Tales of the City 2.0
Justin DeMonet, 25-year-old associate vice-president of Buzz Development at BrainFetch.com, ordered another smartini. He needed inspiration, fast.
Last September, BrainFetch.com had it all. Blue-chip venture millions. A Bezos on the board (not Jeff, but close: Jeff's second cousin, Geoff). And everywhere you went, pundits were singing the same happy song: the educational pet toy e-tailer space was definitely the Next Big Thing.
Then came the Super Bowl fiasco, where BrainFetch blew $3.2 million on a spot that aired late in the fourth quarter, when most viewers were too drunk to follow its complicated storyline involving a mentally gifted gerbil.
After that, things got even worse. BrainFetch.com's CEO found a story on the Net about a baboon in Hamburg who had a 900-word vocabulary. "And not just sign language, this baboon actually speaks!" the CEO exclaimed to the BrainFetch.com staff. "Think of the PR!"
Thus began Project Kong. $1.2 million to rent the gabby primate for a year. Another $600,000 to build a plexi-glass habitat in the BrainFetch.com headquarters, so the baboon could interact with the public. And then, after BrainFetch.com had sunk nearly $2 million into the project? "Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen," the dumb ape told anyone who asked it a question. The damned thing only spoke German!
Justin sipped his smartini and closed his eyes. Site traffic was down to 60,000 uniques a month, less than 2% of whom were actually buying anything. He had to think of some way to reverse BrainFetch.com's fortunes. He had to get people talking about the web's pioneer educational pet toy e-tailer again.
"We are gonna kick some ass tonight," Justin whispered, half-heartedly singing along with the bar's jukebox. "We got the metal madness…"
Justin scowled at the damn jukebox. Why had he thought a bar whose record collection consisted entirely of old Metallica songs might be a better place to brainstorm than his office?
And then it him. Metallica. Of course! Metallica! Three months ago, Napster was strictly a college fad, the Ween of MP3 start-ups. But after all the non-stop publicity from the Metallica lawsuit? Now, Napster was the Garth Brooks of MP3 start-ups! Everyone knew Napster. Even Jay Leno was making Napster jokes.
Justin whipped out his Nokia 282 and dialed Jenexa Plus, a strategically promiscuous publicist with whom he'd once shared a few liquidity events. She was never more than three phone calls away from anyone. "Who do you know who knows someone who knows Lars Ulrich?" he queried.
"Why do you want to know?" Jenexa never answered a question with an answer.
"I'm gonna pay him to sue us!"
"Get in line, DeMonet. LuckyShop.com beat you to it."
"Looksmart too. Lars is booked for the next 18 months. Everyone wants to be sued by Metallica. But if you hurry, you might still have a shot at Rod Morgenstein."
"Rod Morgenstein. You know, the drummer from Winger."
The conversation ended right there, of course. Justin DeMonet was not about to tarnish BrainFetch.com's reputation for innovation with some me-too plaintiff like Rod Morgenstein.
Still, he knew the approach was right. The media was tired of Internet success stories. Lawsuits, layoffs, that's what the media wanted.
"So, you see, it's simple," Justin explained to his co-workers at BrainFetch.com's Monday meeting. "We hack our own site. We say it's some animal rights group, fighting discrimination against stupid pets. The media will love it!"
A week later, Justin and his BrainFetch.com comrades were celebrating at the IPO Lounge. Earlier that day, they'd executed the hack. And within two hours, a reporter from ZDNet had called seeking a statement.
"Dude, I'm telling ya," Justin exclaimed to Seth Wilsey, BrainFetch.com's Director of Starting Things. "Tomorrow morning, we're gonna be in the New York Times."
And then his jaw dropped. Across the room, Jenexa Plus had just entered, arm in arm with Miles Putnam, CEO of BrainFetch.com's arch-rival, SmartyCat.com. A step behind them? Their new friend, Lars Ulrich.
"Miles and Jenexa?" Justin yelped. "How long has that been going on?"
"Two weeks," Seth replied. "But who's that tiny guy they're with?"
Seth kept yammering, but Justin no longer listened. Instead, he watched Jenexa order several bottles of Veuve Clicquot as Miles and Lars brandished early edition Web printouts of tomorrow's Times. Justin couldn't read the headline but he knew what it was just the same: METALLICA SUES SMARTYCAT.COM!
"I can't believe she double-crossed me," Justin muttered, whipping out his Nokia 282. He needed to get in touch with Rod Morgenstein, fast.