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Chapter 4

Two weeks later, Dylan found himself walking towards the board room for the monthly meeting. Dylan absolutely hated these meetings. He viewed them as six people telling him how he could work harder to make his ideas better without actually doing anything constructive on their own. It was easily the least fun part of being a corporate big shot.

He entered the room and noted the lay of the land. The large table and chairs were present and accounted for. There were already three people in the room, making him the fourth arrival out of seven. The three present were gathered around a small snack and drink buffet placed against the wall chit chatting.

Sonya Clarke was idly talking to Randall Plame about vacation plans. Sony was the CFO of Fieldy Lands and had been with Dylan from the beginning. He had hired her out of her career as a CPA in order to handle of his companies money matters, and she had remained dedicated and loyal to him ever since. He was the only board member whom Dylan took seriously when it came to running the company. He felt as though the others were concerned with the shareholders to the point of ignoring both the product and the users. Sonya was very much in favor of giving the users a great product that she could figure out how to make money on.

Randall Plame, the COO, was prattling on and on about how one would be better off spending a vacation in Brno, Czech Republic instead of Prague due to the overcrowding of tourists in the capital city. Randall was a pedantic, socially awkward man, but he was an extremely good manager. He would be a tycoon as well were it not for his lack of creativity and daring. In the early days of Fieldy Lands, as it began to take off, Dylan had hired Randall as a Vice President to relieve himself of much of the day to day burden of management. Not once had Dylan ever regretted the decision, and thus Randall had been the company’s number two man ever since.

Claire Arrist, was only attending her third meeting as a board member. She had been selected to replace the recently retired Steve Chambers, who now lived comfortably in a Baja resort town. Claire, being only twenty seven years old, was the youngest board member in company history. She was quickly working her way towards being the head of the customer service division, and Dylan nominated her to the board seeking more emphasis on user experience, as well as a younger perspective. The fact that the board elected her was a shock even to him, but he welcomed it all the same.

Dylan approached the group and quickly made his presence known.

“Randall, you know full well that going to Brno instead of Prague is like going to Chinatown instead of Beijing.” Dylan wrapped his arm around Randall’s shoulder, and laughed a bit. “You go to Prague to see Prague. You go to Brno to enjoy the quiet European lifestyle. You go to both to do both.”

The others laugh a bit too.

“You were great at Stanford, Dylan.” Sonya chimed in.

“Thanks. Yeah, I’ve been over in your building a few times since then, just kept missing you.”

“What can I say, I’ve been busy. When it comes to me running the mint over there, you want me to be busy, right?” Sonya was clearly similar to Dylan in terms of attitude and communication style.

“Claire, you going to speak up more today?” Dylan asked the junior member.

“I’ll speak up when there’s something for me to say. Last time there was nothing going on about end users at all.” Claire was prickly and defensive, a product of the corporate world’s repeated attempts at bullying her.

“Don’t be afraid to bring it up if you need to though.” Dylan loved her for her gumption and wanted desperately for her to succeed.

A moment later, Samuel Singer and Don Haysbert entered the board room together. They were both outside members of the board, meaning that they had no official connection to the company aside from their seats on the board. In essence, they were professional board members employed by one of Fieldy Lands earliest (and most prominent) investors to do the dirty work whilst he enjoyed the hedonistic life of the super rich do-nothings. Samuel and Don were all about the bottom line. They actively showed disdain for Dylan and his progressive ideas, and generally showed little patience for initiatives that were designed as loss leaders or high risk investments. They were outsiders in every way in that they rejected the corporate culture that Dylan had established, which above all else, made them reviled amongst the rest of the board members.

“Are we all here?” Samuel asked dryly, taking his seat at the table. “We’d like to make this quick.”

“Well, Sam, we are in fact missing our Chairman. And for a professional board member, you sure seem to hate board meetings. Ever wonder why that is?”

“Don’t try to be cute, Fields.” Don stopped the tense back and forth before it could escalate.

Jeff Hauptmann stepped into the room and instantly felt the tension.

“Alright everyone, let’s take our seats and get started.” Jeff spoke with a booming voice, a holdover from his time as a trial lawyer. At fifty-nine years old he was also the most senior board member, and commanded a bit of respect on account of that. Six years ago, before Line’s explosion in popularity, Dylan moved the company from the Midwest to Silicon Valley, but his corporate lawyer had no intention of moving with the company. Dylan met with Jeff on his third day in California and the two instantly bonded. Jeff quickly became a surrogate father to Dylan, as well as a business mentor and confidant. They became so close so quickly, Dylan decided that he didn’t want to hire Jeff for the company, but rather as his personal attorney. It was a over a year later that Jeff was invited to join the board as an outside member, and he had been Chairman ever since.

“I’d like to start by recognizing Dylan for his wonderful speech at Stanford, and for personally funding a brilliant philanthropy campaign that, if I’m not mistaken, is already increasing this company’s bottom line.”

A chorus of compliments rained down on Dylan for a minute before Jeff seized the attention of the room again.

“There is growing concern amongst certain parties that our products have nearly saturated their respective markets. Now, we can absolutely continue to grow, however it would appear that our growing overhead demands and operating costs are outstripping our potential future growth. At least that’s what I’ve been told, because we all know that I don’t understand this business jargon bullshit. I asked for clarification though, and was told that quite simply, we need a new product. Is there anything in the works?”

The seven board members all seemed to be waiting for someone else to speak. Finally, Dylan perked up in his chair.

“We haven’t been actively developing any new standalone products, focusing instead on improvements and upgrades to our existing sites. We have been keeping an eye on potential acquisitions though, if we want to bring some new faces in.” Dylan scanned the other faces, gauging their reactions.

“What even goes on around here?” Samuel asked in indignation. “I’m this close to moving to replace you.” He pointed his finger across the table at Dylan.

“Samuel, settle the fuck down.” Jeff said calmly and quietly. There was a menacing quality to his tone.

Dylan sunk back in his seat with nothing more to say. Samuel clenched his jaw and stared at him.

“Randall, none of your people have come to you with any suggestions or ideas? I only ask because the wunderkind’s well seems to have run dry.” Don inquired of the COO.

“Nothing that’s been thought out enough to run with. Generally speaking, our first priority is to take stray ideas and figure out how to fit it into our existing frameworks rather than launch new ones. Where you see an empty cupboard, I see everything stored in its place and nothing going to waste.” Randall was diplomatic, but clearly on Dylan’s side. “We’ve implemented over thirty top level features so far this year. We’re not going to build a new business when we can expand the ones we’ve got to do more that any of our competitors.”

“Randall, I believe the problem that we face, and someone correct me if I’m wrong, is that we’re becoming our own competition. We have to diversify in order to get out of our own way. Right?” Jeff used his skills to steer the conversation where he wanted it to go. “Dylan, has the well run dry?”

“I’ve got some ideas, but they’re all very abstract still. Mainly things that I didn’t think would be commercially viable. In fact, I was hoping to use this meeting to consider more corporate philanthropy.”

“Absolutely not.” Samuel said reflexively. “This is about making money, not giving it away. You can do whatever you want with your personal money, you don’t get to start pickpocketing the shareholders.”

“Sonya, financially, how does the company stand.” Jeff gently steered away from an argument.

“Thank you, Jeff. It’s always nice to be consulted about the reality of situations. In this situation, the reality is that Fieldy Lands is cash rich, and very healthy, however our growth is showing signs of decline, owing to the market saturation. That said, Dylan’s speech and personal philanthropy, have generated sustained gains over the past few weeks.” Sonya smiled smugly in Samuel’s direction. “It may not be a product, per se, but philanthropy can absolutely be a viable marketing strategy. People want to be associated with good, especially these days.”

Dylan sat up again, waiting for his chance to speak.

“Also, let’s not forget that I’m currently evaluating a couple hundred investment pitches from some bright untapped minds, any of which could potentially be brought into the company as a new product.” Dylan looked at Samuel menacingly, “That is, if I wan’t to sell it to us, since I’ll be using my personal money to angel them.”

Samuel sank in his seat a bit, but retained his stern expression.

“And I promised twenty five Cardinals jobs here, too, they might bring an idea or two with them.”

Dylan felt as though he had gotten the last laugh, and with that, relaxed.

“In that case, let’s all just remain mindful of the need to diversify. Keep your eyes and ears open, and Dylan, do it again. Also, Sonya, let’s keep your people busy running financials on prospective acquisitions. If it fits our profile, and we can steal it, lets pull the trigger.” Jeff prescribed the course of action to the others.

“Mr. Hauptmann, may I?” Claire asked, half raising her hand.

“Of course, Claire. Go ahead.”

“Well, Sonya kind of alluded to it, but I don’t think we all caught it at the time. Our best new product is Dylan. He went from a complete nobody… No offense, Dylan. …To this amazing billionaire that gives amazing speeches and gives more stuff away than Oprah. He’s the next product. Stanford was the launch, and if we market him, he’ll be a halo that brings new users to the brand. And Sonya was exactly right, and I have user feedback to back this up, our ethics, philanthropy, and corporate conscience are almost as important to our users as the actual features. People literally want to do business with us because of the way we do business. That’s a reflection of Dylan. He embodies the company. A midwestern kid in California; it’s tangibly different, and they know it. He came after the dot-com bubble, he’s a completely new generation. If we simply market and piggy back off of Dylan, not only will the company do well now, but the next thing we take to market will be a hit no matter what it is.” Claire spoke with passion and zeal, but was clearly nervous.

“I agree,” Jeff said, breaking the silence. “You’re a star kid. The people are going to like what you tell them to like, use what you tell them use, just because you’re you. So we need to get more people introduced to you. Let’s work on a strategy for that and we’ll make final decisions next month.”

Next Chapter: Chapter 5