Friday, November 05, 2010

The Enterprise - 1

It was the year 2000, before the crash and before the fall, when the Yankees and all of the city besides remained invincible. We all were young. Even those of us who were old were young.

The office was located in Chelsea, by the Flatiron, near the carpet district, where Broadway narrows and resembles the commercial center of some sun-soaked second-world city. Upstairs the reception area was dominated by a monstrous, many-tentacled sculpture of blond wood and pressed steel. I was later to learn that it cost fourteen thousand dollars.

The floor plan was configured in accordance with the prevalent trends in new media organizational structure. Each member of the team sat at a brushed-steel desk, some half-cloistered behind jauntily colored cubicle dividers. Purple was in evidence. As were lime and teal. It was a semi-open layout. Semi-closed. Piles of sawdust were visible in the corners, indicating hasty renovation, the eagerness for something new.

They didn't have a name for it yet. The thing, the Product. They were in deep stealth mode then, having only just secured the round of eight-digit financing that would allow them to enter low earth orbit, or pick your metaphor.

An NBA-regulation shot clock hung on the far wall, reading forty-seven.

My interview was with Elaine, the Vice President of Content Acquisition. Before we spoke she handed me a voluminous non-disclosure agreement to sign.

"The Product is in alpha. I'm sure you understand the sensitivities," she said.

I nodded as I perused the legalese. We sat beside a fern in the bustling center of the floor. All around us, attractive and industrious people sat quietly at their desks, scrutinizing whatever lay on their screens and occasionally, almost indiscernibly, budging their mouses with minute movements of their delicate hands.

"Initial, initial, initial, initial, initial. Sign, sign," she said, pointing to places on the pages with the back of her pen.

There was stark language regarding potential liability for revealing the nature of the Product or Products, the launch date or dates of the Product or Products, the present or future name or names of the Product or Products.

"The name of the company is Snickers?"

"That's not the real name of the company. Actually, it is the real name of the company."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"While we're off the map we're adopting it as a DBA. Moving forward, we'll be called Prizm."


"Prizm, Prizm, Prizm. With a Z. But I didn't tell you that before you signed the document you're about to sign."

"Isn't Snickers a copyright of some kind? A trademark? A service mark?"

"Snikkers with two Ks. Here, have a look." She reached over to her desk and typed into the address bar of her browser. "See?"

On the screen there appeared a whimsical cartoon robot atop a rocket on a launch pad. An old-timey fuse coiled away from the bottom of the rocket, its tip pulsating red and yellow to indicate that it was lit. A caption read: STAY TUNED! WE'RE BLASTING OFF SOON!

"," she declared with some pride. "Now tell me some of your weaknesses."


"Tell me your biggest weakness."

"I… I…" I stammered. "I sometimes pay too much attention to detail. I'm too, uh, much of a perfectionist."

She nodded approvingly, taking notes like a shrink.

"I sometimes don't know when to stop, when to let go of a task. I guess."

She just smiled at me for a little while.

"Do you have any questions for me?" she asked finally.

"What's the clock for?"

"Oh!" A little giggle. "That's our shot clock."

"I know. But what's it for?"

"It's a countdown."

"Forty-seven seconds?"

"Days. Forty-seven days.

"Until what?"

"Until launch!" she exclaimed chirpily.

"What happens then?"

"The Product goes live to the public."


She asked me how much money I'd expect to be paid. I screwed up my courage and cited what seemed to me to be an audaciously ambitious target. It was far, far in excess of what I'd ever made before.

I could tell from her reaction that I could easily have asked for more.

"I'm going to have you meet the CEO," she declared. "Neil!" she shouted.

And out came Neil Kavanaugh from somewhere, smiling and extending his hand. He was appropriately just a little bit older than everyone, to such a fine degree that it appeared to have been somehow calculated. He wore stylish glasses, a goatee, an open-collared shirt, jeans with docksiders. He was overtanned, paunchy and rich; an overgrown rogue. His hair was fastidiously presented in such a way as to indicate carefree disregard.

"Come on in, Paul!" he said, indicating the open door to his office, one of only two on the floor. The other belonged to the president and founder of the company, who was not present.

He sat down at his desk, bare but for a keyboard and a flatscreen monitor, and I sat in the chair opposite. Behind him, a triptych of garishly decorated snowboards hung on the wall.

"Check this out," he said, typing furiously. "Tell me what you think." He spun his monitor so that I could see it.

On the screen there was an interface. A text-based input-output mechanism of some kind or other. Around it was a simple skin, a container application I supposed. Paul had input some text and there now was output visible.

He peered at me expectantly, smiling. I didn't want to let him down.

"It's awesome," I stated.

"Isn't it?" he replied delightedly. "We certainly think so!"

"I think you're really on to something," I added.

"And now it's your job to give this thing some zazz!"

"That I can surely do."

"Some pow, some pop."

"I can't wait."