RIP, Andy

I just received the news that my friend, Andy Bourland, died this morning.  I'm feeling pretty down.  We knew this was coming, but there's just no real way to soften the blow of something like this. I'm a big believer that when we lose somebody important to us, one of the best ways to help move on is to tell stories.  In that vein, I'll share two stories about Andy.

The first concerns the first phone conversation I had ever had with Andy.  Back in the day, Andy and I belonged to something called the Online Advertising Discussion List.  Until that first time I talked to Andy, we had known one another only from our posts to this list.  Anyway, someone else from that list named Charlie Sayers had called me up out of the blue to let me know he wanted me to write for a site of his called "Who's Marketing Online?"  It was really important to me, a journalism major, to continue to write at the pace I had established in college, when I was writing news stories and at least one opinion piece a week.  Charlie had read some of the stuff I posted to O-A and asked me to write for WMO.  So I did.

Not long after, I got an e-mail saying that WMO was being acquired by ClickZ.  All I really knew of ClickZ was that it was an industry publication for online advertising people and that it was run by this guy named Andy Bourland who I also knew from the O-A list.  As soon as I read about the acquisition, I was tweaked.  I mean, I had stumbled into this great writing gig that I really liked, and I was getting paid decent money.  And I really needed the money.  I was a senior media planner at K2 Design, and I was making next to nothing while I tried to make rent in this gross little apartment in Bayside, Queens, that I shared with two roommates.  Just when I was getting used to the idea of writing regularly again and making some extra money, here comes this guy named Andy ready to plop his money down on the table and wreck everything.

I was sitting at my desk at K2 when the phone rang.  It was Andy.  He introduced himself.  (And if you know Andy, you know that he's got a great phone demeanor.)  I thought that he took a disarming and kind tone with me because he was getting ready to fire me and replace me with someone older and wiser, with more writing experience.  A few minutes into the phone call, it suddenly dawned on me that Andy wasn't being disarming because he wanted me to leave.  He was doing it because he wanted me to stay.

I was happier than I'd been in a while.  I got to keep my writing gig and my paycheck.  Best of all, I made a new friend that day.  That was in March of 1998 (best I can remember).  I've been writing weekly ever since.

The second story I'll tell about Andy one I feel like I have to tell just to get it off my chest.

Several years ago, I was faced with a situation where I had to make a choice.  I was the owner and community organizer of a great little e-mail list called The Old Timers List.  At the same time, I was getting my agency, Underscore Marketing, off the ground and struggling to do both.  I spoke to some of my business mentors, and they all said the same thing.  Essentially, I needed to concentrate on one thing or the other, but not on both.

At around the same time, Andy had given me a call to ask me if I'd ever consider selling the Old Timers List.  There were a lot of people interested in acquiring it, considering that it would give any industry trade publication a direct line to the best and the brightest in the industry.  But Andy was the first to call me about it, and when I had to make the choice, he was the go-to guy, owing to the fact that he had built ClickZ and other online properties with great success.

I agreed to stay on as a minority stakeholder in the new company to help Andy develop the business.  We did a few meetings up in Andover with some of my favorite people - Andy, Masha Geller, Tig Tillinghast, Rick Bruner and a few others.

At this point, Andy wasn't in the greatest of health.  We hit a few snags.  There was a sizeable backlash when Andy announced that The Old Timers List would charge for membership.  We held an event that wasn't very profitable owing to a few silly mistakes that could be corrected the next time we hosted one.  There were people who lashed out at Andy and at me for doing the things that we felt would take the list to the next level.  (Some of the griping wasn't entirely without merit, either...)

If you understand the type of guy Andy is, you know that this didn't sit well with him.  I'm convinced that he wouldn't be totally satisfied with his decisions unless they made everybody happy.  That's just the type of guy he was.  Unfortunately, you just can't make everybody happy.  All of this on top of Andy's failing health really wore him down.  One day, he sent me an e-mail apologizing profusely for all sorts of things that had happened since we went into business together.  Really, though, he had nothing to apologize for and I told him so.

And that's what I wanted to get off my chest.  Andy did an admirable job trying to keep everyone happy, and he had nothing to apologize for.  I never felt that he did, yet I think Andy may still have carried some guilt with him, and I hope that before he passed on, he was able to rid himself of any lingering regrets.

A few days before Andy died, I sent an e-mail to his old e-mail address, hoping that it would reach his wife Jeanne and she would be able to communicate my sentiments to him.  I didn't want to dig anything up concerning The Old Timers List, so I simple asked her to tell Andy that I really appreciated his friendship all these years.

I really hope that came across.

Andy, God Bless You.  I'm a better person for having known you.  Rest easy, my friend.