It all started with a bunch of guys making fun of things. In the way guys do.
This time the object of derision was a catalog of motivational knickknacks and "go get 'em" posters. And the guys wielding the verbal machetes were the most jaded people of all: three tech workers at the end of the dot-com boom.
"We had dreams of financial windfall," says Lawrence Kersten, one member of the trio. "One day it become very clear that would not happen."
Around the time of this painful realization, a motivational catalog arrived in the mail, with posters touting excellence and teamwork.
"We spontaneously started to parody it," Kersten says. The three replaced a poster touting "Quality" with one that read "Mediocrity: It takes a lot less time and most people won't notice the difference until it's too late." Next came snarky sayings for "Failure" and then "Agony."
Now, more than five years later, these three tech workers are sending out catalogs of their own. But instead of workplace decorations encouraging excellence or success, the boys of Despair Inc. have posters such as "Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others." Or "Procrastination: Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now."
The company, based in Austin, Texas, expects to rake in close to $4 million annually for its "demotivators," office supplies and posters.
On the Despair Web site (www.despair.com), information about the company is listed under "corporate spin," and the company's catalog notes that "operators are waiting to take your money."
Even Kersten joins the act as his evil alter ego, E.L. Kersten -- the founder and chief operating officer of Despair Inc. who once fired 243 "of the littlest people" after a record sales day at the company.
The move was jokingly made to combat "exploding profits" in the three-person company and to continue the shtick that started when three co-workers decided to share their sick-puppy sense of humor with the rest of the world.
"Twenty years ago, I have to believe people stuck in bureaucracy would have felt the same way" as today's jaded workers, Kersten says. "The difference is that they didn't have the motivational posters to provide a context for the humor."