There is a Silicon Valley thing that has happened several times, to both Dear Husband (DH) and me, since we left the tech industry. It needed to happen a few times before we realized we had a behavioral pattern rather than a series of isolated incidents.
It goes like this.
DH: I’m going to have a beer with John tonight.
Evie: Oh, hey, that’s awesome. He was a pretty cool guy when you worked together, if I recall.
DH: Yeah, yeah he was. Never fully bought in to the bullshit, smart guy. We’ve only had beers a couple of times since I left Former Tech Employer, and he left a few months ago, so it will be nice to catch up.
Two hours later…
Text from DH: Beers with John was just a fucking job offer. Irrationally angry.
Bait and pitched. Again.
It’s reasonable to ask “What’s so bad about a job offer?” especially if you could use a job yourself. My husband recognizes this, which is why he chose “irrationally angry.” Who could rightfully be angry about a job offer?
But my husband’s anger is completely justified, and that’s not just my wifely bias talking. There’s a lot more to the bait and pitch than a job offer. Deception, manipulation, and exploitation are (like so many things in these here Valley parts) key to the execution of a bait and pitch.
The bait and pitch may even indicate that, for a significant part of the population at least, there is no such thing as friendship here, that all is business, and that the social activities that used to strengthen friendships are all part of one big, ceaseless networking event.
Let’s examine the key elements of the bait and pitch. I will use two proper nouns, The Pitcher (to refer to the person doing the pitching) and The Mark (to demarcate the unwitting recipient of the bait and pitch).
The Elements of Deception
First, we’ll look at the bait part, where there are several deceptive elements at play.
The Invitation – The invitation to the bait and pitch must be as brief and stripped down as possible, such as a text asking only “Beers on Wednesday?” Any more than that and The Pitcher risks tipping his hand.
The invitation has a few other implementation details.
It That Shall Not Be Named – Absolutely no mention of or allusion to the pitch, as such, can be made in advance. The Pitcher cannot, for instance, drop a line like “I can’t wait to tell you what I’m working on.” The jig is up.
They Who Shall Not Be Named – Likewise, The Pitcher cannot mention other people to whom he has recently spoken. The Pitcher cannot say “I talked to Joe and he said…” The can of worms is open now!
Does Joe have skills similar to those of The Mark? If so, “I talked to Joe” may mean Joe was already bait and pitched. If so, what did Joe say? Does Joe want to work with The Pitcher again and, if so, did Joe recommend that The Pitcher pitch The Mark? Or is Joe actually Judas, not wanting to touch The Pitcher’s hot mess of a start-up with a 10-foot pole, and thus throwing The Mark under the bus to get pitched in a desperate bid to free himself from his own bait and pitch? If Joe “helps” The Pitcher, maybe The Pitcher will leave him alone.
An equally loud death knell will toll from the mention of any additional person who might show up for the bait and pitch event, AKA beers:
The Pitcher: Beers on Wednesday?
The Mark: Sure. Cerverceria at 6?
The Pitcher: Works. Eric may join.
Social Media Shhh – No social media may allude to the subject of the bait and pitch, i.e. The Pitcher’s Current Endeavor. No Twitter snippet, no LinkedIn one-liner, no Facebook Intro or About section should reference What The Pitcher Is Working On.
For maximal deception, The Pitcher’s former employer should still be listed as the most recent employment item. However much The Pitcher might be tempted, he should not allow so much as a “Looking for my next thing” and certainly nothing so brash as “Founder at Hopefully Lucky Labs.” You’ve gotta know when to hold ’em.
Wherefore this sneakiness, this furtive slippery?
An unhealthy preoccupation with stealth mode contributes to bait-and-pitch behavior. The preoccupation with stealth mode itself depends on massive ego, optimism, and a failure to comprehend probability and likelihood of success (or, even in the case of “success,” failure to comprehend the many ways in which VC success does not trickle down or equate to founder success in any meaningful way. You didn’t really agree to pay anybody out at 1.5x, did you?).
Why, you might well wonder, can’t the invitation be honest, something more like “I started a company and really need some help. Beers on Wednesday?”
Because the bait and pitch requires breach of trust. Otherwise, it’s just a pitch, and that required no cunning or clever turns of phrase from The Pitcher, who needs to believe he is capable of the Feats Of Great Salesmanship on which his new company depends for fundraising, hiring, and otherwise snowing people into doing things that are not in their own best interest.
The Pitcher deliberately exploits friendship, or at least the appearance of it. The Pitcher knows The Mark wants to socialize and is unlikely to want to talk about work. The Pitcher has discerned this from Facebook posts that indicate The Mark is living it up, and may even be in the position in which he need never work again. The Mark has no incentive to work for The Pitcher. The world is The Mark’s oyster, full of hobbies, ample sleep, and sunshine, and The Pitcher can scarcely compete with that.
And The Pitcher knows it, which means there is resentment involved, a resentment that makes it somewhat easier for The Pitcher to rationalize and justify his forthcoming bait-and-pitch behavior.
The Pitcher, perhaps, rues the day when he decided to start his own company, because that’s just what you do with your Facebook or Google money. The Pitcher, too, would like hobbies, ample sleep, and sunshine, but he took the path more traveled. Worse, he also took other people’s money, and now a teeny tiny part of The Pitcher wants to take that now tanned, healthier, rosier engineer and sit his ass down in front of a screen so he can crank out some code to help The Pitcher make more money, so he can make a better choice next time. Next time, he will choose hobbies, ample sleep, and sunshine. Next time.
The Pitcher needs The Mark’s skills and does not appreciate this fact. This prevents The Pitcher from just acting like a human being, and a friend: The Pitcher is now a hiring manager, desperate for engineering help like all the other hiring managers.
But the Pitcher doesn’t have much to offer: a fair-to-middling salary, the knowledge that The Mark will need to agree to accept at least some of that compensation in the form of stock options that, like most stock options in history, will almost certainly amount to nothing (or, worse than that, to an AMT tax bill of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on exercise). The Mark is too smart. He will never agree to this.
And yet, The Pitcher persists. Perhaps it is all he knows to do. Go big or go home. If you’re not growing, you’re gone.
Dread is not lost on The Pitcher. He knows it’s probably all for naught, quite likely doomed from the start. But he has to tick that box, show the Board he’s trying, much like the unemployed person showing they sent some applications out.
But what nags at The Pitcher, while he waits with a beer for The Mark to appear, his colleagues waiting for The Pitcher’s text to make their entry and pile on to the bait and pitch, is the faint thought that if the bait and pitch is doomed to failure, his endeavor might well be, too. The bait and pitch points out that the magical, pie-in-the-sky thinking and hope The Pitcher is applying to The Mark may be the same he’s applying to his start-up, and that could be very bad, indeed.
It’s too bad he can’t have beers with a friend, and talk about it. He has a lot on his mind these days.