Pour hundreds of millions into software that's slow, unwieldy and uncompetitive? Naturally!

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Imagine an endeavour where it's perfectly OK to succeed just 1 per cent of the time. You'd tell the boss, "We missed 99 out of 100 sales," and she'd say, "Great! Have a cigar. And there'll be little something extra in the pay cheque this week."

In that light, a success rate of, say, one out of five looks really good, right? You know, the bank loans you 500 clams, you pay back 100, and they say "Yahoo! Come back and do it again."

What planet are we talking about here, you ask? Both of these propositions are the basis for thriving businesses over here in the United States, arguably a part of planet Earth.

The direct-mail advertising business is built on a response rate in the 1 per cent range. Judging by the tonnage of glossy, colour, "free" offers and similar junk in my mailbox, there's no lack of success in the direct- mail industry. And, judging by my e-mail "in" box, the concept is spreading to the Internet like wildfire.

Venture capitalists expect hi-tech startups to fail about 80 per cent of the time, and plan their business accordingly. A drive down Sand Hill Road, in Menlo Park, California, the Wall Street of Silicon Valley venture capital, reveals no shortage of palatial office suites or expensive cars.

The only conclusion I can draw is that succeeding 1 per cent of the time is good, and succeeding at a 20 per cent clip is utterly fantastic.

Suddenly, so much becomes clear.

Tamagotchis, for example. Tamagotchi means something like "lovable egg" in Japanese, I'm told. They're described as "lovable little alien life forms contained in a small, egg-shaped computer attached to a key ring".

Put like that, it's hard to imagine anyone buying one, much less investing in the firm that makes them. Yet somewhere, hardened, crusty bankers are vying with each other to loan billions to the toy company Bandai, which makes Tamagotchis. These same bankers have probably turned down loans to Rolls-Royce and General Motors.

Of course! Why invest in heavy industry when you can invest in alien life forms on a key ring?

Now I understand Java.

Java is a next-generation computer language that's no easier to use than the last-generation stuff. It's cross-platform, meaning that it totally ignores the abilities of whatever computer it runs on.

Java runs at a fraction of the speed of any other computer code, and lacks the ability to do many common things that older languages do. It has a current user base of zero, which is good, because the Java user interface will be different from everything in use today.

Programmers are spending thousands of hours to learn the language and convert every program they've got.

Investment bankers and venture capitalists, those fun-loving folks who make blood-frenzied piranha look sympathetic, will do just about anything to get their hands on any Java-related project.

They'll fund anything that runs Java, writes Java, compiles Java, pushes Java or pulls Java. JavaBeans, JavaScript, Hot Java, Caffe, Latte - anything with a caffeine-related name can just about take it to the bank. One venture capital firm even started a Java fund, to invest only in Java products.

Pour hundreds of millions of dollars into software that's currently slow, unwieldy and uncompetitive? Naturally!

Here, finally, is a game I can win. I'm wrong at least half of the time. Ask my wife, and she'll tell you I'm wrong a whole lot more often than that.

Gender helps. My friend Charlie Swanson asks, "If a man speaks in the woods where no woman can hear, is he still wrong?"

This could mean the really, really big time. So, let's see now ... what can I come up with that's sure to fail miserably?

Whatever I do, I'll follow the time-honoured traditions of Silicon Valley for new product development.

First, you send out the press release announcing that the 1.0 version of the product is about to ship.

Next you print the T-shirts, and get people to wear them around computer trade shows. A Web site, of course, is de rigueur - you can take the advance orders that way.

Finally, you write some code and/or do a little hardware development, making sure it doesn't get in the way of the activities above.

But, you've got to have a code name. Let's see ... If I take the "W" from Windows, the "Or" from Oracle, the "M" from Microsoft, I get "WOrM".

It's hip to include the code name in the product name, and we can't forget the Java angle for the venture capitalists.

How about "WOrM Cappuccino"? Just to be sure, let's paint it alien green and put it on a key ring.

We're going to make billions.