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):

 

Dear Sean,

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!

Sin­cere­ly,

Grand­pa­pa Goo

 

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:

 

Sean,

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.”

 

 

*1 -

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…

1 Comment

  1. Holy crap.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *