I guess that in every parents mind, their child is always a genius. The child may actually be the stupidest person on the face of the planet – however, for the parents, the child is a genius. I think this way of thinking is somewhat a constant across the universe, however, in Israel – adding the “Polish Mom” syndrome into the equation and you get a highly intense environment believing that what ever the child says, be it as moronic as a toon, is considered sheer genius.

Now, why am I ranting about this? well, in the course of my work, I meet with various people. At least once a month, I get to meet with “The next big thing” in telephony, or so it claims to be. A few weeks ago, I’ve received a phone call from a prospective customer, telling me he came up with a wonderful business model for VoIP services and he’s going to kick Vonage’s ass out of the water. While I admit that I like people that talk like that, I must also admit that the extremely young voice behind the phone got me wondering. I politely asked for the persons age, shortly to get an answer saying: “Oh, I’m 18 – my dad is the prime investor!”. I asked the kid to put his “prime investor” on the line, as I would like to talk to him…

Now, my cynic reactions are well known to people who know me well, but when it comes to customers and people I work with – I do my best to tone that down (not everybody has my sense of humor or share my views on things – you know). So, the father comes to the phone and we start talking. The following is more of less what was said:

Me: Hello Sir, may I inquire what school does your son attends to? does he study computer science?

Dad: Listen, I’m telling you, my son is a genius – he’s been using a computer since he was 10.

Me: Well, I admit that after talking to your son I’m impressed, however, you hadn’t answered my question.

Dad: Well, he doesn’t study computer science. He studies automatic services but he’s a computer genius I tell you. I’m willing to invest any funds in needs in building this service, even 2500$.

At this point in time, I had to explain to the “prime investor” that the initial investment is well beyond the 2500$ mark and that 2500$ won’t even cover the monthly operational costs for the service the “genius” intends to build. That sentence was slightly interrupted by the sounds of various loud slaps coming from the other side of the phone. However, as I do believe that computer geniuses come in various shapes and sizes, I’ve commented to the man saying: “You know, your son interests me and I’d like to meet him. I always wanted to take an intern to train and your son may fit the profile – I’d like to meet you and your son”.

A week later, we met at a coffee shop in Tel-Aviv. I sat down with the father and the son – asking the son to tell me his expereince and show me his work. The son begins telling me that he’s been using computers since he was 10 and that every year his father bought him a new computer, because the old one wasn’t enough for his needs. I asked what were his needs, he said that the recent games were no longer running smoothly on his computer and that Windows had become sluggish. I then asked him to show me his work – the kid replied that he has one of the best web sites available on the net. This interested me, so I looked deep – trying to find the genius within – guess what, I didn’t! The kid showed me a web site that was built using a free web site engine template, using an israeli service called tipo.co.il – lets put it this way, my 9 year old niece has a website in tipo.co.il that looks better and is more functional. I asked the kid if he has any experience with any type of computer programming language, to which he replied: “programming languages are in English and English isn’t really my strong point”. At this point he started telling me about his adventures into the VoIP world using Skype, and that he tried installing Linux on his Windows XP machine, but he couldn’t as it was incompatible with his Windows installation, which is 64bit (how stupid can you get), and that he downloaded Asterisk from the Internet, but couldn’t install it because he didn’t find the setup.exe file. At this point I bid my farewell from the two, explaining to the father that while his son may seem like a computer genius to him, the fact is that he’s far from it.

So, what conclusions had we come to:

1. The “Polish Mom” syndrome had been replaced by the “Greedy Father” syndrome.
2. Genius is a relative term that is thrown in the air all too often.
3. There are no free lunches (well, apart from those I take people to).
4. Before you go about investing in your child’s ideas, make sure that he is what you think he is.
5. If you have a dream of making it big, especially in VoIP – make sure you are ready to invest big.

* This post was translated from a hebrew post of mine on the cafe.themarker.com website.