How our startup was bought by Google without even trying…

The call came into our system at exactly 12:00:01AM, January 1st, 2015 (Tri-Cities time).

The call that changed everything.

It rang a few times, before anyone actually noticed it. We were too busy high-fiving each other and ringing in the New Year with our noise-makers and illegal home-made fireworks on the beach to realize the momentous occasion that was about to intrude into our otherwise stable corporate lives as a small struggling startup.

“Hello?” I answered, tentatively—and more than a bit drunkenly.

“Who is this?”

Nothing came up on the caller ID.

A long silence, and then a series of clicks.

I assumed it was our FOIB fooling with the phone lines again.

“Ted, if this is another one of your practical office jokes…”

A robotic voice sounded…

“At the tone, your company will have been bought by Google…”

Followed by a beeeeep, a hang-up, and then… nothing.

I looked at the screen—what the hell?

I joined the others back at the bonfire made up largely of extra office furniture and unimportant financial documents.

“Guys, I just had the weirdest call…”

Ted Smith looked up from his daiquiri, eyes twinkling. It must have been him that set this up somehow as a gag.

“Who was it?” he asked, innocently.

“Google,” I said. “Or someone pretending to be them.”

Ted said nothing.

It was Roger who finally asked, “Well, what did they want?”

“They said they’re buying our company. That they already bought it, in fact…” I repeated what the robotic voice had said to me. We all looked at each other, one to the next then, in silence.

Richard, looking pensive in his over-sized sombrero and copious Hawaiian leis and bead necklaces, took a long slow sip of his enormous margarita.

“If you guys are messing with me…” I started, “then, well done.” I looked at Ted.

“Not me,” he said, seeming suddenly very serious. I believed him for some reason.

“Me neither,” Roger said. “You know I’m no Gimgle-lover…”

Gimgle.

That’s always what we called it. Simultaneously a euphemism and a safe-word, a shield so we could speak about The Beast openly without invoking the always-on algorithms into wakefulness and perhaps vengeance.

Had our code been broken?

Using brute force methods, it was technically possible that their computers could make the letter substitution—but it would have taken years

“Richard, what do you think?”

He paused, and said only, “How much?”

“They didn’t say.”

Burt laughed out loud, spitting a combustible puff of mai tai over the now roaring bonfire, “They bought our company, but didn’t tell you for how much? Some negotiator!”

“Hey—” I started to argue, but realized he was right. Their automated buy-out agent had painted me into a corner, given me literally no chance to respond.

And now, here we were in a hostile takeover. How could this have happened? We had been so careful to fly under the radar for so long—to avoid this exact situation. I felt like such a failure.

“Well, what’s done is done,” Roger said, always the voice of reason. “The important thing is: what happens next?”

“We have no other choice,” I said. “We have to call Nick. His people will be able to find out what’s going on.”

Ted patched us in through the central office as fast as you can say lickety-split, and without a moment’s further hesitation Nick picked up his end of the famous “red” phone.

“Hey, Happy New Year! Where are you guys?”

“We wish it was a Happy New Year, Nick, but we’ve got a big problem on our hands…”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“We’ve just been bought out by Google.”

“That’s fantastic! Congratulations! Oh my god!”

Nick was, you could say, our tech godfather, our ‘man on the inside.’ He was down, but I could tell by his response he didn’t get it.

“It’s not fantastic, Nick. It’s everything we’ve always avoided as a company—it’s everything we’ve actively worked against…”

“Well, how much are they giving you guys at least?”

“That’s just it, we don’t know. It was their hostile takeover robot that called. They’ve won. They have everything now…”

“Hey now, that’s no way to think at a time like this. Let me see what I can find out. I’ll phone you back.”

While we were waiting for Nick to phone us back, Burt whipped up another round of ‘Tequila Zingers’ which we toasted—on Ted’s suggestion—To Gimgle, To the Future and to wherever it may lead us. Portentous words, indeed!

Nick, meanwhile, was frantically trying to raise on social media someone from his professional network who might either be ex-Gimgle (his office was positively lousy with them) or who had active direct links to their internal information switchboard who might be able to run a query to at least find out how much we were being bought for.

We waited there on the beach outside Great Wolf Lodge with mixed degrees of drunken revelry and dreadful expectancy.

Finally, the Red phone rang. I gulped and picked it up.

It was Nick.

“Listen, I wasn’t able to access the file. This is sealed up tighter than a drum, with orders from the higher-ups directly. You’re just going to have to wait this one out—and hey, try to enjoy yourselves after all. It’s New Years and you just sold your startup. You should be celebrating, not moping! They’ll take good care of you, you’ll see. Some of them are even really nice people!”

“Okay, Nick, thanks,” I said, leaden and dead inside. “Happy New Year to you too.”

“You know he’s right,” Burt said. The Tequila Zinger was obviously taking effect. “We can figure this all out tomorrow…”

Okay, I said.

Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.

First thing in the morning the next day, I woke up. I wasn’t sure of the number, but I dialed GOO-GLE onto my bedside rotary phone (I don’t believe in radiation-transmitting wireless devices in the home).

Sure enough, an operator picked up.

“Is this… Google?” The name stuck in my throat. So used to calling it Gimgle for so long, it just didn’t sound right.

“Yessir, one moment please.”

The operator didn’t bother to ask how she could direct my call. She knew already who I was, why I was calling, and probably everything else about me. Probably, she knew me better than I knew myself.

It was like waiting to speak with God.

Hold music. Bachata.

My god, they were already stealing our gags—their gags now, I corrected myself.

One of their customer service agents picked up the line.

“Good morning, sir and Happy New Year,” they sounded chipper. Chipperer than I’m sure I sounded replying.

“Yes, thanks. Happy New Year to you. Look, the reason I’m calling—”

Chipper broke in, “Oh, I know the reason you’re calling, sir. Welcome to the Google family.”

“Yes, b-but, how much—” How much did we sell our souls for, finally?

“I’m sorry sir, I don’t have that information.”

“You don’t? Who does?”

“One moment please.”

Bachata.

“I’m transferring you to my manager, sir. He’ll be able to answer all your questions. Oh, and sir, have an excellent day!”

Bachata.

Manager, finally. Thank God.

“Welcome to Google, sir. We’re delighted to have purchased your company. How can I help you today?”

“Hi, thanks. Uh, I’m calling to find out how much you’re giving us. The robot that called me last night, uh, didn’t give us a lot of details, and we’re kind of…”

“I understand completely, sir. Let me just look this up for you.”

Bachata.

“Sir, there’s no purchase price in our record. What did you say your company’s product or service is again?”

Oh god, what a joke.

“Look, if you people wanted to buy us out and you don’t even know what our company does, I’m not going to explain it to you!”

Increasingly frustrated.

“I’m sorry, sir. I know how you must be feeling. Unfortunately, there’s no human that decided to buy your company. It was an intelligent algorithmic assessment, which was executed by an automated agent. Would you like me to look up which keywords you used on your website or business description which probably triggered the takeover?”

By all means.

Bachata.

“Thank you for holding, sir. I queried our system and have a few possible matches that I’d like to review with you so that we can determine your field of service, and get settled on the purchase price.”

“Okay, fire away.”

“Sir, does your business use the word ‘the’ on it’s website?”

“What? Are you kidding? Of course!”

“That’s probably it, sir.”

“But ‘the’ is one of the fundamental words in the English language! Are you telling me Google goes around and just automatically buys any company which dares to use the word ‘the’?”

“I’m not currently authorized to disclose those details our business plan at this time, sir. But I can tell you that it’s not always what you say, but how you say it…”

Now I was just feeling stupid.

“Well, how did we use the word ‘the’ that somehow forced Google into buying us out without us even getting a word in on the matter?”

“Okay, sir. Is it possible that on your business website you used the word ‘the’ in conjunction with the word ‘technology’?”

Speechless.

“I-I guess it’s… possible.”

“Perfect, sir. So you’re a technology company then?”

“Yes, uh, no. I mean, I don’t know. I guess so…” I stammered, remembering finally to add, “What does that mean? How much are we worth to you like this?”

“Oh, a lot, sir. A lot.”

Crikey!

“How much, exactly?”

“Sir, we have a very generous package available for technology companies like yours joining the Google family.”

“And that is…?”

Boiling impatience.

“Well?”

“One moment, please”

Bachata—thieves!

“Thank you for holding, sir. I have a few more questions to ask about your company to determine your potential worth to us. Sir, is your company a ‘high tech’-type company?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“No, sir. I’m quite serious.”

“High tech? What does that even mean? Look, we never wanted to sell our startup to you. We’ve taken active measures to avoid being acquired…”

“I’m sorry you’re frustrated sir. Are you saying you won’t sell to Google?”

“What? No, I’m—yes, I mean, I—”

“I’ve just been authorized by our algorithms to double our previous offer.”

Insanity.

“There is no previous offer!” my hands were shaking. “Just a mysterious call from a robot on the first second of New Year’s Eve saying that at the tone, we were being purchased by Google…”

“I’ve just been authorized to triple our previous offer sir, and add in a free ‘coupon book’ you can use around our corporate campus. Do you accept?”

“And if I hold out for more?”

“Sir, I’ve never seen the algorithm authorize me even to offer the free coupon book before this. The situation is entirely unprecedented. The system has entered a completely unpredictable state. I suggest you accept.”

“Two coupon books.”

Line in the sand time.

Silence.

Finally, “Sir, I’ve just been authorized to make a final offer of triple our original asking price and one FULL coupon book to each member of your staff. But sir, I’m also being informed—this is our final offer.”

“Deal.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Or will be!

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