Oh, to be young and dumb. Those were the days. After three failed businesses we finally raised some VC cash. That was the win. I didn't care if our business succeeded. We just raised a load of money. That felt like an absolute triumph.
Who knew that the VC actually wanted a return on their investment. Why are they bothering us with questions about our cash burn? I thought we were supposed to still be celebrating for taking their money. Hmmm, guess not.
After 8 months of cash burn on dumb stuff like swag, ad firms, marketing firms, PR firms and a really sick wrapped Chevy Tahoe (you need a brand car. right?) we had almost no revenue to show and a broken business model. I remember the day we had the conference call with the VC Portfolio Manager. "Take John or we are suing you", he said. John worked for the VC as an interim executive, an ops guy. If we didn't take him on the business we would be done. I was pissed. This was our baby.
Ok, fine. John came on. He told us our business model was a mess and wouldn't work. He was right but in our guts we felt it would work. It didn't. Everyone knew it but I was too proud and stubborn to admit it. I hated John just like I hated Milli Vanilli but I had to listen to him. At an all hands meeting I called him out. I told him he didn't know anything about staffing. He asked me if I knew so much how come there was no real revenue to show for it. I used some choice language to respond. After the meeting, I told him some more. He told me that I was fired. I charged him. We fought. It was more like out of breath bears rolling around in a tender embrace. I was escorted out of the building. The next morning I received a call from John. He asked me if I wanted to apologize. Nope. You? Nope. He said that he got everyone's buy in to let me go. I told him he couldn't; I still owned 32% of the company. He told me that he controlled the rest. Oops.
He told me that if I didn't come see him in 24 hours with a reason that he needed to keep me I was going to be gone.
Okay, not my proudest moment, regrettable. John didn't like that moment, either. I swallowed my pride and offered several mea culpas before I offered a solution. We were trying to drive more employers into our network. We needed to be known in several industries we didn't have contacts in. My play was to engage with associations and offer them content that would be valuable and addictive for their membership. It seemed to me logical that the only people reading association blogs and newsletters were executives. I told John that I wanted to leverage the credibility of associations to give us lift as a resource. He agreed. Over the next several months I had authored content with over 70 associations. The impact was felt throughout our organization. We could track major revenue spikes against my efforts. John credited my efforts as saving our business. It was all him...he saved us. I think he wanted to prove we could make it if we had a winning concept. I think he wanted to prove it to me.
I asked him what was missing from our original concept. He said, "Simple, validation". Thinking and feeling a business will work is not the same as validating a business. That stuck. Now, I do everything I can to help job seekers validate their value in the market. Not going through validating your brand is a sure fire recipe for job search failure. You have to know what your product is and who wants it. Period.