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I Want to Be a Millionaire

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It's not a notion Jerry immediately takes to. In fact, despite his relaxed look, Jerry, it seems, might disagree with everything you say -- just to see how the challenge goes. "Your market includes me, since my kid got one at Christmas and we did it twice," he says dismissively. "Having a player doesn't mean I'm a fan."

"Critical is interest in using," counters Clemente. "Fourteen million people have said they'd be interested in singing karaoke online." That is our other astounding number. "That's a viable market," says Clemente.

"Well, it's the market," Jerry says dully. "I don't know if it's viable." Jerry's qualm, which, it's clear by now, is one of the Internet's principal business challenges, is this: There may be lots of identifiable online interests, but almost none have produced much revenue.

Clemente, though, is as relentless in his way as Jerry. He, as Consigliere will later point out, makes CEO-ish statements, the unprovable kind that VCs like to hear. "These numbers say to us that people online are interested in being interactive, they're interested in getting more control over their entertainment, including music," he says. "And that includes being able to sing along in a community with their friends."

Jerry, it's clear, is not going to write a check, but in the end, he seems impressed with at least one thing. "You," says Jerry, motioning to Clemente, "seem pretty jazzed."

"I am," Clemente says resolutely.

Which I hadn't necessarily known. Suddenly, I think to myself: CEO.

June's upon us, and I'm running out of time. "I'm surprised you're still going," Consigliere tells me in an unguarded moment. I am a bit frantic. I plug my concept, my catchphrase, to whoever will listen, and yet, often enough, I feel (I can't help it) like Consigliere's salesman, the one taking it in the face. "You're the entrepreneur who lives and breathes it," one CEO reminds me. So the Internet is lately less congenial to such beliefs. Buckle down. Believe harder. Another CEO I know scheduled 40 meetings a day -- and made them all! That's the spirit. Unfortunately, the thought makes me woozy. Sometimes, though, I do three a day. And on those days, I sometimes manage to connect the sense and feeling of want with karaoke, which is as wonderful to me as any phenomenon -- weather, or the Internet itself. On such days, my mood soars. One break, just one, I think. Just, I tell myself, get a CEO. And so on a rainy Friday afternoon six months into this project, a meeting of "team karaoke," as I now think of it, is arranged. Consigliere has promised to help hammer his friend Clemente into taking the job. Suddenly, I can feel the enterprise, its shrubby outlines, coming into focus.

We assemble at the Giraffe, the hotel where Clemente stays when in from his Palm Springs home. Preemptively, Clemente removes his sunglasses, clears his throat, eyes Consigliere.

"You," he says, "ought to be CEO of KNation."

Clemente confided that he found Consigliere depressed -- he does seem burdened by his quantity of work. And Clemente, bless him, is convinced that the best thing for Consigliere's flagging mood is to walk off his job and run KNation.

Consigliere pushes a hand through his abundant dark hair. His slight tic is working, quick as a camera shutter. He turns to Clemente.

"You should be CEO, it's a great opportunity," he says.

"You've got to get out of there," Clemente counters.

"Leave the analyst business," Consigliere shoots back.

I know Consigliere could do the job. He has presence, a biting intelligence, varied experience. He's been journalist, entrepreneur, analyst. He was around at the beginning of Silicon Alley. He's been on MacNeil-Lehrer. No doubt he'd prefer to be a novelist; still, I know, he likes his job's solid prospects. Of course, he loves KNation, though I'm pretty sure it's the caper he finds irresistible. "Are you having fun?" he sometimes asks me, recalling my initial impulse, and then says, "Let's get Prince involved."

Clemente, by contrast, is restless to succeed -- even as a college rocker, he attended classes, then played three gigs a night. In fact, he's restless in a literal way: He sleeps as little as four hours a night. It's dread insomnia, though he puts the extra hours to use, reading business books, writing his own, turning himself into, as he says, "an Internet evangelist." Clemente has faith in the fruitfulness of effort, an optimism neither Consigliere nor myself can always muster. He, too, believes fervently in KNation. Once, he said he wanted Consigliere to "believe in karaoke the way I do." No one, though, can believe the way Clemente does. He has a talent for belief. Sometimes, I wonder if it's a thing he wills in those late-night sessions, or if he simply has an extra match-tip of adrenaline. People get it wrong. Life isn't arduous; there's no struggle, hardly any. You almost never need courage, and you don't need hope. But belief, belief turns the key. And Clemente has it as easy as floating.

Consigliere starts in again. "You need an entrepreneurial experience," he says. "It makes you grow." Clemente, I know, would like those three letters -- C-E-O -- after his name. But Cyber Dialogue has (inconveniently, to my mind) filed to go public. Clemente is in line for a windfall. So he has a counterproposal.

If Consigliere won't run embryonic KNation, then Clemente wants him to interview at Oddcast, a young technology company he's met. He's been talking Consigliere up as CEO.

"It'll be out of business in six months," Consigliere says reflexively.

"Take the meeting," urges Clemente. Oddcast, it's pointed out, might be a great company to build an online-karaoke product.

"Okay," says Consigliere. "I'll pitch KNation real hard."

"And refresh your résumé," says Clemente.

"What's wrong with my résumé?" asks Consigliere, handing me a copy.

NOT JUST A POET TRYING TO PASS are the first elusive words.

On my first visit to Oddcast's office, a pearly-gray light filters through two walls of windows -- there are no overhead lights -- and seems to fill the former sweatshop with fog. Adi Sideman, 31, a founder, and Consigliere finish their chat, during which my partner intimates we are about to make a stunning top-level hiring. (He figured Clemente would soon come around.) Then Adi, an Israeli, shows off his talented technologists -- there's a staff of almost twenty -- before leading us to a conference table snatched from an attorney's discard pile.

Adi, an enthusiast generally, has, I quickly learn, an unresponsive mode. As I chatter on about karaoke, Adi stares, as forthcoming as snow. I finish; Adi remains silent. We wait, listening to the scrape of distant traffic. In a moment, he makes a buggy noise I've never heard before. "Ihhh," he says. A preamble, it turns out. "It's a great fit," he says, to my relief. "We could take you to our music clients. They would love it."

It's the first really positive news in a while. If I could just get Oddcast to build something, then, I know, I can sell it -- sell the hell out of it, is what I actually think. Then perhaps Clemente will sign on, and -- who knows? -- money will come. And so, a few weeks later, when Adi invites me to his East Village apartment next to a precision body-piercing shop, I am filled with hope, a demanding emotion. We sit on two small couches, most of the apartment's furniture as far as I can tell. The place, I notice, has a faint odor. "Beer," Clemente had warned me. But rain beats pleasantly against a skylight and Adi opens a bottle of whiskey. Fellow Israelis breeze in and out of a far door. "Captain," Adi says, nodding seriously at one. "The Unit," he says of another, referring to an Israeli secret service. A third was in naval intelligence. Adi himself had been an Army special-forces paratrooper.

When, casually, to break the ice, I ask if Adi, a former military man, favors peace with the Arabs, he sneers. Adi has quite a toothy sneer. "The only people who aren't for peace," he says, "are those who never had to beat women and children," something I suddenly imagine Adi doing.

"Wow," I think, "we haven't even started talking business."

Adi explains that he is the originator of his company's flagship product, the VideoMixer, an online tool that allows anyone to edit his own video. He created the prototype while a master's student at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. (Initially, he'd been a film student at NYU, where he gained minor celebrity as the filmmaker behind Chicken Hawk, an award-winning documentary about a man-boy-love society.) Normally, I like the entertaining parts of stories. I like Adi's, its suggestion of progress. But in a minute, I start to worry, doubly so because I sense that worry, usually very dependable, won't do me much good. I plunge in.


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