Yes, Cuil is pants. Though its founders insist they're building a Google killer, the results turned up by this new-age search engine are even more ridiculous than its name. Which is still pronounced "Cool."
But there's reason to forgive the company's epic ineptitude. Cuil is the helpless victim of outlandish Silicon Valley social norms that force net startups into wasting their venture capital on strawberries and muffins while giving employees free rein to work as little as they like.
Ireland-based Sunday Times columnist Sarah Carey is an old college friend of Cuil CEO Tom Costello, and the Palo Alto, California-based startup recently hired her as its "Strategist to the CEO" - even though she sees Silicon Valley as some sort of Stepford Wives-like alternate universe.
The strategic mother of two describes her first descent into the Valley's heart of darkness in a recent column posted to her personal website. "I stay in a hotel in Palo Alto and walk around to the office each morning, slowly adjusting to the fact that I am supposed to smile and greet fellow pedestrians and joggers," she writes. "The tree-lined streets are perfumed with flowers and weirdly quiet. They have so much space here that buildings are low rise, mostly only two-storey and the noise of their huge cars is lost into the atmosphere."
At one point, she even suspected that much of Palo Alto's native population had been kidnapped and sent north in boxes. "The serenity is catching – I become conscious of my foot fall. People speak quietly, even the children. It’s beautiful, but surreal. You can’t help wondering if all the loud, crazy people have been rounded up and shipped into San Francisco."
But what amazed her most was the way Tom Costello and the Cuil kids spent their $33 million in venture capital. "Lunch is ordered in every single day," she writes. "Huge fridges burst with snacks and drinks. Bowls of strawberries and muffins lie around the rest area.
"The company pays for a personal trainer and gym membership for everyone. A doctor calls round each Friday, after the weekly barbeque, to see if everyone’s in good health. Employees drift in an out at times that suit themselves."
In an attempt to earn her keep as Strategist to the CEO, she warned her college classmate that he was heading down the road to ruin. But he explained that in the Valley, that path is unavoidable.
"When I observed this [strawberry and muffin] behaviour first I was appalled and took my CEO friend aside," Carey says. "This was disastrous! His company would never succeed if he wasted money like this and didn’t crack the whip. He laughed. This is the way it works out here. You have to be nice to people."
And in the end, even Sarah Carey was sucked into the Valley's swirling vortex of profligacy. "Well, if that was the case, he could be nice to me," she says. "I wasn’t going to fly home in the back of the plane. I summoned up the audacity to ask for business class travel and was granted it without hesitation. Knowing the cost of the ticket was over €2000, which is about $5 million given the current exchange rate, I had to walk around for 15 minutes afterwards chanting 'I’m worth it. I’m worth it. I’m worth it.'"
Yes, she convinced herself. When you're in the Valley, you can't help but give in. So forgive Cuil for launching a shite search engine. And forgive them for calling it Cuil. ®