Back in the day we working on a press release and I was a CMO.
Me: “Somebody, get Randy (the PR director) in here.”
Me: “Randy, what is this press release calling our new offering the ultimate in business intelligence?”
Randy: “Yes and the problem is?”
Me: “The problem is it’s not the ultimate, it’s better than ultimate, it’s beyond ultimate … there must be a word for that … I don’t know, maybe penultimate.”
Randy: “Chief,” he said sheepishly after waiting a minute, “penultimate means one less than ultimate. Ultimate means ultimate. There is no word for one more than ultimate.”
Me: “Oh. Well, God damn it, go make one up.”
It was at that moment that I realized I’d been fully sucked into the Silicon Valley hype machine. Just as unique means unique and requires no modifier like “amazingly,” so does ultimate means ultimate.
Speaking of “amazing,” during my tenure at Salesforce, I used to count the number of amazing’s Marc Benioff would say during a speech. You’d run out of fingers in minutes. But somehow it worked. He was a great — no, amazing — speaker and I never got tired of listening to him.
This is Silicon Valley. The land where one of my competitors can still peddle a cock-and-bull story about how he, as an immigrant limo driver with $26 (and a master’s in computer science), sold a company (where he was neither founder nor CEO), worked as (a member in the office of the) CTO at SAP, and is growing stunningly — no, amazingly — fast (despite a rumored recent down-round and rough layoffs). Fact-checking, smact-checking. If it’s a Man Bites Dog story, people will eat it up. Blog it, hit publish, and move onto the next one.
Maybe I should pitch the equivalent story about me:
Lifeguard and Self-Taught Programmer Who Arrived in California with Only $30, a Red Bandana, and a Box of Bootlegged Grateful Dead Tapes Becomes CEO of Host Analytics
“Dude, I was guarding by the pool one day and this wicked thunderstorm hit and, flash, like totally suddenly I realized the world needed cloud-based, enterprise planning, budgeting, modeling, consolidation, and analytics.”
And we could discuss how I “hacked” on paper tape back in high school: “the greatest part about hacking on paper tape was you could roll bones with it when you were done and literally, like, smoke your program.”
It would be a roughly equivalent story. I’m sure they’d eat it up.
Silicon Valley is a place, after all, where we can create a metaphor for something that doesn’t exist — a unicorn — and then discover 133 of them.
Is our reaction “bad metaphor?” No, of course not. It’s “wow, we’re special, we’ve got 133 things that don’t exist.”
Unicorns (generally defined as startups with a $1B+ valuation) are mostly of a result of three things:
- The cost and hassle of being a public company, post Sox. Why go public if you don’t have to?
- The ability to raise formerly IPO-sized rounds (e.g., $100M) in the private markets.
- A general bubble in late-stage financing where valuations are high enough to create the IPO-as-down-round phenomena
As the late-stage financing bubble appears to be near popping, you increasingly hear new terms for unicorns. For example, Good Technology, a “onceacorn,” sold earlier this month for $400M. Since I love words, I’ve been tracking these new terms closely with some amusement: formercorns, “just horses with birthday hats on,” usta-corns, dying unicorns, and unicorpses.
So, hopefully, as the financing fuel that’s stoking the fire starts to die down, the hype bubble will go with it. Until then, enjoy this tweet, which captures the spirit of Silicon Valley today just perfectly: