the foundering blog

If advertising is truly the Internet’s original sin, then the serpent is the venture capitalist who first surmised, “Sure, but what if you offered your service for free and made it ad-supported?” adding before or after any objection “Because isn’t your real value in the data?”

“The question” became so pervasive and well anticipated in venture capital meetings that many entrepreneurs eventually chose to skip the foreplay around whole swaths of their value proposition to ensure they could be first to explain that their company’s real value was, indeed, data. Cut them off at the pass. Leave them nowhere to go. Something like, “Hi, nice to meet you, Mr. Venture Capitalist. My name is—DATA! DATA! OUR REAL VALUE IS DATA!”

The question doesn’t seem that bad on the face of it. With so many companies giving away their goods for free already, what else can a company fall back on except data? Being cast out of the garden is called “The Fall” after all. But what of those startups who aren’t interested in just slinging pixels to marketers?

I say, pity those young startups who face the serpent’s question in the middle of a VC pitch. Pity Adam and Eve’s—I mean, the co-founders’—argument over whether to take a bite of that apple. And if you end up on the wrong side of that debate, be warned. You might find yourself fired. Like I was.

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Several years after I left my first job in investment banking, I received a call from one of my old bosses.

He jumped right to it: “I don’t know how to ask this, but did you ever add ‘I like robots’ to the Citigroup legal boilerplate?”

He was referring to that dense block of text we pasted into the back of all Citigroup/SSB presentations that covered every conceivable use or misuse of them.

I hesitated. He continued on. “You’re the first person I thought of.”

Of course I was. Despite having a knack for using SUMPRODUCT formulas, practicing totalitarian bureaucracy-friendly graphic design, and displaying an ease with being awake for days at a time that served my career and reputation well, I also acted out more than any twenty three year-old should.

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It all started with killer robots.

Ben and I have been kicking around various cartoon-ish ideas for a while. For my wedding, Ben did a drawing of said killer robots planning the festivities, as my now-wife looks on in dismay.

We discussed a number of killer-robot-related ideas, including a few scripts (if anyone wants an animated series pitch, you know where to find us), but animating is, well, tough, and expensive. So Ben suggested we just write a comic. Just some words and pictures. Minimum viable product, as it were.

But Ben’s up in the Bay Area and I’m in Los Angeles, and with our various gigs it was tough to make much progress. So we finally agreed to rent a house for a few days in Cambria, which is more or less halfway between us.

Turns out we’re often more productive when we’re apart rather than together (too many years of being independent consultants?). This goes double when the beach is a block away and there are lots of Archer episodes and animated movies to watch (“Everything is Awesome” was totally robbed of that Oscar), and a bottle of mezcal sitting around.

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Welcome to the Foundering blog—a companion to the comic where we’ll talk about the stories and ideas behind it. Why start a blog? Because everyone else does it, that’s why. Je suis lemming.

Despite a very clear and not-at-all tongue-in-cheek “all persons fictitious” disclaimer, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about who might be the basis for some of the Foundering characters . Who is “Perry?” the Lemming? Which firm is Lemming Capital? Did one of your board members try to molest one of you? Do you want to talk about it? Oh God, will you please stop crying?

Some of you have insinuated that you know these cartoon animals in real-life which really shocked me, because most of my imaginary friends are attractive women (Ed. Note: What about Jeero? Or that alligator? -MBD: Fair point). It’s not that the FertilizeMe gang doesn’t borrow personalities from folks Bryan and I have met in our startup travails, but more often than not, the characters are amalgamations based on Silicon Valley caricatures or archetypes. Lemming Perry is a great example.

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  • Get to know the FertilizeMe Team ... through enhanced interrogation.

  • What goes up, must come down. What goes down, must turn right.

  • Board members experienced in S&M? It may not mean Sales & Marketing.

  • No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of America's venture capitalists.

  • FertilizeMe's got a P.R. problem and only one tool at their disposal: more bulls#!t.

  • Strips that are short, sweet, with no nutritional value. Just like Peeps.

Foundering follows the world's "crappiest" tech startup, FertilizeMe, the leader in on-demand fertilizer fertilizer on-demand. Foundering was created by weary startup veterans Benjamin Dorr and Bryan Keefer.