Few start-ups encapsulate the desperate utopianism of the times so much as Fon Technology.
Created by the Argentinian dot.com billionaire Martin Varsavsky, who built and sold the Spanish portal Ya.com and ISP Jazztel before the bubble burst, at the heart of Fon is a soulful of hope.
Fon sets out to create a virtual ‘roaming’ network based around individual subscribers (and friendly ISPs) opening up their Wi-Fi networks to strangers. It requires special software, which only works with a couple of modems at the moment, but Fon is betting that for participants, the rewards outweigh the pain and the risks. Honoring the dot.com tradition, Fon will be buying $50 Linksys routers, and selling them to members for $25, reported Fortune magazine.
Last week Fon announced it had raised $21.7 million from Google, eBay (via Skype) and Sequoia Capital.
With a traditional business, an advisory function should be bold enough to bring the executives the bad news, which is often painful, and ensure executive decisions are made with due diligence. Can a board comprised of happy-clappy, true believers perform this role? Hardly. Utopian faith will trump rational decision-making at every opportunity.
The real role of Fon’s “advisory board” is really that of public relations operatives. In today’s Observer, John Naughton points out several of the deep flaws in the thinking behind Fon, and reminds us how a private bathroom-sharing start-up (“Pee.com”) would fare. We need only note that none of these issues were raised by Fon’s own “advisory board”.
And this is how business is conducted today. For, by and amongst true believers.