Okay, so maybe that title is a bit of an exaggeration but I definitely didn’t help things and at least hastened its demise.
(By the way, all of the tweets in this post, which are all in “bold”, are copied from my timeline from December 7th-December 12th, 2011 from @themalonester)
Picture working for Google. Think of all of the perks like free food and video games and all of the cool stuff you hear about that continually make Google on lists of the best companies to work for.
Now picture that you get to do all of that stuff. Except when the fun activities and meals aren’t happening, your actual job is to be on an extremely small team working on a project Google is starting where they are make their own fragrance called “Nether Regions” that is supposed to be like Axe body spray for your crotch. It is your job to test the smell of athletes’ “nether regions” after working out while wearing the product.
So that’s kind of like the job I had.
It didn’t help things that my boss in this two-man team I was on was insane. Seriously. I will one day write a blog post just about him but it will be extremely long and I don’t have time for that right now. This post is about one incident that happened that brought down our small operation and what I may have done to cause it.
We had hired a sales expert to join our team. He was a veteran of the industry and had held many important positions in several large companies over his career. Somehow, through a headhunter, we brought him out of retirement to steer this ship we were on in the right direction.
My boss was one year younger than me and the new guy was twice my age. Besides the fact that my boss was insane and got along with no one, I knew that someone with the new guys’ experience was not going to have an easy time reporting to someone half his age who had no experience. To me this was going to be a fruitless experiment, but probably at least a little entertaining.
After about a month of working with us, the new guy announced that he had us a meeting in Dallas with a huge company that he used to work for. He had a lot of friends there and they agreed to meet with us. This was a big deal. This meeting could literally bring us from sales of $1,000 a year to a million dollars a year.
The meeting time and place were going to work out conveniently. We had a trade show in Austin, TX that was from Thursday to Saturday and then our meeting in Dallas was the following Monday. We would drive from Austin to Dallas on Sunday and be ready Monday morning.
Part of my job was to prepare for both of these events by shipping everything we needed to Austin and Dallas. This was actually a lot of work and took me a full week to do. Meanwhile, I was also supposed to be working on a PowerPoint presentation that we would be giving. But there were some things that needed to get done that were not. And I was afraid that we were not prepared for this meeting.
I had decided a few weeks before to write up a list of possible objections that we might get at the meeting and figure out how we might overcome them. I had sent this list in an email to my boss and the new guy and though it had been over a week, no one had commented on the list and we were leaving in two days.
My boss decided to have a meeting with us to go over the PowerPoint again….this was the fourth meeting in three days.
When we walked into the meeting, the first thing I said was, “Before we start, can we go over this list of possible objections that I sent everyone? I don’t think this is something we need to brush off. I guarantee they are going to ask us at least a couple of these questions, and right now we don’t have the answers.”
I was told in a frustrated voice that we would deal with that later…that the PowerPoint was the most important thing right now.
And with that we began a meeting that dealt almost exclusively with font size, the style of bullet points we needed and different hues of color for the background, lettering and graphics. Almost no mention was made of actual content or the fact that this thing was reaching 70 pages.
Now I am pretty passive and especially around a boss, I rarely object, and in my entire career have never raised my voice. But as we discussed whether we wanted round or squared bullet points for the third time, I finally said, “Guys, I think we have got some bigger fish to fry than this right now. We’ve got a ton of stuff that we haven’t done or even started and this stuff is pretty mundane.”
That is when I was told: “Michael, this is the most important thing we could possibly be doing right now. There will be plenty of time to do everything that needs to get done because we will stay here until it is done right. Sometimes you have to work long hours and into the early morning and this may be one of those times. We are all going to have to sacrifice.”
This from the guy that came in over an hour late every morning and had never stayed more than 10 minutes after everyone else.
“Do you really think that anyone is going to care about these tiny details in our PowerPoint?” I asked. “They’re going to be more concerned about the fact that we don’t know how to ship the product to them and we don’t know how we’re going to price it and we don’t know how we’re going to market it.” My face was getting red ….about the same shade as one of the bars from the graph on page 53 of the PowerPoint.
“We will not look professional if this presentation is not perfect and completely uniform,” he said.
“We will not look professional if we can’t answer any of their questions,” I said. At this point I was practically out of my chair.
I was then reminded that we would get to my list eventually and that maybe it was time for a break. He said we’d begin again that afternoon
Me and the new guy went back to our cubicles.
About three hours later the new guy walked by my desk. He had his jacket on and a few things under his arm.
“Well, I’ll see you later, man,” he said and shook my hand.
“All right, see you tomorrow.”
“No. I’m leaving….for good. I quit.”
I sat there with my mouth open. Before I could say anything, he said, “C’mon, you know I can’t work for that idiot any more.”
He turned to walk out and over his shoulder said, “I canceled the meeting in Dallas, by the way.”
That sent a flood of relief over me. As soon as he told me he had quit, that was the first thing I had thought about. I had already shipped a bunch of stuff there and we had two more days of PowerPoint’s to do, not counting all of the other stuff we had not even started.
And of course he would cancel the meeting. The people we were going to see were his friends… old colleagues of his. He didn’t want to be embarrassed when we walked in the door with our terrible presentation and have them think “I can’t believe he worked with those clowns.” I didn’t blame him. I mean, the only reason we got the meeting in the first place was because of him and now he was gone.
I didn’t see my boss for the next two hours…I have no idea where he was. When I finally saw him, I asked, “Do you want me to go ahead and cancel our hotels and change our flights from Dallas or have you done it?”
“Why would we do that?” he asked.
“Since the meeting in Dallas is canceled.”
“What do you mean it’s canceled?”
“He canceled it when he quit,” I said, having assumed he knew this.
“Well, there is no reason for that. I will call and tell them we still want to meet.” And with that he quickly walked back into his office.
He later told me he had to leave a message. “I guess we’ll just play it by ear,” he said.
So the next day everyone in the office was asking me what happened even though everyone knew the story. My boss was not well-liked and everyone had a story or five about the guy. It didn’t take a genius to see that he would not know how to work with someone twice his age and with so much experience.
And soon, our meeting became a running joke. Anytime someone had to take a trip with my boss, they would always come back regaling everyone with stories about some weird thing he had done. So now, here I was, about to be gone for a trade show and then an obvious disastrous meeting over six days.
“You’ve got to live tweet the next six days,” the guy who sat beside me said. This whole thing was, of course, hilarious to him because he worked for the fun company doing normal work, but got to sit ringside for all of the craziness that was my working experience. I had tweeted from the last tradeshow I had gone on and he had thought some of my comments had been funny.
“Yeah, I’ll definitely do that,” I said, knowing that there were going to be some moments I needed to share with friends on this trip.
And here we get to what may have been the downfall. The next day as I was preparing to get on the plane I started noticing emails coming to my Blackberry. It was messages telling me that new people were following me on Twitter. They were all people from work.
So I thought, “Well, this will be fun. At least four or five people back at the office will get to laugh at me for the next few days.”
Little did I know that for the next six days, my tweets were being printed out and handed around the office. Everyone…all 40 employees, read my tweets and knew all about my trip.
I was extremely lucky in that I had booked the planes and had booked my boss and I on separate flights. I can’t remember how I explained this, knowing that my real explanation was that sitting by him on a plane was the weirdest, most embarrassing situation I had ever experienced and I never wanted to go through it again. (I know I said I would write a whole post later about all of the weird things about my boss but I can’t pass up on this one. When sitting by him on a plane, he would watch a movie on his iPad and would continuously rock back and forth, then rub his hands together super fast and laugh out loud, in one of the weirdest laughs ever. Like, if birds laughed, it would sound like this. People would start looking back and he was just staring down so they would look at me. But not in a “what’s that guy’s deal?” kind of way, but in a “you’re a good guy to be taking your special needs friend on a plane ride” kind of way. This is not an exaggeration. Everyone that has gone on trips with him has mentioned this experience.)
Anyway, we’re on separate planes, as I mentioned and I am reading a business magazine and then tweet the following:
Just read a great business article: they say never use PowerPoint or bullet points. I’m on my way to show a PowerPoint full of bullet points.
And then, a few minutes later:
Hope the people in this mtg. don’t read the article I just read about presentations. We’re about to break 19 out of 20 rules.
My plane arrives and I meet my boss at the rental car place. He makes a scene and then we get in the car and head to a restaurant. (It may seem like I glossed over the fact that he made a scene, but you have to just assume that no matter what situation we are in, especially if he is dealing with people in any way, he will make a scene. It’s a given.)
When we get to the restaurant he does this thing that I have gotten use to by now from traveling with him, where he shouts out the name of the restaurant as he approaches while rubbing his hands together really fast. Like he would say, “Oh yeah, Applebee’s, baby!” It’s loud and every time people look at us. I always hope that he does it outside, because then at least there won’t be a lot of people around. But every once in a while he does it inside and then the whole restaurant stares. He does it every time we go to eat. Every. Single. Time. (Remember what I said about causing a scene. I wasn’t joking.)
After we’ve been there a short while I tweet:
Saw a guy in a restaurant blow his nose in his napkin, then throw it under the table. Unfortunately it was the guy sitting across from me
It’s already been a long day and I am very ready to get back to my hotel:
Pushing your plate away & throwing your napkin on the table is universally known as “I’m done”, right? Not “order another beer?” Right?
Social cues are not exactly this guy’s strong suit.
Now we are on day one of the trade show and I have arrived early to set up the booth. I know that however I set it up, he will change it:
There is nothing more frustrating than doing something then having someone else redo it-not making it better, just different
Like most trade shows that we have attended, barely any one comes by our booth. He is out in the aisles trying to bring people in for some of the time and the rest of the time he is just wandering. I am told that since I am the expert, I shouldn’t leave. I am used to this by now since this is the fifth trade show we’ve attended.
Before he wanders off again I ask about the meeting in Dallas, which is now just a few days away.
“They haven’t called me back yet.”
At some point I am really thirsty and ready to leave. The boss comes back with a drink in his hand. It’s a gummi bear martini. I have no idea where he got this or why he would think I would want this. But I am damn thirsty. I reluctantly start drinking it and when half way through, someone comes by and offers me a beer:
Currently drinking a Lone Star beer & a gummy bear martini. Hoping the gayness and the manliness of this combination cancel each other out
On the second day of the trade show we still have not heard from the folks in Dallas.
“You need to call them again. Tomorrow is Saturday and no one will be there. We can’t just show up on Monday. The meeting was canceled. No one will be there to meet with us.”
After several phone calls he tells me that the meeting is back on. Instead of meeting with 12 people, we will be meeting with two. He gives me what is quite possibly the most unnecessary high-five of all time.
The third day of the trade show I am on my on. The boss is “networking.”
I never want to be that guy at trade shows who is just asking for free stuff from everyone. Unfortunately I’m with that guy
Every couple of hours he comes back by the booth, arms loaded, to drop more stuff off. There is no where for it to go, because all of the space under the tables at our booths is already full. He throws it behind our backdrop, nearly causing the booth behind us to collapse. I apologize for him to these folks as he buzzes away.
An hour later the trade show is over. I pack the product away and take everything down. He gets back in time to put all of his free stuff in a box.
The next day I have the car packed and I’m waiting in the lobby. We were supposed to leave at 10am and it’s approaching 10:25:
There is no excuse for being late constantly besides laziness and selfishness
I drive the three hours to Dallas while he sleeps. It’s a super exciting drive:
If u love terrible landscapes and scrub brush, u will love the drive from Austin to Dallas
That night in the hotel lobby we go over the presentation. I have given up asking for answers to the questions on my list. This meeting is going to be so horrible, there is no reason to even worry about it.
We wake up the next day and put on our pre-determined outfits from the night before; the boss had decided to order special dress shirts with our logo on them. We arrive in the lobby and I am wearing my dress shirt and a jacket with normal slacks. He is wearing the same thing but in a weirdly disheveled way. You know how overweight guys with big bellies wear their pants? Like the belt section, or top of the pants, goes around their belly, but then at some point the belly gets too big and the top of the pants go under the belly and the belly hangs over them. Well, he was in that weird in-between phase where he was going to soon need to wear them under the belly, but was not quite there yet. He always wore jeans and a t-shirt to work. I had never seen him in dress clothes and it was weird. The weirdest part of all was that he had undone like three or possibly even four of the top buttons on the shirt. It was wide open and there was massive chest hair poking out. Tom Selleck as Magnum, P.I. would have that this was ridiculous.
So when we get to the building they have us wait in the lobby for at least 30 minutes. I could see the secretary talking to someone in hushed tones and looking over at us and I wondered if we really were having the meeting. Had my boss just made it up and we had just showed up here?
I’m still not sure, but at some point they did let us go upstairs to the conference room. They showed me where they had put the product I had shipped them and I proceeded to unbox it and set it up while the boss set up the laptop presentation.
Two guys came into the room about twenty minutes later. They are nice and welcoming and dressed in jeans, which makes me feel a little too dressed up.
And actually these guys were so nice, that I actually started to think that maybe we had a shot; maybe this wasn’t going to be a disaster after all.
And then the presentation started and we immediately had our asses handed to us and I thought, “Oh, no, this is what I thought would happen.”
If a mtg starts with the other guy telling u your company name is terrible for 20 mins before you’ve said 1 bullet point- that’s bad, right?
They hated everything about the product, the presentation and I’m pretty sure us. They ripped apart the product and told us it was no good. They told us the packaging was terrible. They didn’t like the logo. They didn’t like the price. They didn’t like our marketing plan. (Joke was on him, we really didn’t have any marketing plan. The boss was just making things up.)
And you won’t believe it but they starting asking questions from the list of questions I had come up with! Who could have guessed? And my boss is scrambling to answer, literally making things up as he sits there.
And at some point as the guy is verbally abusing us, I look over at my boss and he is giving me the motion with his hand at his chest to me. He’s trying to tell me something…he’s moving his hand up and down across his bare, hairy chest. Finally I realize he’s telling me to take my jacket off. Seriously! The guy with protruding chest hair is telling me this. He literally had to rub his hand across his chest hair to tell me this and he doesn’t think anything is weird with that? I unzip my jacket and have to turn my head because I’m laughing. It’s like a guy with his face covered in noodles and spaghetti sauce and it’s just dripping off his face and he is looking at me and pointing at the corner of his mouth and saying, “Hey, you’ve got a little sauce right here.”
“Hey buddy, get the plank out of your own eye!” I want to scream.
So we have been in the meeting now about thirty minutes and have been told by these executives how much we suck and we are on slide #2. After they are finally done verbally abusing us, my boss goes, “So now we will continue” and he continues onto slide #3.
Hurricane Katrina thinks this presentation is a disaster
As you can imagine, these guys aren’t going to make it through 70 slides. They continue on for another five or six minutes and then say, “Look why don’t you guys fix the things we talked about and then call us sometime.”
Well, seeing as making the changes they want us to make would mean starting over from scratch and it is obvious that they just want out of there, we shake hands cordially and I am left there to box up our stuff.
That was rough. That may have gone down as one of the worst sales pitches in the history of business.
That mtg would have been less painful if the guy had just kicked me in the balls as soon as we walked in and then let me leave
We didn’t say much on the car ride to the airport. It had been a long six days. We boarded our separate flights and headed home.
I use to think that having a positive attitude could get you through any difficult situation. Unfortunately, I was wrong
It was on the next day at the office that I learned that everyone knew about the trip from passing around copies of my tweets. That morning several people whom I had never really spoken to came up to me and said, “That trip sounded horrible. I feel so sorry for you,” and stuff like that.
And to make an already long story short…..two days later I was told the small division I was working for was closing and I was without a job.
I had been interviewing for another job and was pretty sure I was going to get it so I wasn’t terribly worried. It could have been really bad though, but I would have been a real moron if I hadn’t been looking for a job.
So, did I bring down our company using Twitter? No. It was inevitable. Would it have lasted a little while longer? Maybe, but it didn’t need to. It was brought down at the right time. And I got the job I was interviewing for and even had a month of vacation between jobs. And I needed it.