"Sit down, we have to talk," my wife (and partner) Katinka Matson said to me in a serious tone of voice. It was 2 a.m. and I was just walking in the door from a trip to the West Coast. "You and David have a competitor."
Katinka meant a competitor to Content.Com, Inc., the Internet publishing company I had started with David Bunnell nearly eight months before. Still searching for a coherent revenue model for launching a large-scale publishing venture on the Internet, we had decided to let it rest temporarily, even though we had been successful in persuading dozens of book publishers internationally to participate in a facet of our program which we were calling "Book Channel."
A competitor? I frankly had not seen competition as a problem. My ideas are yours for the taking. Execution is what counts, that's what I get paid for. I believed that no one would be able to duplicate our strategy or our program.
"OK, who is it? I asked," as I poured a cup of coffee. I could tell it was going to be a long night.
"Shhh," she hushed. "He's asleep," she said glancing at the door to the room of our son Max, who had just turned sixteen.
"Max??" I exclaimed, my voice rising in anger. "OK, let's have it."
"Well," she explained, "your son announced at dinner that he's book channel on the school Web site, and it involves books."
"So what's the big deal?" I said.
"Uhh," she paused, "it's just that he sent email messages to all the companies doing books on the Net and offered to link with them.
"Using my name??" I exclaimed.
"No," she replied evenly, "he used his name, which happens to be the same as yours."
"That little bastard, I'll kill him," I muttered. (I could have sworn I heard my own father's voice amplified in my head). "Why didn't I get him to sign a nondisclosure?"
"Look," she replied, "be happy you have a son that appreciates your business plan and also knows how to execute."
"OK, but David will sue his butt off," I said.
The next day I had calmed down enough to have a serious talk with Max. I realized that since his "Mac vs. Windows" battle months before with Dr. Eddie Currie, I had scarcely seen him around the house except for meals. The door to his room was usually closed, the red light glowing on the phones indicating he was online. And when he did show his face, he was suddenly (and strangely) disinterested in all matters digital, especially Content.Com, Inc.
"Face it, Dad," Max said calmly when we sat down to talk, "you're too old, and David's too tired. While you guys have been taking meetings I've built a Web site. I'm getting my team together, and we're up and running by the end of the year.
"Now listen to me, "
"Dad," Max interrupted, "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it's kids like me that are going to be the pioneers and make this thing happen. We're the digerati."
"Great, go for it," I replied, "but just remember three things. First, pioneers are the guys with arrows in their backs. Second, we learn by making mistakes. Failing young might be a very positive experience; you could make your comeback in college. Third, there is always the very real possibility that you're successful. Then you may want to keep in mind what Gregory Bateson's once said to me 'Of all our human inventions, economic man is by far the dullest.' "
"Sure, Dad. One more thing. You know my Mac," Max said referring to his PowerPC 7500/100. (Yes I did know his Mac, and I was sure he was about to hit me up for a 200MHz upgrade card). "Uh, there's more stuff I could be doing with the site but a lot of the really cool software isn't available for Mac."
"So, Dad, let's go 'bi-platform.' How about buying a Windows machine to have around the house. You know, just to use for the Net. There's room in my bedroom next to the Mac. And don't worry about Windows 95. Dr. Currie told me to go right into Windows NT. He'll help me with the setup. Oh, and Dad, I might need just a teeny bit more memory to do my video stuff using Director. Markoff wants me to get at least 80mb. Oh, right, before I forget, Dad, do you remember those new 1GB removable drive cartridges Dvorak told me about? They're really neat for storing multimedia files ...."
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Excerpted from Digerati: Encounters with the Cyber Elite by John Brockman (HardWired Books, 1996) . Copyright © 1996 by John Brockman. All rights reserved.