(Names and locations changed to preserve the privacy of those involved).
After the last troubling meeting with the tech-slackers, I had to see Tabbatha again. She stood out as the one with understated elegance, and showed no need to tear down the idea as a knee jerk response.
Indeed, the response I have come to expect when presenting ThruDispatch was not a cool refusal, but a vehement castigation of the idea in its essence. These exchanges were often punctuated with an assault on my character, resume, acumen, and motives. You could almost certainly identify which coast the critique originated from – bile and personal attacks generally came from the Bay area, cool refusals and weak advice from the Yankees.
Tabbatha agreed to see me at her workplace conference room. She was a partner in a prominent design studio, and highly placed, at that. It made me wonder why she was hanging with the slacker programmers at that Mission District hole of an apartment? So I asked, “what gives, Tabbatha, you have a really prominent design job, are technically very savvy, and I see you now dressed in a very sharp and conservative getup. Hmmmm?”, and I gestured at her designer business outfit.
Tabbatha launched into what must have been a well rote response, “Well, you should know that I am associated with those…boys…merely for the purpose of getting labor quickly leveraged for fast prototypes. That is the secret of nailing down corporate design deals – the first to slap a mock up into a client’s hands will get the deal, all design issues being equal”.
I was dealing not with a slacker programmer chick here, but a sharp business woman who was, obviously, much older than I had originally suspected at our previous meeting; with her tats covered, piercings out, and in totally conservative clothes, she was plainly in her thirties, at minimum, ten years older than the boys at the apartment.
“I see”, I said, “you have a whole ‘nother look and feel here”, making a joke about UI design.
“I have a CS Doctorate!”. she was chuckling. “And I’m half owner of this studio, which is not an insubstantial business, either”, Tabbatha delivered this news in the most pleasant way.
“I’m surprised that after all you have examined regarding this venture that you would even care to investigate what might comprise such a gritty, real business, like ThruDispatch!”, I joked, and felt a bit intimidated, although she did all she could to put me at ease.
Tabbatha talked and walked the two of us to her lounge area for a coffee, “you know, Alan, design is a good business, but a hard business. The portfolio only gets you so far, and it’s on to the next client”; “We, well I”, she rolled her eyes, implying that her partners might not agree, “want to look into things that we can own, sort of the way that 37 Signals made their business thrive with Basecamp – in other words, I want to own a working property that I can invest lasting equity in both capital, effort, and design, rather than doing the same branding and graphics iterations”.
“So, where can I come in to assist you in deciding whether this business model is appropriate for your aspirations, Tabbatha?’, I said.
She replied to me, “I certainly believe you know your market, but we need to know more about what the technical hurdles are, and why the entrenched fleet dispatch competition has steered clear, beyond the anecdotal”.
I was even more impressed. Here was a successful, Bay Area Technical personality, and she was thinking through my strategic issues. I was ready with answers, of course.
To spare the reader, I will say that we covered the competitive issues and that she seemed satisfied that this was, indeed, a sector that was bypassed by the corporate fleet mobile data service companies, mostly due to their lack of knowledge of the behavioral profiles of the independent automotive servicers.
“Huh! Who would have thunk that an entire mobile phone owning constituency would be bypassed by the big boys. And you have pointed it out and offered to partner with them, to act a consultant with royalties, in short, to do anything to get his over the hump, and they still would not bite – and I know why: They don’t respect the end-user in aggregate!”, Tabbatha was racing to the finish line. I sat back and waited.
She threw out more questions, “Give me the details on the mobile token object model, and the status and geocode update / bearer queues”. Oh, she has been reading my redacted specs on -line! I was in love, but she was wearing a wedding ring.
After we had discussed the technical underpinning of the internal architecture, a system that was, in my opinion, elegantly conceived to meld the on and off slate work orders, automate and manage work-flows, and create a streamlined way to connect lone mobile servicers to the unaffiliated agencies that use them, causally, and in more formal virtual fleet composite relationships.
Tabbatha had her game on and made her initial judgment, she ticked off the main things I had been presenting for two years now, to the venture community, angels, friends, family,and fools”:
“You have the portal architecture, no big deal, that’s all off-the-shelf with mods, the e-commerce, ditto. But, but, big but:
You need a new system to manage thousands of objects, update them, mesh them with externally defined processes, and persist them while applying a complex rule set for the allocation of alternate and back up bearers. Wow. Maybe, 5% of the enterprise workforce could deliver you a system that could scale”.
She was right up level with my understanding of the proposed architecture to service a large number of many to many dispatching relationships that could be constructed and dissolved at will by the job submitters in real time.
Tabbatha made her last statement a zinger, before I had to leave:
“This is no small project, no bootstrap web app. (I never spoke the word, ‘bootstrap’, to Tabbatha at any time), this a really new way of thinking on how to connect busy independents with clients they may know, or not know, and to meld the jobs they get through their own efforts, outside of the portal, with jobs that flow-through the portal, yes?”
I was glum, “yes – I’m so glad that you have grasped this so thoroughly”.
“It’s no deal for a seed or a Ycombinator; you are going to need 1-2 million, three cracker jack engineers with maturity, and an adult to supervise. You don’t have the cache, Alan, I’m sorry. You might be a VP products, but not the founder, but you are, if I remember correctly from our previous meeting, ok with that?”, how could one not love this gal?
“Yeah….I know that I’m not the best showman, nor a college graduate, and that I’ve never had operational experience, although I have had R&D management experience, back in the day”, She had called the tune that way I had expected, truthfully, and with respect and candor.
Tabbatha signed off for the day with, “I respect the consulting career you have painstakingly assembled despite the obvious deficits. You should be commended, product strategy is not an easy sell these days, when the whole culture is diving headlong into bubbledom”.
“Thanks, Tabbatha, I appreciate your time.”
I left her office in Santa Clara in a philosophical mood and somewhat, dare I say, enlivened. You can’t be a man my age and not be impressed and overwhelmed after meeting a smart, attractive gal like that. I bet I’ll hear from Tabbatha again. I’m sure of it.