Some of you may have read my column on how I first got to know the startup industry. I was considering for a while how to proceed with the series and decided to go simply chronologically!
So. We were now digging into this startup stuff, the very first thing we did was opening technology scouting department to have an influx of information.
The other day The President flew over for dinner and cigars as he always does when something’s up. This time, it was about the Chinese trying to bribe government in Sierra Leone to “lease” them some mines. Well, our mines. Anyway, it was all solved and as he was in a good mood I dared to talk about our new information gathering department and how it was inspired – how I offered the 100K investment and found out such a great tool for industrial espionage. I also told how many companies are also investing and even making returns and so on.
The President is a grey haired small man with mickjaggerish big mouth and heavy eyelids. He sat in his huge armchair and fell into his thinking mode. It’s when he appears asleep but something is really going on. He must not be disturbed.
So I waited. And of course, I didn’t take out my phone. Not that I ever do, I barely know how to make calls, my secretary created a LinkedIn profile for me.
Suddenly he opens his eyes again, he has this almost mystical devilish shine in his eyes when he whispers: “This, my boy, is the new era of business; this is where we go in, go in, guns blazing. This is the new frontier and we need a piece of it.”
I nodded with a hesitant smile. It felt like something big. I haven’t seen The President in this way for a while. Maybe never.
“Look around you, what do you see?”
“A business, Sir, I see business.”
“Precisely. But what is the business?”
“EBIT, of course, Sir.”
“Here you go wrong, my boy. The business consists of the value and that true value is always generated by people. Now we’ll have access to the most important component of the value itself.”
Heading to Mecca
I’ll never forget these words as they still make no sense to me. He told me to see what we can do to capture that value. So, of course, I had Junior VP Paul report to me the very next morning.
He suggested different ideas. One was even establishing a startup of our own but I wanted no part in that, seemed way too fishy stuff. So we decided to learn about them by investing into one.
Next day we had our pilot land us in the Mecca of all startups, Silicon Valley.
Our secretary had set us a full schedule of different events and meetings, so we can find our target.
On the dinner I had few Manhattans too many and made a small mistake, I made Little Paul a compliment. About his tie. You know, we usually don’t bond, business is business.
Next morning we went to some sort of competition. I guessed it’s around business ideas but it turned out it’s all around PRESENTING THE IDEA, something they call pitching.
It was a medium size hall in an industrial complex on the outskirts of Palo Alto. Everything looked temporary, almost rental (thinking back it probably was!). I was surprised how poorly everyone was dressed – sneakers, hoodies, t-shirts; some punks had even tied their hair!
“They’re young IT geniuses,” Paul whispered. “If they are geniuses, why have they no money for proper barbershop, not to mention Italian shoes?” Paul knew when to agree with me, that one thing he does well.
So these IT geniuses go one after another to this small stage with poor PVC backdrop (most probably made of our materials) and tell about their business. Some tried to be creative and danced or rapped their way through that short business plan. I felt like in a circus, amazed to my guts where’s the dignity of these young business men and women.
“I’d never ever go on such stage,” I told Paul, “I’d rather take a bullet.”
“This is how they communicate their idea. Look at it like an audio-visual resume – their CV and their businesses CV. Otherwise, we’d have to waste lots of energy listening to their life stories.”
I played with my moustache while agreeing it’s better this way. Let the punks tell their poems, easier for us to pick something. I wanted to get this over with just like I’d be shopping with my wife Linda – i just wanted to get something and be on my way.
One guy just announced, with great pride on the stage that he’s a dropout! That he has dropped out of every school he ever went to. Despite my self-control I burst:
I turned serious immediately but the damage was done, everyone was looking at us.
Actually I was getting really tired of this freak-show, really losing my patience; fortunately, a clearly gay guy with a pink T-shirt and yellow sneakers came on stage and announced its networking time and lunch, quarter-finals start at 1 pm.
One of those IT geniuses in his twenties slapped me on my shoulder: “Nice suit, dude, you look like a godfather or something! Haha!”
I smiled while holding pure anger behind my teeth.
“Maybe I am! Ha ha!”
“Maybe you are, man!”
“You don’t wanna find out!”
“Maybe I don’t!”
We both laughed like we have heard the funniest story of our lives, almost falling on the ground. Oh god how I wanted to slap his silly face! While we laugh Little Paul starts to panic because no one knows better how to read my face, even when I am hysterically laughing.
The King of The Great Valley
“Having fun I see?”
That was the announcement guy, from the stage.
“Welcome to our pitching session! My name is Mark Bailey and I’m the pitching king of the valley,” he says with a little theatrical manner.
“Bitching king maybe,” I think to myself, while he keeps going:
“How could I miss two gentlemen with so nice Peroni suits!”
“Actually, just mine is. Nice to meet you too. I’m The Vice President of The Corporation and he’s our Junior VP Paul.”
“Nice to meet you! What brings you to the Valley?”
“The lobsters, of course. And startups.”
“Oh, so here for some business. How early are you interested in?”
“Well, early is not a problem really, I always get up at six, so tomorrow morning is fine.”
“Absolutely! Anything I can do to help!” he said with slight confusion in his voice.
Little Paul looked at me with these eyes he wants permission to talk. I looked him back with my face that says permission granted.
A statupish startup, please
VP Paul: “We are actually interested in something new and interesting, something maybe software-based. Important would be that it would as startupish startup as possible. You know, like a car with all the extras!”
“Come back in the afternoon and I’ll introduce you. We might have something for you in the finals!”
“Sounds great, see you in few hours! Bye!”
I rushed off, I think I had seen too much until that moment and was reaching the level of my comprehension.
Once in our safe, quiet, air-conditioned limousine, all I wanted was my quiet air-conditioned presidential suite.
“Who are these people?” I asked Paul.
“Startup people, you know. As the demographic is generally young it creates a requirement to relate to them.”
“Yeah, but this guy had a ten-buck Casio on his wrist; what king of kings can he be?”
Paul just shook his shoulders when watching out of the window. I didn’t understand if he’s agreeing with me or was he just as confused as I was.
My hotel was near. I needed a break.
For your comments and ideas or pitchdecks (you know I would never use this word) my friends at ArcticStartup created an email account ([email protected]) which somehow sends all e-mails to me. (My secretary reads them to me every morning.)