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.
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Ejected from Business Incubator: Part Two: Working with a Congenial Genius

Continued from part 1. From the Series, “Down and Out in Silicon Valley” by,  Alan Wilensky

“Hiroshi?”, I said in a rising, non-threatening voice. I wanted a combination Mr. Rogers and benevolent older brother tone. “How you doin’, man, we really didn’t have a chance to formally introduce ourselves, I’m Alan Wilensky, I am so sorry about getting involved at the incubator and getting you…..hospit…al…ized, er…ah…I mean…I didn’t know who you…” I was sputtering.

Hiroshi chimed right in over me, “what you talking about”. This was the first time I actually heard his speaking voice, which was a fully Americanized accent. Hiroshi was, as I later found out, of Japanese and American descent, and preferred being called, Hank. We are getting way ahead of the game, however.

“What involved, what hospital, what are you talkin’ about man?”, he was off to the races, although one can’t actually blame the man if he remembered nothing of the incident!

(internal whisper to self: whoa, big fella, lets not let things spiral into incivility so soon and so blunderingly)

“You know”, I said as I drew closer, a little, “with Claudia, that Thursday? You were crashed out in the Networking lab?”. Where was this conversation going?

“huh..uh, yup. Crap man, I was just napping there ’cause I don’t like my room at the group house, but…,” he raked his hand through his longish hair and followed with, “..but I don’t recall leaving…..”….his voice trailed off in a suspended thought.

I needed to get the conversation back on track, so I gave him the only thing I had, my best Monty Python lines, “Well, what of that, Roight! Roight!”. “To Business!”, I punctuated.

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Ejected from Business Incubator: Brilliant, Bipolar Hiroshi – Part One

So, you want to start a small, services based mobile messaging venture to serve the independent automotive trades-people. Fine, you will need a J2ME client for the Nextel platform (90% of towing and auto trades are Nextel accounts with 1 or 2 phones). Then you need a server and portal architecture, etc.

I started all of this with an actual system that I built in Salem NH where the focus was a Fax to Nextel gateway and a Web dispatch console. What I needed was a new architecture for automated ‘flow-through’ dispatch. I didn’t think my personal (dwindling) resources would be enough to bootstrap the venture (I should have  done so a year ago), so I went in search of capital.

Never mind being employed as a freelance analyst for product sector research. As someone who occasionally contracts for institutional investors –  I was unable to get traction on the dilution path. I had moved from Boston, working on the Peninsula for six months and venture campaigning for six months (wow, a year).

I’m a little worn out, I’ll tell ya. What is it gonna take to get a sane venture off the ground? I need an enthusiastic programmer / engineer that believes in the business’ potential, or one who is bored and needs a project to sink teeth into in order for us to get to functional prototype. Where oh where?

Back to the incubator to track down a guy I met briefly, but who seemed suited to my strategy: the brilliant, bi-polar, Hiroshi – the man who dreams in code.

Like everything else connected to the launch of ThruDispatch, this was to be somewhat of a fiasco. But dear reader, believe me, ThruDispatch is a good, solid idea that will foster a sustainable, Web-based business that shall truly serve its users with a real, not imagined, business oriented social networking service.

Read on:

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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. Continue reading