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August 06, 2008


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Please tell me you're kidding. It's past April 1st.

Presumably you're working with technology companies. Presumably the founders (if not the management) are tech-savvy.

Please please tell me this is a joke you're pulling on your readers.

Because if not -- it's totally depressing.

Whoa - I might have laughed out loud, and wondered if I was pitching the right VC.

Any techie (over 30?) should know what you're referring to. Does this mean you're only getting business types pitching you these days?

"Any techie (over 30?) should know what you're referring to."

Indeed. But our industry celebrates youth and denigrates experience. Consider, for example, that a 15 year old kid can get a writeup on TechCrunch just by installing WordPress:

Does he have any idea what OS/2 was? Somehow I doubt it.

So it's no wonder that our institutional memory is short (and that we keep making the same mistakes over and over, but that's a rant for another day).

Love your blog. Just wanted to say for the record, not just to you but to several authors I read, that I think it's officially ok to say "bullshit" now in print ;) (not shitake), lol.

Well, considering Arthur Anderson is long gone, having been deep-sixed due to their strong tie-in with the Enron scandal, I can't believe anyone in the business world wouldn't know that.

Well, considering Arthur Anderson is long gone, having been deep-sixed due to their strong tie-in with the Enron scandal, I can't believe anyone in the business world wouldn't know that.

In almost all cases, the right answer is closer to "what we've got works well enough and that's far enough from our first order problems that we don't spend any time on it". In other words, the problem with the OS/2 comment is not that OS/2 is irrelevant or bad, it's that worrying about the "best" OS for "high performance, multi-threaded and security hardened sites" is irrelevant for almost everyone.

The flip side of that it's probably okay for their biz if they're using OS/2 and a VC who doesn't understand that is tech clueless.

Google would have been just as big a success running on almost any other OS that they could afford. Yahoo's problems don't come from using PHP.

The Arthur Anderson bit should have been the giveaway, but OS/2 only stopped being supported a year and a half ago. So it's conceivable that IBM, or someone else, might have revived it somehow. Given that, what's wrong with asking you for a copy of the report? "This is pretty interesting, can you possibly [strike]get us an introduction to Arthur Anderson and/or[/strike] get us a copy of the report?" seems like a perfectly reasonable response in that situation. It's calling you to reveal your source (and possibly your bluff). And it shows that the entrepreneurs are interested in researching things they don't know.

I'm from Minnesota. Internally I would be saying, "WTF - this guy sounds out of touch". Externally I would be saying, "interesting, can you get me a copy of the report?"

You may think your question sounds SO outdated and any reasonably person should call you out on it, but there's no reason to tell a person they don't know what they're talking about. In most real world situations I find that the other person is just getting terminology mixed up.

Example: in the back of my mind I know Arthur Anderson is gone, but my brain just translated it to Accenture. Same thing with IBM's OS/2 - I just figured you were talking about whatever IBM's current server folks are doing.

Maybe they're trying not to make you look dumb. Trust me, there are plenty of dopes on both sides of the table. Maybe they think you're an idiot, and spouting some affirmative nonsense will get you to quiet down so they can move on with the show.

Just a thought.

I would ask if I really had that many " 'flying donkeys' coming out of my nether region. I loved OS/2 in the day ( and yes I ran it on my 386) but today is a new day, a good day to start a new profitable venture, a venture you can be proud of, one that with the right venture capital partners will reach 50 million in yearly sales if it isn't bought before then. " :)

Wow. Just, wow. Thanks for that, that made my day.

Funny story.

Aside from the people that answered with too much ego, do you think its possible you're just flying over people's heads. If you have someone in there that's in their 20s, its possible that both those terms sound greek to them. (The enron meltdown was already 7 years ago).

Well I don't know. If someone said that to me, I would first take them seriously. Look, VMWare is off of 1960's era IBM VM technology. OS/2 is still used in banks and there is COBOL and ALGOL-60 code still running the show at the govt. Just because *I personally* don't see OS/2 at the coffee shop doesn't mean it's not used. Either way, I wouldn't really think that they were a manipulating, disingenuous, liar. I would be confused and frusterated when I couldn't find anything on it. I don't surround myself with bullshitters.

Trust me rick, the joke is on you.

People are trying to be polite to you and brush off your embarrassing statement without calling you on it. Its called manners and its what humans tend to do such situations. Asking to see the report was actually a clever way of calling your bluff without seeming arrogant or abrupt.

As soon as they were out of the room, the first thing they said was; "What was that idiot babbling about OS/2 for?"

Great comments all! Specific responses to some so far:

@Bryan, yup, I get that. I'm fine with "the joke" because I'm looking for the reaction and how they handle it. Asking for the report, okay and safe answer. I do tell people I made it up (after the fact). Mostly with I'm just kidding...

@andy, yup, another good answer: We think we're on the right track and ignoring whatever I said.

@Nate, good point. Again, it's about how the person handles the comments not so much the OS/2 point.

All so far: Again, the bigger picture is how the issue is handled, not so much the response.

Thanks for stopping by.

Long gone company's founder was of Norwegian origin, thus Andersen, not Anderson.

Well done. Now you know the secret process for finding people with an eye for detail. Always in short supply, send a CV! :-)

Thanks for stopping by.

For the record, "any tech over 30" is putting the age way too high. OS/2 4 was still big news in the tech industry and that was late 1996. So any tech in his early to mid 20s should have some idea as to what OS/2 is (at least enough to know a reference to it is BS)

Beyond that, my personal opinion is that anyone pitching a startup should have a good feel for the tech industry in general which means knowing enough history to be able to recognize a major turning point in the tech industry's history.

I love you Rick, been reading this site for years, but it does seem a pretty low trick, and I'd bet it's not that great a filter. I've got my own take on it here:

Asking something controversial and/or obscure is a good BS test too, without the deception.

Pete. I commented on your blog as well but for others, this was my response to Pete:
Aww, lying is such a strong word. I do say, almost imediately, I'm kidding. It is not so much a trick as it appears to be. What I'm after here is the reaction because I have very little to go on and it all boils down to the people.

If it makes you feel any better, nobody (yet) has gotten offended (that I can tell). Of course, the "that I can tell" pretty much makes the point of all of this.

Thanks for coming by the blog.

Hey guys, he's joking remember? If I was investing I'd be thinking about how these guys are going to be to work with which includes joking around. The problem is that it's natural to be uptight in a VC meeting- there's so much at stake for the entrepreneur that sometimes you're just afraid that any one thing you say will derail your chances. I'd hope I'd be relaxed enough to laugh at the old fart (takes one to know one) who just asked me about a defunct OS and a defunct firm.
BTW, aren't they Bearing Point? I'm confused...;-0

My god. I'm amazed (but not surprised) that you don't have the ability to put yourself in your presenters' shoes. They are just doing what any well-mannered "kid" would do. That is, they're trying to not offend you by pointing out how stupid your question is.

From my experience, most VCs live in an ivory tower when it comes to really understanding what it takes to create a new business. Their wealth and power tends to make them arrogant and insulates them from what's really going on out there. This is just another example.

Look. They're coming to you for cash. They want to be super nice and would almost polish your shoes if you asked them to do so. You are probably in a long line of other VCs that they have met with and most of these guys are probably tired of games and hassles. Yet you hassle them. That's uncool, man. What's wrong with these guys just trying to play along and be nice? Also, they usually don't send the developers to these meetings, do they? I wouldn't think they would. Instead, they would send someone slightly disconnected from the technology, someone good at business negotiations and who can demonstrate the product or service. So it's no wonder you got the response you got.

In my past company, you'd get crushed for saying, "I don't know." There was one engineer who didn't know any better and would often admit he didn't know. Well, you know what happened? He never got promoted.

99% of the MBAs out there don't want to hear, "I don't know." That's why U.S. companies are getting hosed.

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