November 29, 2022

My take on a high-tech startup in Silicon Valley: Dot Come, Dot Gone in Late Nineties

Said El Mansour Cherkaoui was Executive Director of Business Development at Amient/Mercateo Redwood City, California during the Dot Come – Dot Gone era. He witnessed how the money was spent left and right by the former McKinsey consultant who converted his ins and outs into a startup that never took off but received funding even from the founder of ‘Oracle.

A brand new BMW was parked in the parking lot while I have to drive the CEO of this Startup from his apartment to the office. This BMW was bought just to please the owner of the BMW dealership who in return organized a meeting with the Founder of Oracle and who invested in the Mercateo. The name of Mercanteo Startup was changed to Amient following my suggestion to have a softer and French connotation.

Mercanteo’s product was supposed to remember all purchases made by online businesses at stores like “Computer USA”, Office Depot and other outlets. Once the payment is made by credit card, the transaction is supposed to be recorded and transferred directly to the accounting system as an expense with details of the product purchased, date, place and amount and who made the payment.

The person who was in charge of the corresponding software, a close friend and colleague of the CEO of McKinsey was of Indian origin and had brought 4 Indian individuals who passed the time staring at a monitor and the wall behind while a fifth Indian trotted along outdoors smoking cigarette after cigarette.

This lady of Indian origin (actually with good Karma dealings), whom I called COP – Chief Operating the Product, acted as the gate advocate for those Indian “engineers” whom we could not speak to or ask anything if she’s not there. It is she who must give the authorization to fix a meeting. The excuse is that these engineers were hired and paid by the hour and the guys outside smoking cigarettes were their clock for the time they spent staring at their computer screen and the money that they cash in exchange.

This team of 5 taciturn Indians was like a parade of Madame Tussaud Wax Master of Disastertech showing off just to impress visitors and potential investors to show them that Mercanteo has employees conducting in-house research and development of the product, which in reality never existed apart from a modified version of Microsoft-like Excel Spreadsheets patched with an Oracle database, a hybrid product that “the COP” tended to present as “Ownership of Inputs versus Ownership of Outputs ” according to the McKinsyniene strategic approach.

On the technical level in terms of setting up and management, this time it was a single person, an “American “Toubab” by stock” and with a bohemian tendency on the edges, who has no desk or even a chair and had to be called to accompany me when I visited a potential client in their office. This Tech Support was a person who looked more like a mechanic who changes the spare part than a System Engineer or Network Engineer, so he did not provide a solution to the problem and worse the product was not at all ready to detect the problems or define the solutions.

On the other hand, the Fridge was always full of American food, Hotdog, Burger, Macaroni, Donuts, Soups, Chicken and Fish Nuggets, Corndog, Wings, Cheese, Pizza everything that is mechanically separated and prepared, a cold museum of stuffed with top notch artificial and chemical products. The drinks were of the same quality and especially the beers for weekends. It was the Fiesta, what was missing was a Country Band or a Mariachi Group to make the atmosphere more ambient than the new name of the Startup Ambient.

The other employees who could be counted on the fingertips were always in a pleasant mood and individuals capable of being helpful given their attitude and their presence which remained of real kindness. Young people who aspired to make a difference around them and among them, but the rest was not at the level of this human quality that could also be identified in innocence and the desire to want to volunteer to do good . These people were part of my team and were chosen by a human relations class manager. One of the best I have had the opportunity to work with in all my professional history in the USA.

This lady, responsible for human relations management and therefore a talent recruiter, is a Caucasian American who was the reason for my arrival in this Startup from Sprint Corporation.

Ms. Black was the one who convinced me to join Mercanteo and had a knack for recruiting the best. In fact, when she was put aside during the recruitment of a Vice-President for Business Development, Mercanteo became Ambient began to show the cracks I mentioned above which became more gaping with this crash landing of a Caucasian rogue from the North who drove an old Buick, wrapped in a buttonless suit and spoke like a former clandestine site manager of tree cutters in the Amazon. I understood what he was made of when I invited him for lunch in a restaurant to assess his knowledge of the field of application of the product we were looking to develop. All he brought up with me was what he had done before and laid out names and companies that I had no reason to know about.

I felt like I was sitting opposite a veteran of wars lost in memory and in thought and worse first on battlefields that we would be more likely to listen to and see on the Screen of ‘Money only on the actual geographical or historical ground. These places and these encounters were shooting from all sides as if a deposit of fireworks had been lit by accident, there was around this guy an opaque smoke from his cigarettes whose tirades on the cigarette made his lips shine with all fire soaked in beer foam. I had the impression of being in front of a dancer in a trance incensed by the smoke of joints and incense exotic and distant in time as in space.

This future Vice-President drank and smoked excessively with his belly protruding from his belt and his unbuttoned vest making him like a Santa Claus dressed on the sly for an interview at a Startup delivering gifts without address or recipient, he was in the vaps and I, who had never tasted a beer in my entire life, could talk about European beers and my stay in France and Germany and my visits to all of Western Europe and Romania when he did not even know not the origin of the beer that was right in front of him. To my great surprise, he thought it was German when it was founded by a Czech family which has a Germanic-sounding name.

At that time, this Bud for You, an unusual slogan that was the pride of Americans and when he realized that I could give him such knowledge of his own choice of drink that he considered a symbol of American nationalism, that at the deep inside, listening to a guy supposed to be from the Middle East. For him, Morocco was synonymous with Monaco and Casino, another Las Vegas somewhere lost in Western Europe that Sean Connery and Grace Kelly, who became the Princess of this Principality, had put on the radar of geographical knowledge for the Middle American.

In addition to my identified ethnic stereotype in Terro-Palestinians, I was conversing with an American Englishman with a cross-hatched accent but eloquent in definition, expression and substance as I unwittingly conveyed to him a profound knowledge of the intricacies of popular culture and history. American that even he did not have given his intellectual and educational limitations.

So I was before him magnified but all of this made him as suspicious and wary of me as his booze could only make the length and breadth of my knowledge of Made in USA populism and Only in America.

How come I knew all those beers and wines and I didn’t share a drink with him at the time?

Such a question ran through his brain polluted by alcohol and the smoke of exotic vapors and he was neither the first nor the last to ask it. A question that cost me several positions, several jobs and several opportunities in business, private jobs and positions in the Academy in the United States.

You didn’t have to go far either in the conversation or in the exchange to realize that my account was settled in this interaction at the level of ignorance that only the smoke from his cigarettes could hide from the gaze and not from human understanding. . For that I remained calm and I knew that my situation did not last long in this company whose CEO hired such an individual and forced him to parachute between us without taking into account or the opinion of the first interested person who is the manager of human relations, nor of myself since I was second in the business development department. It was as if all the transactions concerning the hiring of this individual had been carried out under the table while serving us artificial alibis and complicit silences without any other transparent approach, “the fact. , “le fait accompli – the accomplished fact”: Take or Leave it.

All the team members of my department understood such manipulations and began to disappear one after another from the panorama, including the mechanic guy. Only the Indian “engineers” were still there looking at the wall and the screen of their computers, while the visit to their meter became more spaced out and only took place when this new Vice-President went out to bang a cigarette butt with a another guy who was his buddy and he moved out and brought in his luggage.

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This buddy walked like a gorilla, a former adventurer without adventure and served rather as a bodyguard for this New Vice-President. I never understood what was the contribution or the role of this individual whose only approach made it clear that he is a go-getter with his head down like a bull in this new bullfight that this arena has suddenly become Mercanteo – Ambient where the swords are now hidden under muleta camouflaged under the cheap suits and the jackets of these new invaders which exceeded their shoulders with crumpled pants like scrap paper. European elegance had yet to conquer or be embraced by these new startup cowboys.

The cool allowed all deviations in dress and justified the lack of quality both in terms of the look and the food offered, there was neither Haute Couture, nor Haute Culture, Nor Haute Cuisine while High Technology remained in the margins Buzz Words and Jargon and nothing on the table of creation or innovation at the level of these Startups which were still far from even Alpha level.


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