Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, January 8, 2018
I’m baaack and it is 2018, and to paraphrase Bette Davis from one of my favorite movies “All About Eve,” “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Entrepreneurship has as one of its components the need to re-invent yourself or your product, to pivot to new opportunities and finally to offer new features. New features that you don’t really want, don’t need, don’t want to pay more for, but they come in the basic package with built-in pricing that you never see and after all, who doesn’t want new features? I don’t want to be left behind in the race to give the customer more of what they never asked for, so periodically, my column this year is going to share with you some thoughts that come under the heading of — You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.
And so we start with how technology companies, in an ever competitive market, are trolling for new employees. What is required to provide for the shiny, bright, newly minted computer, data, artificial intelligence, robotic, networked scientist whom you are trying to lure into your hot, venture-backed startup? The answer — a chair.
Yup, the thing you sit in. Bloomberg has a recent article that explains that Silicon Valley’s newest “it” chair is what is being offered, and in fact being required, to get your next employee. Now, we all know that the chair that defined the last two decades was the Aeron. Released in 1994, it had a radical, high-tech exoskeleton, and it was fabulous. To put it in perspective, Nathan Myhrvold, then chief technologist at Microsoft, was quoted as saying that “owning an Aeron chair wasn’t so different from owning a private jet.” If you had those in your office, it sent the message that you cared deeply about your employee. But that was then and this is now. Enter the Pacific.
Swiss furniture giant, Vitra, will start delivering these chairs this winter, and not having one is the equivalent of walking around naked on Sand Hill Road. What is unique about the chair is that it is unique. You can’t just buy one. You need to “customize” your chair, picking from three backrests, plastic or aluminum frame, four fabrics and two dozen hues, ranging from pale pink to sandy beige, as well “smooth cowhide, with either a flat grain or fine top sheen,” in an additional 22 colors. The chair’s soft lines and proportions are based on a Samoan adz, a tool with a curved blade. Base price is $1,200, but fully equipped with heated seats, Wi-Fi, dual carburetors and four-wheel drive, the chair tops out at $3,500. For a chair!
I get lots of deals tossed my way. And on occasion I find one that qualifies for my new category. This startup would like to grow some organic food indoors in shipping containers, using solar arrays for “micro-grid hydroponic and aquaponic vertical farming.” So far, so good. Not crushingly original, but if the execution is strong, they have a chance. But here is the kicker that gets my juices flowing. The solar arrays will also be used “to power computers to mine bitcoins with a zero carbon footprint.” So while I am growing my kale, I can offset the cost by mining some bitcoins. How can I possibly pass on this deal?
The whole ICO (initial coin offering) racket (not ready for Eliot Ness yet, but clearly in the sights of the SEC and others) seems to have grabbed the investment community by the throat. From a recent prospectus sent to me, I share with you this quote, “investors are promised a return of 1,354% over 29 days on their investment.” Now if those guys would partner with the bitcoin farmers and throw in a Brooklyn Bridge, I am all over that deal.
This is a perilous time for entrepreneurs and innovation. More people are doing it (skydiving) with less certainty as to outcomes (who packed the parachute), but FOMO (fear of missing out) tends to put blinders on rational men and women, and they are saying yes with their fingers crossed and one foot out the door. Not all in, not all out, just “dancing in the dark.” But when it becomes clear that it is time to leave — then it will be too late, because the doorway will be jammed with dead bodies and there will be no exit.
Rule No. 542: I have a seatbelt; it’s the airbag I’m worried about.