This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write in 12 years as Return Path’s CEO. I hope it never has an equal.
One of our long-time employees, J.D. Falk, passed away last night after a year-long struggle with cancer. J.D., which most people don’t know was short for Jesse David, was only 37 years old. Although I cannot claim to be a close friend of J.D.’s, I have known him fairly well in the industry going back about eight years, and he has been a trusted member of our team here for the last four+ years.
J.D. did great work for us at Return Path, but my admiration for him goes beyond that. I admire him first for his willingness to work for the common good as much as, or even more than, his own good. J.D.’s tireless pro-bono work with anti-abuse non-profits MAAWG, CAUCE, and the IETF complemented the work he did here for a salary. And although he had a very positive and enduring impact on us at Return Path in terms of how we run our business and think about the delicate balance between email senders and receivers, he had an even bigger, broader impact through his standards work, papers, and tireless work on event programming and committee chairmanship. He did all that work not for money, not for thanks, but because it was, he felt, the right thing to do.
I also admire J.D. tremendously for his extremely principled, but thoughtfully considered, approach to life. His principles around internet users are well known and very “Cluetrain.” And yet, in a world increasingly filled with people whose opinions are intransigent, he was always open-minded and willing to engage in productive dialog with people who had different points of view than his own, sometimes changing his own thoughts and actions as a result of those conversations. That quality is all-too-rare in today’s society.
J.D.’s wife Hope told me a great story that sums up the fiber of J.D.’s being earlier this week. Just last weekend, from his hospital bed, J.D. realized that he and Hope had concert tickets they would be unable to use because of his illness, so he wanted to give them to friends. However, the tickets were only in electronic form on J.D.’s work laptop. Hope said, “J.D., just give me your password, and I’ll go home and print them out so we can give them away.” His response? “I can’t give you my password – that’s against company policy, but bring the laptop here to the hospital, and I can log in myself and forward you the tickets.”
Today is a sad day for me and for all 300 of us at Return Path as we lose a friend and colleague for the first time in our company’s history. And of course today is a sad day for the anti-abuse community that J.D. has been such an integral part of for his entire career. But more than that, today is a sad day for the internet and for the billions of humans that use it – sadder in some ways because they don’t even know that one of the people integrally involved in keeping it safe for them has left us.
I will post again as soon as I can with details of the memorial service for J.D. as well as details of where to make some kind of donation or contribution in his honor. In the meantime, I encourage J.D.’s many friends and colleagues around the world to post their memories to this memorial site.
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About Matt Blumberg
Matt Blumberg founded Return Path in 1999 because he believed the world needed email to work better. Matt is passionate about enhancing the online relationship between email subscribers and marketers so that both sides of the equation benefit. It is with great pride that he has watched this initial creation grow to a company of more than 400 employees with the market leading brand, innovative products, and the email industry’s most renowned experts. Before Return Path, Matt ran marketing, product management, and the internet group for MovieFone, Inc. (later acquired by AOL). Prior to that he served as an associate with private equity firm General Atlantic Partners and was a consultant with Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a B.A. from Princeton University. You can learn much more about Matt by reading his email marketing and entrepreneurship blog Only Once – one of the first CEO blogs on the Internet. Last year he wrote a book, Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business.