a down economy, pumping millions of dollars of his own money into a new ocean activities business that's set to make a splash off Waikiki next month.

That's the way the Phoenix-born entrepreneur operates, a full-bore, go-for-broke approach that has led to soaring successes as well as spectacular failures.

“;It's not that I'm willy-nilly throwing my fortune at this,”; said the 47-year-old chief executive officer of Kandoo!Oahu, sitting in an airy condominium overlooking the waters off Waikiki. “;I have calculated reasons to do it. I'm very bullish on the travel industry and Hawaii.”;

While other companies are laying people off left and right, KanDoo! is trumpeting its launch with full-page ads, promising “;great wages”; and “;awesome benefits”; for local folks weary of economic gloom. Maynard and company President Dale R. Smith, newcomers to Hawaii, say they plan to invest $7 million in the company and hire more than 200 people.

To lure customers, KanDoo! is giving away free personal watercraft rides to people who book other Waikiki activities with the company, from snorkeling to yachting or parasailing.

“;With Robert, it's always a ride, there's never a dull moment,”; said software engineer David Butler, who is overseeing the computer systems for KanDoo! and has done the same for Maynard's last three businesses. “;It's exciting, it's invigorating, it's challenging.”;

It's also a roller coaster. So far in his career as an entrepreneur, Maynard is batting .500. Two businesses he created went belly up, including his first venture, a credit-repair business that drew the ire of the Federal Trade Commission. The other, Dotsafe Inc., a filtering service to “;civilize the Internet,”; died for lack of customers.

“;Every entrepreneur fails,”; Maynard said. “;You don't bat a thousand. ... Everything I've ever done has been very big, very high-profile, so the failures are very big, very high-profile.”;

His other two companies took off like rockets. Houston-based Internet America, an online service provider, is still in business after 18 years. LifeLock, an identity-theft protection firm that signed up its first client in 2005, now boasts nearly 1.5 million customers, attracted in part by flamboyant TV ads in which CEO Todd Davis reveals his Social Security number.

But there is a back story to Maynard's life that has tripped him up when he was most successful, forcing him to leave both Internet America and LifeLock under a cloud.

“;I needed to jump on the grenade,”; said Maynard, who served a few years in the Marines. “;The best thing for me to do for the company—and I've done this twice now—was to step down. It's not happening in this one.”;

So when a Star-Bulletin reporter called with questions about his background and his plans for his Hawaii venture, Maynard said he decided it was time to open up. He admitted he had made mistakes. Like his first venture after getting his bachelor's in business administration from Northern Arizona University, the grandiosely titled National Credit Foundation.

The company tried to “;take advantage of the system”; to help people with poor credit, he acknowledges. The Arizona attorney general came after him, and later the Federal Trade Commission barred him from the credit-repair business for life. He attributes that fiasco to youthful inexperience and a poor choice of business partners.

But he also described his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder and depression, sharing medical records that showed a mental health history that paralleled the ups and downs of his professional life, including two personal bankruptcies.

“;If I had been able to stay medicated and managed correctly, my life would have been totally different,”; Maynard said.

In 2003, he landed in jail for a week after running up a $16,080 tab at a Las Vegas casino. He paid the debt two months later and cleared his record, but it came back to haunt him. The gambling spree occurred while he was undergoing electroconvulsive therapy in late 2000 and early 2001, in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to get well, he said. The treatment triggered manic spells as well as memory loss.

Maynard went on to suffer through the darkest period in his life. His marriage fell apart and he couldn't work, he said. In 2002, he attempted suicide. “;I was told by the doctors, 'You'll never work again,'”; he said. “;I remember the day I was in the office getting food stamps, I was like, 'I can't believe I'm here. Two years ago I was a millionaire.'”;

Although he first suffered symptoms as a teenager, Maynard said it wasn't until 2005 that he got the proper medication and lifestyle management to handle the disorder. But finally, things turned around. He launched LifeLock that year, with co-founder Davis, helping consumers fight identity theft by placing fraud alerts on their credit records.

It is something that anyone can do themselves for free, but the company did it for a fee, renewing the alerts every 90 days, ensuring that consumers would be notified whenever anyone tried to open a new account in their name. The fast-growing business suffered a setback last month when a U.S. District judge in California ruled that only individual customers can place such alerts, not companies. Its CEO vowed to challenge the decision “;at every level”; and continue business as usual.

Maynard had resigned from LifeLock in 2007 after published reports highlighted his past troubles, including an allegation that he had used his father's identity to obtain an American Express card. Robert Maynard Sr. dismissed that claim last week when contacted by the Star-Bulletin, saying they had taken the card out together.

The senior Maynard, an optometrist in Phoenix, said his son's mental health has hampered his career, but now “;the sky is the limit.”;

“;In many ways, he is a genius,”; Maynard Sr. said. “;Sometimes he doesn't even know how to actually think inside the box.”;

David Cowan, one of LifeLock's first major investors, describes Maynard as a “;brilliant, creative thinker”; who understands the needs of his customers and has helped other entrepreneurs since he left LifeLock. “;I haven't seen a founder more loved and respected by his company's employees,”; said Cowan, a venture capitalist for 17 years.

Butler, who helped bail Maynard out of jail, is one of his most loyal supporters. The computer consultant marvels at his entrepreneurial spirit, his passion for building teams and his devotion to his employees.

“;Robert has a charisma about him,”; Butler said. “;He's a very good leader. He has a way of describing and painting a goal that people can get their hands on and making them believe they can do it.”;

For his part, Maynard said building his new business on the water will be a lot more fun than his previous undertakings. For one thing, he gets to show up for work in shorts and slippers. And his family—he remarried in 2006—can enjoy it too.

“;I love building, leading people, watching them grow and creating something from nothing,”; he said.

Maynard is putting up the bulk of the investment in KanDoo!, using money he made from selling his stake in LifeLock. The company has no bank debt, he said.

“;We've rolled the dice. We've made a big stake,”; he said. “;But we believe, we really believe, in the marketplace and the opportunities that we want to bring.”;