Over the weekend Jeff Papenfus died.
I can’t say we were best friends. Business friends more than anything. I’d see Jeff at the Coffee Underground every couple weeks (especially when he was working on Main Street) and the usual “hi and a handshake” would always turn into a half-hour conversation.
We travelled similar paths for a while. We both owned web development companies and, at first, our conversations mainly focused on business. Jeff had an amazing energy and was always willing to share his experiences, provide advice, and contribute to an impromptu clients from Hell session.
I saw Jeff at probably his most high in business. He had just moved to a two story building on Main Street and had hired several new people. For Greenville, the growth in both size and stature of his company was meteoric. At the Grand Opening party Jeff bounced around with energy and confidence. We made jokes, had some drinks, and talked about the wonderful prank possibilities a second story window overlooking Main Street provided.
I saw Jeff at probably his lowest in business as well. His company wasn’t able to sustain the growth and pretty soon the company of ten people was down to just Jeff. He still came by Coffee Underground. We still talked for 30 minutes at a time. And he still was happy to share and advise. He still had energy, but some of the confidence was gone. Business can wear on the most fit person and business had clearly worn on Jeff.
I saw Jeff refocused as a person beyond business too. After a while our conversations at the Coffee Underground focused less and less on the web and business and more and more on his new addiction as an adventure racer. I’d sit back in amazement and pepper him with question. How long are you racing? You did what? Are you insane?
His energy, confidence and passion were back. Jeff had found something outside of business that drove him. I’d see him in the morning at the Coffee Underground and he’d talk about trying to finish his work by 11am so he could go ride his bike all afternoon. He’d tell me about the next adventure race he was preparing for and I'd sit in awe.
I’ve heard and read lots of people say fantastic things about Jeff over the last couple days. Lots of people who knew him much better than me. His energy and passion were mentioned often. It’s this energy and passion that drove him as a racer and athlete. It’s what I’ll think of most of when I think of Jeff. Running into him at the Coffee Underground, asking him where he’s racing next and walking away from the conversation convinced he was insane.
But, I’ll also think of one the last conversations we had. It was at InnoVenture. He mentioned that he had once tinkered with building a motorcycle that was both extremely energy efficient and fast. He said there were competitions for such bikes and the winners made some pretty good money. I said he should start working on that bike again. He pushed back saying he was no mechanical engineer. Then he started to talk himself into the idea. He started to smile and his eyes started to brighten as the gears in his head churned. He would partner with Clemson. Maybe pull CU-ICar into the mix. They could sell advertising on the bike and website. It could work. “Maybe I should do it,” he said. I laughed because that entrepreneurial energy was revving up and it was fun to be around a person with that energy. It was fun to be around Jeff.