Every so often, a rumor that at first blush seems meager, malnourished and
a little, well, skinny,
turns out to be pregnant with possibilities
and sequels. Take last week's unverifiable tale
of serial Net
entrepreneur Jim Clark's
$52 million Woodside estate--it just had
First off we have more details of the transaction. Skinformants say the
former estate of Bank of America heiress Claire Giannini Hoffman
went on the market for $35 million and got jacked up to its astronomical
sale price at auction. Rumor has it that participants in that bidding war
included Intel legend Gordon Moore and Oracle's Larry Ellison.
Ellison already has a Woodside crash pad, valued around $70 million to $80
million, but that property is woefully exposed to passersby. "You could
drive right up to it and throw rocks through his window," said our
Skinformant, who wasn't necessarily suggesting an activity for Bill
Gates on his next trip to San Mateo County.
Clark's new joint, by contrast, is prized for being quiet and
secluded--apart from the camera-equipped helicopters now a regular fixture
in the skies above Woodside. Real estate types consider it a prime spot,
even though it's only 8 acres (it shrank by 4 acres since my last column)
and even though the house on it burned down several years ago. Until he
builds his dream house, Clark apparently will be living in a ramshackle barn.
Speaking of the homeless, our second Clark rumor concerns his investment in
ill-fated teen site Kibu.com. It's no secret to newshounds that,
upon closing, Kibu returned
leftover funds to investors, giving their respective home down-payment
collections badly needed infusions. But now the staffers who were Kibooted
out of their jobs are grousing that the fledgling start-up not only didn't
run out of money before getting stuffed and trussed by its investors, but
it wasn't even close!
"Five months is an awfully short time to ask a Web site to prove itself,"
said one disgruntled former Kibuster. "It had nothing to do with Kibu but
with the main investors."
Rumor has it that Clark and Kleiner Perkins VC Tom Jermoluk pulled
the plug on Kibu over the objections of fellow board members (which, in the
interest of full disclosure, include CNET Networks CEO Shelby
Bonnie, whom the Rumor Mill could not reach for comment. Jermoluk also
couldn't be reached for comment).
The usually elusive Clark provided this response through a representative:
"The management and investors considered the options in light of the lack
of success of the site thus far, plus the lack of interest in B2C companies
with advertising-based business models. Their conclusion was that even if
the company could achieve significant market penetration, it would not be
valued appropriately. Thus the best interests of all were served by
shutting the company down."
"Well, it is their money," I pointed out as the Rumor Mill staff hashed
over the affair.
"It's irresponsible to the employees," said Ammonia Blossom, my
12-year-old son Vermel's perspicacious paramour. "It's not taking
people's lives seriously. It's boys playing with their money."
"Come now, Ammonia," I replied. "Surely you can't reduce this hard-nosed
business decision to a skirmish in the battle of the sexes."
"Oh, can't I?" Ammonia demanded. "Think about it, Skinny. Site aimed at
girls. CEO's a woman. Two big-shot male investors get cold feet. Do you
think they would have cut her off at the knees, with half the cash still in
the bank, if one of their yachting buddies' careers had been on the line?"
Methought the lady did protest too much. But the next day a call came from
a trusted Skinformant recalling Clark's appearance, some years back, at a
local forum for executive women in technology. In his keynote speech,
Clark told his Netscape war stories, richly peopled with male
entrepreneurs, male venture capitalists, male executives and male engineers.
"Where were the women?" an audience member wanted to know.
Clark then proceeded to barricade himself into a feminist doghouse, first
by claiming women didn't tend to go into engineering because they were too
smart to spend nights under a start-up desk; then saying Netscape did have
a woman engineer--who married another engineer at the company and had to
leave as a result; and finally by citing women in powerful positions at
Netscape: the head of PR and the corporate secretary.
Clark didn't stay for the panel discussion afterward, in which the female
executives "ripped him a new one," our Skinformant colorfully recalled.
Famed former Cisco engineer and executive Judy Estrin summed up the crowd's
feeling as she called Clark a perfect example of a guy who "just doesn't
Does this last item count as a quadruplet? Kibu's pain is being felt across
industries! Local fashion house Levi Strauss--News.com's present
landlord, by the way--is using Kibu's staff as its premier "role models" in its marketing campaign for its
Slates brand. But on second thought, maybe this is a lucky break for
Levi's--in the future of the New Economy, our role models are bound to be
Unless my investors get cold feet, I'll still be employed next week and anxiously awaiting your rumors.