I’ve never told this story before. Not in a blog, or in one of my books, or to anyone really. I suppose I suppressed it. But I recently pulled it out of my memory bank because I was listening to a Chris Brogan podcast about why you should quit your job and it spurred this memory up and I wanted to share it with you.
I believe this moment has made me into the entrepreneur I am today. Read on if you’re curious.
This happened in 1996 or so. I was the fourth employee at a “new media company” here in Cleveland, Ohio. “New Media” was code for Internet company back in the day in case you were wondering what the heck that meant. I took the job without knowing one lick of html, or really anything about the Internet. The first day on the job they handed me an html book and said, “learn this”. So I did. Mind you, this was before html tables. Remember when all websites were linear and didn’t have columns? Yeah, I’m that old.
I took my graphic design abilities and learned how to make websites. The company grew from 4 of us to 20. Then to 30. Things were going great. I loved working for the guys that owned the company. They were fun and we had no rules. I could sit at my desk and smoke cigarettes, or/and get drunk if I wanted to. I had a great office with a balcony. And because I had no family yet, and the job was fun, I worked my ass off. Probably close to 14-hours a day, if not more. I basically lived at the office.
We started to get BIG clients like Ernst & Young and Sherwin Williams. I actually hand-coded and designed Ernst & Young’s first website ever, and their second. Back then coding and building websites was long, tedious work because you didn’t have the tools you did nowadays. Every little change took big effort. For example, if the site had 400 pages, and they made a change to the navigation, I’d have to go into every single html page by hand and replace the code. There was no such thing as find and replace back then.
Anyway, I’m getting to the point.
I worked my ass off those first years. I basically lived at the office and I loved it. But I assumed that because I was the fourth employee, and I was such a big part of the growth of the company, and that I worked so hard, that I would naturally see the financial benefits of my labor. I can’t remember exactly, but I think I made about $30,000 that year. Maybe less.
So things were good, and it was December and the business was booming. My wife had just gotten a sizeable Christmas bonus from her firm the weekend before and I had it in my mind that I would of course get one from my bosses as well. I mean, I was a big part of the company’s growth, and I was working my ass off, etc…
You see where this is going? Here’s how it went down.
A few days before Christmas I’m at the office, as usual, and I don’t see the two big bosses anywhere. Nobody knows where they are. We’re all about to break for the holiday and I’m wondering where the bosses are and when I’m getting my big Christmas bonus. I’m kinda freaking out about it because I was really expecting it.
So the big bosses/owners finally appear around 4 that day, thank God. They finally come down to the office to talk to us. They were super excited. I mean, they were bouncing off the walls in excitement. I figured they were excited to give us our bonus checks before we went home. I was wrong.
Turns out they decided to drive out to Ikea that morning and drop $18,000 on furniture for their offices. I repeat. $18,000 in Ikea furniture for just their offices upstairs. How you can spend $18k for two offices in Ikea, I’m not sure, but they were so proud to boast about how they did.
I figure, “whatever, give me my bonus check”. So they did. I eagerly opened the sealed envelope and dreamt about what amazing Christmas present I was going to buy my fiancee. Or about how I might use the money for a down payment on a new car. Or maybe I could buy an engagement ring with it! I was excited!
I opened the envelope and it read $400 bucks.
Not what I was expecting. Not even close. My mind started racing and calculating the numbers. 10% of my salary would be $3,000. Heck, 5% would be $1,500. Those are the kind of numbers I expected for giving so much of my life to this business.
And especially after hearing they dropped $18k at Ikea that very day.
But no. They gave me $400.
And here’s the moment I knew I never wanted to work for anyone ever again.
My stomach sank. I thought I was going to puke. I really felt ill. I looked up at them in contempt. I can’t imagine what my facial expression was. I must have given them some kind of stink-eye. I stood there in disbelief for a minute. Then I grabbed my keys and coat and walked out in disgust.
I got into my car and I was ready to cry. $400??? Really?
I thought to myself… “I’m a fool. I worked my ass off for this company for this?” I drove home and was too embarrassed to tell my fiancee right away. I had the check in my back pocket and the thought of it ruined my Christmas.
And that, my friends, was the story about when I realized I never wanted to work for anyone ever again.
This is the exact reason why I always tell my kids, “You don’t want to work in this restaurant, you want to own this restaurant.” YOU control your destiny. YOU control how much you get paid and what bonuses you have. YOU are the boss and you can do whatever you want.
I suppose I should thank them. They are directly responsible for my entrepreneurship endeavors and the career and lifestyle I have this day.
I’m sure you have a similar story? I’d love to hear it. Share it with us.