A wake for a start-up?

There was a piece in the FT last week about a party in America for all those Start-Ups that have failed. A party, a wake, somewhere to “mourn,” to say goodbye, to audit, perhaps, a firmly “tongue in cheek” affair, which borrowed heavily from the Anglican Prayer Book during the opening ceremony.

I usually start from the end of a piece and work backwards. The FT is still well enough written that the final paragraph will give an idication of whether the whole article is worth reading. If not, you will have got the gist.

I read enough to realise the mourners were mainly tee-shirted, ripped-jeaned, hooded lads in the chadult stage of their lives, even if their biological age ought to indicate a different approach to dress. The final paragraph indicated that most of the revelers were now dreaming of finding a job in a corporation, having discovered that “being an entrepreneur”  was more effort than rewarding.

This got me thinking about a young man in Warsaw. I have known him for about 16 years. Now, in his early 30s his career has touched on a wide range of great ideas. Each time we meet to discuss the newest I cannot resist his enthusiam. I become involved, sometimes even “lending” him the money to see the idea through, until the next idea comes along to capture his interest. What happened to the last idea? I ask. Quickly dismissed as impractical, no wake for them, he enthralls me with the latest.

Will any of these ideas ever be monetised? Who is to say? Probably not, such is the way of “start-ups.”

The fashion, the need to become an entrepreneur at whatever cost to himself, his family and his friends, and cost there is, must be exhausting for him. Being an observer is exhausting enough. Why can’t he just get a job where he’ll be appreciated? But that is the problem. Would you want to work for a corporation? Not when you have thought of yourself as an entrepreneur. May be what he needs is a wake.

Is Mr. Kaczynski dancing to a Russian tune? Perish the thought.

Yesterday afternoon, by chance, I met an old neighbour of mine. He had little to report. I told him that I had just returned from a period of work in Bulgaria and Slovakia. He asked what people in those countries thought about what is happening in Poland. My neighbour, a mild mannered fellow and his less mild wife, had marched in the huge anti-government protest in Warsaw a few weeks ago. They marched peacefully and proudly for democracy.

I told him the truth, a truth which is obvious if you read any of the foreign press. Poland is not on the radar. In the eastern block, unsurprisingly, only Russia is: fairly negatively in Bulgaria, where the young people with whom I was working blamed Russian infiltration for the political stagnation and perceived corruption in their government and state. This has caused a general apathy in the electorate. One earnest young man is campaigning to have compulsory voting and the negative option introduced to the ballot paper so that voters can express their dissatisfaction actively rather than just opt out. His hope is that this will, eventually, reignite an interest in politics. Skeptical at first, he was persuasive.

In Slovakia I was working with a group of corporates which included Russians and Ukrainians. They expressed some surprise that an English man was living in Warsaw. Best avoided. Memories of Polish expansionism are longer in the countries that Poland once dominated than in Poland itself.

A young Serb in the group explained to me why Serbia’s mistrust of the West has forced it to turn towards Moscow. He blamed the collapse of Yugoslavia squarely on western greed and, with that, the responsibility for the subsequent civil war. This chimed with what participants had said to me while I was holding a “training the trainers” course for Proctor and Gamble in Kiev on the eve of the Maiden Square protests. Western greed. It looks different from here but, perhaps, they have a point.

Recently, I had lunch with a retired British ambassador to these parts. His view was that Mr. Putin’s strategy is to destabilise the west, not through war but tremors. The rise of the extreme right, the British referendum, even the present Polish government’s shenanigans all fit into that scheme.
I wonder if Mr. Kaczynski has thought of that?

My neighbour asked if this all meant that he should not have marched. Playing into Putin’s hands? I don’t know. I just stood on the sidelines and, not unmoved, watched them march by. I was glad someone was marching though, as a foreigner, I let myself off with the neat excuse of not involving myself in other people’s politics.

Developments in Al. Szucha

The continuing saga of the builders next to my flat has taken a new turn. One afternoon, work on the “I could be anywhere” office block that is fast replacing the demolished example of prime Soviet Socialist Realist housing, overseen by ERBUD, those masters of the “I’m alright, Jack” school of construction, ground to a halt. The thud of the hammer and the whir of the drill gave way to police sirens and ambulance horns. Clearly, irresponsible management had led to something serious, not just our sleepless nights and smashed bedroom windows. Sad to report, a builder had been crushed by a falling wall. Reports said that dead man was not Polish which seemed to make it less awful. To my mind, this put ERBUD and its band of contractors in an even worse light. Work stopped for a day or two.

The really good news to come out of all this is that someone somewhere in the city administration decided to do their duty, finally, and organised a police raid of the site. What did they find? Three drunken workers who were promptly arrested.

And the consequences? Needless to say the arrested workers were Ukrainian and needless to say work continues on the site. Needless to say ERBUD’s name still looks down from on high on the passer by and needless to say the rising building is still advertised as conforming to the highest US environmental standards.

I wonder how the dead man and his family, probably impoverished in distant Ukraine, would feel about this?