You've heard all the rumors about why he stepped down: He got tired of dealing with the Justice Department, he was fed up with overseeing his company's day-to-day operations. In truth, he dropped out to get some work done. And I'm not talking about debugging Windows. You'll be shocked. I was.
As you may recall, I'm helping to cook up a new dotcom (e-conjob.com) that Darth, our resident visionary, calls a digital scapegoat — a system that loses stuff and lets you legitimately blame it on your computer.
Besides me, there's Spud, my old boss at PotatoWare, and Darth, a 14-year-old wunderkind. He's a chic geek who lives to skateboard, trade Pokémon cards, and pine for Neve Campbell. Darth is our ticket to IPOville. The VCs love finding out that Darth is 14, that he was Web-savvy before he could walk, that he's young enough to use "dude" without invisible quotation marks, and that he seems to live in a black T-shirt that reads, "Product of a Broken Home." Darth took his Game Boy into a meeting at Kleiner Perkins. That move alone was worth a few mil.
And yet, all that glitters does not have a 10 PM curfew.
Darth, it turns out, is not 14 but 44. One morning, I arrived early at the garage where we're headquartered to find Darth in our only bathroom, shaving — behind his ears. I stared. He caught my glance in the mirror. "Dude," he said.
"What's the deal, Darth?" But I knew. I'd seen a documentary on the Discovery Channel. Darth had undergone a face-lift: The skin that gets pulled up behind the ears continues to grow hair.
Darth sighed. He suggested that we skateboard to a 7-Eleven for a Slurpee and some Cool Ranch Doritos. Then he told me everything.
Where do I begin? Darth (real name: Dennis) has successfully launched three other companies and has spent some time as an entrepreneur-in-residence at a big company in the Valley. He just got out of the Mountain View Aesthetic SurgiCenter, where he had the Complete Young-Geek Makeover: face-lift, tummy tuck, eye tuck, peach-fuzz implants, and Acne + Cheek Resurfacing.
"I'm telling you, dude, because we're partners and because 25 years of experience have taught me that there can't be any big secrets between partners: Every CEO knows that he's got to put his company on the Web, but the Gray Hairs will never pull it off. Never. Anybody older than 22 is hopeless and always will be."
Apparently, the rumor going around the SurgiCenter is that Bill G. will be coming in for a major overhaul. That's the real reason why he stepped down. This year, he turns the Big Four-Five — 45! He hasn't looked like the local paperboy for at least a decade, and he knows that if you want to be a player, you'd better be getting carded on a regular basis.
"He's also going blonde," said Darth.
"Okay," I said, "then what?"
"Then he can invent the next 'new new thing.' But he's too old to do it now."
I must have looked skeptical. "Do you think that Jobs was really 21 when he helped found Apple? Try 46."
"This is unbelievable."
"And Marc Andreesen . . . "
"He wasn't 22 when he cofounded Netscape?"
"He was 39."
"So you're saying that all of these guys who've masterminded the computer revolution are old guys impersonating young guys?"
"Under torture, they'd all admit to remembering mimeograph machines and the moon landing."
"I'm shocked. Is there anything else?"
"Yeah. It's really Silicone Valley."
This is the latest episode in The Spy's continuing saga, "Working Behind Enemy Lines." You can find all The Spy chronicles on the Web, (www.askthespy.com).
A version of this article appeared in the April 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.