Cake
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    • My first two years in Silicon Valley were spent in Burlingame at a dotcom that hoped to revolutionize telecommunicatons online - with Web meetings, conference calls and even faxing from the Web. They had great services, but not enough customers, and eventually ran out of funding in early 2001, jettisoning marketing, sales and business development folks, before selling for scraps to Oracle.

      Being in Marketing myself, this meant it was my first trial to try and find a full-time job, in a world where online job databases were taking over. I'd polished the resume and started applying at anything that sounded close to what I thought I did...

      Web Marketing Manager... E-Marketing Manager... Marketing Manager... Internet Marketing Manager...

      Keep in mind this was a time when companies knew the Internet was a humongous deal, but were still trying to figure out where the money was coming from. The dotcom stocks had gone to the moon and crashed down. E-Business firms were raising tens of millions to figure out how put supply chains on the Web, and it could be hard to separate the real from the fake.

      Meanwhile, with the crush of aspiring gold-seekers flooding to the Valley, hoping to win the stock option lottery, traffic was a mess. I used to compare driving 101 South to parallel parking at 70 miles an hour -- just a zoo. So very quickly, the location of where I could start was just about as important as the starting salary. Belmont was better than Palo Alto. Mountain View better than San Jose. Maybe I could even walk.

      I tweaked my CV as best I could and threw it on Monster and Dice.com and all their clones, hoping to break through the noise. Here's what Dice.com looked like back then.

    • One of my job hunting volleys reached a company who so obviously needed my help. Their website was this hideous reddish purple and their icon looked like a squished crow. But they promised big things with revolutionary shock waves. I applied for the role of eMarketing Manager, to aid with promotion and copy, and redo their Website.

      They asked me to come in for an interview and I pored over their site, ready to talk about how they needed to tailor their content for who their visitors would be -- investors, partners, analysts, and yes, customers. I studied the site in and out and felt prepared.

    • That Monday, sure their headquarters was in some garage somewhere, with like maybe 5-8 guys who couldn't write, I rolled in ready to tell them the ins and outs of marketing and publishing on the web. I pulled into the parking lot on Bernardo in Mountain View. Across their lot was Placeware, the Web meeting company eventually purchased by Microsoft. And one building down -- Handspring, the exciting handheld company run by Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky in their follow-on from Palm.

      Instead of less than a dozen people, Synaxia had a quiet swarm of folks. About 50 were in Mountain View, and they'd raised two rounds of funding, for about $35 million. I still didn't really know what they did.

      The first interviewer, a director of product marketing, and I went back and forth as I kept sounding confused as to their promise. He said they made the Web faster with specialized network servers. I thought they competed with Akamai. He said no. Maybe Akamai would be a customer? No. I felt a little stuck, as he talked about host bus adapters, raid arrays, and fibre channel.

      So I went to what I knew - Web sites. As I began my spiel, he shook his head and stopped me.

      "Louis, the Web site is a fake. The company name is a fake. In two months, we're going to rebrand and launch our product, so none of this matters."

      I felt like my legs had been pulled out from under me, that I may as well just leave, but I was young enough (and likely cheap enough) that they didn't give up on me, even as I got through two more people.

    • My final interview was a friendly, older, and heavier guy, with short cropped white hair, folded arms resting on his belly, and an ability to talk your ear off. He was the vice president of marketing. I had 30 minutes with him, and for 20 minutes or so, he yammered on about the state of Catholic high school athletics, and told me about his kids, or told me stories about his career. He seemed very nice, but I was scared he wouldn't get a chance to learn about me at all - let alone figure if I was worth hiring.

      Before I had felt like I even had a chance to get a word in edgewise, he interrupted, and said, "Look, if you got to me, you'll be fine," and just as quickly, he was gone -- off to the next meeting.

      Years later, he would constantly tell me how he had been the reason I was hired, that I had been his discovery, and he took all the credit for my accomplishments. A fantastic boss, but an even better story teller.

    • A few days later, I got a call that offered me the job. I had no idea, really, what kind of salary to ask for, but, having just finished my double major from Berkeley, and getting two years under my belt, I was looking at a 50% raise over my last job. It seemed like so much money -- commensurate with being able to deliver a brand new website in about 30 days (which my designer and I managed).

      I agreed to the job, and the pay bump, and my excitement lasted almost a full workday.

      On the first day, HR asked me to sign papers to complete my employment, and I added my signature with enthusiasm. I walked back to the HR manager's desk, and she opened a folder titled "E-marketing manager". The first page in the folder was a job description (mine) with a salary range.

      The bottom of that salary range was above where I had signed, and the top of that range went a full $30,000 higher. I immediately felt like I was underpaid, and I'd have to work a decade before I felt like I'd caught up. But I managed to get the job at the stealth company, and their fake website -- lasting 8 1/2 years, until I left in 2009.

      Below is one of the last real ones I published, after multiple generations of product and many hundreds of customers. (And eight bosses. I outlasted everyone I interviewed with)

    • Wait, what?! It turned out to be a storage device company but they faked it for awhile to keep it secret? Did they sell many? And then you went to Google to work on G+?

    • Synaxia was essentially in stealth mode while they built their product. If it did what it was supposed to, it could have upended EMC and NetApp the way Cisco had decimated Nortel and 3Com. Being quiet bought them time to build.

      I had one hop in between BlueArc (formerly Synaxia Networks) and Google. I had been blogging and advising small startups pretty regularly from 2006 to 2009, when I left BlueArc and cofounded my own consulting firm -- Paladin Advisors Group. We focused on Marketing, PR and social for big companies and small ones.

      For one of them, my6sense, I was their acting Vice President of Marketing, and we met with all the big players regularly, including Google. It was through those relationships (and my continued blogging) that got me really close to Google. Maybe I'll share the story sometime about exactly how all that went down, if I can.

    You've been invited!