01 Sep Caught in the Quicksand Part 3: Intervals of Possibility
Pivoting or Pausing?
Out of necessity, in the fall of 2015, Laicos pivoted to a revenue model and began building software for clients. [In case you missed Part 1 & Part 2] Originally, we had intended to build our own applications. While this brought in the money we needed, it wasn’t what we had set out to do. It didn’t feel right. No one at Laicos was really passionate about working on other people’s projects, and there were a finite number of these contracts available. Business started to slow down, and by January of 2016, we weren’t making enough to cover overhead. I did the only thing I could — paid rent and salaries with the little money I had after bankruptcy. My partner and I did our best to bring in jobs and to raise money, but it was nearly impossible.
Kyle and I had to start letting people from our team go. This is still one of the most challenging and embarrassing things I’ve had to do as a professional. We had let down ourselves and our team and those that believed in us. Shortly after, Kyle ended up leaving Laicos to go full time on his non-profit, so it was just me and our Project Manager, Stacey, in the end. She stuck around as long as possible to help me with everything, but then she had to move on as well.
A sign of hope dawned when I was recruited to be the Managing Director of a Corporate Accelerator back in Las Vegas. I reluctantly accepted — I still had Laicos, a downtown office, a few clients, and a bunch of debt! They were going to let me spend the time I needed on Laicos too, so it wasn’t the end! Iron Yard Ventures was funded by the University of Phoenix, and it launched a Hospitality and Gaming Accelerator. I was given complete autonomy over the program and its participants; I was excited! We were set to launch the program in September.
My wife and I moved back to Las Vegas, so I could run the program properly. My wife was happier in Las Vegas. She disliked Tampa because of the weather, lack of friends, and the annoying neighbors. And though I was relieved that she was feeling better, during this transition, my grandfather passed away. He had spent a lot of time in the hospital but was released with a positive prognosis. However, three days after being discharged, he died of a heart attack due to a nursing error at his home. I had never handled any kind of loss well. I was raised to be tough and hide my emotions. And although I had become adept at suppressing emotions, this unexpected loss affected me. He was a cool person and my last living grandparent. Living in Vegas, then Tampa, then moving back to Vegas didn’t allow me time to visit him and say goodbye. The last time I saw my grandfather was at my wedding. His abrupt passing broke my heart.
After arriving in Las Vegas for this new job, I discovered the office space that we were supposed to be working from would not be completed on time. Completion was a year away; as a result, I was told to hold off on the program. However, I had just moved back to Vegas for this role and didn’t want to put my career on hold waiting on office space. I was confident that I could be successful despite the lack of completed office space. So, I went against their “strong recommendation” and proceeded to recruit companies for the program.
Self-care While Sinking
As I worked to improve my financial situation, I turned my attention to something I had known for a while but didn’t have time to acknowledge or address: my physical and emotional health was struggling. I made the decision right then to focus on something I could control: my physical health. To address the physical, mental, and emotional stress I was under, I decided to start a “365 day challenge”. Basically, this involved eating healthy and exercising five days a week for a year in an effort to build myself back to a healthier position. It was not the most convenient time for this type of program, but looking back, it was the best thing I could have done. When you are experiencing intense stress and lacking support from friends and family, it often leads you to ignore your self-care. You can become a ticking time bomb. Taking control of my health empowered me — something I needed immensely to create balance and stability amongst the chaos.
The Hospitality and Gaming Accelerator launched successfully in September of 2016 with seven companies from all over the world participating. I coordinated all of this from a co-working facility I leased in downtown Las Vegas. By November, the program concluded with all startups making great progress. I felt pride in seeing my project meet its goals. I anxiously awaited my bonus that was promised to me in February. The deal was that I would take a smaller salary, so any excess in the budget at year end would be my bonus. When I asked for it, I was shocked when the managing partner rescinded the offer. He proceeded to demand proof of the agreement in writing, knowing full well that we had a verbal agreement. After we had reached the terms of my employment over the phone, back in March, he was supposed to provide a written copy of the agreement; he never did. I was swindled by a dishonest man. He let me down and that tarnished our working relationship.
Although I was buoyed up by my success with the project, being deceived and losing the bonus I had rightfully earned was a blow. It was just one more thing on top of everything else I was going through –an additional weight on my already overburdened shoulders. I decided it was time to check out for a bit. I decided to take my wife on a vacation. We hadn’t traveled at all since our honeymoon, and I decided we needed to work on our relationship away from the chaos of our life. I had re-negotiated a bonus with my manager for $7,000 (which was less than 10% of what I was expecting) for my work on the accelerator; he had originally offered $14,000 up front but then changed the terms on me (again). He said I’d get the other $7,000 when I finished raising money for the program — which was never part of the original agreement.
I chose to use this bonus to pack up and fly to Hawaii with my wife for some well-deserved relaxation. However, the negative feelings from how the business relationship ended and the lingering threat of being fired hung over me the entire trip. And, keeping with the theme of my torrential bad luck, our vacation was fraught with complications and bad news. Our flight to Hawaii had to turn around mid-flight because the gas gauge stopped working. For the inconvenience, the airline gave us $8 vouchers, but none of the stores or restaurants would accept them. We didn’t arrive in Hawaii until 11 hours after we had originally planned. And, as an added bonus, my brand new GoPro was stolen from my luggage. My anxiety piqued and ruined our vacation.
A week into January 2017, I received an email that informed me I had been terminated from my job at Iron Yard Ventures. I knew from my manager’s silence that something was coming, and I anticipated being let go when I returned from my vacation. However, being paid a bonus and then two weeks later being fired via email, was indicative of the lack of professionalism this manager displayed. The only reason provided in the email was: “We are going in another direction with the program.” But, I knew the truth. It would have been impossible to work together after they reneged on my contract and took the money for themselves.
Growth or Stagnation?
At this point, emotions surged through me: anger, sadness, frustration, hopelessness. I felt my financial footings becoming rocky yet again. Feelings of depression emerged. I began to clearly see the emotional cycle I was trapped in. Extreme highs followed by devastating lows. Rarely was there any emotional middle ground. Being dashed from one emotional extreme to another was exhausting.
When you experience repeated failures, it is common to wonder if you are the cause of it all. While I had made some critical errors, I realized that I had worked with people who lacked integrity and loyalty. I couldn ‘t trust any of them. I had zero desire to start a new company, and even if I did, I had no capital to start it with. I found myself completely out of my comfort zone. What do I do now?
Questions tormented me: How do I start to rebuild from ground zero — or even worse — from being in the negative? I was accustomed to entrepreneurial ventures. Did I just leave that behind and get a regular job? How do you get a job without a resume? And, how do I explain all my work history to a potential employer without looking like a complete joke?