The Reappearance of ROI

A startling discovery has the Valley's best and brightest scratching their heads

Digital Lifestyle intercepts suppressed news accounts of the "discovery" of return on investment, an ancient method for calculating the actual financial benefits of buying new and improved technology.

Silicon Valley, May 1, 2001--Local officials today announced a bizarre discovery: While excavating beneath a dot-com office building that had been demolished to make room for a new, solar-powered state unemployment office, workers came across a rectangular granite stone with the letters "ROI" carved into it. A strange, sticky red goo appears to be obscuring additional writing on the stone. "It must have meant something significant to a previous culture," hypothesized L. Winthrop "Iowa" Jones, an amateur archaeologist who has been retained to study the rock. "Nobody around here is familiar with the meaning of this carving," Jones says. "It's a real mystery."

Silicon Valley, June 1, 2001--At the ROI Clearinghouse that has been set up in Cupertino, Calif., volunteers have handled hundreds of tips about who or what ROI might be. "We don't want to jump to any hasty conclusions about ROI," explains project leader L.W. "Iowa" Jones. "We have ruled out a connection to that Las Vegas guy in the tight pants who works with tigers. Otherwise, our visibility on this term remains very limited."

Silicon Valley, June 15, 2001--Field archaeologists painstakingly prying the mysterious red goo from the ROI stone report that the three words "Return on Investment" are now evident. Project ROI Executive Director L. W. Jones says forensic computer investigators and linguists are trying to unravel this intriguing phrase.

Silicon Valley, July 1, 2001--Shaggy-eyebrowed Wall Street veteran Hugh "Mac" Tasseloafer III, who retired to Carmel, Calif., in the 1980s, today issued a statement purporting to solve the ROI cornerstone mystery. Tasseloafer says "Return on Investment," or ROI (Ar-Oh-Eye), means calculating the payback buyers will get over time from technology that makes them more efficient and productive. Growled Tasseloafer: "Anybody around here ever show up for accounting class? It's not unlike the case that more efficient smelter sellers made to the old steel barons."

Valley insiders initially bristled at the Old Economy slight, but they've been warming to Tasseloafer's concept. "It's intriguing to use numbers to justify a buying decision," says networking exec Rich Router. He says until recently it was "enough to act impatient and say: `Look, either you buy this or you might not exist in five years."'

Silicon Valley, Aug. 1, 2001--In a Valley desperate for optimism, ROI has become a beacon of hope, inspiring an almost cult-like devotion. "Got ROI?" is showing up on T-shirts and billboards. Entrepreneurs and sales reps now promise ROI to customers with the same zeal they used in the late 1990s to talk about "stickiness." Still, skeptics exist. Gripes one former online pet-shop executive: "Nowhere in the equation does there seem to be a place to input the `cool' factor. I did see a Web-based ROI calculator that was kind of neat, though."

Silicon Valley, Sept. 1, 2001--The ROI Entrepreneurs Assn. today announced that the red goo on the ROI cornerstone has been carbon-dated to the 1970s. It's now believed to be congealed lava from an original lava lamp, not one of the knock-offs that began appearing in dot-com cubicles in 1998. "The idea that as far back as the 1970s, Valley business people understood a concept this revolutionary is just mind-boggling," noted venture capitalist T. Old Boysklub, who urges anybody with an ROI business plan to give him a call. "I'm sitting on a billion-dollar fund," he adds, "and this is the kind of breakthrough thinking I've been waiting for."

By Joan O'C. Hamilton

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