The plan was to complete a USD 1 billion capital raise. We were one of three investment banks on a secure conference call line waiting on the CFO of a Dubai Inc. company to dial in. Every banker’s goal was one and the same: tell the CFO what he wanted to hear in order to execute a deal. Thereafter everybody would book revenues under their respective team centres and use it as bargaining chips to inflate the year-end bonus wishlist.
Minutes passed. Still waiting for Mr. CFO to dial in. Meanwhile, a few self-starters initiated chatter on the conference call. A Managing Directory from one investment bank engaged in small talk with a Director from another bank. My colleague put her headset on mute, quickly turned towards me.
“The MD used to work for, and be subordinate to, to the Director,” she said with a shiny grin. “That’s the beauty of banking. A few strategic moves and you can literally skip a level or two on the promotion ladder.”
I widened my eyes pretending to be amazed.
As I half-consciously listened in to the noise coming from my fancy headset, I surfed the web in search of entrepreneurial success stories. Fodder for the Great Escape!
I particularly enjoyed stories about Internet startups which involved so-called ‘lifestyle design’ elements. The protagonist usually being a young lad or lass who’s launched a website – their first, second or maybe even fifth, which has grown rapidly, is cash flow positive and pretty much fully outsourced (customer support is handled by a young girl in Bangalore at a fraction of the going rate in Europe or the US, manufacturing carried out in China, etc.) and can be run from anywhere using an Internet connection. Occasionally we’re shown a photo of the entrepreneur for effect. He’s leisurely working on a Mac; drinking fresh coconut juice; wearing 2-dollar flip-flops; in Goa or Bali. And he’s most certainly read The 4-Hour Workweek, his bible and blueprint for lifestyle design.
The client finally dialled in, along with the CEO, and the conference call officially began. A Vice President (VP) from one of the banks led the call.
“Hello everybody. Why don’t we kick off. So, starting with Bank X, who do we have on the call?
The names were called out and for the next twenty minutes, senior bankers took turns to highlight key takeaways from the recent roadshow. The CEO and CFO – that is, the client – intermittently interjected with questions. By this time I was already bored and I decided to walk up to a friend sitting a few rows away and who was also listening in on the call, Olivier.
Olivier worked in the Dubai office and had flown down to London that morning with a Managing Director.
Every time he’s in town I made sure we have a chat. Though a full-time banker like the rest of us, he ran several side businesses – both online and offline. It was always refreshing to speak to the guy.
From the moment I met Olivier I knew he wasn’t the type to stick around long. Whenever you saw him he was either carrying an issue of Entrepreneur or Inc. magazine. Sometimes both.
As I neared his ‘ hotdesk’ (i.e. shared desk) I recognised the web page he was on. It was Godaddy, the domain name buying / registration website. I tapped Olivier on the shoulder, said hello and edged closer to the screen.
“You son of a bitch,” I said. “You’re buying the CEO’s—”
“Quiet,” he said, looking left and right.
“You’re buying the domain name of the Dubai Inc. CEO? Why?”
Olivier tapped his headset with his right index finger. “Just listen to the snob. I’m paying £6 for the name www.[Name of CEO].com and I’ll sell it back to him for several hundred or a few thousand if he agrees to having a proper biography page on the net.”
“Have you done this before?”
“Plenty of times. Look at the returns you can make.”
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Two months later I got a surprise visit at my desk from Olivier who was in town for two days.
He handed me his Blackberry. “Check this out.”
I couldn’t believe it. It was an e-mail from the Dubai Inc. CEO’s personal assistant, who had relayed a message from the CEO stating he would agree to pay Olivier’s web development company £3,500, plus VAT, to have a personal website designed and built that would showcase the CEO’s lifetime achievements.
The domain had cost him £6 and the design was going to come from a £10-15 template found online. As for the actual work, a high school student in Oxford would do it for £50.
“Lunch is on me today,” said Olivier with a smile.