The college students around us are all smiles as midterms sound like they are pretty much done and exams are too far in the future to bring them down on a Saturday night. There are a couple families in the room too looking relatively happy, but they seem to be keeping to themselves as the little family at my table continue bickering nonstop.
The conversation is not exactly focused on Merge business.
“You like to have sex with a Chewbacca mask on don’t you?” Ryan Faust, CEO of Merge, said to Alison Redgrave, co-founder and software head at Merge.
“Oh, you know it,” Alison replied sarcastically, “If there’s a dead tauntaun laying around that’ll seal the night for me as one to remember…Fucker.”
“Alright, guys, calm down,” Jasper Collins, co-founder and hardware head at Merge, said putting his arms out trying to almost separate the two of them.
“Don’t you start with me, Mr. Whipped,” Alison shot back. “I’m surprised your wife let you come out to dinner tonight. Didn’t you guys PVR Grey’s Anatomy to watch tonight?”
Jasper stayed silent staring out around the restaurant as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He’s not one to spar, even verbally.
The night had started with a status report on Merge. Finances, software and hardware updates, staff morale, even the type of coffee in the office was talked about in less than 15 minutes. It was clear each of the founders knew what needed to do moving forward. They just didn’t want to focus on it.
If you spend more than an hour watching Ryan, Alison, and Jasper interact you can tell they are a team, regardless of the Star Wars or spouse related jabs. None of the back and forth can be construed as distinctly hurtful. Each verbal push and shove is carefully chosen for the person they are insulting in a playful tone that is similar to how brothers hit each other in the arms as if to say, I’m doing this to show how close we are.
You won’t see this type of team splashed across the business section of The Wall Street Journal or standard review of a tech startup. Merge and its co-founders don’t have that dorm room origin story where three insanely smart software engineering students come together one night to change the world. Ryan, Alison, and Jasper are unique. They come with experience. And, they have a lot more to lose than a 22-year-old software engineering grad starting his first company.
Ryan is pushing for Merge to be his Round 2. He made his mark in the tech community by selling his first company, Shippd. He walked away with money and status. But that’s it. He was 24 when Shippd was sold. Word on the street is he doesn’t even talk to his college friend and Shippd co-founder, Amil Jas. Merge is something he needs to succeed in a very fickle world where having lots of money before the age of 30 doesn’t mean everything.
Alison Redgrave left the corporate world. She’s made a name for herself in software circles as someone who knows her stuff and can’t work with B-players. At 26-years-old Alison left a solid job with a major tech firm to strike out on her own with Merge. If Merge bombs and her reputation might be damaged enough to make the jump back to the corporate route. Most entrepreneurs would take the failure and move onto another project.
Jasper Collins arguably has the most to lose if Merge falters. He is the oldest of the team by 8 years and the only one with a family. He has a wife. a daughter, a dog, a mortgage, and more obligations than Ryan and Alison combined. Like Alison, he left a well paying position as a well established engineer with over a dozen patents to his credit, but unlike Alison he moved to a different country where he knew no one but the people at Merge. He took a virtual shot in the dark on someone with one success several years ago and another co-founder who is more than a decade younger with no entrepreneurial track record.
They are a team. A team with completely different histories, experiences, morals, and motivated by distinctly different things. But they are still a team.
“Don’t sit there and tell me the hardware is what’s most important,” Alison said, interrupting Ryan in the middle of a 27-word sentence.
“The ability to sync with displays and allow for the layering of operating systems is one of the core differentiators between us and any competitor right now,” Jasper said, still picking at the food in front of him. The food surely cold by that point.
“But we are developing multi-tiered operating system from scratch that I had started putting together myself two years before I knew Ryan and you existed!” Alison said as he gripped the fork in her hand tight enough to show the whites of her knuckles. “Hell, we’re jamming 3 years of software development into 9 months with a team a tenth of the size of one found at a Best Buy.”
“There’s only one way to put this argument to rest,” Jasper broke in.
“Settlers?” Ryan said.
“Damn-fucking-right, Settlers of Catan!” Alison shouted. She jumped up, grabbed her coat, and threw money on the table. “My dinner table. Twenty minutes. If either of you don’t show I’ll take that as you give up.”
Ryan and Jasper looked at each other and nodded with a clear smirk on their faces. They each threw down money for the bill and gathered their belongings from underneath the table.
Jasper took out his phone and punched in a quick number.
“Hi, dear,” Jasper said into his phone. “It’s going to be a later night than I thought. Ryan and Alison need my help fixing an issue in our planning model.”
With that, an “official” founders meeting was at an end.
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