Authors: Erik Hamre
Tags: #Techno Thriller
“The beta version works fine,” Richard replied.
“But it doesn’t have the correct name. It’s supposed to be called Virtualme. I’m very close to securing the name rights. Now we have all these people downloading an app called Tuna Life. When we launch the real app there’s going to be massive confusion.”
“Don’t change the name. The name works. It’s hip. It’s cool. It’s got nothing to do with our product, and that’s why it’s so great.”
Andrew shook his head. “Well, you know best.”
“It’s not up to me anymore,” Richard replied. “It’s up to Roman now.”
“Up to who?”
“Roman Bezhrev. Our owner. He wants to meet you.”
“Yes. Lunch at the Hilton. Dress smart casual,” Richard said, and rang off.
Smart casual, Andrew sighed. What the fuck did he mean with that? What was smart casual in an industry where most of the players strolled around in flip-flops and hoodies? Was he supposed to put on some glasses to look smarter? Wasn’t this the whole point of the new economy? Old dress codes didn’t apply anymore. Andrew studied Frank’s basement. Racks and racks of servers were stacked on top of each other. Frank had insisted on running the network themselves. No outsourcing to the famous cloud. The result was that the basement now looked like a data warehouse. Apparently he had almost totally dismantled the servers before hooking them back up again in some sort of intricate and advanced system. Loose cables were hanging everywhere. The air-conditioning system was humming like a hard drive about to break, and all the fans Andrew had bought were going at full speed. It was freezing cold. It didn’t look professional at all, not even safe. But it worked. It worked fantastically well.
But why had people suddenly started to download the Tuna Life app? As far as Andrew knew they hadn’t done anything special the day before. No special marketing, no press releases or media coverage. How on Earth had all these people come to know about Tuna Life?
Was Frank Geitner responsible?
Was this the reason he was missing?
Andrew checked his Seiko watch impatiently. Their meeting had been scheduled for one o’clock. It was now one thirty. “Can you try calling him again?” he asked Richard.
Nervously, Richard checked his watch. He had already placed three missed calls. He didn’t really want to make another.
Andrew had never given it much thought, where the money Y-Bator had injected into Tuna Life had really come from. He had simply assumed that the funds originated from a large pool of small investors having placed their funds with Y-Bator. And that even though there could be several hundred different owners in the actual fund that had given them the money, Capital 3, Andrew and his co-founders would only have to deal with Y-Bator. That assumption had turned out to be wrong.
Normally, that was the way incubators and venture capital firms operated. But Y-Bator had an eccentric owner. The Russian Roman Bezhrev had built his fortune in the oil and bank industry in his home country before settling in Australia five years ago. Apparently he still maintained good political contacts in Russia, and he was recognised as a grey eminence in the Russian society on the Gold Coast. If you wanted something done – you approached Bezhrev.
After having been told about Frank’s new technology, Roman Bezhrev had decided to take the whole investment himself. Capital 3 wasn’t an investment fund: it was Roman Bezhrev’s private investment vehicle.
“I still can’t believe you kept this from me,” Andrew said.
“I was only following orders. Roman instructed me not to say anything.”
“Not say anything? A couple of days ago you told me the investment had no concentration risk. You told me it would be spread on multiple professional owners so that we didn’t have to worry about one single person getting too much power. And now you are telling me that one person owns twenty percent of the company?”
“You still have control,” Richard said. “You still control eighty percent of the shares.”
Andrew shook his head. Just then Roman Bezhrev entered the restaurant. He was surrounded by what appeared to be two body guards. Andrew shot Richard an angry look, before getting up to be introduced to the new owner in their company.
It turned out to be a long lunch. Roman Bezhrev asked questions and dug into Andrew’s and his team’s ambitions. It was obvious he had big plans.
“When I was younger,” he said, “all my friends wanted to become rockstars. Rockstars got all the girls and had all the fun. Unfortunately I had no singing voice, so I had to scrap that plan.” He laughed with such ferocity that the couple at the neighbouring table jumped in their seats. “Then soccer players became the heroes. If you were good at kicking a ball around for ninety minutes, then you were admired by the male population and adored by the female. I hate soccer,” he said bluntly. “But today. Today young men like you are the new rockstars.” He pointed his stubby index finger at Andrew. “Everyone knows who Mark Zuckerberg is. Everyone has heard about Instagram and Pinterest. You are the new emperor. You are the new rockstar.”
Andrew had problems concealing his smile. He hadn’t fully considered the consequences of the app turning out to be such a success. He had just wanted to change his life, to do something different. For once in his life not think about the consequences. To become rich or die trying as a famous rapper had once said. It hadn’t really dawned on Andrew that they had already succeeded, that the mobile app was a massive success, and that they most likely had one of the fastest growing user bases in the history of iTunes. And all this with a product that wasn’t even finished.
“I’m not the star in this,” Andrew said modestly. “I’m more like the invisible manager in the background. The real stars are Ken and Frank. They have created the product. I’m just CEO because neither of them wanted to be.”
“You will be the face of the company, Andrew. You will represent it. And in the process you will become richer than in your wildest dreams,” Roman said.
“So you reckon we’ll become rich on this?” Andrew asked.
Roman Bezhrev gave Andrew a friendly slap on the back. “Don’t you read the news, Andrew? Pinterest just raised two hundred million this week. The company was valued at two and a half billion dollars. And they still haven’t got a clue how to monetize the shit.” Roman Bezhrev leant back in his chair, and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Tuna Life got more than a hundred thousand new users in the space of twenty-four hours. Believe you me Andrew; Tuna Life is going to be huge. So huge that your world will never be the same again.”
Richard Smith coughed. “While we’re on the subject of the huge increase in users. What caused it?” he asked.
Andrew smiled. If Richard had asked two hours ago he wouldn’t have been able to answer the question. The massive jump in downloads had come as a total surprise to Andrew. It turned out that Ken was the answer. Ken had casually shown the app to one of his friends at Bond University, and from that interaction the app had gone viral. First all the medical students downloaded it. Then it had spread to the business school, and from there it had just mushroomed to every other university in Australia, before going mainstream.
“We haven’t done anything special. It appears people have heard about it through the grapevine,” Andrew said.
Roman’s smile got even wider. “The grapevine. You know you’re onto something good when your customers are selling your product for you.” He gave Andrew another friendly slap on the back, before ordering two more bottles of champagne.
Two hours later they were still eating lunch. Andrew didn’t really know what he had expected. His only previous experience with Russians was from the odd beach holiday to Thailand. The Russians had initially enjoyed a good reputation in Thailand. Some loaded new-rich would arrive and spend a fortune building a palace near the local beach. It had been a welcome injection of money into the Thai economy. When the first wave of the new-rich subsided, it had been replaced by a wave of the Russian middle class. They didn’t treat the locals with much respect and were driving up prices on regular apartments. Ergo the mood had changed. Andrew had attempted to be nice to a couple of Russians on his last trip to Thailand, but they had refused to even acknowledge him; it had felt as if they had thought they were above him.
Roman was a totally different character. He was charming and generous. He didn’t brag, even though he appeared to have done exceptionally well. He was simply a very nice guy.
After Roman had paid for the lunch, he gave Andrew a hug and handed him a brown envelope.
“Go and buy yourself some new clothes. Remember; you’re the face of Tuna Life now.”
Andrew opened the envelope as he buckled up in his old Mazda 3. When he saw the content he almost fell out of his seat. The envelope was packed with hundred dollar bills. He counted them. There was more than ten thousand dollars there. Andrew smiled from ear to ear. He liked the new economy.
Roman Bezhrev asked to get a word with Richard before he left the garage of the Hilton hotel. “I thought we could do another share issue Friday first.”
“Ok,” Richard answered. “To what sort of valuation?”
“Let’s say seven hundred and fifty, before money. I’ll inject another two hundred and end up with just under thirty-seven percent.”
“Do you think they’ll accept the valuation? The app has already proven its potential. It’s obvious that it’s going to be worth a lot of money at some stage.”
“They need the funds. They’ll have to start hiring people, and that costs money. They’ll accept the offer. Andrew will ensure it.”
Roman Bezhrev smiled. He saw a massive potential in Tuna Life.
He saw a massive potential in Andrew Engels.
Ken was sitting on the couch, chewing on a burger, when Andrew arrived in Frank’s basement. The basement was dark and cold. Techno music streamed from the loudspeakers on low volume.
“Is he here?” Andrew asked.
Ken shook his head. “Haven’t seen him.”
“Where the hell is he?” Andrew swore, before sitting down at one of the work stations. “Where is he? He can’t just disappear,” he said, spinning mindlessly around on the office chair.
“I think he can,” Ken replied. “In case you haven’t noticed, Frank is not like you and me. He does whatever he feels like. Maybe he felt like a holiday?”
“And then he just walked out the front door? Without turning off the lights or locking the doors? I don’t think so. Not even he is that reckless,” Andrew said. “No. Something must have happened to him.”
“Relax. He’ll turn up.”
“Should I call the police?” Andrew asked.
“No. Not yet. Give it a couple more days,” Ken hurried to say.
“Ok. But if he hasn’t returned by the end of the week we’ll have to inform Richard. And maybe the police,” Andrew said, staring at the wall with a blank look. He had just had lunch with their Russian investor. The Russian had implied that the company Andrew owned more than a fourth of, quite possibly could be worth millions at some stage in the future. But it all hinged on Frank. It was his programming skills that had created the unique product they had. A product no one had even known they needed a few days ago. Where was Frank, and who was he really?”
He was a brilliant programmer. There was no doubt about that. But he wasn’t a very social person. In the eight weeks it had taken him to finish the development of the app, Andrew hadn’t learnt a lot of new things about Frank. He had learnt that Frank didn’t tolerate incompetence, had badly developed social skills and preferred working by himself. So Ken and Andrew had done just that; given him space and let him develop the app in peace and quiet. But there was something off about Frank. Every time Andrew attempted to ask Frank about something personal, he became very dismissive. It was almost as if he was hiding something. Andrew had never said it straight out. But he harboured a suspicion that Frank had been working for some sort of governmental agency, one of those secret ones. There was something about the way he always seemed to weigh his words, the way he never said anything without having considered the implications first. It didn’t really matter though. Frank was good at his job, and Andrew could live with being ridiculed if he said something stupid. He had worked with bigger assholes in Avensis Accounting. Maybe the unpolished truth was the cost of working with brilliant minds like Frank? They didn’t have time for small talk and trivialities.
Andrew spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find out more about Frank’s background. He did, however, keep an eye on the server capacity at all times. They had to ensure that the system didn’t break down. They hadn’t expected the demand they had experienced the last two days. From having a stable demand of a couple hundred downloads per day, the app had suddenly gone viral. And that wasn’t the only problem. After downloading the app, the users kept using it all the time. They didn’t just occasionally check how they would look with a piece of clothing. They were logged on all the time. A couple of hundred thousand pictures filtered through the Tuna Life’s servers each day. And that cost money. They would have to raise more funds shortly. But Andrew wasn’t worried. He knew that the users’ engagement with the app could become extremely important in the long term. If Tuna Life turned out to be an app people stayed on, that could quadruple the value of their users in the investor market. Somehow they would figure out a way to make money on all these users, but that wasn’t important right now. Right now it was important to grow as quickly as possible, while avoiding a breakdown of the servers.
Richard had proposed that they started to charge a nominal amount for the app in periods of high demand. If they alternated between giving it away for free, and charging when the pressure was high, they could easily control the demand so that the servers didn’t break down. But Andrew had put his foot down. Tuna Life should always be free. He needed to move away from the old way of thinking that had held him back in Avensis Accounting, that only profits and cash flow mattered.