Warning: this post has very little to do with EVE Online. But it's something I've been thinking about lately and hell, the tag-line on this blog says from time to time the topic will be "life." So let's do one of those posts.
What follows is a little test. Read the whole story, then decide if the protagonist is being smart or dumb. Ready?
You are a 45-year-old man working for a car company, in distribution and finance. Your day-to-day job involves writing business agreements with the company's suppliers, as well as ensuring those business agreements are met. For instance, your most recent task involved working with a manufacturer of car radios, antennas, telephone, and back seat video systems. Your task was to write the contracts and business agreements that would ensure a sufficient supply of these things for the company's product line for the coming year. Then you monitored the terms of the agreement to ensure the supplier was meeting the terms and delivering the electronics to the factories on time.
The company has an inexpensive cafeteria in the building where you eat lunch most days. Your own department is small and the actual manufacturing of the cars is done in another country. So you usually eat lunch with some of the car designers. One designer in particular that you enjoy talking with -- his name is Gary -- is in his very early 20s, but is smart and very serious-minded. Gary is very quiet but very technical; you don't understand what he's saying half the time but the half you do understand is fascinating stuff.
Unfortunately, Gary's best friend on the design staff is Paul, who is very new to the company and is kind of a flake. He's even younger than Gary and dresses oddly. Rumor around the company is that Paul is a drug addict and he doesn't really understand design. Because Paul and Gary are friends, more often than not you find yourself sitting with both of them in the cafeteria. Unfortunately, you do understand everything that Paul says, and most of it sounds like BS. But Paul is charismatic and seems to be selling this BS to his bosses. Sometimes Gary and Paul get into loud arguments that you have to mediate. You later learn that Paul and Gary are neighbors; they're both renting houses in the same low-end neighborhood. This is probably why Paul hangs out with this guy even though they appear to have nothing in common.
One day, Paul comes to you and says that he and Gary have designed a radical new car engine that gets eight times the fuel economy of the engines currently designed by the company. They claim to have done this work on their own time and even claim to have offered the engine to the company, but the company turned them down. Paul invites you to his house where they've mounted the engine onto an old go-kart from the 1970s. The fuel tank of this go-kart is less than a gallon but the thing does appear to be drivable, or at least they can drive it up the street in the neighborhood and back. You don't know much about car engines but to your eyes the thing looks amazingly primitive. You can't tell how it works.
You've been invited to look at the engine because Paul and Gary want to start a business to sell this engine to car manufacturers. They'd like you to write up the partnership agreement since they know you understand the business side of things and they don't. They've offered you some money or a small stake in the company if you will do this. You're pretty sure that Gary has done all the work on the engine but all of his notes are hand-written and he seems to have most of the design for this thing in his head. You definitely don't understand his explanations of how the engine works when he will stop to tell you about them at all (which isn't often). Both Gary and Paul have started showing up late for work and exhausted every morning. It's clear they're putting far more time into this go-kart engine than their actual jobs.
Still, this strikes you as easy money. So you write up the partnership agreement and a few other business documents. Paul and Gary agree to give you 10% of the company for your work. Paul jokes that your main job will be "adult supervision" and settling arguments between Paul and Gary, just like you have done in the cafeteria. You finish the documents and you try to keep up with what Paul and Gary are doing but there's no possible way you can keep up. You have responsibilities and they seem to have all but abandoned theirs.
A week or so later, you hear that Paul has been shopping the engine around to venture capitalists. One has agreed to give the company a half million dollars to develop the engine. Paul shows you the VC's business agreement and wants you to review it and see if it's fair. You look at it and discover in dismay that the VC has indeed agreed to give them a half million dollars, but expects to see a return on his investment in less than a year and that all members of the business partnership are equally liable in case of default. You've seen Paul and Gary's rental houses. They have no assets worth anything if this engine fails. You, on the other hand, have a house that you own, a car, a small retirement account, and a few small investments that total a little less than a half million dollars.
It's clear that if Paul and Gary take this money and fail, you'll lose everything and they'll just start over. Even if the engine succeeds, it strikes you as likely that the car company you all work for is going to intervene legally.
You think about it for a few days, then go to Paul and tell him that the VC's money is good and the contract seems fair. But that you'd like to sell your stake in the company as part of the agreement. The three of you sit down and talk about it for a while, then decide that $3500 is fair for the 20 or so hours of work you put into writing the partnership paperwork and other documents. You agree to this, Paul and Gary get the half million, they write you a check for $3500 and you cash it.
Over the next six months or so, you hear about Paul and Gary taking their go-kart to various small-time go-kart enthusiast clubs. In the company cafeteria, Paul sometimes encourages you -- in quite wild-eyed terms! -- to "rejoin the business." But you hear from other people in the design department that both Paul and Gary are likely going to be fired soon for not paying attention to their jobs and you decline.
So. That's the story. Are you being smart, getting your money for basically doing no work? Or are you being dumb? Have you thought about it?
What's above is basically a retelling of the story of Ronald Wayne. If you've never heard of him, I don't blame you. In 1976, he sold his 10% stake in Apple Computer for $800 ($3500 in 2014 dollars).
Sometimes, betting your entire livelihood and future on radical change proposed by crazy, wild-eyed dreamers is difficult.
Hey, you in the back! I said this post had nothing to do with EVE Online.