A Post of a Not-So-Fictional Start-Up Kinda Day
We were eating popcorn in individual coffee filters, the way you do at work, when you’re starving and can’t bear the alternative Cup O’ Noodles. Tonight’s urgency: impending merger or would it be an acquisition? The mania days of “Get Big Fast” meant we had to spend our ridiculously high market capitalization while we had it. Of course we all knew what that meant because everyone at a cube farm spends their strategic hallway moments pretending to understand what it all means. As predictable as flies to sugar, we could each be relied upon to puff up like mating bullfrogs when it came to hallway moments.
I was no better. I had a scarlett “NO MBA” printed on my forehead. I’d finagled myself through the grunt ranks of Mar Comm., doing everything from working the welcome desk at seminars, to laying out newsletters, to writing, to editing, finally to budgeting and planning and managing the staff, PR, and print production schedules. And that was before finishing college.
Now I was out, working in Product Marketing and Strategy at a real-live high-tech start-up. Doing brain work, not grunt work. Running with the Stanford MBAs. Yikes. These guys were young, trim, male, with no life, residing 15 minutes from the office. Compared to me; paunchy, with infant kids, sleep-deprived, bachelors degree in the liberal arts, 1.5 hour daily commute to the ‘burbs….I was amazed not to be shunned each minute of each day.
My Dad always told me to work twice as hard but look and act twice as relaxed. Come to think of it, so did my ballet teacher. So I puffed. I puffed up like a bull frog just like the MBAs and the non MBAs alike. Besides, puffing helped hide the bags under my eyes.
“So Beranetta, it would be awesome if we could get some competitive intell. on those guys. Have you heard anything on Plain Speak?” Karl from Product Management asked me as Bain, Darla and I clustered against a cube partition.
“Not really.” I puffed. “Tony said he came up against them in the old days, you know, three months ago before the RTF acquisition? He said their sales engineer was lame and embarrassed the sales executive who jumped ship later for LahDiDah.com. So other than one instance of poor field execution, their obvious sales exec retention issues, and products so complex that even their own sales engineers can’t understand them, I’ve got nothing.”
“Oh that’s great Bear! Could you work that up into a SWOT matrix document on Plain Speak? I could really use it for tomorrow’s meeting with Lamar.”
Karl didn’t give a hoot what I said about Plain Speak. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats meant SWOT. He just wanted to be sure our hallway cluster knew he was in a meeting with the CEO tomorrow and could baffle people with the word “SWOT.” Preen, preen. And while he was at it, reinforce dominance, by asking for something he didn’t need, that he knew I’d be too chicken to refuse. One piece of gossip, turn it into fact. Check. You got it Karl.
So here I was, starving for dinner at 7:15 thinking I could just finish up the segment definition recommendations I’d already promised for the Business Development Group. Now I’d need to polish my Plain Speak “conclusions” for Karl too. Ha! Like they were fact.
I’d already missed dinner with the kids, now I was going to miss bedtime too, and this would push into my own sleep time. Plus there still wasn’t a thing to eat, and if I stopped to eat that would just push my timeline out all the farther.
Should’ve stayed in the cube I thought. Somehow, neglecting Maslow’s lowest rung on the hierarchy of needs (like food) was acceptable. Neglecting my little beloveds on the next family rung was bordering unforgivable, but necessary, for the cashola. But doing it all at the whims of the boyish, back-slapping, MBA, Foosball players just put salt into the wound. Nonetheless, the money was good, so back to the cube I went, determined to stay inside it more often.
The phone rang and it was my 3-year old. “Mommy, when are you coming home?” I could hear the 2-year old gurgling in the background with the Laotian nanny, practicing his Laotian phrases “Nung, song, sah, see, haht!”
“Hi Michael!” I gushed with guilt. “What are you guys doing?”
“Mom, I want you to come home. When are you coming home?” Michael was light years beyond any kind of redirection efforts I might attempt.
“Sweetheart, it looks like I’m going to miss bedtime tonight, I’m so sorry.” There. It was on the table.
“Ooooooohhhhhh, Mommy,” he breathed it out so quietly he could have been saying “Tsk. Tsk. Tsk” instead. “But I didn’t even get to see you this morning, and you said we’d get to do Origami.”
“You’re right Michael, and we will do Origami, just not tonight. I’m going to make you a swan right now and bring it home and put it next to your bed so when you wake up, you’ll see it there. You can pull his tail and his head will move!” I said this rather too brightly.
“Aren’t you going to be there when I wake up Mommy?” Michael asked carefully.
“You’re Dad will be there sweetie. He does the mornings, you know.” I was pleased to sound matter-of-fact on this one, reigning in my ever present guilt.
“Michael? Michael?” He’d dropped the phone. Now that he had the information he needed, he had no illusions about polite banter. On to the next thing. I clicked off, and turned back to my market segment histograms--really bar charts--but histograms sounds so much cooler, and it’s great to mystify and scare people with words like that. I got them to a point of intelligibility and wrote a decent cover note for them and sent it to print.
At the printer I started on the crane while waiting for my job in the queue. Karl raced by to the men’s room. I didn’t want him to see my Business Development histograms. He’d probably goon-in on that action too. I finished two cranes with paper from the recycle pile, and still my job wasn’t coming off the machine, but I stuck around to keep Karl from seeing it without my permission.
And then, the sweetest little miracle happened. I remembered something Lamar had said at a company meeting about real research, real facts, and real evidence. The other two people that had been in our hallway cluster would remember my sarcastic account of the Plain Speak competitive intelligence. I could do Karl a favor and get home for bedtime too.
“Hey Karl,” I said, as he attempted to race by me again. “Before I do the Plain Speak report for you and Lamar tomorrow, I wanted to check the credibility level. Remember last month’s company meeting, and Lamar’s ‘real research, real facts, real evidence’ due diligence discussion?” I hinted, knowing he’d connect the dots. Men in general, children in particular, need to do that, to make it real.
“Yeeeeeahhh.” Karl said “You’re right; he probably will question the source.”
“Plus, Darla and Bain were both there and they know it’s bogus. You know that’ll hit the grapevine.” I whispered.
“You’re right. Could you go to a few analyst sites and see about summarizing anything they have on Plain Speak’s channel strength for UNIX markets?” Karl was quick to salvage his request, but I was alone this time, prepared, and ready to refuse him. No puffery now, just guile.
“I wish I could Karl. A quick one pager, I could have done. But this market segment histogram job for Bruce in Bus. Dev. is a direct request from Lamar. I can give you the analyst passwords though, so you’ll be able to get the data you need!” I felt like Suzie Sunshine.
“OK, that’d be great. Thanks Bear.” He was bored now. He hadn’t needed it in the first place, just wanted to look good. I figured I’d send him bogus passwords just for my own private satisfaction, as proof that he never went to get the data.
The histograms came off the printer, and I grabbed my swans.
“Here Karl, Want a swan?” I asked.
He was so Not There, so mentally on his way to his next big thing that he had no clue as to his physical surroundings, to me holding up an Origami swan, or to what I had said to him.
“Never mind.” I said, as I walked back to my cube to get my car keys. I was going home to practice Lao phrases with one boy and make swans with the other.