Incubating and Sleeping in Los Altos

“I’m sorry you had to see that, Mr. Wilensky, it’s really not like that here, that’s not typical behavior for our eggs.”

“oooooookkkaaaaaaay…” What can you say but a long, drawn out okay when you are invited to see a business incubator and walk right into a young man surfing porn (or was it a woman? Blue spiked hair and what seemed, from the back, like studs and tats).

Hmm. Ok. Did she say, ‘eggs”? “Did you call that young, uh, man (?), an egg, Claudia?” I had to take a stab at conversation and I hadn’t even been there two minutes. Claudia was the Senior admin and den mother to this witches brew of mostly very young Stanford grads. She was indeed very charming and slightly older than the gaggle that dotted the room. I was, at 49, a good ten years older even than she. There were cubicles and picture window offices on the perimeter (there was no merit system as to who occupied these prized suites, first come first served; with the turnover in academia and start-up karma, if you want one, you’ll get one eventually). I digress , however.

“Eggs, Claudia?”

“Well, we are an Incubator.Come this way and I’ll show you our networking lab. Some of the more techy hardware things require equipment that is beyond the reach, of, well, you know, grad students trying to make their first go. Here we are”, she said in a sing song voice.

I’ve seen networking labs before; I was an unpaid intern summers at one of Boston’s famous research marques. And since then, I have pulled cable and configured routers, often screwing up BGP with the best of them. So, here we have a rack full of switches, packet sniffers, etc. All normal stuff.

Oh, a logic analyzer, 128 channels no less. Sweet.

Hey, more test equipment, and…what have we here – a young man with all his possessions stuffed under a workbench, and fast asleep. “Do you know this guy?” She hadn’t seen him until I alerted her.

“Oh, Jeez, he’s not s’posed to be here, we had to ask him to leave because he was so disruptive to other eggs”. This skinny little guy ?? Claudia started to prod the guy with her track shoe…nudge.

Claudia turned to me and said, “uh, would you mind hanging out here with me until I get him out of here safely? We have a restraining order against him….and he can be a handful.”

“This guy, no way! He looks like he weighs 99 lbs. You could annihilate him in a fair fight , Claudia!”, I just could not see what she was so worked up about. But she filled me in alright:

“He is brilliant and bipolar and angry and a great waste of potential and needs a psychiatrist. Ok, stand your ground, Mr. Wilensky, I’m gonna wake him up.” What the hell did I get myself into, I just wanted to get some developers to work on the cuff for my stupid mobile dipatch portal, the benighted ThruDispatch.

“Shouldn’t we call the police, Claudia, or campus security, he is a student or alumnus, surely?” I was starting to get a little edgy myself.”

“No”, Claudia was rolling up her sleeves and bracing herself, taking a wide stance, “lets get this over with before the advisor’s show up, I could lose my job for letting him in here, even though I didn’t see him”, she raised her eyebrows at me.

“He gets in here every coupla months, sneaks in. Okay!!! (That war cry startled me !)

“Hirosheeeeeeeee! Wake Up Dammit, Hiroooooooosheeeeeeeeee! You can’t be here”. She was lightly kicking a comatose psych patient with a PhD. from Stanford.

“whoa, Godzilla”, I reacted, he was NOW AWAKE, for sure, trashing, smashing, and cursing…I can’t put those words in my professional blog. I was not used to playing the custodial caregiver for brilliant bipolar computer scientists and I was a bit slow on the uptake, when he sprang to his feet like a gymnast. “Yeow…..Shoot, Claudia!”

I was to learn later that Hiroshee (all names have been changed for obvious reasons), was a competitive gymnast in his better times, and he was a wiry and strong SOB. “Hey”, Claudia snapped me back from my frozen state, “Grab him, help me, help me get him out the door!!!”

“Is this legal? Manhandling a guy like this?” Claudia looked at me and growled, “I’ll call the campus mental health services after we GET HIM OUTTA HERE – get him under the arm, okay?”

I couldn’t catch or hold onto him, obviously Claudia was a better PhD. wrangler than myself. He was one ball of profane, fist swinging, spitting fury. I felt sorry for the guy, for like myself, he just came here to get his business off the ground and burned himself out in the process. It can make us all poor, crazy, and frankly, a little wild-eyed.

Bipolar disease notwithstanding, many of the start-up folks who don’t get funding coverage published on TechCrunch become a fraternity, of sorts. I could not bring myself to put Hiroshee in a headlock or otherwise restrain him – I backed away, and parted my hands as if to say to Claudia, ‘I can’t betray the secret society of entrepreneurs, that since the days of Armstrong and Farnsworth, have somehow stuck together, even as Sarnoff was stealing their patents and planning their demise’.

“What the heck are you doing?”, Claudia was even more insistent; boy, she had come to expect a lot from me, asking me to help eject a former incubator client, work up a sweat, all before my appointment with the actual advisor..sheesh. “I can’t, I won’t do this Claudia, you’re on your own.”

“damn it”, she screamed, “Bastard”. Who was she addressing, me or Hiroshee? Who cared?

But then the poor man twisted out of Claudia’s iron grip and lunged across the room, pushing items off of the work benches, and it was then that I realized my mistake. I didn’t know what this poor soul was capable of, and Claudia did. My entire tenure at this organization and with its admin was a total of 20 minutes, and already I was wrong.

Hiroshee jumped like the gymnast he surely was touted to be, and grabbed the most expensive piece of equipment in the lab. He started to lift the $60,000 Wavetek analyzer off the cart!

“Oh no you don’t”, I yelled, his destructive and misguided actions galvanized me into action……”Claudia, go!”, I yelled.

We had Hiroshee out the door and into the arms of the campus police and an ambulance in 30 seconds, just as my prospective incubation advisor was walking up. I looked a mess. Sweaty, tie askew, breathing hard.

The advisor, somewhat older than myself, looked at me, looked briefly at Claudia, and at the departing Hiroshee who was being flanked by two paramedics and escorted to the ambulance. “Was that who I think it was?’

Claudia shrugged and just went back into the office.

I needed to explain, “….uh, Mr. Roland, I am sorry about my appearance, actually, I was just helping…”

“Oh no, please”, Roland cut me off in mid sentence, “You East Coast guys have to get used to the fact that here on the Peninsula, we are not so hung up on dress codes”.

“Well, I didn’t mean my attire, per se, I meant regarding the scuffle with…Mr….uh….Hiroshee…?”

Roland looked at me, his head cocked as if to say, ‘can I trust you’, then grabbed my arm in a friendly way and said, “forget that, ok, let us not even worry about that, let’s see if we can help you round up some talent in this fertile valley”!

And we walked into the incubator. After all that, maybe I can be an egg, too.

Hopefully without cracking