Techno Reality Dame Confidential

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

(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. Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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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A Sleigh Full of Angels; another day in the life of ThruDispatch

I was soooo nervous; Mr. East Coast Analyst turned entrepreneurial adventurer mooching around the city of San Francisco, riding up to this fine loft South of Market to pitch to…..who were these guys again? Yes, yes, a group of accredited investors – angels. These gents agreed to see me, and here I was riding their private elevator.

Woosh. There I am right in the suite, the home of Daniel Xavier Thornton (not his real name), a fabulously wealthy retired gent who made his fortune in the heyday of HP, Intel, Xerox. He worked for them all as an engineer, executive, advisor, and board member. For over 20 years, he and his close cohort have been placing seed funding east and west. These fine gents were notable for sometimes placing bets on good ideas from team-less subject matter experts; they are not impressed with voluminous business plans, they invest on the gut. Sometimes (often) they help build the teams and go hands on with operations. Sharp, mature, modest,  wise angels.

Whenever they addressed me they always used my first name in an almost formal manner, “Alan, we hate most of these Web 2.0 guys, we want to get back to investing in real inventions”. “Alan, can you tell us more about your background as an electronics technician?” “Alan, please don’t tell people who we are, you can do that blog thing, but change our names and location”.

Sure guys. Continue reading

A Fairy Tale of Mountain View

It was a silent 4:00PM in Mountain View, CA, the artificial city of the Silicon Peninsula. I ended my funding pitch with a quote from Jonathan Swift. I had no idea it would be so poorly received:
“When a true genius enters the world, you may know him by this sign: the Dunces are all aligned in confederacy against him.”

So I quoted with a smile at the VC meeting where my baby, ThruDispatch, was pitched.

One of the Senior Partners hurled a stentorian barb in my direction.”You are calling yourself a genius and we are the Dunces? ”

“Not at all. I am merely saying that many valley equity investors seem to be throwing capital at just so many duplicate social media and video sharing plans”, I said, almost ready to mace these suits if it wasn’t for the consequences. Don’t they see the mess in cloned business models ruining this wonderful valley?

One of the Juniors looked at me with withering scorn and vomited his invective in my general direction, “Everyone in this room makes seven figures, we are placing the next sub-round in Facebook Apps…good day Mr. Wilensky and, good luck with your….plan”.

As I left, I passed a famous ‘Silicon Valley undertaker’, a reaper of VC capital, walking confidently into the conference room. He had a track record of raising capital and burning down (so to speak) any number of here and gone startups, few of which ever became profitable. Indeed, he seemed more notorious for NOT making equity pay. What was his secret?

“How do you do it?”. I hissed, “how, how?” He barely glanced backwards at me as his Patek Philipe Minute Repeating watch chimed a quarter past the hour.

“I hire friends, I am hired by friends, I make sure that the first order of business when receiving a placement of equity is to find a way to compensate the VC partners”, he said, his suit was impeccable.

Hmm, leather sandals with a suit in such Bay Area cold.

Clammy and faint, I staggered towards the elevator – Ping….Bing…bong..softer as the conference room door clicked closed….fainter voices from behind…”hey guys…good to see you again….(Ping!)

It was 4:30PM in Mountainview.

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