For those who have spent the last month or so wondering why exactly Google decided to purchase Softcard, there’s some good news and some bad news. The bad news: you will probably never know. The good news: you understand it about as well as Google’s upper management does.
Recently leaked emails from a former Google employee indicate that Google never actually planned to purchase Softcard and that the entire deal seems to have come about as a result of a chance encounter between Google’s payments team and a “yurt’s worth of telecom executives,” at Burning Man in 2014.
For those unfamiliar, Burning Man is a weeklong celebration of iconoclasm, entrepreneurship, free love, sustainable living, performance art, public nudity and hallucinogenic drugs that is incredibly popular among cosplayers, hippies, steampunks and Silicon Valley types. Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, famously dreamed up the Solar City at a Burning Man in 2011.
According to the leaked emails, Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin ordered Google’s 11th instantiation of the mobile payments team to attend Burning Man and “broaden your thus-far useless minds by whatever means necessary and come back with a mobile product that is not a punchline."
Both Page and Brin have been Burning Man regulars over the last decade, and industry watchers report that sending Googlers with mental blocks to Burning Man is a fairly standard corporate policy.
"Yeah I mean it’s weird, but I used to work at Apple under Steve Jobs when he was sending people to the Ashram of Infinite Self Recrimination, whatever that was. So you know being sent to Burning Man didn’t seem so bad,” one junior executive who asked to remain nameless told PYMNTS. “Mostly it was fine, I got to ride a bicycle made entirely out of tuba parts. I didn’t have to wear pants, which was an improvement over working on the Google campus. Then the guy in the pink T-shirt arrived – then things started to get, I don’t know, something not right happened. It’s hazy, man."
The leaked emails indicate that the “guy in the pink T-shirt” may have been John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, though there is no official confirmation of that.
What the emails note, and our source has confirmed, is that after hanging around the Google biodome for a few days, the “guy in the pink T-shirt” invited the entire Google payments team back to the yurt to “binge watch some Netflix on our totally awesome 4G LTE service."
"You know, we probably should have been a little suspicious about how totally unconcerned they were about using data – who goes to Burning Man to watch the entire second season of “House of Cards?” But he kept going on and on about how they had this totally sweet custom-built Muppet named Tappy. And you know, honestly, after a week of self expression and performance art with a bunch of weirdos in the desert – I gotta be honest, wearing pants and watching Netflix in an air conditioned yurt sounded pretty good."
What happened next is something of a mystery. The leaked emails indicate that the payments team went to the yurt, made tacos and then went to watch the titular man burn on Saturday evening. The emails further reflect that the Google execs and their new friends returned to the telecom yurt around 2 a.m. and that the group drank mobile-payments laced Kool Aid until everyone blacked out. PYMNTS’ source, on the other hand, indicates that he remembers nothing after arriving at the yurt and does not think he got to see the eponymous Burning Man.
What both do remember is that the following morning, the Google team found itself alone in a yurt with an agreement to purchase Softcard from the telecoms for $55 million sitting in front of them. Signed. By all necessary parties. And notorized. With a picture of all necessary parties signing. They were also disturbed to note that they were all wearing pink T-shirts in the photo – though none of the Google payments team had worn a pink T-shirt the night before, or were wearing one when they woke up.
"At first we were really worried – what else did we not remember that they had pictures of us doing? And then we were pretty sure we were all about to be fired. And we probably would have been, except that we only spent like $55 million – so it was hard for anyone to get that mad – we basically lost a whole 15 minutes worth of ad revenue for the firm. I mean, the Tappy tattoo is permanent, and I wish that hadn’t happened – but other than that, it wasn’t that big a deal."
Our source indicates that Google then negotiated with Softcard to table disclosure of the deal until early 2015, concerned that announcing the deal in such close proximity to Burning Man might raise suspicions.
Google has officially denied that its decision to buy Softcard was in any way related to anything that happened at Burning Man. Their spokesman tried to go on to say something about Softcard being an important strategic decision, but unfortunately burst out laughing in the middle of his statement, and was unable to gain control of himself.