A Subordinated Debenture for the Venture Challenged

From the Series, ‘Down and Out in Silicon Valley’.

(Names and locations changed to preserve the privacy of those involved).

I was daydreaming, as usual, at my desk in San Mateo. I rented a room in a small house with a nice garden tended by a non-antagonistic female room mate. My self employed ways didn’t bother this stalwart member of the technology working class; Victoria worked as an HR / executive assistant at a tech venture in Palo Alto, which gave her regular hours, and gave me leave to scream and curse over the phone, at the walls, and to myself, as the muttering tended to rise in volume as the day wore on.

I could also have meetings at the house, and pretend that I owned it, thus feigning a normal life, i.e., that I was NOT broke, that I have NOT squandered 6 months of lucrative consulting income on the ThruDispatch venture with no progress or code assets to show for it, and finally, I had NOT wasted most of the last nine months (since my last paycheck) either pitching, trying to build a team, or trying to get consulting work. This was all a front; I was, as the title of the series suggests, down and out and selling  my toys and other assets. Thankfully, three months of very lucrative meat and potatoes work came swinging through via a recruiter in integrated manufacturing  – one of my vertical IT standard specialties.

In my work as a product strategy analyst, my fortunes can, and often do, change in a single phone call. But it’s cold here in San Mateo, and my insistence at pushing ThruDispatch down the throat of the selfsame groups who assign value to temporal and ephemeral social media has not served me as well as I had hoped.
There are no warm feelings for the lone visionary, despite the best intentions of the self-styled Business Bootstrapping Blogger Brigade, their ministrations make my end-of-year that much more discouraging.

Back to my erstwhile daydream, more a flashback, for the event took place only six weeks ago:

(Harp Arpeggio….~~~~~)

Why did Arnaud Roland, the Senior Adviser of the Los Altos Technology Incubator, spend so much time trying to get a team of developers interested in ThruDispatch without a chance of recompense (it seemed at the time)? The mezzanine functional requirements of the system were, admittedly, much more complex than a typical bootstrap web startup. Was Roland just an enthusiastic dispatch work-flow groupie? Or, was there a connection with Hiryu Wattanabe, the father of errant  Hank, the troubled software engineer?

I knew that Mr. Nabe (his familiar nickname), was fabulously wealthy, that he had a son in desperate need of place and companion, and this loving dad of dads would spend whatever to deliver happiness to his son. I also knew he was contributing each year to programs tangentially connected to the business incubator programs and various Standford related institutions.

So, I mused, we have:

1) Hank (Hiroshi Watanabe), a troublesome fixture at the Los Altos incubator, ejected multiple times for being disruptive and abusive in a place where real business was trying to get done –

2) Arnaud Roland, possibly a part-time babysitter for Watanabe Sr. He would look the other way when Hank was caught with his bedroll in the lab…..but he couldn’t play full-time social worker without risking his main mission –

3) Roland’s strenuous efforts to fit my black-sheep venture into some hybrid team of young developers resembling the ‘Dirty Dozen’, or the cast of McHale’s Navy.

(Harp Arpeggio….~~~~~)

Something was fishy.

Coming out of my reverie, I reflected on my decision to forgo taking  Hiryu Watanabe’s money. It was a sound decision of right action; you can’t expect to make progress in a visionary crusade with guilt money on your hands. I sure could use Hank, he was a great engineer, bridging voluminous software architectural specs to code in a matter of hours or at most, days .

Where does one find talent like that off the street? I needed someone for the long-haul, however. Hank’s unfortunate problems, none of which were his fault, meant that his dad’s devil deal, casting me in the role of a social worker, venture CEO, product manager, buddy, and covert agent of reportage on his son’s behavior, was just too much.

The dot’s connecting Arnaud Roland’s actions were hazy, but becoming clearer, and it complicated everything. I had to consider that the comedy of errors sprouting from the incubator’s meta-stable of hanger’s on, Stanford dropouts, and sundry talented yet immature and uncommitted slackers, was a ruse.

Nabe-San was rigging an unintentional game; perhaps it was more accurate to say that those beholden to his money felt obliged to help him care for his son. Let’s face it, I was tailor made for this assignment; I was desperate to utilize the skills his troubled son possessed, I was Jewish and therefore a repository of guilt-fed do-goodery, and I had struck out finding any partners within the industry or via avenues.of capital  placement.  Therefore Jackpot.

And I walked away from the deal. Let me break my arm patting myself on the back. I feel nothing. I don’t feel proud, I feel, rather,  depressed and a wee bit end-of-the-year fatigued.

I strayed back into reverie:

(Harp Arpeggio….~~~~~)

The crappy apartment in the Mission district wasn’t what I expected from Roland’s Incubator file on the team. Let’s see – theoretically five guys one gal, nice Web 2.0 loopy typeface web site and a blog with irreverent comments. Claiming to be Ruby on Rails savants with a specialty in large database back ends and concurrent object threading for complex real-time requirements.Good on paper.

Of course, I hadn’t put my clues together. If the facts played out in true ThruDispatch fashion, these good-natured young people, tats, piercings, and all, were both smart and trouble, or could present some generational challenges. Only in hindsight did the fiasco add up. But in that moment in the Mission, in that apartment, it looked all too innocent. Never again.

“..so,  I’m glad Mr. Roland referred me, and you know the score, I’m canvasing for capital, or I can pay out of pocket in the long run, or share equity when the business operates, if it operates, and I’m broke now…etc.”, I was at least 20 years older than anyone in the room, and I felt, probably, that they might have had more money than me, at that moment in time.

‘The kids I never conceived in two failed marriages…the souls dissatisfied with not having been incarnated via my useless procreative acts, are here now to torment me’, I thought this to myself. Or, were my lips moving, betraying a sub vocalized murmur that I was powerless to stifle?

“You’re so glad?”, Paul, wearing a wool pullover hat over dreadlocks, threw a barb back at me. Snide, not a good sign. Wasn’t he hot in that getup?

I put best foot forward, what choice otherwise? “Yes, I think he could have just left the advisor’s evaluation sit, and he didn’t have to take it further. I understand my idea isn’t a good fit for that Incubator”.

The young man closed his Macbook, and leaned back on the cruddy couch, and said, “the man is a virus”. I was personally shocked at the disrespect to someone not present, but why stand on false pretenses, speak yo’ mind.

The young lady was next on the lecture circuit. Horned rimmed glasses, studious looking, tights, black mini, tats, ink for sure, studs. All cool and very stylish. Not my generational style, and I have, in the past, been anything but mainstream as an ex-professional bass player, having sported an ass-length pony tail, and alternatively, a Jew-Fro of gargantuan diameter at various times throughout my musical career.

She spoke: “We do not need Arnaud Roland”, she said, and I noticed she was wearing flip-flops when she entered from the outside cold.

Oh boy. Best foot forward. I wasn’t there to defend a man  I barely  knew. But he seemed like a decent man.

“Well,  I didn’t mean to get into personalities. I’m looking for a team to get an operational system that can be scaled as we recruit mobile subscribers”. I figured they must have read the briefing? The first page? I forget the lesson that even interested potential partners within the mobile industry often did not read my briefing, did not read, period. They read only the things of immediate concern. As Covey would put it, ‘the urgent, not the important’. The ego on me.

“The towing industry, that thing! Roland said you had an in at the South City R&D lab at Eurocom, we thought you might get our Facebook App in the door over there”, I desperately wished for the endowment of youth and optimism over capital and desperation – she was so pretty and smart. I could tell now that I was not dead by the feelings a smart and sassy gal could engender within me.

Oh, If I were younger and more attractive, how exciting to engage intellectually and romantically with a cool chick like Tabbatha. Too bad I was old, weatherbeaten, and her boyfriend of the moment was probably one of the guys in the room. I had, at any rate, to disabuse her of the notion that I had any influence, anywhere.

“no, I was a contract analyst. They had some channels that needed vetting from an outside source, and I came from Boston to do an initial ninety days that lasted six months. I ended up staying in the Valley to see if I could get my consulting practice up to speed here, and to get my ThruDispatch idea off the ground. Neither strategy is working out very well, as it happens”, I said.

“As it happens, dude”, Lonny, the quiet, somewhat pudgy and less like a Mission hipster model chimed, “we have been working on this FBXML Application for organizing secure raves and dance parties”. It sounded to me a little cliche’. I thought the rave thing was over, how could I possibly broach this without sounding forty nine years old?

“Isn’t the rave thing over now with the social green global warming eco-investing non-self centered movement? I’m confessing ignorance here”, I pleaded.

“Enough with the acting dumb, dude. You know it’s all about social networking. You’re supposedly the analyst, we’re just curious if this can be a stepping stone?”. The arrogance had given way to a youthful naiveté’ that will never fully divest in the formative years of building one’s career. I had been ‘there  25 years earlier. Here these young achievers were questioning whether being merely talented was enough, should they ride a painted pony, or just ply their well compensated trades?

I was forced out of my reverie, back to my present state, and smiled to myself, arcing from reverie of the near-past to memories of long ago.

Back in my room, I retroactively decoded these words of the young guns . Sure enough, they were brazen, yet found themselves entangled between adviser Roland, Hiryu Watanabe’s fabulous wealth, and my needs. They had entered without thinking into what it means to take money for an assignment, (in this case to portray themselves as spoiled and slackerly, so that I would be obliged to accept Watanabe’s offer, thus agreeing to work with his son, Hank.
I felt like I was falling in a dream, as I lay down on my pitiful bed, in my pitiful room in San Mateo, recalling a time, thirty or more years in the past, when I stuck out my chin to Daniel Berman, the owner of a large electronics service empire, or so it seemed empire-like at the time.

I was one of a small handful of young electronics technicians in the late 1970’s that could repair the new Video tape decks. And I could teach a training curriculum. I was a triple threat, arrogant, and  yes, very talented at my craft. And this somewhat older man saw my potential, and I wanted to be guided. It launched a long and fruitful career. Till things changed, much later.

And here now, these bright souls have been woven into my drama by dint of a wayward idea. They were caught off guard. I had a feeling they would be better off just breathing the moneyed air of the Bay Area, doing what comes naturally to young careerists, unsullied and un-adulterated by the well meaning intentions of a father taking desperate measures to save a mentally ill son. Throw into the mix an influential stooge hiding behind his title as Business Incubator Adviser; yes,  Roland – let’s not forget him.

Well, these young folks asked a question regarding my influence and opinion, so:

“Eurocom, have you seen any such imprimatur on an Internet Property of note? Facebook Apps, have you thought how to make money, other then merely selling the application or using it as a leg to showcase your talent? Have you found a mission critical use case other than a very crowded and variegated entertainment and advertising monetized model?”

“And finally, in your opinion, Tabbatha, Paul, Lonny, you all: how many social network profiles will a user maintain, who will take the lion share of ad revenue, who will participate to the extent you hope with these ephemeral products. I’m just saying, the common knowledge, it seems to me, is that anything vertical and trades related is deemed below the dignity of the Valley’s young developers and  venture capital partners. It is going to take blood running in the streets, from Santa Clara to the Embarcadero, until we get back to a model of reality”.

“And Eurocom is always late and second or third in with envy, while all of your youth is concerned with generating plenty”. Not a perfect prognostication, but it would have to do for the moment.

They group blinked at me and seemed to keep chanting, “dude, dude, dude, dude!’, whoa, hold up here, is this a dream I want to awaken.
“But that’s just me…….me……..me…..”….My voice was echoing. JOLT!!

I was still lying in my bed in San Mateo, I was a little bleary and overheated. These events seemed all intertwined. And as I awoke fully, I realized that most of my dazed dreaming was in the warp and woof of the Awful Truth and Real events.

Dude.

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