As of February, ExchangeDefender is over 16 years old. In that time I’ve made many mistakes and learned a lot of lessons the hard way. One of the blessings in business is to live long enough to have the time to fix your mistakes, apologize for stuff you were wrong about and improve your service – every day.
Here are my top 3 rules.
Rule 1: Don’t work with assholes
Sometimes people confuse attitude and passion for asshole behavior. This is not what I mean: Different people around the world behave differently and have different socially accepted mannerisms that are tolerated. As weird as we may find some Asian cultures, they find us even weirder.
My job isn’t to judge you.
My job is to take your money for a service.
The above works universally with all cultures in all countries on Earth. I haven’t tried other planets yet.
Assholes to me are people that actively try to make your business or life a living hell.
For example, we have clients from the middle east that refuse to take women seriously. Fair enough, we know who you are, we’ll forward you to someone less useful if you like some deep bass in your voice. That’s how you were raised, I understand, I still love your money.
Manners – But if you have no manners whatsoever that’s not a matter of social adaptation, that’s a mistake your parents made for not slapping the shit out of you when you first demonstrated the lack of ability to work with other human beings. If you shout and threaten my staff or fling expletives at me on every social network you can find, I will politely inform you that we don’t need your money that bad (Look at the comments if you want an example of batshit insane). I am not a doctor and I can’t tell if you need to be medicated – but I am a CEO of a company and if I wouldn’t treat my employees in such a despicable manner you sure as hell don’t get to either.
Hypocrites – I don’t know Jesus, I sure don’t pretend to know him so well to write a daily blog about him, but I don’t recall the chapters of the Bible that discuss how great it is to cheat on your spouse while passing judgment on others, outright lying about alliances while asking others to open their books or outright shady deals. Again, there are a lot of authors of the bible and perhaps I just haven’t made it to the section where the rules of common decency apply during daylight hours but nights are spent in strip joints.
Liars – There are about 5 people in my life that I don’t expect to lie to me, about anything, ever – even if it’s going to hurt my feelings. In business, lying is a norm. Whether it’s just a matter of withholding truth or information or outright complete opposite of the reality, it happens – a lot. I know the more naïve people may think this is off base but think about how often you pay for something that just doesn’t work, your employees don’t tell you about looking for a new job or you don’t tell them you’re looking to replace them, it’s not so much a slight as it is a language. I am OK with situational lies. I am not OK when something is so obviously a lie that I’m actually offended you think I’m stupid enough to believe you.
The rule: Not every day is paradise but if you focus, work hard, put in the hours and always take care of business everything will fall in it’s place. When you learn from your mistakes and people show you who you are you will have enough wisdom and scalability to turn down business from abusive people, stop paying attention or doing business with hypocrites and when the liars from the stage tell you that they aren’t reselling your competitors products while your partners tell you they are being solicited around the clock – well, you can shift well over a million dollars worth of business a year to their competitor because your friends and partners deserve better.
In the long long ago I made a mistake of working with the wrong people. Live and learn and take your time.
Rule 2: Don’t let others dictate your pace
I like ambition. I like enthusiasm. I love people that are eager to get started. But one of the things I’ve learned in my old and wise age of 34 is that no matter the circumstance, it’s always going to be my fault. So when it comes to projects, I have this little rule:
“We can either spend 2 weeks up front preparing for it and rolling it out right while getting paid for it… or we can let them mess it up, blame us both while we work for free for 2 weeks to fix their mess and have them fire us both afterwards.”
This is just one of a million things I’ve learned as a father of two little boys. They are thrilled to play with the new toy, get immediately frustrated and break it, then still make me feel bad for something that was their own fault. End users are not that different – at least a 2 and a 4 year old boy have an excuse!
The rule: Never let someone that hasn’t done it before dictate the pace. The big decision you have to make is if you would rather lose sales up front by not responding to the impulse/immediate gratification folks, or be emotionally and mentally beaten down and fired afterwards.
When you’re really small or struggling to make the ends meet it can be rough. You can end up at the mercy of whoever is shaking a fist full of cash. I can only wish you luck and hope that most of those clients don’t fit into Rule 1. Remember that one of the primary reasons you got hired to do a job is because of you. Read that a few times and let it sink in: Your opinion is either relevant and valuable or it isn’t. You are either respected to do the job or you aren’t. Know where you stand and do the right thing.
Rule 3: Make them sign on the line which is dotted
This is the lesson I learned the hard way.
Even though it’s been about 11 years, I am still bitter about it. Not just because it combines both rules #1 and #2 but because it was 100% my fault and I was too stupid to realize just how dumb I was.
The rule: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever work for free. Until the check has cleared, contract signed and you put the safety back on and take them off the scope – nothing is getting done.
A long time ago one of my close partners got me a deal to build out a mail infrastructure for a large luxury car dealer in South Florida. Sign 1. At the time he was so hyped up about the deal that he forgot to mention that these are some of the sleaziest most unethical people on earth who barrage their vendors into virtually doing so much prep work and bidding that they end up losing money on the deal. Sign 2. He also failed to mention that his business was in such a rough shape that he was moving to their organization as the CIO. Sign 3. Finally, and most importantly, whenever he didn’t deliver the “almost signed contract” he did deliver a few new gotchas and requirements all while stressing that once they sign the document they had to go live within a day. Sign 4.
Stop me if you’ve gone through something like this.
Very long story short, I built the infrastructure, procured the licensing, setup the systems, configured everything, established services and even created all the accounts. Thousands of dollars of hardware and software, ungodly amount of hours. And with the finger on the switch, I asked about the credit card and the signed contract.
This went on for a little while, with one confidence man after another, doing everything but paying or signing the contract. My ex-buddy, ex-partner, ex-VAR and as a result of not being able to completely pimp & swindle me ex-dealer-CIO finally fessed up: “These guys are ruthless. They make their vendors jump through so many hoops that by the time they are done with them they’ll do it at almost near the cost just not to lose all they’ve put into getting the deal.” You know that business deal people talk about making just to make your name and make money through something else – this was it, baby!
The rule: Get paid up front. No exceptions.
Ethics in business still matter
I don’t mean to make you conceded. I don’t.
Even though I’ve had my share of slimy jerkoffs that made me temporarily lose faith in humanity and business world in general – some people are just rotten.
Thankfully, I’ve never let them defeat me. As many times as I’ve gotten knocked down to my knees, my ego checked and my dreams absolutely crushed.. every day I wake up, I have a chance to do better.
We do business with a lot of wonderful people. Yeah, most of our partners (and myself included) might be assholes from time to time but we share a lot of values and we’re probably jaded because we shared a lot of bad experiences. Part of growing a small business is dealing with bastards.
I can’t judge anyone. It’s not my job. I don’t know if you’re skipping out your meds, I don’t know if you have such terrible demeanor that you can’t even keep a job at your brothers IT company and you keep on failing at one job after another till you become an unemployed failure, I don’t know if you just come off really bad in email, phone calls, support tickets, I don’t know if you had a bad day or if you had a rough life or if you are having trouble at home or trouble with the kids. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I am only accountable for my actions and how I treat people and I try to treat everyone the way I expect to be treated. I’m sure I’ve inadvertently burned enough people in my career. Glass houses and all, shit happens. The difference is, I don’t start my day or get great joy at seeing others fail. Not every day is paradise but it’s easier to walk through hell than to be bulshitted into the grave.
The rules of the game that I have learned the hard way haven’t made me a better businessman. They have stopped me from becoming as bad as the people that made me live by these rules in the first place.
Everything else.. I attribute to pure luck.