Time is all but up for Airship Ventures, and my heart is sinking like a lead zeppelin.
I've bonded with the company's blimp-like flying machine in the four-plus years that it's been silently drifting above Silicon Valley. Ironically, the airborne attraction seemed the perfect landmark for this place, which is sorely lacking in terrestrial, postcard-worthy icons. Like the valley, the German-made zeppelin was creative, innovative, somewhat outlandish. It required a leap of faith, though hopefully not literally. And it required a good deal of optimism to launch in the first place.
Of course, we learned this month that that optimism was slightly misplaced as Airship Ventures founders Alex and Brian Hall announced that they were grounding their 246-foot-long zeppelin for financial reasons.
"Everyone was kind of in tears," Alex said of the day the husband-and-wife team told the company's 45 full- and part-time workers that the airship they call Eureka would not be flying until further notice. "But there was also a recognition that although this was extremely sad and personally devastating for everybody, the last five years were absolutely filled with memories and joy and great things."
I first talked to the Halls five years ago as they were preparing to buy the brand-new zeppelin. Their idea was to provide sightseeing trips that ran about $375 for 45 minutes and to sell advertising on the side of the zeppelin. The proposition seemed a little kooky, frankly. But Brian told me about how he'd been fascinated by aviation history since he was a kid. For her part, Alex explained that she grew up in England near two huge airship hangars. It was clear that they understood the odds, but they were pursuing a passion.
A passion isn't easy to give up, and sure enough, the Halls' grounding announcement came with something of a desperate plea: If some well-heeled company could step forward and sponsor the zeppelin in return for painting the company logo and colors on it, the sky could again be the limit.
The Halls figured they'd need a savior to step up by the end of this week. Otherwise, Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, the company that built the airship, will come to gather up the ship that the Halls have been leasing. To prepare the airship for moving day, crews will drain it of helium and it will collapse like the business it once anchored.
"Eureka will be dismantled and shipped back to Germany," Alex told me. "It will be very hard to say our last goodbye."
It will be hard for a lot of people. Fans took to Twitter (#saveeureka) and Facebook to share ideas to save the zeppelin. Some even used Airship Ventures' Facebook page to post renderings of the airship painted with the corporate logos -- Red Bull, Amazon, Apple (AAPL), Canon, Virgin America -- of the companies that might save it.
In that spirit and out of a bit of desperation of my own, I'd like to suggest a few logical Silicon Valley saviors. It's hard to deny that there aren't some synergies here.
Google (GOOG): This is the most obvious choice. I'm mean, the company's whole business is in the cloud, just like Eureka. Google's instantly recognizable red, yellow, green and blue color scheme would easily be spotted from the ground. Google Guys Sergey Brin and Larry Page have expressed great fascination with outer space and things that fly and they park their planes in a hangar practically next door to Eureka's parking spot at Moffett Field.
Oh, and one more thing: Remember that June stunt in which sky divers landed on Moscone Center to deliver a pair of Google glasses to Brin as part of a Google developers conference? What did the sky divers jump from? Yep, Eureka.
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ): OK, not as obvious, especially given the company's rocky financial performance of late. (Who would have thought that former gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman could find an organization more screwed up than California to run?) Face it, it's hard to think of a better symbol for HP than an airship directly descended from the Hindenburg. Talk about disaster: HP has written down nearly $19 billion in bad deals in the past five years. The company goes through CEOs the way Taylor Swift goes through crushes. And it's in the process of laying off 29,000 workers. Oh, the humanity!
Oh, and one more thing: HP could forgo a sponsorship and decide instead to just buy the Eureka. That way the company could point to one acquisition that it was actually able to get off the ground.
Intel (INTC): Maybe the least obvious. But think about it. The company's board was recently blindsided by CEO Paul Otellini's announcement that he's retiring in May, a few years early. No doubt a high-flying zeppelin might provide the board a better vantage point in the future. More than that, among Eureka's claims to fame is its research work with SETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. With Intel struggling to keep its footing in a world where it makes chips for laptops and desktops and consumers actually use tablets and smartphones, Intel will be looking for someone with out-of-this-world intelligence to replace Otellini.
Oh, and one more thing: Given Intel's need to establish itself as a powerhouse in a mobile world, aligning itself with Eureka couldn't hurt. What says "mobile" better than an untethered zeppelin gliding gracefully across the Silicon Valley sky?
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.