"Oddcast needs another product," I begin dramatically, introducing a theory by which Oddcast needs KNation.
Adi, in response, slips into his unresponsive mode. For all I know, he's suddenly gone mystic on me and is pining for the end.
"What else are you doing?" he asks finally. "What are you writing?"
This, I'm sure, is a trap. Commitment is a test. I won't fall for it. "KNation," I snap. "That's what I'm doing."
"I recommend you don't do it," says Adi, adding glumly, "I want my life back."
Not me. I'm ready to surrender mine. That was the point. One of them. Will Oddcast build me a karaoke application? That's what I want to know. But Adi, and this is the simple truth, can't afford to, not on spec. Oddcast is running out of money. Adi does have a thought, though. I'm setting up meetings for karaoke. Why not go together? he wonders. Oddcast could use meetings. We'll tell potential customers that if they like karaoke, the concept, then Oddcast, creator of the VideoMixer, which Adi will demonstrate, is just the company to build it. Oddcast gets a shot at selling its products; I appear to have a technology company behind me.
It's a quarter-step, maybe a half-. "Beggars can't be choosers," Consigliere sometimes reminds me. By now, eight months after I set out, nasdaq, flighty thing, will soon begin another descent. I desperately need something to suggest the possibilities of my whole elaborate karaoke plan. Plus Adi agrees to build me a demo. Perhaps this is, as I've learned to say, synergy. And maybe, too, that unlikely thing, goodwill.
Nothing discourages me anymore. I believe hip-hop karaoke is a moneymaker. And belief, as I'm about to learn, is a treacherous thing.
Then Adi says one of those airy, unfathomable thoughts he sometimes comes up with. "I will make it my mission to advance the KNation cause," he says. Later, I'll realize this was a very funny thing to say. At the moment, though, the possibilities are irresistible. Then Adi's cell rings. A friend, another Israeli -- a captain? A lieutenant? -- is on her way, and so I duck out into the rain.
Yesterday I got the call. Chuck D, founder of Public Enemy, would be available at the Hilton. At the last minute -- how typical! -- I was told Chuck had to scoot off to the airport. That's when I volunteered: Let me take him to the airport.
Now, in the black LTD, Chuck and I chat easily. I'm at ease. But then, Chuck, a seminal hip-hop star, founder of Rapstation.com, is 40, has kids, lives on Long Island. This morning, he drove his wife, an airline attendant, to the airport.
Of course, I'd love to hear almost anything from the guy who helped change a generation's music. "Welcome to the Terrordome." Fear of a Black Planet. Powerful stuff. But halfway to the airport, I am desperately searching for a segue. Our driver enters the tunnel. I think, Terrific lighting. Yes, perfect for a laptop demo.
"So anyway, Chuck," I say suddenly and unsheathe my laptop. Chuck must have seen a fair amount in his life. Still, he appears surprised. "Take a look at this," I say with a just-occurred-to-me tone. I show him Oddcast's demo, which is terrific.
Chuck loves the demo. He does. He says he does.
"Hip-hop," he says, "is karaoke."
Of course it is.
Unfortunately, as I drop Chuck off at La Guardia, he lets me know he won't pay for the application.
One evening, at a Chinese restaurant, Clemente, in that sandpapery voice of his, shares startling news. He's going to be CEO of Oddcast. What?! Hadn't we had a conversation? In the back of a cab? Hadn't he invited me to his Upper West Side apartment -- the eerie one with nothing but a bed, a lamp, a family photo? Where we discussed it again? Somehow I was certain Clemente was destined to take over KNation. In fact, I'd lately been telling people he was my CEO! ("I thought it was the strongest element of your business plan," said my forlorn intern.)
Apparently, though, Adi flew to Palm Springs, met Clemente's wife, and then put it to him. I could just imagine how he said it: "Pe-e-ter, we want you to be our CEO." (Conveniently, Clemente's employer had withdrawn its public offering.)
When, sulkily, I tell Consigliere that Oddcast nabbed Clemente, he puts a good face on the news. "That can't be bad for KNation," he says. (For a depressive, he can be annoyingly upbeat.)
To me, though, it seems calamitous. I'm over a barrel. I'd started this as a romp, a fun thing to do with friends. Lately, I have needs, a pile of them, and they are terrible, insistent things; and now my friends aren't quite on my side anymore.
Clemente calls frequently. He imagines that KNation could be a division of Oddcast. Or a product line. He has all kinds of ideas. "Yes, yes," I respond enthusiastically. Business is a bit of a con. Truth is, I feel a bit desperate. I now need Oddcast more than ever -- and Clemente, too.
Suddenly, we are a trio -- Adi, Clemente, and I attend meetings with prospective clients. Danny Goldberg, signer of Nirvana, ex-head of Atlantic Records, now chief of his own small record label, has a somewhat offbeat reaction. "I don't give a fuck about the Internet," he says, then walks out, showing us the saggy backside of his jeans.
Other meetings go better. Jerry provides an introduction to Urban Box Office, one of his companies, which, with its 300 employees, would like to be a black AOL. CEO Adam Kidron immediately suggests ways to incorporate karaoke onto his site, and he loves the VideoMixer. It's a great meeting and so is hookt.com, which has amalgamated Puff Daddy's and Slim Shady's sites. I know hookt co-founder Chas Walker used to pride himself on brusqueness. In our meeting, though, he is warm, affable. (And in fact, a week later, we end up in a chummy embrace outside his office -- though, on reflection, I may have botched the handshake.) As Adi's demonstration gets under way, Walker excitedly pulls people into the meeting. Then he says, "Where do we go now?"
Once outside, I'm buoyant. "Good news," I say. Adi, typically serene, says, "We hope all news is good news." Apparently, he's been in hot meetings before and then nothing happened. One thing, though, does happen. Clemente wants Oddcast and KNation to come to an agreement.
Talks are set for a Japanese restaurant where you take off your shoes and, with a shiver of vulnerability, dip your feet in a dark hole under the table. Adi looks a bit disheveled. His shirt, flowery cruisewear, is untucked. He hasn't shaved. Sometimes I think about how six months into Adi's entrepreneurial life, Oddcast received a buyout offer. He would have been a millionaire. "I lost sleep on that," he said in a tone so flat I was sure he'd lost none at all.
Clemente wears a black suit and looks like a mod undertaker. (They're quite a pair: Clemente, who owns 31 suits, and Adi, who, proudly, owns none.) On the table, Clemente lines up three cell phones -- he has a complicated system of outgoing and incoming calls. He wears dark sunglasses, which he keeps on. "Conjunctivitis," he explains.