How it all Began
“What do you see me doing here in 2-5 years?” I was speaking with the head of my division.
There was a moment of pause into which I interjected, “Have you ever thought about that?”
Before I continue, let me just mention that I had been working for this company and directly with my boss for three and a half years – two as an intern and the rest full time. He was the best boss I have ever had, and there is very little I could say in a negative light about him. He had great technical and project management abilities, and is a very honest, sincere, caring person. I cherish the time I worked with him and learned a lot from him.
And thus, following his “no” response, we had a great discussion of what the company could offer me within the time frame I inquired about. In another life, I’m confident that I could have excelled in any of the potential sales, recruiting, project management, or internal management jobs. However none offered all the criteria I wanted out of my work, and especially not the number one item: ownership.
There are three segments of ownership, and all are necessary to achieve its full effect.
- the type that you feel through the creative process in your work
- the type that gives you control over decision making
- the type that aligns financial interests with productivity interests
I have always had a strong affinity toward what I put my efforts into. Check mark next to the first type. At this company I would give a half of a check mark to the second type (I had a medium amount of decision making power). The last type had been a problem. I could not own stock in the company I worked for, and therefore had a hard time truly feeling the ownership that I used to feel.
Let me back-track a little, to explain that used to phrase. Before starting college when I was 21, I ran my own freelance web development business. Client-management, architecture, design, development, QA, maintenance, and overhead were all my responsibility. This required that I hold all three segments of ownership. And I loved it. So perhaps all of the discussions with my boss and the internal conflict I was feeling was just me realizing the type of company I wanted to work for, and seeing that the size and nature of the company I was with couldn’t meet my requirements.
During my last year there, the majority of my work was spent at clients’ offices working on their projects. Within a consulting company, this is sometimes referred to as “external consulting”. And at least initially, it is the exact same method of bringing in revenue that I plan on pursuing for the company I’m starting. If you have specific skills, it is hard to turn down that kind of semi-consistent cash flow. Coupled with that I will be advising small to medium-size companies with their online presence strategies, which will include web development.
An Ethical Dilemma
I had made my decision to leave; my superiors, colleagues, and I had a plan in place that would allow all parties adequate time to document and transition what I was responsible for. The president of the company and I agreed on a date and both felt the natural break should be yearend (12/31/2008). It worked out well in terms of benefits, payroll, etc.
When I made my decision mid-October the economy was in a downturn, albeit not the mudslide that we currently find ourselves in, but there were signs that it could get considerably worse. Now we are in an environment where consulting jobs have almost completely dried up – making this the absolute worst time to be transitioning from a stable job. I have been getting to the point where the buffer funds I saved up have dwindled down into the “worried range”. People have started to ask me, “Why didn’t you just stay with the company until you could find a consulting gig to transition into?”
A valid question. Perhaps one that most people could have easily answered. It wasn’t that simple for me.
When I made the conscious decision that my life would be better fulfilled running my own business, it was at that point I made the decision to leave my current job. Could I then justify sticking around just to collect a paycheck? Some would argue yes, some no. I’m not saying there is a single right answer for all situations (hence the dilemma).
I see this as a classic Principal-Agent Problem. If I had said nothing, the owners (principals) of the company would have been under the impression that I (an agent) was planning on being with the company for years to come. It would have been implied through my behavior and rhetoric. (Talk about asymmetric information!) Knowing then that the economy was in a downturn, I could have sat on the bench at my company studying, researching, writing, getting certifications they would have paid for, eating company lunches, etc., all the while knowing that as soon as things got better I would be out of there. Would that be ethical? I don’t think so. Think about it this way: which company would have actually benefited more, and in what way? I wasn’t about to start my company on another person’s dollar.
After describing it like that, most people understand the reason I left when I did.
And that’s my first post ! Feels good to finally give birth to something that had been in gestation just a tad too long. I have a feeling future posts will be a little easier. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
I’m also sure some of you are wondering what the new company I have started is. I am getting the site for it up and running – and of course I will write up a post once it launches.
Thanks to Andy Brudtkuhl and my folks for reading drafts of this, and thanks to Eric Schapp for some terrific editorial suggestions.