pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu Mar 1 22:29:17 EST 2001
Subject: Cubicle Guy
Dear Readers -
This item about the market in used computers (which I've bought my
share of with entirely satisfactory results--yes, I know it's bad
for the economy)
(from NewsScan Daily, 1 March 2001)
> USED COMPUTERS ADD TO INVENTORY GLUT
> All those failed dot-com enterprises that have closed their doors
> in the past year are leaving a legacy of high-quality used
> computers that are undermining the new PC market and further
> aggravating computer suppliers, which are already suffering from a
> thin market and overstocked warehouses. And the next wave of tech
> startups is taking advantage of the newly available pre-owned
> equipment, some of which was used for only a few months and is
> still covered under original factory warranties. "Startup firms and
> others today are going to be far more interested in used or
> refurbished computer equipment because of the [low] cash supply,"
> says one computer equipment reseller. (NewsFactor 1 Mar 2001)
reminded me of a piece by Po Bronson, one of my favorite
commentators about Silican Valley, and his story about the Cubicle
Guy. You'll enjoy it.
F E A T U R E | Wired Magazine, Issue 6.01 - January 1998
Be warned: if your imprint of Silicon Valley was soldered together
in the '80s, it's time to upgrade.
"One word: Adrenaline!" is the entire copy of an advertisement in
the Stanford Daily recruiting engineers to a firm in Silicon Valley.
At a party I meet a young guy with an urban lumberjack look going,
most notably a week's growth of stubble. His employer, PowerAgent,
burned up US$25 million in cash and shut its doors and laid off all
60 employees. He's been hanging around the house for "almost three
weeks - well, 15 days" he clarifies, and he's starting to lose
self-respect for being such a slob. This morning he went to the
unemployment office at the Federal Building, which was so empty
that only two out of the 15 teller windows were open - he got the
picture and turned around. He figures he'll take a job next week.
That's how he said it - not that he would start interviewing, and
not that he would get an offer, but that he would take one - as if
job offers were weeklies stuffed into news racks on street corners,
and all you had to do was pick one up on the way to the cafe. It
occurs to me that maybe he's already had job offers.
"Oh, sure," he confirms, chuckling a bit self-consciously, knowing
darn well how lucky he is to be living here at this time. He's a
business-school graduate with a whole six months' experience in
marketing. That his experience was with a firm that burned $25
million in venture money and never made it to market hasn't seemed
to hurt his marketability.
We get talking about how a firm shuts down, and a venture
capitalist joins the conversation, and he tells me about the
"Not cubicles," the Cubicle Guy insists, when I sit down in his
office. "Panel systems."
The Cubicle Guy traffics in used partitions. He buys them dirt
cheap from companies going under or moving and resells them to new
companies, or growing ones. He profits from the churn. His business
is booming. He wears a beeper because at any time he might be
needed somewhere on the Peninsula to make a bid.
"I'm not the only guy reselling panel systems. It's like ambulance
chasing; the first lawyer on the scene gets the business. I watch
the newspaper for layoffs. I watch stock prices for drops - anyone
who might soon downsize. I talk to Realtors." So there is not only
one Cubicle Guy in Silicon Valley, there is tooth-and-nail
competition among several. That's how evolved it's become.
The Cubicle Guy is one of the quirkier parts of the
institutionalized revolution, the support system that makes
risk-taking feel so unrisky. In order to challenge the status quo,
you don't have to be so headstrong anymore, you don't have to be a
rebel. You just have to have an idea. But you'd better act on your
idea fast, because the same trends that made your idea pop into
your head are making that same idea pop into competitors' heads. So
there's a whole network of services, like the Cubicle Guy, to get
you up to speed quickly. If I could co-opt a heuristic for the ease
of starting a company here, it's "plug-and-play."
"I know this lawyer," the Cubicle Guy says. "He's an associate at
this firm. All they have to do to generate the legal documents for
a start-up is run this single macro, which inserts the company name
in all the appropriate places. Hit a button, out prints your
company, sign on the dotted line." I've heard that story so many
times it's become like an urban myth.
The Cubicle Guy takes me to his warehouse in Sunnyvale - 11,000
square feet, which isn't very big, considering the size of his
merchandise. "It's no trouble to move product once you've got it,"
he explains. The cubicles are cleaned here, then moved out.
A lot of the cubicles come back with gouge marks, graffiti, and
slits between the cloth covering and the wallboard where secrets
were hidden. Flyers and memos are still stapled in. These artifacts
are pinned to one wall of the Cubicle Guy's warehouse, a private
museum of Silicon Valley microsabotage. There are photos of
girlfriends, laminated Far Side cartoons, positive job evaluations,
worthless stock-option contracts, a six-point reminder list of "Why
I Work So Hard."
The phone on his hip rings, and the Cubicle Guy goes to work. "Are
the panels 60 inches tall, or 72? Uh-huh. Brown as in oatmeal, or
brown as in manila? OK, do me a favor. Look at one of the T-joints
where three panels connect - is the connector piece more like a T,
or are the three pegs equal in length? Uh-huh. That's probably
Versys brand ... ." He puts his hand over the phone. I give him a
nod, and let him go back to work.
Meet the Cubicle Guy's friends at
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