The man was crying in my office. He was interviewing to be head of sales at my company. We made websites for entertainment companies.
It started out differently. He had come in confident. He wasn’t tragic yet and the mythology of all of our success still permeated the room. “How come you are no longer managing [insert magazine devoted to hip-hop culture that was funded by famous rap star whose name started with a “P”]?”
“We got big fast and then P stopped paying the bills,” the aspiring head of sales said. “I loved that magazine. I thought I was going to do it for the rest of my life.”
He was looking at me. I didn’t say anything. I thought there was going to be more to the story.
Then he started to cry. He looked down while he was wiping his eyes
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I really wanted to do that magazine”.
I couldn’t hire him.
Not because I think cryng is for babies. I cry. But because I didn’t want him to depress me. When you are trying to run a company there are too many things that can make you cry. I didn’t want my head of sales crying alongside of me.
There are many moments like this in business. When a story turns into a tragedy. When the only thing left in a room is a fear that we will all die in a cold prison, and it wouldn’t be our fault.
Everybody thinks being an entrepreneur is like being Larry Page.
You come up with something really really smart (a new way to search every piece of information in the world) and then people throw money at you, you ride skateboards down the office hallways, you bring in the Grateful Dead’s gourmet chef, you figure out how to make money six years later, you IPO, you get rich, and then FINALLY, you get to hang out on Richard Branson’s yacht and visit his private island.
Larry Page is a “clean entrepreneur”. Larry Page is human being number one. [See, Why Are Larry Page and I So Different?]
The rest of us are way down on the chain. Being an entrepreneur is a dirty business. I’m a dirty entrepreneur and always will be.
Another company wanted me to do websites for them. A record label. On the way out the door, the guy (an employee of the label) who introduced me to the label said, “you got the gig, dude, this is going to be great!” He was small, overweight, had written songs for a famous pop singer.
But was now a slave trying to figure out how to support two sick kids and a wife who didn’t love him.
“One thing,” he said, “you know that guy Josh who was sitting in the room next to the head of the label?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“He’s the #2 guy at the label. You’re going to have to give him a piece of each deal on the side.”
So I said OK to that. I had payroll of 30 people to meet. I had my own mouth to feed. I had a baby on the way. I believed I was an honest person.
But there are circumstances and the world is shaped into a different maze every day. One day, I thought, I’ll find an honest way to make a few dollars.
The man continued, hesitating for only a second, “And I need a piece of each deal also.”
I said, “OK” to that also.
A few weeks later I was invited to a party at the record label. I didn’t go. Later I heard that some rappers didn’t like how Josh looked at them at the party. They threw him down a staircase and then beat him with baseball bats.
I don’t know why they had baseball bats at a party. But they beat him so hard he ended up in the hospital and with brain damage. The record label gave him some money to cover it up. I never had to pay Josh for each job we got from the label.
I was involved with a mental health facility for teenagers. I was helping the owners sell the business. One day the CEO’s wife had to be called out of our meeting.
One of the teenagers in the facility had shat and smeared her feces all over the wall. The CEO’s wife had to clean it up. That was her job because how do you hold onto employees if you force any of the employees to wash crap off walls.
The CEO started telling me a story after his wife left.
The CEO said, “I was driving in a blizzard five years ago and had gotten lost somewhere in Rhode Island and was trying to figure out how to get back onto the highway.
“Meanwhile, I was snorting cocaine non-stop. I was in a bad spot in my life. I had six kids. My ex-wife was leaving me for another guy. And I was running a substance abuse facility even though I was snorting cocaine all day long.
“There was cocaine all over the car, all over my nose, everything. And outside it looked like a cocaine blizzard.”
I was the only one who would listen to his stories. I listened to everything. I needed to make money. I wanted to sell his facility for teenagers. So the gun was to my head, my knees were on the ground, my eyes were closed, and the words to his stories were like bullets into my head.
“Then suddenly there are flashing lights behind me. A cop pulls me over. I figured, ‘this is it, this is what it comes down to…now I’ll go to jail…again, and pay for my sins’
“The cop comes over, tells me to roll down the window…looks all over the car and sees cocaine everywhere….I couldn’t possibly hide it.”
“The cop then says, ‘here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to tell you how to get back to the highway, you’re going to clean yourself up, and I never want to see you again.’
“So,” the CEO of the substance abuse facility was telling me, “I did it. I never did coke again. I never even felt the urge for it again. A few weeks later I called the police department of that town I was stuck in. I wanted to thank the officer.
They never heard of that police officer. I called every surrounding town. I called the state police. Nobody ever heard of that police officer. That police officer was an angel sent down to help me get my act together. And now we’re selling the company and I’m going to be one of the richest people in Rhode Island.”
I listened to him and nodded my head. I said, “that police officer must’ve been an angel” repeating him when he said it. Nobody would care what I said. I was just a tape recorder.
We just sat there. Then he said, “let’s watch some videos on [he named a popular porn website] before my wife gets back. Then I’ll erase the history on this computer. She’ll never know.”
On [popular porn site] , these guys ride around ghetto neighborhoods on a bus, pick up random girls, pay them to have sex with them, videotape the whole thing, and then throw the girls’ purses out the moving van and laugh while the girl, half naked has to chase after it while they drive off.
Usually they abandon her in an even worse neighborhood than they picked her up in and she usually doesn’t have her clothes on. They never pay her for the sex. The video fades to back while she’s screaming and running after the van and they are all laughing.
My assumption was, the CEO of the substance abuse facility wanted to masturbate in front of me but fortunately he didn’t. I probably would’ve let him.
We watched some of the videos until his wife came back, her hands in rubber gloves. A few weeks later he sold his business for $41.5 million cash to a public company I had introduced him to. I don’t speak to him anymore.
It’s horrible to have no money. It’s horrible to have no money and then lose it. It’s horrible to have money and be constantly afraid of losing it. It’s horrible to have money and to be envious of the people who have more money. It’s horrible to have so much money you can’t possibly be envious of anyone and yet you get sick and it was all for nothing.
On top of it, the process of making money can be torturous. I’m not good at dealing with people I don’t like. Pretending to like them. Paying their bribes. Listening to their stories. Laughing at their jokes.
Walter Mondale, former Vice President of the United States, once said, “I didn’t realize I wasn’t funny until I stopped being Vice President and suddenly everyone stopped laughing at my jokes.” That was maybe the funniest thing he ever said. He was the most boring Vice President since Hiram Johnson.
None of it matters. The only goal is freedom. And then happiness. Happiness compounds. I know that today, if I focus on it, I can be a little bit happier than yesterday.
I can be a little happier each day. Until one day I love all the people who twisted me into the pretzel I still am.