Jangl CEO Michael Cerda faced down a crowd of entrepreneurs at a Stirr event in Potrero Hill, and, in an unusual moment for Silicon Valley, spoke the truth. "How many of you guys are founders?" he asked. Cerda waited a beat, looked at the raised hands, and said, "You're all fucked." Until that moment, no one had really been paying attention to the "Founder's Hacks" program, even with Twitter's Evan Williams and Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams on the stage. Stirr founder Sanford Barr had been walking around shushing people like we were naughty sixth-graders. With the crowd's attention, Cerda launched into the tale of a previous startup — and most in the audience assumed he was talking about Ooma, the VOIP gadget company he started in 2003 with George Oscar Bluth II lookalike Andrew Frame.
After he joined the startup in question, Cerda saw the board bring in a CEO with a "big company background." A guy who subsequently who went around the founders and straight to the board, in the middle of financing, to tell them that the company was screwed.
While Cerda was talking, I was thinking, "Why blame the new CEO? I mean, come on, this is Ooma, which sells a pointless $400 phone gadget thing and hired actor and model Ashton Kutcher to make wacky commercials. We could have told you it was doomed from the start, too."
Cerda's lesson? Stick to your circle of trust. Well, it worked for Peter Thiel's PayPal gang, so Cerda might have a point. But it's not going to make skittish startup founders any less paranoid. Maybe that's a good thing.
Update: There's an odd postscript to Cerda's tale. He never named names in his brief speech, and certainly didn't do anything to correct listeners' impression that he was talking about Ooma. (Or to be fair, have much chance — he was cut off before his four-minute time allotment was up.) But Cerda now tells us the company in question wasn't Ooma. Who was it? The only other startup he mentions founding on his blog is The Yoga Company, a San Ramon yoga chain which seems an unlikely venue for such boardroom drama.
Cerda now explains that he was talking about a company where he worked as an early employee, not a founder, and that he was relaying a lesson he later applied as a founder. That narrows the possibilities to the host of network-equipment companies he worked at early in his career: Netopia, Livingston, Redback, Procket, and Trapeze Networks. So which one do you think it was? Cerda's still being discreet, but we're hoping you won't be.