Picture yourself trying to say "path to profitability" three times, fast, with a straight face. How about groveling for a few more million from stony-faced suits to keep your company afloat? Post-dot-com downturn, it's got to be humiliating being any kind of Web CEO.
But there may be no dot-com CEO role with as much potential for embarrassment as that of Liz Kalodner, CEO of SocialNet.com, a dating and relating site. Because right now, Kalodner is being offered up as the "prize" in a SocialNet.com contest called "Win a date with our CEO and make her mother happy."
"It's the perfect marriage of my personal needs and the company's goals," says Kalodner gamely. "I'm looking for a husband -- go ahead and print that in bold. I'm 39, and my mother wants grandchildren," she says, goading me on: "You can't ask me embarrassing questions. This is what I do for a living."
Kalodner, one of those busy, busy, busy Silicon Valley CEOs, "hasn't been out much lately," the site informs us. "This has the staff concerned, and her mother downright worried." (Hmm, have you ever fretted about your CEO's love life?)
So the company devised a contest to hook up Kalodner with four dates in four time zones, and also to seek to prove the effectiveness of SocialNet's "matching technology." You can't accuse Kalodner of not "eating her own dog food," as the saying goes.
To enter, men between the ages of 30 and 50 in the United States fill out a profile on the site describing who they are and what they're looking for, and then -- holy virtual yenta! -- the site's system determines whether they might be a good match for Kalodner, based on the profile she filled out. If the system determines the guy's a potential match, the would-be Romeo sends an e-mail to Kalodner explaining why he should be chosen to be her date. On Oct. 16, 12 finalists selected by Kalodner, her staff and -- yes -- her mother will be posted on the site, and SocialNet members will vote on whom she should actually go out with.
Since the contest launched Sept. 14, more than 100 men whose profiles "match" Kalodner's have sent her e-mails, as have 200 rejected by the profiling system but begging to get into the running anyway.
Here's what one of Kalodner's vying suitors wrote to make his case: "Your picture and profile are too good to be true. With that great smile and your background, the contest could be as competitive as the Olympics. I am ready to compete to win your love." One mother wrote in to recommend her son, who is a top dog at Universal, asserting that he would think she was nuts, but that the two have a lot in common.
Maybe the ego gratification of having all these guys pleading to go out with you outweighs the mortification of having your own mother opining on the Web site you run about why you haven't yet found a mate.
"Look, Liz is a good catch. She's smart. She doesn't need anybody with money," Kalodner's mother, Debra, encourages suitors. "You don't have to be rich because she's self-supporting. She has a good sense of humor because you can't get through life if you can't laugh. And she doesn't have much of a temper." Debra Kalodner is reputedly already shopping for her mother-of-the-bride dress in anticipation of the contest's happy outcome.
Maybe Mama Kalodner and the mother of that Universal muckety-muck could just meet -- perhaps in a chat room -- and do the deal on behalf of their respective offspring, and the enterprising kids wouldn't have to be bothered with wasting time on dating first.
The SocialNet CEO does insinuate that she fully grasps the inherent weirdness of her situation. At the top of her profile, she writes: "I bet the CEO of Amazon never had to do this." And in her profile, where we learn about everything from her worst date ever ("the man who rearranged my furniture and rifled through all my mail, all within the first 15 minutes of our meeting") to her aspirations for the ideal family life ("a family that doesn't appear on 'Cops' or 'Jerry Springer'"), we also learn: "My staff and my mother have conspired to turn my personal life into a promotional event."
Maybe the CEO-as-date promotional event had to happen given all the hoopla about dot-com gold diggers and hot Silicon Valley bachelors. Besides, CEOs are already expected to give up every minute of their personal lives -- why not make their quests for romance feed into the bottom line too?