Every venture capitalist reviews and discusses any number of “deals” every day. Some are glimmers of greatness and are worthy of objective consideration. Others are not so worthy but still deserve thoughtful consideration. The following is a top-of-mind list of deals I would like to see but have not yet.
Converter Kits: Oil prices, gas prices, carbon footprints – it all adds up and I believe it. The deal I would most like to see is a kit that would convert any gas engine to a hybrid. I am not talking about ripping the car apart and installing batteries and flux capacitors. I am thinking more along the lines of a device similar to the after-market cassette players that we would attach to the car radio and bolt under the dash board. Once installed, gas mileage would go from sixteen to forty without ever opening the hood. This kit could do for cars what electricity did for houses. The world would be a better place and everyone would win.
Cell Phone Sensors: It is not a rare occurrence these days to go into a public restroom and hear someone yammering on their cell phone while sitting in a stall. I always wonder who that person is talking to and does the person on the other end of the call know what is happening. I suspect not. I would like to have a sensor and an alarm on my phone that restricts anyone from calling me while they are in a bathroom or other inappropriate place to be chatting nonchalantly about digital media.
Invisible Cubicle Screens: We all know about those magical fences that no one can see but prevent out dogs from running out on the highway. Although I have not discussed this with our dog, I believe they work. I just about never see a poor dog on the side of the road these days. I would like to see a deal of an invisible fence that separates cubicles at the office. It would prevent your co-workers from leaning over the little barriers that separate cubicles to ask if you want to participate in the basketball pool.
News Converters: This deal would fall into the digital media space. Since the evening news is almost always bad, I would like to see a deal that would present a positive side to all news. Instead of “A big flood hit the Midwest this week.” The news would proclaim, “Looks like that drought is over in the Midwest.”
Special Stopwatches: Like that old segment of the “Twilight Zone”, I would like to see a stop watch that stopped the world long enough for me to catch up. While everyone else was “frozen” I could go about my business and no one would be the wiser. When I restarted time with the stop watch I would be all caught up. I would be careful not to drop it.
User Generated Video: Wouldn’t it be great if there was a web site where videos could be posted and shared. It could be like America’s Funniest Home Videos on steroids. We could look at cats on shower curtains and guys pretending they were in Star Wars for long periods of time. Oh, wait.
I’ve joked about deals I would like to see before only to have them show up shortly thereafter. Bring them on.
Enron became the poster child company for corporate greed, avarice and somebody asleep at the switch. Arthur Andersen became the poster child for auditors helping them. The NYSE became the poster child for big payouts to retiring executives (with many more companies to follow.) Eliot Spitzer is the current model for exercising bad judgment, marital headaches and poorly executed interstate commerce, among many other things.
Bear Stearns is about to become the new poster child of behavior gone-bad in full view, like videos of college students on Spring Break. But what will they become the poster child for? Will it be for financial statements so complicated no one knows how much they are worth? Will it be for a market cap less than the worth of one of their buildings? Will it be for the mortgage foreclosures that have a root somewhere, so why not there? Will it be for government bailouts for people who make a lot of money? Stay tuned for the poster as it emerges. In the meantime, there are at least two good things that will come out of the Bear Stearns meltdown.
1. Dread Removal – I know a lot of people in the high powered financial world who have said something like the following. “My job sucks but I am only going to do this until I am thirty five (could be forty but that is a stretch) because the money is so awesome. Then, I will do something that I really want to.” (Although undetermined.)
For all of those working in jobs that make you miserable but the pay is good, you now have the license to think differently. Bear Stearns has given you that license. If you are not doing what you want, don’t wait to do something else.
2. Real Career Awareness – I doubt anyone at Bear Stearns could have ever imagined that this prestigious, old firm could be in trouble and jobs would be lost. If it can happen there, think about where you are and whether it could happen to you too. Don’t lose sleep over it, just set your expectations. People ask me all the time if they should worry about their job. The answer is always yes. Bear Stearns and Arthur Andersen and Enron taught us that.
The real lesson from Bear Stearns is that all organizations are fragile. If it can happen in large, long established, prestigious places, it can happen just about anywhere.
Let’s make Bear Stearns the poster child that reminds us of the fragility of all organizations.
All lessons of behavior should have been learned early because they all happened in high school – that harsh reality that divides childhood from the rest of life. Foremost among those lessons is: You will always get caught.
Cut gym class? You will get caught by the Principal looking out the window.
Cheat on an exam? You will copy from the wrong source.
Siphon some of Dad’s liquor out of the bottles and put in that soda bottle? He keeps track of the liquid levels in the bottle.
Sneak in after curfew? Mom will be at the front door.
Buy some hallucinogenic substance or paraphernalia? The police will have their crack down on that very day and you will be arrested.
Have a house party while Mom and Dad are out of town? The party will get out of hand and the police will be called or the house will burn down.
Create a fake id? The bouncer will call your Mom.
Plagiarize on that Catcher in the Rye paper? The teacher uses the same source for research.
Show up at the school dance a little tipsy? You will be randomly chosen for the breathalyzer.
Cheat on your boyfriend or girlfriend? You will bump into that one person who will tell the entire world.
This is a long list but the outcome is always the same. As each of my own children entered their teenage years I reminded them of the basic truth – You will always get caught. Each has eventually found out on their own every time they were caught. That lesson from high school is -If you do a bad thing, you will get caught so be prepared to pay the consequences or better yet, don’t do the bad thing. Most of us learn that the latter strategy is more comfortable in the long run.
All of these lessons apply also to the world of work and the cubicles in which we toil. Falsify the hours on your timesheet? You will get caught. Steal office supplies? You will get caught. Harass one of your fellow workers? You will be caught. Cheat on your expense report? You will get caught. Tell a racist or sexist joke that you think no one can hear? You will get caught. Getting caught in the workforce is the equivalent of getting fired. In fact, it is not the equivalent, you will get fired. So don’t do it. You will get caught.
As I think about it, there are some other lessons that we learn from the world of teenagers and high school… Always let someone know where you are – someone is always looking for you.Leaving a message doesn’t equal permission – calling to say the project is not working doesn’t make it right.Be home when you say you will – always trueKnow what is absolutely non-negotiable, like hookers and give me the car keys.If you’re in big trouble don’t negotiate – just take the punishment.
Okay, all you high school students and newbies to the work force, I hope you listened. Eliot, I should have written this a while ago for you. Sorry.