The Startup Beatdown
Chapter 3: A Steaming Pile of Goo
Above my desk in the hallway, there was a picture printed on a loose-leaf paper of a middle-aged man, whose tanned, wrinkled face was distorted into a fake smile. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and his wispy, receding hair was pulled back into a ponytail – or possibly a rattail. In this picture, he was surrounded by stuffed animals of Seashel Productions creative property, the ‘Googles from Goop.’ One day, I asked who this man was.
“That’s Jerry Gold. He created the Googles,” Flo explained. “If you ever see him in here, call the cops.”
Having already familiarized myself with the Googles at this point, I would have been inclined to call the police anyway (but only if a pillowcase of batteries with which to beat him were not readily at hand).
The ‘Googles from Goop’ were SeaShel’s only creative property. Apparently, a lot of work (not hard work, mind you) had gone into developing this property by a long string of employees that had long since left the company. A huge character bible had been written, and about 20 half-hour scripts were completed. These giant notebooks were kept under the watchful and paranoid eyes of Joel, the Director of Marketing, and he didn’t allow anyone else in the company to see a single page of Googles-related text. Now, if I were in charge of a creative property like the Googles, I probably wouldn’t let anyone see it either – if nothing else but for humanitarian reasons (and shame). Joel, however, had a different motive. Joel was the type of manager who firmly believed that knowledge equals power. He practiced this concept in a very interesting way: Instead of gaining knowledge himself (as far as I could tell, he had no useful skills and did nothing), he instead kept basic knowledge from others. Joel was supposed to be the pipeline between Sean Etin and the creative staff, which consisted of three programmers/artists and (supposedly) myself. As it turned out, though, any and all information that came his way, either from his boss or his underlings, stayed forever with him. Numerous times, I have heard Joel berate a member of the creative staff for explaining to Sean Etin what they were doing when he asked.
“When Sean asks what you’re doing,” Joel would state whenever someone is ‘caught’ divulging information to the boss, “you tell him that you can’t tell him and that he should ask me.”
Yes. Tell the man who signs your paychecks – a man who has no patience and an enormous temper – that you can’t tell him what you’re doing on his time, and to consult someone who doesn’t know himself.
I had very much wanted to get a hold of the creative notebooks Joel kept from everyone. I was the head (and only) writer and was morbidly curious as to how the previous creative staff(s) expanded on and (hopefully) improved upon Mr. Gold’s original book, which I had the displeasure of reading during my initial interview. More importantly, I wanted to do something other than photocopying, which I had been doing nonstop, 9 hours a day, for the last month.
Eventually, I got my chance. Joel came up to me one day, with a look that said, “you’re ready for this.” He was holding the immense character notebook in his hands, which he plopped on my desk with a mighty thump. “I need you to photocopy this,” Joel said, and walked off. So, for the next week, I photocopied, collated, hole-punched and put together a new notebook. When it looked like nobody was paying attention, I read as much as I could.
The notebook was about one thousand pages long and introduced about three hundred characters. In addition to Stoogle Google, the character I was introduced to in Mr. Gold’s original (self-published) book, they invented five other Google characters. Their body shape, facial features and expressions were all used from the same cookie-cutter – they were all four-eyed, overweight aliens covered with two-tone, fluorescent fur, and the only way to tell the difference between them was their color. One was orange and iridescent yellow. One was pink and purple. All were hideous. They had thin, rubber-band-like arms that extended out of the bottom of their heads, where their necks should be, but aren’t. Like a Mr. Potatohead, their large feet seem attached to their butts, as they have no legs whatsoever. They wore no clothes, save a pair of sneakers that can, at the most kind, be referred to as colorful. But since I’m not kind, I’ll describe it this way: It was if God took a look at his monstrous creations, got sick to his stomach and threw-up rainbow puke all over their shoes. Attached to their shoes (I kid you not) was a compass. Mr. Etin planned on marketing these shoes to children when the Googles became a big hit.
“Imagine it,” he would say emphatically, counting the imaginary money in his head. “What kid wouldn’t want to be the first kid on his block to wear these shoes?”
“Probably the same kid who doesn’t want to be the first kid on his block to be beaten up,” my friend at work, Perry, would answer after Mr. Etin would leave the room.
There were many other characters described in the notebook as well. About half of the binder was filled with character descriptions of woodland animals with such creative names as ‘Randy the Raccoon’ and ‘Tammie the Turtle.’ These character descriptions would be about eight pages each, and would go into minute detail about each animal’s family dynamic, favorite music, and even whether they drank, smoked or did drugs (surprise! – none of the woodland animals in a property for pre-schoolers smoked crack). The format of these write-ups was obviously from a template someone got from the Internet, as it seems unlikely a deer’s sexual orientation or menstrual cycle will come up in a story …
There were also a group of children introduced in the notebook, named the GooKids (I feel dirty just writing it), and hundreds of assorted aliens from many different planets. They basically expanded Mr. Gold’s concept into a sprawling, messy universe, where it was impossible for characters to interact in any way – but if I were to boil it down to one sentence, it would be this: Naked aliens take children to a secret place in the woods and teach them the ways of the world …*1
Even though they only had one creative property, Seashel Productions kept their fingers (or possibly dicks) in a lot of pies. They had Googles music (look it up on iTunes if you feel like torturing yourself in thirty second intervals), websites, animations, video games, stories, merchandise, and even their own security technology (which might actually make them money someday …). To their credit, I would say that their scope of products is impressive, if only the Googles concept weren’t total garbage. It’s like starting a Disney-like multimedia company, but instead of Mickey Mouse being the creative heart, they instead used a rusty bucket of semen.
With all this potential merchandise and products, Seashel Productions put 95% of their energies on producing one thing – lawsuits. As I came to learn, Sean Etin loved suing people. I honestly think it makes him hard. One time, he told a gathering of employees his philosophy. He stated, “I don’t know about you all, but when someone tries to hurt me, I knock him down and do everything I can to make sure he never gets up.”
That would be all well and good, except his definition of ‘hurt’ included looking at him the wrong way and nothing at all. I had never met anyone more obsessed with ruining people’s lives than this man. He was the sort of person that derived pleasure out of confrontation, but more importantly, it gave him a feeling of power to be able to control men’s fortunes (or lack thereof). I had no idea how many lawsuits this man was fighting. I didn’t want to know. Lawsuits scare me, and I know the less I found out about the inner workings of the company, the less likely I would be asked to testify (and, most likely, told to lie) in any given court case.
There were two court cases that were inescapable if you worked at Seashel. One involved a massive Internet corporation that used a very similar sounding website name. Apparently, Jerry Gold bought the website googles.com months before a certain multi-billion dollar Internet company bought their own similar sounding website address. When Sean Etin bought the rights to those horrible ‘Googles from Goop,’ he became the owner of the Googles website. I honestly have no idea if Sean Etin bought the property with the specific plan of suing the pants off that certain extremely rich Internet company, or if he really believed in the Googles as a merchandisable product. All I know is that by the time I joined the company, Sean Etin was taking the lawsuit personally.
“It’s my job to take down the evil empire,” he would say heroically. “And I’m going to burn them to the ground!”
The other litigious battlefront Seashel Productions was fighting on was against Jerry Gold. According to Mr. Etin, Jerry Gold served a couple of years for cocaine possession, and came up with the Googles concept in prison. Now, if I were stuck in prison and had to create a fantasy world to distract from the reality of unwanted anal trespass, I’d like to think that my fantasy would be better than the reality, but to each his own, I guess.
I don’t know if the prison story is true, as Mr. Etin had a tendency to make up whatever story was convenient to his present situation, so long as the person he was talking about was not in the room. I have heard obvious lies about co-workers come out of his mouth, and have heard secondhand lies about me (for example: my eventual quitting was an elaborate ploy to get more money from him, and that I later called, begging for my job back …).
Jerry Gold was suing Seashel Productions and Seashel was counter-suing him (or is it the other way around?). I also heard that Jerry Gold has his own lawsuit with that giant Internet company. It is a complicated web of sewage, and I did my best to distance myself from the whole mess. Alas, this was not meant to be. An important court date was fast approaching and Sean Etin’s lawyers needed every single email Jerry Gold sent to Sean Etin or Seashel Productions. So, I was taken off photocopying duty for a day and brought to a usually locked storage closet, where I was told to organize an enormous stack of printed emails in chronological order. The sheer number of papers, strewn in foot-high piles, was astounding. Obviously, Sean Etin and Jerry Gold’s relationship had been much friendlier in the past (though, I was sure, no less demented). Flo left me alone with a warning:
“If you’re caught reading any of these emails, you’ll be fired on the spot.”
It was good to know I had an out.
“How am I supposed to organize the emails without looking at them?” I asked, more out of curiosity than anything else.
Flo softened. “It’s a kick in the teeth, ain’t it? Let me know when you’re done,” she said in her southern twang, leaving me alone to do what I wished.
So, I began organizing the stacks of emails. The first thing I noticed was the sheer amount of correspondences Jerry Gold could write in any given day. He averaged about three or four, but I sometimes saw days in which he sent around ten. These weren’t short emails, either; most filled the page. They were sent at all times of the day, many at three or four in the morning. I recognized the pattern from firsthand experience – this man obviously didn’t have a job. I became more and more curious about Jerry Gold. What possessed a person to come up with an idea as ill-conceived as the Googles from Goop? These emails were my best way of finding out, and I soon began scanning their bodies.
What I found shocked me. Jerry Gold, a man who, according to his photo, should be in his fifties, filled his emails with puns that would make a six year old shake his head in shame. This was an average email he would write (shortened, for your benefit):
Goo day! How are you? I hope you are goo! I read the notes you sent me and I thought they were goo. I think the Googles are going to be huge. Children need a show that will make them feel goo about themselves. I have to go now. Goo bye!
Every single one of his hundreds (if not thousands) of emails contained the word ‘goo’ at least once (but usually much more), and every single time it was used as a pun on the word ‘good.’ There was never an “I have to ‘goo’ now,” or a “soon we will reach our ‘gool’.” It was a sad kind of insanity, and I suddenly felt very sorry for him. I also felt sorry for Sean Etin for the first and only time. He had to read every one of these emails, for years and years on end.
I continued scanning his emails as I put them in chronological order, and began to read the frustration in their tone, as the years went by. The last few emails read like this:
What the heck is going on here? You’re not responding to my emails and nobody in your company is returning my calls. THIS IS NOT FUCKING GOO! If you don’t respond to me now, you’ll be responding to my lawyers later.
Jerry “Grandpapa Goo” Gold
Jerry Gold obviously cared and believed in the property he created (allegedly in prison). I could tell that he would never give up his lawsuit. Sean Etin would also not give up, because that was simply not the kind of person he was. It was like they were locked in an epic battle to the death, all over the ownership of a turd.
By the end of my job task, I was contemplative and frightened. A long-held dream of mine is to create my own creative properties. Is Mr. Gold a glimpse into my future if I continued to pursue this dream? Is it worth the trouble to spend your life fighting for your creative property when businessmen like Sean Etin will do everything in his power to take it from you? They are tough questions that I still struggle with.
I later told my friends at work about the emails and from then on, we would use ‘goo’ puns ourselves. We called where we worked the ‘goolog’ and our employers the ‘Goostapo.’ When I told one of my co-workers that I was quitting, he gave me some words of advice for when I tell Sean Etin: “Tell him to goo fuck himself.”
Just to give you all an idea of the flawed nature of Seashel’s creative property, I’m including an excerpt from a script outline I read while I was there. Keep in mind that the only thing that I’m changing in this outline is the names of the characters and songs. (Also, keep in mind that the little boy in the story met the alien just hours earlier …):
Excerpt From a Googles Story Outline
… As the song ends they all leave giggling, waving GooBye, except one GooKid who is sad about leaving his new GooFriends. Stoogle agrees to go home with him for a little while, and explains that everybody gets lonely sometimes, and that he understands how he feels. Stoogle can even sit down with the GooKid and talk to him about being lonely or scared and comfort him and say something about it. Then they head home together. The child sneaks him in because Stoogle shrank himself so that he fit in the child’s pocket. For the rest of the evening, Stoogle makes sure that the child eats all his vegetables, listens to his parents, brushes his teeth, etc. He and the child exchange giggles the whole time, and his parents are obviously slightly confused.
After the child gets into bed, Stoogle comes back to normal size, and sits next to him on the bed while he falls asleep. The child asks for a song, and Stoogle sings GooNite:
1st verse: he tucks the child in as he sings, and the child’s eyes start to get heavy;
2nd verse: Stoogle walks over to window and sings out to the sky; follow his gaze out the window into the big sky; when the camera comes back down from the sky, it’s over another child (or animal) going to bed, smiling and content; for the rest of the song, we see all the animals and children around the area/country/world/universe falling asleep contently; on the very last “…GooNite,” we’re back to Stoogle, who gives the child a little kiss on the head and turns into a tiny yellow floating puffball/dust ball that floats out the window…