Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A fish rots from the head?

    Note from Brent Noorda, Founder, President, and CEO of BNB, Inc.: Today's blog post has been cancelled, which is unfortunate because it was extremely funny. It was a hilarious chronic-(what)-cle of my 3.5 years at Openwave—an insider's view of how management's absurdist antics killed a promising technology company. If you like the Three Stooges, you would have loved the cancelled blog post. One of my favorite bits was when the board was looking for a new CEO to head their leading-edge technology company: First, they found a clown who had a history of taking companies with leading technology and squandering that lead until they were almost worthless; and then (get this, because it is oh so funny) they hired him. I don’t know if the board was too hands-off, idiotic, immoral, or just felt bad for the guy and wanted to give him one more chance, but their choice to hire that clown at that time sure tickles the funny bone (remember that comedy is all in the timing). The CEO/clown then proceeded to follow his usual M.O., which was always to forfeit long-term viability and growth in exchange for short-term boosts in "this quarter's" numbers. His shtick was to halt nearly all development of future products, "reduce" those people working on anything in the pipeline, cut costs at all costs (occasionally new product work began, but only if another company had already proven the concept, and even then the me-too "next generation" projects were laughably understaffed and under funded), condense long-term contracts into short-term one-off deals to make a few end-of-quarters look good, milk the old technology lead (cutting edge circa 2002) for all it was worth and more, and report pretend deals to phantom customers made up on-the-spot during analyst reports (comedy improv is hard, but this clown could really think on his feet). His catch phrase was "we're following best practices"—that got a laugh every time. To spice up the act, he replaced any talented senior management with Larry, Moe, Curly, and even Shemp, all of whom spent most of their time poking each other in the eye, hitting each other on the head with cast-iron skillets, jockeying with each other for position and titles, throwing custard pies, and other such stoogey pratfalls.

    From inside Openwave we could see the clownishness work it’s way down, like a flesh eating bacteria (not the gross kind, but the funny clown kind) from the board and CEO, to Executive Staff, then to all levels of VP, Directors, and so on. But from outside the company it took longer for the world to get the joke. At first the stock did go up, peaking when Ringmaster Cramer at Mad Money Circus bellowed “buy buy buy” over his own laugh track. But eventually the same old shtick got old (hey, Scrubs isn’t as funny as it used to be, either), the market figured out that Openwave had nothing in the pipeline, and the stock made its way from over $23 to under $4, where it belongs.

    The cancelled blog was really really funny stuff, probably good enough to make you laugh and spit milk out your nose even if you weren’t drinking milk. The BNB writing staff spent weeks putting it together. The BNB fact-checking team understandably went over it with a fine-tooth comb, approving every accusatory punch line. But in the end we could not get approval from the BNB legal department. The lawyers said there was enough libel and slander in the post to sue all of BNB, anyone on staff, our advertisers, our investors, and possibly even our readers (all fourteen of you). The BNB fact-checking team went over it again, using a comb with even finer teeth; they found a few lice and a couple of extra commas, but no factual errors. Still, the BNB legal department said NO. They said the only way we could get away with publishing such accusations was to pretend that I was not me, to use cute nicknames for all of the principle characters, and to call everything a something-tard (e.g., “This is Fake Brent Noorda whining about the OpenTard BoardTards who hired JesterTard from Top Gun to crash their own company. What tards! Nanu nanu.”). But that is below my journalistic dignity.

    We can’t just cancel a blog post and do nothing. We at BNB have a business to run. We have deadlines to meet. Bills to pay. The ad space has already been sold. The show must go on! Fortunately, Intern Billy has come up with an alternative post that is completely safe because it has nothing to do with Openwave. Nothing, I swear! Billy, you’re up.
Hi. This is Intern Billy. At the start of my summer internship Mr. Noorda bought me a fish at the supermarket and gave me these instructions: "Take a picture of it every day. Learn how fish rot, educate and entertain the BNB audience, and answer this question: Is the old saying true that a fish rots from the head down? For bonus points, tell us what this fish taught you about business. But, whatever you do, don’t eat the fish." So that’s what I did. The pictures are here [link to Rotting Fish Pictures].

A time-lapse movie of the rotting fish is here:

On day 34 the fish was gone. I swear I didn’t eat it. As an intern I don’t get paid anything and I need all the free food I can get, but I’m not that desperate.

The fish did not rot in the way I expected. In the first few days the ants were all over it, but then they lost all interest. I expected there to eventually be cool maggots crawling all over, but again I was disappointed. After the first week it didn’t even smell bad. For most of the five weeks it just seemed to oh-so-slowly dry up. It was almost imperceptible. Watching this fish was, in a word, boring. I was honestly very happy the day I went out to discover that some animal had taken the fish away.

Did the fish rot from the head? Not that I could tell. In the first couple of days the eyeballs vanished, but other than that the head seemed to oh-so-slowly dry up just like the rest of the fish.

What can this fish teach us about business? That may not be a fair question because by the time Mr. Noorda gave it to me the guts had already been removed. I'm just an intern, but I don't imagine a business without guts deserves to be called a business at all. If I’m forced to draw a parallel to business from this fish, it’s this: First it loses its guts; then it loses its vision; then it slowly desiccates and rots from inside, becoming a shell of itself with anyone hardly noticing; until one night an opportunist comes along and steals it away to the relief of everyone.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank Mr. Noorda and everyone else at BNB for being so nice to me these past months, and for the honor of penning this entire blog all by myself. With this experience on my resume I’ve had lots of job offers coming my way: First from The Stinkymeat Project and Glorious Stench, both of which need people experienced in filming meat rotting, but I turned down both of those offers in favor of Cheddar Vision TV, where I will be in charge of round-the-clock filming of a block of cheese as it matures in a cave over the course of a year. I may have to kill myself.

1 comment:

  1. ...seems like if nobody cares...
    sorry - i dont, too