Stanley Bing

California scheming

Stanley Bing


(Fortune) -- I just spent a couple of days in San Francisco, the land of the nine-digit idea. I'm happy to tell you that a certain form of insane all-American optimism is still alive and well.

Every town has its prevailing topic of conversation. In Los Angeles it's Cruz and Cruise and who just dumped Bobby to go with Ari. In New York it's hedges and ledges (we're way out on both). In Miami it's pastrami or cocaine, depending on your demographic. And in the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose, it's all about the guy who just turned 30 and received $300,000,000 for his little company that didn't do anything all that different from any other company except that it made the Goog so nervous that Serge and Larry had to buy it to sleep at night.

This flies in the face of what everybody says is going on, and most appealingly. All you read about these days is how nobody is venturing any real capital anymore, and how the stock market isn't stupid enough to monetize those ginormous deals of yesteryear that lost everybody but the early birds a huge wad of dough.

You'd never know it from the jolly dudes at dinner the other night. For them, the world is still awash in a fine mélange of concepts, deals, and paydays. I'd take a night with these hopeful dream surfers any day of the week.

It's all about big zins, big cabs, and big, big concepts. Did you hear about Sven? Two years out of Stanford, just sold his startup, which provides hosting for micro-packages that skim information for cheese heads, for $240 million!

And then there are the Old Ones, prospectors already in their mid-30s who have turned around two or three of these babies. Are they resting? No! They're hard at work in a strip mall above a Starbucks, honking away on a widget that will fuse users' ganglia to the cortex of the digital brain stem.

It was like that all the way through dinner. It made me jealous. I've been working a pretty big job for some time, and according to my calculations I would have to remain in the saddle for another 1,816 years to approach a nine-digit payday, and after taxes it would come out to only eight digits or, if Mr. Obama has his way, seven.

What made me feel even worse is the lifestyle, which is almost insultingly humane. I come from a place where we eat our guts for breakfast. Out here, people wander in at 9:15, usually after a healthy bike ride or a run. Everybody dresses as if their mommies put their outfits together for their first day of kindergarten.

I figure my only chance to hit this vein of California gold is to execute a three-part strategy:

First, I'm going to spend a lot more time in San Francisco and San Jose, taking a lot of meetings, and drawing on as many whiteboards as I can. I believe that if you surveyed people who write on whiteboards, you would find their average income to be significantly higher than reasonable.

Second, I'm going to jot down my most inane and tiny ideas, even more than I already do here. I believe that out of these minuscule notions will come a host of applets for a variety of emerging i-platforms or, conversely, some form of user experience that in some way piggybacks on Facebook, annoying Mark Zuckerberg to the point where he feels he must subsume my little startup the way an antibody eats a microbe.

Finally, I'm going to get to know as many venture capitalists as I can and learn the way they talk. I took a ride with one of them on my way to that dinner. "I'm sorry, Horst," he said into his iPhone. "I understand your model only gets you to $370." I figured that was millions. "But that's just not going to get you onto the field," he concluded with infinite regret. Man. It was inspiring.

The business of America, it turns out, is not business. It's monetizing what is in our heads. That leaves a lot of room for guys like me, and you too, I'm sure. So as of right now, I'm getting with the program. Watch my vapor.  To top of page

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