Sunday, Bloody Sunday as U2 famously sang. Or is it sung? Not that this Sunday has anything to do with political killings- more just a sentiment of “oh another of these”.
The good lady wife is currently in Vancouver with her bridesmaids as part of her birthday weekend extravaganza, which necessitates me disproportionately picking up the burden of childcare. However, in this instance I’ve played the game smarter than usual and have largely stacked the weekend with activities.
Yesterday I took the boys to Home Depot to get their first real Xmas tree. Somewhat hilariously the lights in the tree ended up costing more than the tree itself, but what’s even the point of having a tree if it isn’t going to twinkle?
Getting the tree home proved to be a fun little challenge as the boys are unaccustomed to having unwieldy objects navigate stores or fill the entire car for the drive home. Something for which I seem to have a lot of memories for in my own childhood. That and attaching things to the roof with ropes.
Decorating the tree took the remainder of the morning, and then I had to improvise the afternoon as the play date with my project manager got canceled on account of the playmate having a fever all night. Instead I took the little guy out in the trailer for a very slow jog up the mountain in the last remaining moments of daylight as the grandparents finally arose to do some Lego with the big one.
The weirdest and sort of funniest part of the moment was having the big guy breakdown and weep on me. When we got past the tears and talked about it, it turned out that he thought I was starving him, when in actuality he had asked for some lunch, and when I said “sure, what would you like?”, he’d already walked off and stopped listening. Upon my further shouting “What do you want to eat?” I was ignored, so I assumed that the moment had passed and he wasn’t interested anymore.
The big news of the week really remains the interview process with the new company.
Where I am
This week, I had a 1-1 with my line manager, and after running through the procedural state of the project stuff for the first 20 minutes the conversation turned to the seemingly inevitable “and how are you doing?” Something that I’m coming to loathe. I could simply reply with the Canadian default “fine” - but that just isn’t me.
Instead, like an idiot, I replied with my seemingly now standard apathetic shrug of not knowing. I still don’t trust the executive vision. I still don’t see the job evolving into anything more over the course of the next 2-5 years. I don’t see the clients turning out anything interesting. All I see is trying to smooth off some round edges and polish what’s left. But I’ve never had much interest in polish.
For a man that frequently prides himself on having a 3-5 year roadmap for all of his reports, I’m finding myself severely lacking and disappointed. Increasingly, I’m looking at him in the “nice guy” category rather than “inspirational” as he once was.
I concluded by saying that perhaps I should solidify my thinking into something more concrete and then take it back to the executive level.
Simply put, I don’t understand how giving clients a 60% discount on our pricing is sustainable as a business model. It might make sense if the long term agenda was to head south of the border, and then when standing in front of the WalMart team we could justify a long track record with some of Canada’s largest retailers. But, I see no such strategizing. And talking with those at a higher level than I, if those plans exist, it must not be outside the founders heads.
Meanwhile, I did nearly 4 hours of interviews with the potentially new company this week. Of course, there were a few flags, the lack of diversity in revenue streams being an obvious one. Another being that there seems to be a lack of software guys at a software company. The main guy seems to be a PhD in fluid dynamics and a focus on simulation. So I have no doubt that the solutions being produced are of high quality, but I know that they are going to barely be conceptual proofs than production software. But maybe that’s where I come in and excel.
I mean obviously they haven’t made me an offer yet, so all things are hypothetical. But during the interview process, I felt pretty confident that I’d be saying no. Just a few too many problems. Maybe a bit too much work. And when I quizzed a founder about the vision and future of the company, he gave me a very non-committal “we’re running in this direction, but I can’t honestly tell you where we’ll be next year, maybe we’ll be acquired, maybe we won’t. But we have a lot of work and options for now.” Honest at least.
But as my week drew on, the idea kept returning to mind that maybe this wasn’t so crazy.
I had two interviews with different founders. The one asked me about what I’d do if he gave me $5M right now. Start a business or open a research lab? I went business and came up with an entire business plan on the fly.
The other, the graphic designer of the bunch, asked me to just share something that I was working on or thinking about. I showed him the migration of my website which lead into a conversation about digital Vs analogue, paper from Japan, mind/body connections around narrative structure, psychological differences between ownership of property and decisions, and on and on. Perhaps one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever done, but you know what, it was… fun.
I actually had fun.
The evening after the interview I went for drinks with a guy that I respect the hell out of, but he’s leaving the company. It’s not unfair to say that I went into the evening with a bit of an agenda. I wanted to know his reasons for leaving and why now?
A long standing trusted confident sent me the Wikipedia article for Founders Syndrome last night. It was meant as a warning, to look for signs on the new opportunity, but reading through it all, all I could think of was the personality cult of my current employer.
Over the course of a few beers, we explored the ills of our current situation and nothing was much said that I didn’t already know or couldn’t infer. Although admittedly, I now have a few hard numbers to back those feelings. All this did was confirm to me that many of my current executive team are too comfortable and will not have the risk appetite to change anything. Their incentives are aligned to maintain their status quo.
However, one new piece of information (or at least a new perspective) that I’ve been mulling over is that my previous dinner with the CEO, I was told that I shouldn’t work there. I was told that we were on parallel paths for a while. What if this was the CEO calling my bluff? The equivalent of “Oh you’re going to quit? Well go on then!”
Rather than challenge your staff to improve themselves and explore new options internally - why would you push them to the door?