I've joined the riches torags set

Why would a guy do such a thing? In a word,or rather two, stock options
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The Independent Online

THEY FEATURE less-than-deluxe quarters, long hoursand a shortage of staff. They don't pay overtime. By mostestimations, four out of five fail to become full-blown companies.And, of course, here in Silicon Valley, they're all the rage- if you don't work for a startup, you don't let strangers atparties know that.

THEY FEATURE less-than-deluxe quarters, long hoursand a shortage of staff. They don't pay overtime. By mostestimations, four out of five fail to become full-blown companies.And, of course, here in Silicon Valley, they're all the rage- if you don't work for a startup, you don't let strangers atparties know that.

Now I'm the kind of guy who grew up in a period whenthe Grade B folks worked for wonky little companies and the Grade A ones workedfor big outfits with recognisable names.

In my boyhood home of Erie,Pennsylvania, if a guy worked at Great Lakes Fence Company, he'dproudly talk about stuff down at Great Lakes. And he'd lord it over thepoor slobs who worked at the petrol station or the corner shop.

He did,that is, until somebody sat down who worked for one of the really big outfitsin town, like General Electric. Then he'd fold his bragging tent andslip away.

Everyone knew the big companies paid better and were less likelyto go out of business or make people redundant. They also had benefits -health insurance and credit unions - that were unheard of atrun-of-the-mill employers. Guys at those big outfits hadcars, and houses that had been painted, in the past decade. Regularfolks at the downmarket salt mines had weather-faded exterior walls on theirhouse trailers and, if they had a car, it was the variety that burnt lotsof oil and sported rust blossoms around the wheel wells.

So when I firstventured into Silicon Valley, I made my way to a big name computer companyand signed up. It had a logo that's known the world over, and,sure enough, the pay and benefits were pretty darn good. Four and a halfyears at the computer factory left me in dramatically better financial shape thanthe preceding 24 years in the newspaper business.

An average job stay inthe Valley is something like three years, so after four, I had inheritedmost of the cushy accoutrements that come the way of people who stay in a bigcompany long enough. There was the corner office with views of well-keptgardens and a couple of acres of lush lawn. There were fashionable,overstuffed chairs and a sofa, to go with the live plants, stereo systemand state-of-the-art network and computer gear.

There were twowell-paid assistants who were so competent that it was a constant challengeto keep them both busy. When I wasn't giving computer- aidedpresentations over a state-of-the-art global video conferencingsystem, I was being flown business class to Sydney or Paris or Tokyo toattend conferences and visit special customers.

Then there were the twoespresso bars with cheerful staff and a cafeteria that featured a chef and disheslike handmade salmon cilantro pizza freshly baked in a wood-burning oven.Add to that a health club, a bookstore, a computer store (with steepemployee discounts) and a branch office of the local Silicon Valley creditunion, and, well, the term "spoiled rotten" probably comes tomind.

So you're probably going to wonder what ever possessed me,one fine summer day, when I pitched the whole thing and headed off to astartup. It wasn't as if they were trying to get rid of me - my bossactually asked what he could do to keep me when I went to him and announced mydeparture.

That Friday I left my cushy corner office with the garden view- a 15- minute commute from home - and on Monday reported to my newHQ, a tough hour's drive away, consisting of an old house and officebuilding under a motorway flyover.

My new "office" was previouslythe conference room, and it came with company - composed of thevice-president of sales, some cardboard boxes, a few dozen ants andthe antenna that links our network to the old house across the parking lot.I'm at an age where I don't worry about the microwaves making mesterile, but hair loss is another matter entirely.

The garden view hasbeen replaced by a vista of the private security guard office which sits abovethe thrift shop next door. The espresso bars and pizza oven have beenreplaced by a coffee machine and a Mexican restaurant a mile or so away.

Sowhat would possess a guy to do such a thing? In a word, or rather twowords, stock options. Like many other Valleyites, I left astable, well-paid job to go into a risky startup in the hope that I wasgetting in on the ground floor of a future Netscape or Yahoo.

And thenthere's the challenge. In a big company, its hard for one person todo either much good or much harm. In a small one, a single person caneasily be the difference between success and failure. And since everyone hasto master many trades in a small, resource-short outfit, there'sa big opportunity to learn everything, from public relations to insectcontrol.

So now everyone's rushing for the wonky little companies.If this keeps up, pretty soon the poor slobs at the petrol station will belording it all over me.

cg@gulker.com

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