Paul got to Z Funktion at 11:14.

He left Rohit to park in the lot out front, which had its own recharging station in the center flanked by two rows of brand-new electrics. Like almost every other startup incubator he’d seen the building was a repurposed factory mill, definitely at least a century old but the brick façade somehow brand-new looking. Testament to the twin engines of innovation and optimism driving the economy’s latest upcycle. In the front entrance Chilbert found Humain listed on the first floor, in between something called Floow to one side and JustMob to the other. The building directory itself was a play on the periodic table, with two-letter abbreviations illustrating each startup’s office. At full occupancy, every element in its place. Chilbert logged in on the tab.
Paul Chilbert is at Z Funktion, [address] Boston Bucket List. 365 Things to do in Boston before you die. [Other Facebook status updates here.]

Chilbert made his way down the hall. Energy exuding from each office, electrons in excess, along with music from what looked to be a functional dee-jay’s setup at the end of the hall. He paused at the door for 15Fl, trying to figure out by the logo affixed to it what the company might be or do. The three Os in Flooow encircling each other so that the word appeared spelled correctly, concentric rings in progressively darker shades of orange. No way of telling what for, or why. He continued down the hall. Before the door to Humain Chilbert paused to wait for Rohit. Better to enter with an intern than alone. Every gesture of legitimacy considered, plotted. The kid was seriously going to have to start moving faster, though; they’d lost at least a few contacts at the conference because Rohit had been trying to take notes. Chilbert had to figure out a way to get across that it didn’t matter, none of the details mattered. At least it gave him a minute to check the count again. 1,199 Chilbert was trying to will it to tip over when Rohit came jogging around the corner, his left shirt hem hanging out. Again the flare of rage, coloring at the very end into disgust. As though he were the one standing between Chilbert and the next thousand. He jabbed at the kid’s waistline with his tab, hopefully hard enough to hurt a little. Moving to the threshold while Rohit still struggled with the shirt. They didn’t have to knock because the door was already open. As Chilbert put on his smile a white dog came running, its tail wagging over the potential for a new source of play. “Don’t mind Max, he likes to greet everyone when they get here. We call him the official Humain welcoming committee.” Marc was close behind, his arms open. He and Chilbert hugged as though they’d known each other for years, although it hadn’t been more than half a day since the conference. “I’ll have to train Rohit to do the same. You’re studying this, right?” Chilbert turning back to address Rohit, who seemed uncertain whether to take this as an actual instruction.


“He’s our very own shelter catch. Marc gets a real kick out of telling everyone we got him at the Boston Humane Society. Get it? Humain, humane?” A female voice. “That’s because it gets funnier every time. Paul meet Vic, my wife.” Marc extended his arm to the slender woman approaching to his left. She reached out to shake Chilbert’s hand “I was warned about how brilliant you were, but Marc neglected to mention you’d be so beautiful, too.” Chilbert put both of his hands around hers. “Oh forget Max, this one can stay! Can we keep him Marc, please? Please?” Victoria swung Chilbert’s arm back and forth while directing a pleading expression at her husband. “Well Paul, I’d say you’re approved,” said Marc. “Vic and Max are the ones who really run the place anyway.” The three of them smiled at each other, Chilbert and Victoria still holding hands. “So should we give you the official tour?” she said. “Looks like Max is already leading the way.” The dog had disappeared behind a room divider made from an enlarged blackand-white photo of a smiling, dark-skinned man. A few feet to the right another photograph also stretched from floor to ceiling. This one cropping an image of an attractive Indian woman, henna tattooed on her forehead. Marc, Victoria, and Chilbert walked between the two faces, Rohit trailing behind. The office beyond was almost completely white. Long white Parsons tables arranged in U-shapes took up most of the main room’s floor, which was itself white. Victoria noticed Chilbert looking down. “We just got the Ecocrete a few weeks ago. Isn’t it great? At first I wasn’t convinced but it’s so joint-friendly, I’m a total convert.” “It’s amazing. Really, the whole office is stunning,” Chilbert responded. Marc and Victoria Lowe. The Lowes. Improving home improvement. Arising in his mind like a maxim from too many teenage years in front of the tv. He refocused. “I’m assuming this was your vision?” “Actually it was all Marc’s idea. He did most of the work himself.” Victoria turned to her husband, smiling. “Got to put my design-build training to good use, for once. Felt great to get my hands dirty. And everyone here pitched in, which was a real bonding experience for the company.” Marc gestured to the people around the tables. Chilbert counted seven, one small cluster standing and the rest seated in uncomfortable-looking chairs. Plastic anachronisms from a late-Watteau landscape. “We custom-built most of the furniture, too,” Marc continued, proud. “Except the Starcks, which were a gift from Vic’s mom, an interior designer. You should have seen her face when she saw the Aerons we had in here to begin with. Totally horror.” He leaned toward Chilbert and lowered his voice as if to convey confidentially. “And trust me, if there’s one rule I always observe, it’s never arguing with my mother-in-law.” Victoria laughed, turned to Chilbert. “Are you married, Paul?” “Sadly no,” Chilbert answered, allowing another chuckle for Marc’s commentary. “Been working too hard to have anything that qualifies for a social life. An intern’s pretty much the closest I’ve come to a life partner in the last few years.” He raised the shoulder closest to Rohit who was trying, with moderate success, to appear both attentive and


inconspicuous at once. “And as I’m sure you know the tech world isn’t exactly the most female-friendly place, though of course that’s finally changing.” Vic nodded sympathetically. “I really admire what you two have,” Chilbert went on. “I mean, what does it feel like to have that kind of partnership? Someone who shares the passion for enterprise. Who gets that you’re trying to change the world every day you go into the office?” Marc cleared his throat before answering. “It’s incredible. You just said it better than I ever could have. Most days I just look over at Vic and think to myself, ‘You are one lucky bastard.’ And trust me, I never forget it.” Victoria laughed again, the blunt line of brown hair above her eyes shaking slightly. “Marc is such the girl in our relationship! I swear he goes all Shakti like this at least once a day.” Her voice teasing. “And anyway I’m the lucky one... Paul you used the perfect word, partnership. You know that’s exactly it. And it’s such a give and take. I mean there are days when I totally play the pessimist, come up with every reason why some idea won’t work. And then Markie talks me down off the ledge. It’s why he definitely leads every idea-mapping session, and I’m just in charge of making sure we don’t run out of beer.” “That’s because it’s the most important detail. You know I can’t be trusted with the things that actually matter.” Marc looked at her with an expression of mock gravity. “Well it seems like all the details are coming together,” said Chilbert. “You guys are really making magic here.” “Seriously Paul, can you stick around? Maybe you could go to our venture pitches instead of me.” Victoria’s smile, infectious, had clearly been a factor in the money meetings. Chilbert wishing he could borrow her when it came time for his own. “See I told you,” Marc said, leaning in and addressing Chilbert in a conspiratorial tone again. “Vic’s the one with the MBA. The real brains behind my questionable brawn.” “Oh right, congratulations!” Chilbert affected a tone of surprise. “Marc mentioned at the conference that you guys just got funded. That’s awesome. I can’t wait until I cross that hurdle myself. You must be really psyched.” “We’re pretty happy,” Victoria said. “I mean we’re still getting up to scale, but things are back on track now that we closed our series-A. Now we can really start recruiting. We kind of had to hold off until we knew the money was a sure thing.” “About that,” Chilbert said, his tone neutral. “How many people are you hoping to sign up initially? It sounds like you’re really gearing up for a big push.” “We’re aiming to have a thousand by the end of this month, then ten-thousand by month three,” said Marc. “Vic consulted really closely with one of her former classmates, another founder. He totally guided us through the whole venture process. We based our staffing models right off his. Come to think of it you should totally meet him. Babe don’t you think Paul should meet Eric?” “That’s a great idea,” Victoria said. “I’ll ping him right now.” She moved to the other side of the closest table, pushing aside a half-eaten bowl of oatmeal. Chilbert noticing for the first time, impressed, how tabs had been built into the table surfaces themselves. Making a mental note not to use his own, which seemed pre-millennial in


this setting. “So listen,” Chilbert turned to Marc, taking advantage of Victoria’s momentary distraction. “I’d love to hear more about how you’re planning to vet potential signups. Didn’t you mention something on the panel yesterday about Facebook profiles?” “Yup,” Marc nodded. “We require Facebook with every registration. The system actually won’t let you submit without it. Our development head—that’s Jason right over there—designed it that way.” He pointed to the end of the room where a kid was looking back and forth between two screens, making slight movements with his head and hands. His twitches somewhere between essential tremor and early-onset Parkinsons. “Very cool,” said Chilbert. Casually continuing his line of questioning. “But how do you know if someone applies with a fake account? I mean, you’ve gotta be expecting some level of spam.” “Oh totally. That’s why Jason put in filters. To separate the wheat from the chaff. You can ask him about the tech yourself if you want,” said Marc, turning to wave him over. “No no,” Chilbert said quickly. “That’s okay. We don’t have to get into the details. I’m just curious, you know, since IdentifID’ll get to that stage eventually.” He checked to make sure Victoria was still busy. “I mean, do you have an idea, just a general sense, of how many signups come in with suspended profiles?” Marc knitted his brow. “I don’t know, maybe ten percent? Vic will know better than I, though.” “What’s that?” Victoria looked up from the table, her face apologetic. “Sorry this is taking so long. I haven’t talked to Eric since we found out we got funded, so he’s a little excited.” “No worries,” said Chilbert, pivoting the conversation back. “Marc just was saying you’d know how many of the registrations that go through Humain’s signup have suspended Facebook accounts.” Victoria sat up straight, tilted her head to one side. “Oh yeah, that was a big deal. Making sure we weeded out all the suspended users on the first pass. When we were first out in beta at least a quarter of the applications we got had junk accounts. Took us a while to figure out how to filter them.” “Really, that many?” Keeping his voice even. “Yeah it was crazy,” Victoria responded. “For at least a week I was up every night with Jason until like six in the morning. Remember, Marc? You started joking that I changed time zones.” “I told her she might as well apply for Chinese citizenship and make it official.” said Marc, nodding. “Wow,” said Chilbert. Unable, for once, to find more words. “That’s just incredible.” “Speaking of incredible, Paul you’ve got to taste the Baba ghannouj we just picked up. It’s from around the corner, this great Egyptian place. They grow the eggplant themselves.” Marc was the most animated he’d been since Chilbert’s arrival. “Oh please, Paul, stay for lunch!” Victoria chimed in. “We’re celebrating the funding. It’d really make our day.” “In fact we won’t take no for an answer.” Marc continued with a tone of highsolemnity. “We even have an important job for you. I mean those bottles of Sancerre


can’t uncork themselves.” “Well, then,” Chilbert matching Marc’s seriousness. “I don’t see how I could turn down that kind of responsibility. Put me to work. And of course my intern’s at your service as well.” Everyone in the office stopped working, the preparation of lunch evidently a wellrehearsed Humain event. Chilbert and Marc moved two of the tables over to a window and then went out to the lot, Rohit following with the dog on a leash. A young-looking guy busied himself over the burners of a white retro stove. Jason, twitching, put together a playlist. Victoria and two other women pulled plates and serving dishes out of cabinets concealed in the walls, while the remaining staffers began assembling a large triptych out of transparent material in between the main room and a smaller lounge area. Marc and Chilbert returned carrying crates and started to unload them, lining up bottles on the table. Max ran through the door, his leash now trailing on the floor behind him, and went straight for his food. Rohit followed a minute later holding a full white bag which a staffer, temporarily abandoning the triptych project, directed him to bring to a compost area in one corner. Finally the group gathered and took seats around the table. Marc and Victoria stood together on one side, glasses in hand. Sigur Ros intoning something Icelandic in the background. “We’ve had so many milestones so far,” Marc began. “From day one till now it’s been quite a journey. And just in case any of us needs reminding we put together this little show. I direct your attention, as usual, to the Wonder Wall.” Everyone looked to the scrim-turned-screen, Humain’s logo illuminated across its three parts. “In the beginning it was just Vic and me,” Marc continued, “hatching this crazy idea at our kitchen table one night. She came up with the big question, the one that brings us all here: ‘What if the world’s most important information work went to the world’s best workers?’” He paused and shrugged his shoulders. Okay, maybe we hadn’t refined it quite that far yet, but you get the idea. I sketched out this”— a high-res picture of scribbles on a white napkin—“gorgeous U-I you see here. Vic immediately recognized that I’d reached the limits of my design ability.” Everyone laughed. “So,” Victoria picked up the thread, “we realized we couldn’t do this alone. You guys have all heard, probably ad nauseam, about my HBS mentor Professor [Haque], who helped us put together our first business plan. Maybe five percent of which actually turned out to be true. We turned our living room into a command center and found a few of you crazy enough to work for free drinks, and our enduring gratitude. Oh and we also took on our first interns, shortly after which Marc and I realized students weren’t actually substitutes for professional developers. J-SON saved our lives when he came on board the next week.” Both Victoria and Marc put their hands together and genuflected to their right where Jason was seated, looking both embarrassed and gratified at the attention. “Thank dog,” Marc continued, “Max also joined us that same week, becoming the official office mascot. We moved on up into our current digs, though they looked a little different at the time.” An image of Humain’s interior, stripes on its walls in a shade of neon green. “I think the previous occupants might have left because of rod-and-cone damage from the decor.” More laughter.


“We rolled out our first test site right after Tim and Huyin joined us.” Victoria gestured to one end of the table. “And we all learned that I’m generally more pleasant to be around when I actually sleep.” “Yeah I’d say that’s true. Also during times of triage we can’t have enough silverneedle tea in stock,” said Marc. “Of course we weren’t complete without Tino, who finally brought our server system out of the dark ages,” Victoria continued. “And shocked and awed with his amazing dance moves,” Marc added. “In all seriousness, Tino single-handedly challenged the entire building to up its game for Beer Fridays.” A recent picture taken in the lounge area of the dark-haired guy who had been by the stove earlier, halfway through executing a mid-air jump. “Which brings us all the way up to the present and the reason we’re celebrating today. As you all know we closed on our first round of funding this week…” Victoria was interrupted by applause from the table. Someone whistled, causing Max to look up from his white dog bowl, expectant. “We never could have imagined that the stuff we scribbled down nine months ago could have turned into this thing we’ve all created together today...” Marc turned to Victoria, overwhelmed. Squeezing his hand, she took up the thread. “What Marc and I are trying to say is that we wouldn’t be here without you guys. And we wouldn’t want to be. You’re the ones who have made this whole experience worth it. We know the team is going to keep growing. In fact it better, if we’re going to meet our first venture targets—” “But we couldn’t ask for a better group of people than the ones seated around this table.” Marc, still close to tears. “You guys are our family. And that includes new friends with us today.” Chilbert smiled, tipping his glass in their direction. “So,” Victoria said, “A toast to the past, present, and future of Humain. Let’s always stay startup-hungry.” “And when hungry take our cues from Max,” said Marc. “Let’s eat!” Glasses clinking together. Marc and Victoria moved from seat to seat, hugging everyone. They met back on the other side and shared a kiss, to which someone whistled accompaniment. Max barked and ran over to the table. Jason turned up the music and Rohit crept over from the corner where he had been waiting out the presentation. For the next hour they ate, passing platters back and forth as pictures looped on the screen behind them. Victoria got up regularly to pour more wine while Marc fed scraps of pita bread to Max under the table when she wasn’t looking. Two of the women read aloud from a list of complaints about the website’s first design. Tino told a curseinflected story to appreciative laughter. Rohit stared longingly in Jason’s direction with no discernible response. One by one people started to drift off, taking their glasses into the lounge area. Max circled the table a few times looking for any last crumbs and then settled down for a nap on his dog bed, disappearing almost completely into the white shag. Someone started popping a bag of popcorn over the stove while Jason switched the screen to a new game of RockBand 6. Chilbert, Marc and Victoria stayed behind at the table, drinking more wine while she told a story about how Humain’s legal counsel, having discovered they were making some of their code available through Creative Commons, threatened to drown himself in


the Charles River. Laughing, they looked over as Jason and another staffer made their way unsteadily through a duet. “Paul, we have to get you an office at Z Funktion,” Marc said next. “Wouldn’t that be great, babe? I mean IdentifID could be right next door. The guys at JustMob really need more room, I mean they’ve really outgrown the space here. It’s gotta be opening up soon.” He ran his hand through Victoria’s hair. “Definitely. Let’s make it happen,” she said, leaning back against Marc’s palm. “Paul you’d love it here. There’s yoga upstairs every morning at seven. And the seminar series is great, they bring in different speakers a few times a week on everything. App development, org strategy, gladvertising; it’s better than B-school. Plus Marc and I can give you all the stuff we still have from refinishing the office.” “You’ll do anything to unload it on someone, won’t you?” Marc accusing her playfully. “You know Paul might not want our sloppy seconds.” “I’d be more than happy with any of your leftovers,” Chilbert said, pausing to let his words sink in. He moved his gaze slowly back and forth from Victoria to Marc. Leaning across the table he took her left hand. “You know you guys are such an inspiration. I really can’t thank you enough for having me over today.” Closing his eyes for a few seconds, as if gratitude had overwhelmed him. “No, we’re the ones who should be thanking you for joining us,” said Victoria. “The celebration wouldn’t have been the same without you. I feel like you’ve been with us for years already.” “Totally,” agreed Marc. He reached across the table to clasp Chilbert’s free hand. “Paul you’re formally a member of the Humain family. Consider yourself adopted. I hope you know that you can always ask us for anything.” “I’m honored,” Chilbert said. “Really, I’m humbled.” [Okay so this final section still needs a lot of work. I mean, even more than the rest of this section. The timing’s off, jokes are off, etc. But I’ll get to it soon!] Time passed, the three of them connected in a triangle over the table. A new song came on behind them, Lourdes Leon’s Help Me. “Actually there is something…” Chilbert trailed off. Victoria had leaned forward to rest her head against her arm. “Of course, anything. Just say the word.” “Are you sure?” He made a face. “I really don’t want to impose.” “Paul it’s no imposition. Seriously there’s nothing you could say that would be too much.” Marc was emphatic now. “Well, okay.” Chilbert drew a deep breath. “Just yesterday I was listening to a meditation podcast. ‘What is inside is out, and what is outside is in.’” [Need a specific reference here, an Oprah-type new agey person. Chilbert’s appealing to the whole Humain philosophy, really selling it. Although it’s as yet unclear what “it” is.] “Mmm,” Victoria murmurred, her eyes unfocused. [More blather from Chilbert.] Then he spoke his next words in a rush, without pausing. “So that’s why I need to buy your Facebook accounts. The suspended user lists we were talking about earlier. I’ll take everything you have cached and we can do the


transfer in real time.” After a few moments Marc laughed, uncertain [about how to respond. Chilbert not looking like he’d just delivered a joke, though.] He turned to Victoria, hoping for a cue, but she [looked equally confused]. He turned to the lounge area, hoping for a distraction, but it was suddenly empty. Everyone had either returned to their seats or disappeared outside. They’d left Lourdes frozen in place, kneeling. Her arm was outstretched in a gesture of supplication, hair coiled in two braids at her ears. The chorus was on. Help me, you’re my only hope I used to think you were so dope Marc laughed again, embarrassed. “When you say the suspended user lists… You mean, the inactive Facebook accounts? Sorry, sometimes I have to have things explained a second time. Like I said, I’m not the brain trust around here.” But when I say that I love you You say ‘I know’ and not ‘me too’ “No that’s exactly what I’m talking about.” Chilbert nodding encouragingly. “It’s really simple, actually. All you guys have to do is pick out the profiles with suspended accounts. We don’t even need anything complicated, code-wise. I can plug right into your backend to make the transfer, especially since you were smart enough to go open source.” He turned to Victoria. “I mean, we might run into a few hiccups around the Facebook A-P-I but I’m sure my intern can work that out quickly.” By now she was sitting up straight, staring back at him, [her expression blank]. The chorus looped again, stuck. The image behind them on the screen stuttered, spectral. Help me, you’re my only hope — Chilbert sat, looking at Marc and Victoria hopefully. “I guess it shouldn’t be too hard, then, especially if you’re saying Jason won’t have to do any new programming,” Victoria finally responded, [her tone uncertain]. Marc followed quickly, more affirmative. “Totally, yeah, we can have him pull everything together when he gets back.” [She resists for a second while Marc, always wanting to be the good guy, assures Chilbert it’ll happen.] “That’s just... you guys are just so amazing,” Chilbert reached for the wine bottle next to his plate and refilled their glasses. Released from her position, Lourdes stood up once again, gyrating her hips from side to side and bending forward as she sang, All I know is you and me Are rebels fighting to be free—


“I want to propose a new toast!” Chilbert stood up suddenly, lifting his glass above his head. Marc and Victoria rose to their feat, a little unsteady, and raised their glasses to meet Paul’s. “To [something. Chilbert’s insincere toast.] He gulped what was left in his glass while Victoria and Marc slowly took sips, [still unsure of what had happened]. Paul’s looked at his wrist as though to a watch, which he hadn’t worn in years. Since before the tab, at least. “Oh shoot, you know what, I gotta get going. I have another meeting at four and I can’t be late. If it’s okay I’ll have my intern stay behind to qwerty the details with Jason.” Moving toward the door already. “Oh wait,” Victoria said, trying to catch up. “Don’t take off yet! We still have to have dessert. Marc made the most amazing tres leches pops last night, you have to try one.” “Seriously, don’t go. We just got [another game here]. Stay and play a few rounds.” Marc looked close to tears again. As if sensing his disappointment Max came over from the corner, licking his hand a few times. “I wish I could but my schedule’s so tight, I’m just in town for a few days. I’m sorry to run, guys, really. Oh great, there you are.” Paul backed his arms into the coat Rohit was holding up. “We’ll have to do this again, soon.” He hugged Marc and then Victoria, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Oh and thanks so much for connecting me and Eric. Tell him I’ll follow up right away.”


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