seeing is believing

Courtship of a Tech Bro

Bluster, manipulation and gaslighting – all in a week’s work.

“… 90 percent of the startups founded by dweeby young men in San Francisco are simply trying to answer the question: ‘What things isn’t my mom doing for me any more?’ Creating a frictionless future seems to mean launching speedy meal delivery, dog walking, and laundry apps. ‘There is a tendency in Silicon Valley to want to be revolutionary without, you know, revolutionizing everything …’ Too many moonshots are still sputtering on the launch pad. It is not yet clear that innovations such as social media, cryptocurrencies, or the metaverse yet represent any net positive for humanity. As skeptical economists never tire of pointing out, the digital revolution has so far had little quantifiable effect in lifting productivity.”

– John Thornhill, Financial Times

“Money talks, but it doesn’t tell the truth.”

“Time heals all wounds, right up to the moment that it kills you.”

– Herbie Cohen

And still they come.

“I’m sending you a sample of our high-resolution webcam for scanning. An MOV file, showing a previous scan of a down-rev unit, is attached for reference.”

OK. Got it. Reviewed your MOV. We can do that.

The courtship started with such promise. Those were idyllic days, one week ago.

So, you would like us to do a complete scan of this camera, correct? Just scan and provide images for your use/analysis?

“Exactly. Having a scale reference in the video sweep will be helpful. I am actually mainly trying to gauge pricing for future needs. Trying to find a local partner. If we sweep in X, Y and Z for the video outputs – that would be most ideal.”

And actually mainly not relying on proper spelling and grammar to convey your message. Genius feels no need to apologize.

How did you find us?

“(———-) from (———) recommended you – the consumer electronics/product design community is pretty small 🙂 Random question – do you have expertise in testing USB 3.1 cables for signal integrity?”

Your camera arrived yesterday. Cost to scan it and provide an MOV file: $1500 lot charge. Give us a PO and we’ll get started.

“Cost is okay. Is this what we would expect in the future per item scanned? Full transparency, I am trying to decide if to rent [sic] an on-site CT from (———) or go with outsourcing for this year’s development. What would be the typical turnaround time for future scans? Is one day turn from receipt reasonable? Last, is it possible to work through credit card payments? Makes it much easier than sending over a PO.”

Cost is dependent upon many factors: part size, quantity, resolution, magnification, area/region of interest, deliverables needed, etc. Our typical quoted turnaround time is five to 10 working days. Faster turnarounds are often possible, with prior scheduling. In your case, we should be able to scan the camera this week.

We will accept credit card payment for this first project. Please call us on Monday to give us your credit card information, which we will destroy (shred) at the conclusion of the project. Longer term, our preference would be to set you up on account and operate using purchase orders.

Do we have your corporate address? If not, can you please send it, so we can set you up this week in our ERP system?

“Completely understand about the cost dependency. However, our scan requests will always be the size and complexity of this job – we should be predictable. To be honest, five days is steep for us, typically the scans will be the gating element during time-critical manufacturing situations. I imagine it is hard to make guarantees and it depends on work loading. However, I would love to get an understanding of faster turnaround and if expedited pricing applies. Corporate address is: (———). Let’s get an account set up – please let me know what other information you will need.”

Call me jaded, but when someone asks me to “get an understanding” of something we’ve clearly explained, my thoughts are that they are really trying persuasion: leveraging the promise of future business so that we do things their way. This is akin to someone saying, “I’m confused,” as a rhetorical trick, when in fact they aren’t confused at all, only manipulative. We know their kind.

Next business day, apparent triumph:

You can download the videos using the link below. Will send password separately. The link will expire after five clicks or seven days. Scan data, free viewer, and images are provided on a USB drive shipping with the unit.

See previous email. Job was done Tuesday and is now ready to pick up, call me or let me know the best (time) I can call you for credit card information.

Guy is anxious. Doing our utmost to quell his anxiety. Results usually do that. One-day turnaround, on our own initiative. Sometimes we do this for promising customers, to show we’re listening, and we’re flexible. You’d think he’d be happy. You’d be wrong.

“What happened after our phone conversation last week where I asked you to hold the job? Mainly because the quoted lead time was not competitive.”

Hold the job? Lead time not competitive? Then why did you ship your part to us for inspection? We obliterated the quoted lead time, yet we’re the Bad Guys? Methinks the young man doth want his cake and eat it too. One begins to suspect the existence of parallel projects going on behind the dialogue, except that someone lost track of the timing. Not unlike dating two people in separate booths at opposite ends of the same five-course restaurant, with reservation times slightly out of sync (main course at one, dessert at the other). A stealthy Darwinian approach to business (survival of the fastest). What to do when the script is abandoned, he gets caught, and his bluff is called? Regroup and fall back on the tried-and-tested method of scoundrels everywhere: double down and bluster your way through, in the hope that intimidation changes the subject. Imaging for failure analysis and inspection is a pattern recognition business, and this familiar pattern is becoming depressingly recognizable.

The job is done. We did it in two days. We discussed early on that expedites were possible, long before you had any conversation with our Customer Service Manager. So we helped you out and took the liberty of getting you the images you requested. Please send credit card information.

“Sorry Robert that is wrong. I spoke to him last week (before you ever got to process this project) over the phone when he called to collect credit card payment. Please discuss internally.”

We know gaslighting when we see it.

Sorry, that is wrong. Our Customer Service Manager has no recollection of any request from you to put anything on hold. Our people proceeded with your scanning project in good faith, to help you, with my approval. You made your urgency clear, and we did our best to respond and support. As a new customer, it was in our interest, and yours, to assume some risk and get this done. So, we did. I have no need to discuss internally. The time for discussion is over. Please provide credit card information.

“Can you explain why I did not give him the credit card information last week over the phone? We are not paying for a miscommunication.”

I don’t know, there are lots of reasons to withhold credit card information. General busyness. One’s secretive nature. Nuclear annihilation distracted you. A lot can happen in a day. Life calls, and time is limited. You’re a busy guy doing important work. Like running parallel jobs with two competitors, in the hope one will finish first, and the aftermath can be sorted out or dismissed as insignificant or attributed to simple confusion. We tried to help (ungrateful wretch). Do we deserve this?

Come to think of it, maybe you should pay for miscommunication. You are wasting our time, using fraudulent means, and time is money. Time to be an adult (if you can).

You tell me. Apparently, you believe you have a divine right to free services as well. Please return the images we sent you, since you refuse to pay for them. Nice try.

From speed dating to fully detonated bridge in days, start to finish, including a weekend. Hearts aflutter to acrimony in little more than a week. Thanks for nothing.

He never returned the images. But we have his camera.

An efficiency-minded business school professor examining this dialogue as a case study for MBA students might conclude that the whole affair was enacted, and dispatched (in its way), in timely fashion. The client revealed himself and, following short bursts of vituperation, both parties sullenly moved on, resolved to do business elsewhere, with minimal collateral damage done. One more ring added to the Tree of Experience.

Good call, Professor.

Woe betides the next customer fitting the same description, with similar requirements, and similar urgency, as this story documents. Technological innovation is an iterative process. So is sales and service.

What is the sound of mental notes being filed away in an accessible spot? Article ending bug

Robert Boguski is president of Datest Corp. (; His column runs bimonthly.