Business name: October Communications
Reason for requested loan: office rental
I think this was the first idea you brought to me, and the first example of your tendency to over-specialize.
A communications agency could have been a goer for you. You had the lingo, the PowerPoint, and the attitude. The problem was that, in an effort to establish a market niche, you insisted on providing only those corporate-communications services directly linked to the festival of Halloween.
I could agree with the claim you made that “few modern businesses have the in-house resources to fully enter the spirit of Halloween, communicationswise.” But could I really invest in a B2B venture providing skeleton costumes, voice changers on phones, and guidelines for the mandatory use of the Frankenstein font every October 31? And, as a sole trader, did you really need 8,000 square feet of “haunted” office space in a brand-new out-of-town industrial park?
In my professional capacity, I had to say no.
Business name: Tray Bien Consultancy
Reason for requested loan: market research
Tray Bien Consultancy aimed to provide “practical advice to small and medium-sized businesses on the procurement, use, and disposal of trays,” and you wanted a research loan “to find out just how big this baby could be.”
I was able to tell you for free: most young businesses would struggle to justify paying a full consultancy rate for advice only about trays, and this would likely be true even of the very few American companies that specialize in trays.
With this idea, you compounded your characteristic over-specialization with a troubling vagueness of purpose. What sort of trays were we talking about? What qualified you for the work? You refused, or were unable, to elaborate.
Business name: TheFruitExchange.com
Reason for requested loan: Web development
The Fruit Exchange marked your foray into dot-coms, and was designed, you said, to provide “an online forum for the instant global exchange of fruit.” Those possessing fruit could log in and find a trading partner anywhere in the world.
In your slide presentation, Tammy in America swapped her unwanted banana for an apple belonging to Dipesh in India. The way you explained it, the items of fruit would then be “zapped” from one location to the other in less than a minute, with the Fruit Exchange taking 2 percent. (Of what, exactly? It was never made clear.)
If this “zapping” technology existed, I wanted to know, weren’t there more lucrative ways it could be used? You looked at me as if I were a moron. “How do you think eBay works?” you kept saying. “If the technology’s not there, how do you think eBay works?”
Business name: Hat Stands for Hire
Reason for requested loan: serialized TV ad campaign
Hat Stands for Hire was to be run on the model of a video store, but with hat stands instead of videos and much larger fines for late returns. But before you established your first branch, you wanted to stoke interest with a series of national TV ads featuring characters from your past, all driven to penury and crime by the money they spent on hiring and rehiring your hat stands week after week. Each spot was going to end with a display of largesse or profligacy by you—you’d be dressed up as a top-hatted industrialist and make victory signs to the camera. In one ad, you opened a public park in the deprived borough where you grew up. In a later ad, you burned the park down for kicks.
Describing these ads was obviously cathartic for you. Once again, though, the rubber mouse (my loan-approval stamp) had to stay in its house.
Business name: Your Cat in Black
Reason for requested loan: photo-studio rental
This recent proposal was so flawed I finally began to suspect a kind of genius at work.
Patrons would visit your studio with their ginger, tabby, white, or gray cats. You would photograph these animals against a photographic backdrop (say, a warm hearth or Capitol Hill). Then you would manipulate the images digitally so that owners could see how their pets would look if they were black in color, without needing to take the expensive and irreversible step of having them dyed.
Request refused, but thank you for brightening my day.
Business name: Beebook
Reason for loan: declined to say
Your latest business idea, Beebook, was a social-networking venture with a twist. Users would provide not only the content to make Beebook a success but also the infrastructure, Web space, human resources, and real estate.
“Beebook is not just a website,” you told me in my office. “In fact, it’s not a website at all until our users purchase the URL and hire a Web designer. They also ought to start thinking about a logo.”
“I see Beebook,” you said, “as a kind of magic that happens whenever people get together to share content, whether they visit each other at home, meet in a bar, or even keep in touch using MySpace.”
Faced with skepticism about how something so intangible would make a profit, you became aggressive and started yelling that the thing would build up a following, at which point you would “monetize the motherfucker.”
“Come on, Shylock,” I heard you shout as security manhandled you out into the lobby. “Share some of that green content for once in your life!”