The Songs That Bind
As we tested the karaoke features of Microsoft’s Xbox recently in the Fast Company offices (“Sadly, This Doesn’t Fix Tone Deafness,” page 35), an unenlightened passerby, apparently bothered by the noise, had the nerve to ask–mid-test–what relevance, if any, karaoke has to business.
I patiently explained to her (with the help of a fellow staffer, who was an unknowing guinea pig for the “record your own voice” function) that any team comfortable enough to karaoke together can accomplish great things. In fact, Fast Company put this notion to the test at our editorial retreat last fall. After a long night in the countryside bellowing all the great karaoke classics–from Aretha Franklin to ZZ Top (that’s me on the left, with senior writer Chuck Salter, singing the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies)–we arrived at a key lesson the next morning: You’ll happily do any task for any colleague so long as they never bring up that karaoke incident in public. Sorry, guys. Ryan Underwood
In a war zone or an earthquake, you have to visit the epicenter to really understand what’s going on. That’s why I found myself, one rainy December morning, sitting in a booth at Buck’s of Woodside, the diner best known as ground zero of the New Economy (“What We Learned in the New Economy,” page 56). Buck’s is the place where HotJobs.com, Netscape, and Paypal got funded, the favorite hangout of Silicon Valley venture capitalists to this day. The pancakes are awesome and the decor is, shall we say, eclectic. Horses with wings, oddly lit chandeliers, and all kinds of pop-culture detritus crowd the walls. Though I wasn’t lucky enough to witness a deal in action, I did see the zany owner, Jamis MacNiven. Wearing a shirt covered with dinosaurs, he regaled me with stories of New Economy madness (some of which are recounted in his self-published book Breakfast at Buck’s, Tales From the Pancake Guy). Then he took me on a driving tour of the Valley, pointing out sad locations of failed companies and Larry Ellison’s $100 million-plus 15th-century-style Japanese compound, still under construction.
Despite the obvious physical carnage, MacNiven thinks the New Economy is here to stay. He’s as optimistic as ever, even after losing a bundle by investing in all the stocks his customers funded. “If Buck’s is an early indicator,” he says, “then we’ve been up for some time, we’re on the way back in, and we’re about to hang 10.” Pancakes equal profits. Now there’s an investment strategy. Jennifer Reingold
We developed an elaborate system of colors and symbols to keep track of this year’s Fast 50 entries (page 79). Stars were good; red ink and yellow highlighting, even better. We also killed more than a few trees in the process–which would make at least one of the winners upset. A record-breaking 1,650-plus entries, the more than 15,000 comments they generated, our research, and my drafts together formed a pile of (nonrecycled) paper that was easily over 3 feet high. All that to come up with winners like Jeff Mendelsohn, founder of New Leaf Paper, whose goal is to inspire a fundamental shift toward environmental responsibility in the paper industry. Oops. I thought we might find absolution through another Fast 50 winner, Father Bernard McCoy, a Cistercian monk who runs LaserMonks.com, an online store for discount printing supplies. Since I had also run out of ink from all that printing, I gave the site a try. The experience? Heavenly. Paul Cabana