Saturday, May 11, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Missed Opportunity of Getting Rich

The Original Story:
When Fu Ping was graduating from UCSD, she decided to leave her job with Lane Sharman and pursue opportunities in big cooperation. On Pages 69-70 of Bend, Not Break, she recalled:
Lane did everything he could to talk me out of my decision, including warning me that big companies aren't nearly as interesting places to work as start-ups. When I refused to reconsider, he said, "If you stay, I'll give you 5 percent of the company." I had no idea what a generous offer this was. Above all, given how hard I had worked to put myself through school, I felt I simply couldn't refuse the Bell Labs opportunity because it had offered to pay for my PhD. Lane and I parted on the best of terms. 
Six months later, Lane called. He had sold his company to AT&T, the parent company of Bell Labs. I finally understood what 5 percent meant: millions.
The Earlier Story:
In Drifting Bottle, however, Fu Ping said Lane Sharman's offer was five percent of the company's profit. (P. 80)

The Debunking:
If 5 percent meant millions, the simple math tells us that Lane Sharman's company was sold for at least 40 millions.

Shockingly, that was news to Lane Sharman himself. In an email to Albert Wang, he stated:
Factually, I did not sell Resource System Group and earn millions! I wish! 
I sold and licensed software and made some very modest income from my work as a software engineer.
Lane Sharman's version is more credible with Fu Ping's own description of the job and company in her book. It is impossible to believe that his company could be worth tens of millions. In comparison, decades later, Fu Ping's own and much celebrated company, Geomagic, was reportedly sold for $55 millions.

If Lane Sharman were already selling his company or at least had that intention at the time, it would make no business sense to pay such a hefty price to retain an employee. Non-business considerations might have played a role. But the more reasonable explanation is that the five-percent was not worth that much.

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