The squeak of the saloon doors announces the stranger’s arrival. A coupe of the regulars glance his way. One nods a silent greeting. The stranger doesn’t miss the regular’s slight smile. Bad luck, it says.
The stranger crosses the room to the bar. The saloon is crowded. The mood is subdued. There’s a single empty stool at the bar.
The bartender places a coaster in front of the stranger. “What’ll it be?”
“I’ll have an appletini.”
The guy on the adjacent stool mutters, “Appletinis are for losers.” He’s drinking a vodka & Red Bull.
The bartender apologises for his customer’s remark. “Don’t worry about Martin. Every drink we serve here is for losers.”
The stranger scans the room whilst his drink is made. A couple of lights are broken, along with most of the regulars. Several sit and search for answers in their half empty glasses.
The barman places the appletini in front of the stranger, who pulls out his wallet. The barman holds up a hand to stop him. “The first one’s on the house.”
The stranger thanks the barman. Without looking his way, Martin asks, “So what’s your story? How did you end up here? How did you blow your big chance?”
“Well, we haven’t blown it yet, but it’s looking like we might have.”
“So, you’re like getting a feel for failure before it happens? Neat.”
“I’m Paul, by the way. My partner and I started a smart vending business, putting machines in building lobbies to make corner stores obsolete.”
“We thought so, but all these do-gooders came out of the woodwork claiming we don’t understand the role of corner bodegas in their communities. We’ve had nothing but bad press since we launched.”
“Tell me about it! I invested my hedge fund earnings on a drug company making a drug that lots of people need – like they’ve got no choice. So, I figured I could raise the price from $13.50 a tablet to $750. And all hell broke loose.”
“You’re THAT Martin! Pharma Bro!”
“Yeah, so my first chance to make the pharma industry sit up and take notice of Martin Shkreli didn’t exactly go to plan.”
The barman butted in.
“Listen, Paul. Every guy in here had a great idea. They all thought they were going to make a killing, thought the world would beat a path to their door. They thought they had it all worked out. They launched their big idea. Boom! It blew up in their face. In some cases, literally. See that Korean dude in the corner? Worked at Samsung. His big invention? The one that was going to make him a hero? The Galaxy Note 7.”
“The one that kept catching fire?”
“So, let me tell you about every person in the First Chance Saloon. Each of them had one chance to make an impression with their new baby – startup, new product, new career. You name it, we’ve got them all in here. We’ve got failures in every category you can imagine.”
“So where did they go wrong?”
“There’s a bunch of guys in here because THEY thought they had a great idea, but the rest of the world had no need for it. Just didn’t do their research.”
“No market, no sale.” Martin.
“That Aussie over there? There’s a bunch like him. Ground-breaking idea, raised some capital, not enough. Soft launch. Someone else came along, took his idea, did it bigger and better.”
“Do it so well that nobody will think they can do it better.” It was a woman two stools along. “That’s what I was once told.”
“That bloke in the back corner and the woman near the door? They were partners in a new venture. Singing from different hymn sheets from day one. Blew up inside six months.”
“Like I said. You’re looking at every reason a startup dies right here in this room. Product was too expensive. Product was too cheap. Margins were too slim. Product was crap. Wrong location. Wrong time. Bad marketing. Scaled too fast. Lost their focus. Or just plain burnt out. Can I get you another appletini before we close?”
“No, I’ll have a vodka Red Bull.”
“Loser.” Martin again.
Photo by Thomas Martinsen via Unsplash