Out of the frying pan

This evening I went to an event that turned out, alas, to be a kind of infomercial. What I had believed would be a discussion about interesting and important ideas was revealed to be pure self-congratulatory hagiography.

There is nothing pretty about watching people brag in public. But it’s worse than that. It can change the way you think about those people, diminishing them in your eyes.

It all made me very sad. So when the friend sitting next to me said she was cutting out to meet somebody, I jumped at the chance to go with.

It turned out that she was meeting two young people — a man and a woman in their early twenties — pitching their start-up ideas in the lobby of an extremely upscale hotel. They were both very nice looking young people, with beautiful hair and excellent clothing.

But I found what they had to say very unsettling. In terms of my evening, it was a case, I am afraid, of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

I listened carefully, attentively, trying to understand what I was hearing. The best I could make out from the young woman’s pitch was that she wanted to design clothes that helped to save the planet, in the form of stylish undergarments targeted to rich people, made from exciting materials like orange peels.

It’s possible that this would all have made sense if I had been able to hear her story completely through. But it was not to be. Within a few minutes the young man, who had great hair, kind of took over the conversation.

He was very proud of the fact that he had raised $250,000 in about two weeks, by pitching an idea for a news digest that would replace text headlines with pictures — because pictures are more suitable for the SnapChat generation, as he explained it.

The young man’s tale touched on a journey to India, bonding with a young boy who had recently died of cancer, being embraced by an impoverished family that subsisted on about $100 every three months, and winning a heroic battle with life threatening illness.

All of this as a way to pitch a concept for a news reader that doesn’t require anyone to, you know, actually know how to read. Did I mention he had great hair?

I realized by this point that I had fallen into a kind of cartoon version of New York. It was like that party scene from Annie Hall in which we find ourselves in a bizarro version of Los Angeles, where Diane Keaton gets seduced by a sleazy Hollywood producer, and Jeff Goldblum forgets his mantra. Except this was the New York version.

Here we were, standing in the lobby of a hotel where the cost of a room for a single night could feed that poor Indian family for about a year, and we were being told about adorable little children dying of cancer, as a part of a pitch to raise seed round financing for a product to help young people avoid ever having to learn to read.

All I could think of were those recent movies about pretty young people turning into blood sucking vampires — you know, the ones starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson — and how everybody thinks those movies are complete fantasy.

But based on what I saw this evening, I would say those movies are documentaries.

2 thoughts on “Out of the frying pan”

  1. I recall back in the early dot-bomb days a friend and I were invited to see this AMAZING secret new web technology under development at the secret lab of a giant famous company. We got our visitor badges, filled out various NDA forms, were ushered down long hallways, and finally got seated for the demo.

    Within seconds of the demo pitch, we realized it was the stupidest thing we’d ever seen. I’ll never forget looking over at my friend and realizing he too was straining hard – real hard – not to just burst out laughing.

    I’m sure VCs go through this on a daily basis…


  2. Haha!

    It occurs to me that they may actually know how stupid most of these demo pitches are, and that’s the real reason they make you sign an NDA.

    That way, people like you won’t be able to tell everyone that the Emperor has no clothes.


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