I have a passion for helping entrepreneurs. For a couple of years, I kept an eye on a young entrepreneur, a college student at the time, we’ll call him Barry, who had impressed me and his professors as a hard worker, honest, and dedicated, and who wanted to start his own company when he graduated. Sure enough, a couple of years ago, during his senior year, he gave a pitch to a group of us about a new company, and I, along with another friend, decided to make a small investment. More importantly I committed to mentor him, and help him build his business. With the startup capital, he hired students and contractors and, over a couple of years, grew his business to a point where he needed to bring on another full-time employee to help him manage the work, and grow sales. So, he proposed bringing along his good friend, we’ll call him John, who had experience in sales and was looking for a new opportunity. His plan was that they would rent a place together where they would live and work out of, and as things moved along, he would make Jon an equity partner in the business. I thought it could be a good plan, but because they needed a guarantor for the lease, and asked me if I would do that, I asked that I meet Jon in person.
And that’s why they showed up in my office one evening. We spent an hour talking about the business and Jon’s background in sales. Jon talked about how he had spent the last couple of years selling in a high-pressure environment, how successful he was in closing deals, and how committed he was to building this company, and becoming an equity partner with his friend. The entire time he was talking, I couldn’t stop thinking I was being conned by an expert. So I pushed for details on his experience, and he told a great story, but I still had the sense that it was not quite as he said. But, Barry had vouched for him, told me he was a good guy he knew for a long time, and, other than that feeling, I had no real reason to believe he was lying. So I agreed to back them up on the next phase, guaranteed the lease, and off they went. They rented a house, moved their equipment and inventory there, and continued growing the business.
Fast forward a few months, and I get a call from Barry that went like this:
B – Chuck, you are not going to believe what happened.
C – Ha. Try me.
B – I went away for a few days for my birthday, and for the entire time I couldn’t get Jon to answer his phone. So I tried to log into the camera system I had installed in the office and, somehow, it was offline so I couldn’t see what was going on.
C – That’s not good! Where are you now?
B – I am at the house. Jon’s stuff is gone and it looks like he moved out, and the camera system was powered down so I would have no record of what happened.
C – Well, that’s a shitty thing to do, for a friend, but it’s not the end of the world; maybe he decided that building a business is not his thing.
B – Hmmmm….. That’s not all. I think he copied my customer list, hired one of my workers, and all the time I was away he was calling on all my customers taking business away; oh, and I looked through my files and the non-compete agreements they each signed are missing.
C – (Expletive)…I had a nasty feeling about where this story was going. That sucks even more, but, based on my experience in the last couple of years with a similar situation, that’s what sleazy, unethical, and ungrateful people do. I should have warned you about my reaction to your “friend” and not let you go into business with him. Lesson learned for both of us. What are you going to do next?
And the young man’s answer reminded me why, even though every now and then I get taken advantage of, I want to, and will continue to, believe and invest in people.
B – What else is there to do? I will get up tomorrow and focus on rebuilding my business. I will make sure I find a roommate to share the cost of the house, so you are not stuck with the cost, and I will never again mix personal and business. I am going to be like a slingshot, the further back you pull it, the further it shoots.
I love this kid. He will come out of this, even if we have to invest some more money in his business, and he will become successful. And I will be proud to have him call me his mentor. Oh, and that asshole, Jon, he has NO idea of the power of my network and connections…. Never confuse my kindness with weakness, my desire to help people with stupidity… And NEVER screw with one of my kids!