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A Year in Paradise

October 1, 1998
by Pat McClellan

This month my wife and I celebrated the first anniversary of our move to the San Francisco Bay area. Our house and yard are starting to show signs of my wife's talent for design, she's establishing some good business contacts, and my career has taken an interesting turn. After 8 months of doing freelance contract work for the local office of The Jack Morton Company, I've accepted their offer to join them fulltime as an Executive Producer.

Sure, it seems like a lot has changed, but that's nothing compared to the really big news: I've been NDA'd. Don't panic... it's not as bad as it sounds. It didn't hurt much at all and now that it happened once, I've already done it again with somebody else. In fact, I expect that it might just become a habit. My wife didn't get NDA'd, nor is she likely to -- it's just not her thing -- but she understands that I really had no choice about it. She's very understanding about these things.

If I was ever to make my mark in this market, it was just a matter of time before I was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. In fact, back in Chicago, I had signed an NDA agreement on occasion. But here in the Bay area, there seems to be such status associated with the process. It's like a rite of passage into the realm of basic business interactions.

I think every city has its own business subculture personality. In Los Angeles, everybody has a script. "Yes, I wait tables in a little cafe on Melrose, but I've got this script and my sister's boyfriend knows an agent..." In Nashville, everybody has a song. Well, here in the Bay Area (and that's a lot more than just San Francisco), it seems like everybody has got "this great little germ of an idea for a startup." And of course, you can't carry on more than the most cursory of conversations without treading dangerously close to something for which you need to be innoculated by an NDA to discuss.

I guess inhabitants of every city look around and see who around them is getting rich fast. Around here, it's the cyber millionaires that attract envy and admiration. And so, I see throngs of people emulating the entrepreneurial drive for new and unique ways to send bits across semiconductors -- the next killer ap, the next Cisco, the next Netscape or Yahoo.

Unlike most blue-chip business, these garage-office empires don't draw from traditional sources for staffing and development. In the early stages, the CIO-designate is just a likely to be a guy whose day gig is slapping together Shockwave movies or HTML. And the CEO-2-B is likely to be the guy you know who knows some "VC". Venture Capital.

How in the world venture capitalists can strategize and calculate the odds on the hundreds of ideas they see in a month... I'll never know. I'm told that if you have a really great idea and you actually get an appointment with some VC, then it's best to geek-out a bit for the meeting. You know, really come off as a social dweeb with more an IQ only surpassed by your NQ (nerd quotient.)

I don't understand everything here yet... but there's time. Sometime this year, I expect I'll come into contact with some VC. In fact, I've been told about some semi-monthly parties that a local law firm holds for the express purpose of bringing together developers and VC to throw back a few brewskies. I haven't attended yet -- mostly because I haven't found the need for VC yet, but I guess I'll need to get with it and continue my assimilation. Resistance is futile.

So in the coming year, I need to figure out just where I fit into all of this "idea to NDA to start-up to VC to IPO to instant riches" chain. I think there are 2 kinds of people which are vital for any of these ideas to yield Yahoo-riches. You've got to have the geeky but sometimes scarey out-of-the-box idea kind of guy to get things started. And then you've got to have the disciplined, business-savvy, follow-through kind of person to make it happen. I'm clearly in the latter category, so I guess I need to start hanging out with those idea geeks. Has anybody seen Zav around?

Hey, here's a great idea that'll come in handy at those VC parties: business cards that have a pre-signed NDA on the back! Oh, don't even think of stealing it. This whole page is NDA'd.

Patrick McClellan is Director Online's co-founder. Pat is Vice President, Managing Director for Jack Morton Worldwide, a global experiential marketing company. He is responsible for the San Francisco office, which helps major technology clients to develop marketing communications programs to reach enterprise and consumer audiences.

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