Unspeakably Stupid
Unspeakably Stupid Story #21:
Internet Startup

I once got suckered into going to work for a tiny Internet startup company. How the hell did that happen?

Well, I was looking for a "permanent" position because I was sick of being laid off with little or no notice while working "contract" jobs. Despite being offered excellent money by a huge company as a contract employee, I took a permanent job with an Internet startup named Brand Fidelity.

The business was located in an old house in a residential neighborhood. The two owners were a married couple (let's call them Mike and Katie) whom had just graduated from Stanford Business School with degrees in Marketing and little knowledge about the Web. Strangely, they mentioned that they were Stanford Business School grads right in their "help wanted" ad.

Ever read the comic strip "Doonesbury", when Mike and Kim started their own Internet startup company in their garage? Well, this company was uncomfortably similar to Mikim.

This, their first business, was to be a "naming" website, where businesses would receive help in naming a new product, service or website. There were (and are) other websites in the same business, but the idea was that this site would be more complete than any of the others. From this single site, you could learn about naming techniques, make up a new name with the help of a naming tool, check to see if a domain name was taken or not, and search and register trademarks.

I was just the fourth full-time employee they had hired. The others were three guys in their twenties and thirties we will simply refer to as The Lawyer, The Lowlife, and The Nazi. There were also three contract employees working in the basement: A white guy and two Indians who barely spoke English made up the Engineering team.

I worked upstairs, in the living room. I had this really stupid title, "Production Artist," which sounds like I painted pictures of Donald Duck on vases on an assembly line. It was actually a Web designer position. The Nazi, a very white kid with rosy cheeks and a mouthful of widely spaced teeth in need of braces, was yet another Marketing grad who wrote most of the copy for the site, and also worked in the living room. Next to us, in the dining room, were The Lawyer, who wrote all the legalese and trademark info for the site, and The Lowlife, another web designer.

Now, when I interviewed for the job, Katie made all sorts of promises. We would be moving into a nice office space within a couple of months. Three weeks of vacation during the first year, which began accruing immediately. We all would get generous medical/dental benefits and, of course, stock options. And, once the site launched in about three months, we would all have nice, cushy jobs with little overtime. But for now, we were expected to put in longer hours in order to get the site launched on time. And so, I accepted the position, even though I would be on salary and not paid hourly.

I could not have been a bigger sucker if I'd had "Fuck Me" written on my forehead.

It wasn't bad at first. Mostly, I reformatted the copy The Nazi would give me and fit it into the website. There was a LOT of copy. Mostly, the site was like a huge, boring marketing textbook with a shitload of forms.

Gradually, as I began to be assigned more work, I worked later and later. It was no big deal, because going home at 5 o'clock sharp meant sitting in traffic jams. By 7 o'clock there was little traffic on the way home. And The Lowlife and The Nazi usually worked until then too.

In fact, The Nazi worked late into the night every night. He practically lived there. A couple of weeks after I was hired, Mike and Katie decided to "promote" him. He became my boss, which I really didn't see coming when I was hired.

The Nazi began to put more and more pressure on me to work longer and longer hours. Before I knew it, it had been two months since I'd played basketball with my son, or barbecued for my family on a weekday. Sometimes, both of my kids would be in bed before I even got home.

I guess I should mention that I was the only one The Nazi ever confronted over working hours. The Lowlife and The Lawyer could come and go as they pleased, but everything I did came under The Nazi's scrutiny. The Lowlife and The Lawyer never liked me from the outset, and watching The Nazi berate me served to confirm their feelings about me, and treat me with the same disrespect. They'd take my CDs out of the 50-disc changer and dump them on my desk when I wasn't there, as if they really liked listening to the same fucking Portishead CD over and over for months.

Let me take a moment here to tell you about the bathrooms in this ancient, stinking, lath-and-plaster piece-of-shit house. There was one the size of a bedroom, but it was two stories up and was Mike & Katie's personal bathroom, so we used the one off the stairs on the way to the basement. It was the size of a coat closet with no heat or ventilation. How small was it? If you opened the door all the way and then put the toilet seat down, you couldn't close the door! I'm not making this up. The door had no lock, because anyone sitting on or standing in front of the toilet already had their ass or feet jammed against the door, blocking it from being opened anyway.

Eventually, The Lowlife stole my computer speakers that Mike had given me earlier. Just took them right off my desktop while I was gone, and hooked them up to his computer. I had become the company whipping boy. After working there just six weeks, I was very sorry I had passed up a high paying contract job to work with these assholes who had no respect for me.

The principals of the company, Mike and Katie, had some really strange gaps in their knowledge about the Web. For one thing, they were trying to sell advertising on the site, which is pretty fucking stupid when you consider what kind of traffic a "naming" website would logically deliver: Very little. Joe Average doesn't need expensive naming services, nor would the site have to turn a whole lot of traffic in order to be successful anyway.

I realized later why they decided to advertise themselves as Stanford Business School graduates in the "help wanted" ad: To convince some sucker (me) that they knew what they were doing, when, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me take a minute here to bring up something MIke and Katie loved to arrange: Little trips to a local park every week or two on Friday afternoons. Apparently, this was supposed to help assure our success because some successful internet startup company somewhere had done this. I usually was the first to excuse myself and leave, since I was not spending enough time at home as it was. And with The Nazi's long hours and sneering disrespect for anyone putting in any less time than he was, and the business being located in a big, ugly house, I was catching the chill of a cult.

Things got worse. At one point The Nazi sent an e-mail to The Lowlife and I that said, among other things, "I could be an asshole and make you work till midnight..." The second I got that e-mail, I grabbed my cell phone, walked outside, and called the recruiter who had offered me the other job I had turned down, and gave her a very clear message: GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. But that would take another month.

At this point, I realized that most of the promises they had made to me during the interviews were bullshit. We got stock options, but the company would have to be wildly successful in order for them ever be worth anything, not to mention that you'd have to work there for a year to begin to exercise them. This was supposed to be an "easy, fun" job after the site launched, but I knew that working for The Nazi would never be easy or fun. And they hadn't even begun to look for the office space that they'd promised we'd have by now.

As the Big Website Launch Day approached, even the long hours I was putting in were not good enough for The Nazi. In addition to putting in 10 or 11 hours a day in a stinking, ancient house with no air conditioning, he expected me to work weekends too. This ignorant asshole would send me half a dozen e-mails over the course of a weekend, expecting me to spend all day Saturday and Sundays working on the stupid website.

I eventually developed a plan to keep The Nazi off my back on weekends. Since he was basically clueless in matters regarding the web, I would do a bunch of work on a certain area of the site during the week and not tell him about it. Then, on Friday, I would send him an e-mail of the things I intended to work on over the weekend. Naturally, the list would contain things I had already finished. He would sometimes send e-mails piling on more work. When he did that, I would tell him on Monday that I just needed to integrate all the work I'd done over the weekend into the website. Then I would spend Monday morning doing the work he had e-mailed to me over the weekend. Sometimes, he gave me praise for working so hard over the weekend. He never caught on. What a fucking nincompoop.

Because of Mike's outrageously unrealistic expectations for getting the site launched, it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that the site would never launch on time. The Nazi had a solution: Everybody work longer hours. Being an ignorant, inexperienced asshole afraid to give Mike the bad news, this was his solution to everything.

The Nazi had no experience as a supervisor, nor any real experience with the web. He was nothing but a marketing major who had held one job before this one, in which he supervised nobody. So, they put him in charge. Hey, why not? Mike and Katie had no experience either; I'm not sure if either of them had ever held a real job in their lives.

Things came to a head one night, just 10 days away from the launch date. I had already been there 12 and a half hours that day, and one of my eyes would no longer focus. I got up to go home. The Nazi would have none of it. His miserable existence wanted company. He had this incredible hard-on for wanting everyone to work as late as him, to give up their life for this shitty little website, as he had. Twelve and a half hours was now not good enough. Since I was the first one to try to leave, he felt this would be a good time to start a confrontation with me.

"You leaving?"

Yep.

"Got all your work done?"

Nope.

"Taking some work home with you?"

"You want me to come in tomorrow?" I said, rhetorically.

The Nazi didn't answer. He folded up his arms and glared at me with his usual little frown.

Meanwhile, Katie, watching the whole thing, just fucking sat there. She had all the leadership qualities of mud. You know all the truly important things about running a business? Well, apparently they don't teach that part at Stanford Fucking Business School.

I walked out, silently fuming, and got in the car. I came very, very close to driving around the block, coming back to grab my stuff, and telling them all to go fuck themselves. Instead, I got on the cell phone and began ranting at Katie. I never agreed to work dawn till dusk. I didn't deserve the treatment I was getting. We would have to talk about this first thing tomorrow.

When I got home, there was a message for me on the answering machine. It was a recruiter. The job I had turned down two and a half months earlier had opened up. Would I be interested? Fucking aye I'd be interested!

I called the recruiter the next morning. Now, this was not the same recruiter who'd offered me the position earlier. But it was the same job. She wanted to set up an interview. I told her I'd call her back after my little meeting with Katie.

When I got to work that day, Katie, having given birth a week earlier, was temporarily indisposed. I sat down at my desk and pretended to work. Soon, another call came. It was the recruiter who had offered me the job in the first place. I told her I had been contacted about the job by a different recruiter. She told me that since I had interviewed earlier as a representative of her company, this position belonged to her company and not the other recruiter. Furthermore, since I had already been interviewed, there was no need for another one. The position was mine if I wanted it. Did I want it? Fuck yes, I did. Let me call you back after my meeting.

And so, the main purpose of the meeting with Katie was not to tell her what I thought of The Nazi, though I would anyway. The main purpose was now for me to give notice. Yes! This would be like a final meeting with a prison warden after having had your conviction overturned. You could go ahead and tell the warden to go fuck himself, if you wanted to. But I didn't want to. Katie was an inept mush-head, not a mean bitch.

I started by asking whether The Nazi was going to be my boss for the foreseeable future. She tried to be as evasive as possible, but the answer was yes. I asked whether The Nazi had any prior experience as a supervisor. She gave an even more evasive answer, but the answer was, as I suspected, no. That last question was just to emphasize why I was leaving. Okay, I told her, I'm quitting. Now.

She freaked. She went on about how I "owed" them, that I couldn't just leave because they would be plunged into chaos (like they weren't already). I owed them? Owed them? I had been putting in 10 to 12 hour days for nearly two months, on salary, and now I owed them?

I let her go on for a while, and I eventually agreed to finish out the week. After all, it was Thursday, leaving me with only a day and a half of misery to endure. I could use the money, meager as it was. I told her about the e-mail I'd gotten, the one about working until midnight, from The Nazi. She at least agreed that it was inappropriate.

We agreed not to spread the news of my departure to anyone else but Mike and The Nazi. Then she had a meeting with The Nazi. Once that meeting was over, it only took half an hour before The Nazi had told everyone in the place. Not that I gave a shit. I went home at five.

On Friday, they brought in a girl who would take over my duties on a contract basis. They showed her what needed to be done. The Nazi asked for an estimate. She couldn't give them one. There was so much fucking work to do that she couldn't even guess how long it would take. And this was 10 days before launch! I think that this was the first time they realized how far in over their heads they were. They didn't even have a quality control cycle scheduled before the launch. What a pack of headless idiots.

At some point that day, I decided to hide a link to this very website on one of their pages. It's probably still there.

I walked out the door at five o'clock, never so glad in all my life to be leaving a job. "Best of luck, gentlemen," I said. The door closed behind me. "Not!"

Thus ended my brief career as an "Internet lackey."

EPILOGUE:

The site, brandfidelity.com, launched six weeks late. I'm sure their investors, from whom they raised $1 million, were real pleased about that. And I'll bet the Nazi blamed it on me, and I sure don't care.

Eight months later, the local paper ran a fluff piece about them in their business section, featuring a picture of Katie and Mike sitting at what used to be my desk. In the article, some "business analyst" gave them a "good" chance at "moderate" success.

And yes, those fucking liars were still in that ancient, stinking house. I could see the blurred form of The Nazi in the background of the photo, still having to crap in a closet every day.

For me, leaving was an easy decision I'll never regret. What I regret is having ever worked there in the first place.

BrandFidelity.com disappeared altogether about 4 years later.

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