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In the interest of investigative reporting I undertook this mission, now that's how much I care about this place...

My visit to Fool HQ Part I

By xerohype

I am posting this first part of my story in the "Improve the Fool" board in order to highlight the human side of the organization, but first things first, since TMFBogey laid down the law I must make some suggestions for improvement of the Fool:

<suggestions to avoid post being pulled>
1.Make the board changes discussed earlier as quickly as possible, or as I told Bogey myself, give yourself a ridiculously long deadline and then institute the changes quickly so as to exceed expectations. The rec limits clearly should go, too many people who care about this place are upset about that, and the crown system needs to be changed in order to not punish people who post frequently.

2.It's almost too easy to bring up giving us back unlimited searches, resurrecting closed message boards, but I'll make the case that TMF should be all about research and learning and what better way to learn than to look back at what we did right or wrong.

3. Give us the ability to post graphics into posts. As more people become interested in TA and other investment methods using charts, this becomes an important request.

4. One thing worries me about TMF, and that is the ability to attract new membership and keep the conversations fresh. To this purpose I propose that trial members be allowed to post for a limited amount of time, maybe ten days, so they can try things out, or maybe give them 10 trial posts, enough to whet their appetites.
<end of suggestions>

OK, this post is not really about making suggestions, but more about describing my experience meeting the people at Fool HQ. This all started 2 years ago with an invitation from TMFKGOMalley, one of the customer service Fools, we had just finished an exhilirating and tiring TMF seminar and we were sharing notes when I told him that my brother lives near D.C., and wouldn't it be cool if I came to visit. Keith and I have kept up our e-mail chats over the last two years, and I consider him a friend even though I've never met him face to face, until now. Fast forward 2 years, and a few seminars later, my brother is now married and last December had a baby daughter. I just couldn't miss the chance to visit my new niece, so during this trip I arranged to visit her and made some time for the sidetrip to TMF HQ.

TMF HQ is in Old Towne Alexandria, a very picturesque place, in a nice neighborhood full of antique shops and quaint restaurants. The buidling is nothing special, just a brick 5 or 6 story building that blends into the neighborhood. No big signs proclaiming Fool.com, no marble foyer, just an office building. In the lobby there was a building directory that lists in small white letters:
The Motley Fool
FoolMart
4th Floor

What???? No jester decorations or big gaudy signs. I was expecting something a bit different, but I soldier on, going up to the 4th floor. My better half tags along thinking she is going to be bored out of her skull. We arrived to the door of TMF HQ, the glass next to the door was frosted over and a sign directed me to use a small phone and ring the receptionist. I did as instructed, and at this point my mind was full of images of a small office with one computer and a single secretary answering all calls. Was the Fool a sham organization? Were they actually based in India or Bangladesh or Mexico, running everything with sweatshop laborers like so many modern corporate call centers? My mind screamed: say it ain't so!

I was relieved to see the office manager come and greet us (prototypical dotcom dress, black t-shirt and shorts, pony tail) and he went in and got Keith for us. Keith greeted us warmly and we entered the inner sanctum of the Fool. To the left of us as we entered was the techie section, now I see why the glass was frosted and the windows were covered, of course, these people hadn't seen sunlight in years. Even small amounts of UV radiation might have caused irreperable damage to their sensitive eyes and skins. Somewhere I think I saw feeding tubes connected to these people. Hmmmm….I commented to Keith, "It certainly seems dark in here", he replies, "I think the techies try to avoid the glare on their computer screens". I asked whether I could meet one of the techies, but I think my request was dismissed with "You probably don't know any of these people". I guess one of these days I should form a group dedicated to improving the work environment standards of techies, but I'll leave that to another day.

Once we stepped out of the techie area we reached the writer's area. It was much sunnier there, the same cubicles and glaring CRTs, but somehow things were brighter. There I met TMFBogey, TMFOrangeblood (Rex) and TMFSelena. Now I just can't understand why there's so much mud slung towards Bogey, just because he's 8 feet tall and has two heads shouldn't scare any of you – just kidding- Bogey/David is just a regular guy, he really doesn't seem to take personally many of those complaints here at ITF. We had a short discussion about rec limits and crown posting changes, and he assured me that the promised changes were underway. Of course he didn't tell me when the changes would be instituted, but what's new?

Selena and Rex struck me as very cerebral, we didn't get a chance to talk much. I get the impression that Selena is the quiet kid who is really scary smart and always turns in her homework early. I also met Bill Mann, TMF Otter, he was fun to meet, had the look of an older fraternity party guy, but he really has a good head on his shoulder. Of course everybody is dressed to work in shorts and polo shirts. Very casual and dot com-ish, but also very relaxing. Many of the people working at TMF HQ took big pay cuts to work there and after having survived the contraction in the company from 400 or so employees to 70something appear very relaxed.

To the right of me, continuing my tour, was a whole section that seems to be dedicated to customer service, and beyond that is the management section where Tom and David have their desks and the Fool CEO also resides. Interestingly enough, no one has an office, but there is a conference room for meetings at the far end of the room. The whole Fool HQ has a very calming and soothing atmosphere to it. Mostly you here the buzz of computers and the tap of keyboards. I met up at the customer service section with Betsy Frost, the seminar goddess/czar.

I had suggested earlier last month to her that we should have a seminar on "when to sell", and it seems that it is coming to fruition. I did tell her that the seminar is about 2 years too late, but at least TMF is now paying more attention to valuation and selling. Who knows? Could technical analysis be next? (more on this later)

After a little more chat with Keith we went back to the management section and out of nowhere the two Gardner brothers popped up. Both of them were cool and polished and suprisingly warm. We took some pictures, and some gifts appeared –2 Foolcaps and a signed copy of The Motley Fool Investing Guide and a sticker. We all shook hands and talked for about 2-3 minutes before the two of them had to zip away to tape their radio show. I thought it was fortunate that we got to see them at all.

Overall, a nice little tour, we talked with people about the future of the Fool and how to make things better, dotcoms in general and how hard it had been to see people laid off, and the new hope now that things had stabilized and some new growth emerging.

Part II will be posted in the Kua`aina Partners Board:
http://boards.fool.com/Messages.asp?bid=110654



Upcoming in Part II:

My lunch with TMF staff and the URL for a few pictures.

Thanks for putting up with my long rambling story, and I hope you'll join me for Part II.

-xerohype

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