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Bring on the Little Guys

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Trade Show 6 Later we cruised around Las Vegas. Williams and I tried to find ways to scare Jason. It all came to an end when Williams drove up on the sidewalk and then hit the breaks. The car slid to a stop and Williams screamed, "let's kill some pedestrians!" As people scurried away, Williams muttered, "these people have no idea who I am."

On the way home, I complained about the long drive back to Gene. "Mike is flat broke," said Williams. "He's putting this whole venture on his credit card. He believes in this idea so strongly, that he's killing himself trying to make it work."

I thought about that for a long time. Mike smelled value in Linux and Williams' software. And he was right. All week at the expo, his booth was crawling with people. Everyone was excited to see Linux and an Open Source editor at NAB. Williams demonstrated his software to countless producers and Mike was endlessly peppered with questions.

The only question he couldn't answer was: "why should I buy this Alpha from you?" He lacked a functioning business model, but so did VA Linux. While VA was able to burn nearly two million on the domain linux.com, Mike couldn't afford the hotel bill for a convention.

I've interviewed the CEO of VA Linux, Dr. Larry Augustin before. He was never able to explain his expenditures. The only explanation for buying linux.com I ever got came from his PR man, Brian Ritchie. Microsoft was going to buy it so VA had to, Ritchie had said.

Two million dollars for five letters, or four hundred thousand dollars a letter. That's an unjustifiable expense for a company that sells computers. Later, VA bought Andover.net, a company that owned Slashdot.org and Freshmeat.org. These sites are great, but they don't help sell servers.

A year ago in New York, I listened to Fernand Sarrat, the CEO of LinuxCare brief the press on their business model. They were getting ready to launch the IPO, and they were giddy.

For the announcement they shipped journalists to the conference in black cars. Lunch was served. We watched a psychotic video of a talking penguin. "We know we're not supposed to talk about this," said Sarrat, "because we've filed for an IPO, but who cares?" I have the whole thing captured on a DV Pro cartridge, and my friends are shocked when they watch it.

Mike was the "Fast Food Consultant" in that Carl's Jr. commercial. Some guy in a booth with an overpriced product. Any takers? All he needed was one.

And he never left that booth. He paced back and forth, clutching a roll of names and numbers that a machine would spit out, as attendees swiped their badges in hopes of winning a giant penguin. "Look at these names," he said once, white-knuckling the tape roll, "I'm getting some great contacts."

Perhaps Linux really is about the little guy. Guys like Frank, who can sell sand in the desert and who have figured out how to use Linux in their business to save money. And guys like Mike, who have the balls and the imagination to plunge their fists into the chaotic cauldron of Open Source and pull out a fistful of strange and powerful software and say: "let's try something new." ®

Trade Show

1 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (The NAB edition)
2 I was a teenage hacker
3 Linux Media Arts Cuts the Fat
4 Linux saved my Life
5 Sex and Trade
6 Bring on the Little Guys

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