The Curious Case of the Nicolas Cage Pillow

Stephen Cox
Stephen Cox
  • May 14, 2020
  • 4 min read

When Strivacity opened its doors in Herndon, Virginia, two of the founders, myself and Chief Operating Officer Keith Graham, discussed office warming gifts. This is the second time that Keith and I have opened an office in Northern Virginia, and we’ve always tried to bring a light-hearted tone to our workspaces. It’s important for employee morale to keep things fun and to maintain a healthy sense of humor. This is especially true when challenges arise and times get tougher, as they inevitably do.

Keith's and my office warming conversation was short-lived and we fairly quickly moved on to other topics related to the early development of our business. Later that week, when things died down, I found myself on Amazon searching for potential ideas to bring to the office. I came upon this masterpiece, a sequin pillow cover featuring one of the most prolific Nicolas Cage movies, Con Air. This image is of Nicolas Cage’s character, Cameron Poe, emerging from a prison bus and feeling the sun on his face for the first time. We had used the same image at a previous company to signify a successful build had occurred in our continuous integration system.

The man, the myth, the legend

My appreciation for Mr. Nicolas Cage is well documented and a running joke amongst my friends and colleagues. It seemed like a perfect office warming gift so I purchased it along with a pillow to go with it. I put the order out of my mind. A few days later, the cover and the pillow arrived and I quickly assembled it and showed it to my wife. I was given the “you’ve lost your mind” look, frequent in my house, which I took as an indicator of a successful purchase. I packed up the pillow and placed it in my trunk to be ferried to the office.

Soon after, another pillow cover arrived from Amazon. I was confused, and assumed it was shipped in error but found no trace of it in my order history. I placed it in my home office with the intent of contacting Amazon to determine what happened. Some time later I remembered the original pillow in my trunk and brought it into our office. I placed it onto the chair you see above, as the blog cover image. Greeted by Keith with a big smile, he said “do you like it?” I probably gave him a somewhat confused look as he repeated “do you like the pillow?” I replied, “Well yes, I bought it.” We shared another confused pause and then it came clear that we had bought the same office warming gift, independently, and Keith had his purchase shipped to my home address. We had a good laugh over this serendipitous moment. It only served to expand the mystique and wonder around Nicolas Cage.

A sudden realization

On a subsequent commute to the office, as I was lost in thought, it occurred to me that this humorous event may not have been serendipitous at all. Keith and I are close in age, live near each other, have similar interests and shopping habits, and love technology. We are both heavy Amazon users. It is very possible this was not a coincidence and that Keith and I were analyzed by one of Amazon’s customer insight algorithms and segmented into similar buckets. Both of our searches for office warming gifts may have been tailored to our specific segmentation characteristics (i.e. sad men who like Nicolas Cage). This event may have been a product of Amazon executing strong CIAM practices.

The story doesn’t end here. Later, a close friend who was very instrumental in the formation of Strivacity also admitted he had bought the same pillow cover as a gift for us. I was speechless. He had soon after seen me post mine to my instagram account and decided not to give it to us. Again, it could be argued that this close friend had similar segmentation characteristics to Keith and I. It made the whole thing seem even less of a coincidence.

Of course, all of this could simply be a popular item on Amazon finding its way to us, based on our shared personal history and knowledge of each other. It felt a useful thought exercise to consider alternative explanations. I hope that when we expand our office space in Northern Virginia, we can find a suitable spot to host these works of art, for all to see and appreciate. I have a great story to tell about it.

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