Internet startups – strike while the iron’s hot

Alastair Aitken 23 July 2013 0

In my youth I played in bands – not any old bands but ones that were set to redefine western civilisation with their groundbreaking music and rock star posing. Bands require more than one member and this is where the master plan invariably came unstuck. We were auditioning one friend to become part of our outfit when it became apparent that perhaps he was not entirely totally suited to the demands of rockstar-ery. Our auditionee had picked a tune by tax-efficient Irish beat combo U2 with which to woo us with his fretboard wizardry. After some 30 seconds of atonal and arhythmic plucking the drummer intervened, “thank you, I understand now why The Edge is very rich and you’re very poor”.

During the dot-com boom an Excel spreadsheet which contained a stack of macros was being passed around by email. The macros contained a “game” whereby the participant was presented with the pictures of two popular actresses and invited to select one of the actresses as the “winner”. The game proceeded with “winners” of previous rounds facing off against each other in subsequent rounds. After several rounds the “winner” of the entire tournament would be shown, together with a leader board that indicated which actress had “won” the most number of “tournaments”. If this sounds like the screaming misogyny of an all-male IT department, you’d not be wrong.

After musing upon this game I edited the code and replaced the pictures of the actresses with pictures of members of staff (both male and female) that I had grabbed from our intranet. This made for a very different game. For some colleagues the game continued with female members of staff battling for the player’s affections but for others the game’s appeal was more obscure. Because the criteria for the tournament was not stated some believed that they were determining which staff member was the most effective at street brawling, whilst others were determining who was the most obnoxious member of staff. The winning criteria for each tournament was very much a reflection upon the player rather than the avatars.

If this game sounds vaguely familiar then it’s because Mark Zuckerberg is supposed to have created a similar game prior to creating Facebook. So why is Mr Zuckerberg very rich whilst I’m very poor?

Be careful what you wish for

In the lead-up to the dot-com boom I was angling to be moved from my current team into the nascent internet team but due to political infighting I didn’t get that transfer. The internet team leader went on to found an internet startup that he and his colleagues subsequently sold for several million dollars and he now spends his time sailing on the high seas in his yacht. It would be easy to reflect upon that as a missed opportunity but fate has a flip side: the majority of the staff in that company was cruelly wiped out in the attack on the World Trade Center. Reflecting upon that, I feel very rich indeed.

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Alastair Aitken (124 Posts)

As a contract developer and manager I’ve worked in a wide range of enterprises in a variety of countries where I’ve encountered everything from great work, awful work, bizarre work, all the way down to quasi-legal work. If you think that you recognise your own organisation within my articles then you’re undoubtedly wrong, where you work isn’t that unique.

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