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I Want to Be a Millionaire

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For me, this is a portentous moment, a culmination. I've been talking to my lawyer, who imagines I'll be offered a healthy stake in Oddcast.

"Then," he said, "you can do what you do best."

I found myself waiting. "Vision. Creativity," he snapped. "That's your edge."

I think of this as we are seated. I think that, finally, I will have a technology company, a grand one, to build my product.

Then Adi, between sakes one and two, explains that Oddcast must own the program, which means he intends to own the product -- and in short order, I realize that my technology company has me! I could shout, and briefly consider doing just that, there in the restaurant. "No, you won't take karaoke from me!" Something along those lines. Would that be the tone to strike? Suddenly, though, I'm distracted. Adi appears to have developed an aversion to his shirt. He's standing, shoeless; holes show in his socks. He is unbuttoning his shirt. He is about to take it off. Perhaps it is somewhat hot. There's a lot of emotion. Is this how business goes?

"You want to make me a glorified salesman," I say finally.

"No, no," they say together. Adi has returned to his seat.

"You are our partner," says Adi, who then lies flat on his back, belly up, a bit undone.

Clemente has big plans for karaoke and Oddcast, which he now talks of together. I still consider my options, though they are depressingly few. Lately I feel as peripheral as when I'd first imagined the roaring adventure of business. Then a thought occurs to me. Clemente is eager to raise money. "My mission," he calls it. It's September and not the best time to entice Internet capital -- nasdaq is about to take another dive. Clemente may feel some pressure. Having learned that Internet lawyers are conduits to venture capital, I usher Clemente and Adi in to my lawyer John Mancini, a leader of the high-tech practice at Salans. This, I hope, may work to my advantage.

"I've managed to get us a good conference room," Mancini says in an intimate, sporty voice. Then he leads us to what may be the largest conference room I've ever seen. It is easily 40 feet long, 20 feet wide, and is filled end-to-end with one magnificent table and 30 heavy chairs -- footmen, it occurs to me, might be needed.

Adi and Clemente are impressed. You can tell. Clemente, dapper as ever, is a bit more tired than usual, which is saying a lot. But he swings into command mode, revving up his tiny laptop. Adi, looking windblown, goes for his computer, too.

"We want to be the dial tone of the New Economy," begins Clemente, pitching for all he's worth. It's a bold, semi-ridiculous statement. Here's a virtual start-up laying out a grand vision at a time when visions seem passé. Clemente once told me that in the face of doubt, you must show you believe. I'm sure he's right. People are attracted to belief. Still, I momentarily wonder if he's lost his mind.

Mancini, though, casually crosses his legs. "I get it," he says, which is actually an Internet thing to say. In the Internet, there are people who get it and people who don't. "I'm confident I can help you raise money," he says, "at least get you in the room," which will be this splendid room.

Mancini smiles and then, it seems to me, moves in for the kill. His voice may lower a note. "I'd like to mention this to a few investors," he says and, as if that weren't enough, adds, "with your permission." With your permission. That really gets me. Clemente scribbles a note to send Mancini investor kits.

Then Mancini says, "I understand you're working on a deal with Steve," referring to me.

"He's your lawyer?" says an amazed Adi, who's apparently missed this detail.

Mancini lets them know that he, of course, can't help them until they have a deal with me -- which will prove the only leverage I'll ever have.

We have more talks. I bring in Consigliere. Clemente briefly worries that I'll want to find another technology company, which briefly I consider. Truth is, over a year into this, my desires circle another objective. I've had 185 meetings, ten times as many phone calls -- perhaps not a lot by Internet standards. For me it is a ton. I remember asking Consigliere if we were throwing elbows. "Yes," he said. That was months ago. Lately, I think about Adi's lament. How he wants his life back.

I've lived for a while in the environs of the Internet, a place that once looked favorably on shiny ventures like mine. These days, the charmed entrepreneurial life is everywhere under attack. No one is going to fund me at this point -- I know that by now. The hip-hop field is getting hammered. Bloated UBO, Jerry's entry, will soon collapse. Russell -- finally finding relaxation -- gets out just in time. It's labeled a merger, but his 360hiphop is being run by BET.com. Hookt merges with another urban site and will even raise $5 million, though it's in survival mode.

"Let them all hurry and fucking go out of business," Adi snaps one day.

The Internet will stick. There's no turning back. (I've become a bit of an evangelist myself.) But as identity changer, the New Economy may have run its course. Everybody had once been CEO. Markets that once laid claim to the future -- that mesmerizing term -- have shut down. Recently I asked a young CEO about fun, a onetime preoccupation of mine. "Business is about as much fun as fistfighting," he said. Business seems a lot more grueling these days, a lot more like business. In the Internet, the growth sector seems to be enterprises that chart Internet failures. Even passionate Joseph Park was removed as Kozmo CEO not too long before Kozmo shut down. (And my dry cleaner is back behind the counter.)

This, I realize, is that storied moment, the one you always hear about: It is the nick of time. My wants, like a dropping glass, collapse on one purpose. I want out. One delightful day, Adi tells me, "I have incentive, too," referring to a potential relationship with Mancini. The incentive is still largely on my side. But I get some maneuvering room, and on March 5, 2001, after three months of talks, my deal -- that wonderful word -- is signed. I'll get 5 to 10 percent of future karaoke sales and 10,000 shares of Oddcast.

It's not a million dollars. But Consigliere thinks it's terrific. (And, secretly, I find myself believing that it will help pay for my kid's college education.) Plus, I've finally turned this over to people with a shot at pulling it off. Oddcast is the right home for KNation. Adi, always a bit more cunning than he lets on, has a knack for assembling talent. Business isn't intellectually difficult, but putting it together seems a miracle. Clemente, the entrepreneurial monk -- that's how I think of him in that empty apartment -- is a CEO, the one he long wanted to be. Soon will come the stunning news that in this unfavorable climate, he's lined up a deal for venture capital -- $2.5 million from Universal Vivendi -- that even impresses Consigliere. To top it off, Oddcast secures a karaoke customer. In early summer, Getmusic.com, the second-biggest music site on the Internet, launches Oddcast's karaoke application.

Not too long ago, Oddcast built a karaoke prototype -- now the Oddcast Karaoke Station -- the one I'd once promised to show Russell's executive, and so I take it to 360hiphop.com. I sit with three executives, and because no one else is willing, and because I am oh-so-eager -- an eagerness that still amazes me -- to see this thing spread through the world, I take the mike. It is my karaoke debut. The music starts. I sing: I want to be a part of it, New York, New York.


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