Excerpt from “Liespotting” by Pamela Meyer, Copyright 2010, reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC
Chapter One: The Deception Epidemic
Steve Marks, a venture capitalist in Northern California, was feeling great as he walked into the CEO’s office. It was the fall of 2005, and he had arranged to visit a young computer animation company to determine whether it would be worth an investment. It looked like a good fit already. The company, located in San Francisco’s funky South-of-Market neighborhood, seemed abuzz with busy, hipply dressed young animators working furiously at their desks and striding purposefully down the long, open workspace.
Marks was delighted by the employees’ energy and the productive vibe of the place. This was exactly what he’d hoped to find when he’d set up the visit. He already knew that the company had reduced production costs by 40 percent of the industry average. Much of its labor was being outsourced to Asia, giving the company an excellent shot at dominating their market in the next few years. The numbers looked good—now all he had to do was confirm that the CEO had enough vision to make the company a safe and worthwhile investment.
The CEO didn’t waste time with a formal presentation. Instead, he walked Marks around the floor, pointing out various aspects of the work and answering Marks’s questions with ease. Marks noticed that he spoke rapidly, his words sometimes jumbling together, but that otherwise he seemed confident and calm. He was clearly proud of what the company had achieved in a short amount of time, and Marks could see why. After the tour, he thanked the CEO for his time and headed for the elevators. He was almost certain he’d return to his office with good news.
On his way out, he passed the workstation of a young woman dressed entirely in black. Her leather vest and pierced nose suggested that she’d rather be clubbing than sitting in a cubicle—but then, this was supposed to be a hip young company.
Marks paused, watching the woman while she stared intently at her computer monitor. Then he walked over and introduced himself.
“What are you working on this morning?” he asked casually.
The young woman met his eyes with a direct gaze of her own. “What am I working on? Oh, just software stuff,” she replied.
They exchanged a few minutes of innocuous conversation, and then Marks walked away. The jig was up. He knew he wouldn’t be investing in this company after all.
Marks headed straight back to the CEO’s office with a new set of questions. It didn’t take him long to confirm that the young woman, along with many of the other “employees” at the company, was, in fact, an actor. She’d been hired for the site visit just to make the place look busy and thriving—the opposite of what was really going on. In fact, the company was near bankruptcy, and he had caught the actors red-handed, pocketing salaries meant for a staff that didn’t exist. More important, he had avoided a very bad investment.
Pamela Meyer is founder and CEO of Simpatico Networks, a leading private-label social networking company that owns and operates online social networks. She holds an MBA from Harvard, an MA in Public Policy from Claremont Graduate School, and is a Certified Fraud Examiner. For more information, visit www.liespotting.com.