Private Equity Firm
I fell straight down and broke both my legs right in the middle of the street. Or strained them. Or something. Because I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards. I was walking on Wall Street with two partners in the private equity firm I had just become a partner at earlier that week. This was fairly recently. Like in the past two years. I hadn’t stumbled over anything. Just fell to the ground in front of everyone.
“You okay?” everyone asked. I pretended not to limp. Later that night I couldn’t walk. A few days later I showed back up at the firm for a meeting I had set up. I wanted to do business with a Brazilian private equity firm. Brazil has two harvests, I learned in the meeting. Sounded like a place I wanted to do business. But I got bored. “Excuse me,” I said, and walked out of the meeting. Out of the office. Sixty-seven floors down. Subway to Grand Central. Train up to the Hudson Valley.
I never went back to the office. “Where are you?” The head partner wrote me. Some phone calls appeared on my cell. “Come back,” said the next email. “There’s still a place for you here,” said the next email two weeks later. I never responded to anything. They might still have my name on the door.
I have some bad habits.
I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. It was summer. I lived in Hell’s Kitchen. For awhile, HBO was the best job ever. I used to skip to work every day. But I couldn’t get out of bed. And I had a business on the side that was growing. But I was afraid to jump into the abyss and just do my business full-time. HBO was HBO. I was afraid nobody would return my calls if I left HBO. And I was right. Start-up world was the abyss. The work at HBO was monotonous, draining; I hated the politics. I had to go in though. There were meetings. Who was going to make the website for Sex and the City?
But I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
I was afraid to go into the office. There were too many people I didn’t want to run into. I would do videos outside every morning in front of the New York Stock Exchange. But I refused to go up into the office for meetings. People still stop me on the street. “I used to love those videos. Where are you now?” They ask. Even though I write for a million other places. I learned a lot working with Jim Cramer.
But there were too many people I didn’t want to run into.
One day, Dave Morrow (R.I.P.) called me and said, “You have to come into the office. We have to talk.”
I said, “Let’s meet outside where you usually do your cigarette breaks.” I couldn’t come into the office.
“No,” he said. “You have to come in.”
I had a deal with TheStreet.com after I sold Stockpickr to them. But two years in they wanted to change the deal. I went into the office and was met by Dave and the woman from HR. They offered me half salary and I had to show up at the office 40 hours a week.
I’m a skilled negotiator. So I counter-offered. “I will write for you every day for FREE,” I said, “and I will get zero salary. But I can’t come into the office.” At the time I lived on 15 Broad Street. If you know the geography of Wall Street, you would know that I lived approximately 40 feet from Thestreet.com’s offices at 14 Wall Street.
They said, “No.”
Fund of funds
I ran a fund of hedge funds. We were invested in 12 different hedge funds. This was 2006. Several of those funds have since settled with the SEC. But by then we were no longer invested in them.
A major bank wanted to buy our fund of funds. They made a great offer: 10 percent of our assets. Typically a company like ours goes for 2 percent of assets. It was millions. We flew out to California to meet them. They flew out to NYC to meet us. We got the official legal document that was the deal. They wanted me to sign a six-year employment agreement. My business partner said we can’t do this deal. My lawyer said, “This is indentured servitude.”
We didn’t respond to the offer. They called me several times. “We are willing to negotiate,” the CEO of the bank said, “if there’s a problem.” But they had no idea what the problem was. Because I never responded to them. I responded to their Facebook friend requests. We’re all “friends” now, although we’ve never spoken again. And we shut the fund of funds down.
I was trading for several hedge funds. But about once a month I would get so stressed I wouldn’t be able to sleep and I would feel all the blood going through my body. I’d be up at three in the morning checking futures. I’d never sleep. Once a month my partner and I were convinced we were going to stop trading and make an infomercial for “diet pills.”
We figured out how to manufacture them cheap, how to video the infomercial, how to air it late at night. We were going to do it. But we kept trading. And once a month… repeat. We returned the money. Nobody wanted the money back. We were doing great for them. But we returned it all and never spoke to anyone again.
I had a job at Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Machine Translation. Software I wrote helped take Caterpillar tractor manuals and translate them from English to German and ten other languages. One day I left early. I wanted to hang out with a girl. The next day the boss came into my office and, with the door open and in front of people, proceeded to yell at me. But not just yell at me. He was yelling questions. You know those sorts of questions. A yell plus a question you can’t answer like, “Did you really think that was a good thing to do?” Of course I can’t answer that.
So I quit. And took the job HBO was offering me. But never told him I had a counter-offer. So he would suffer. For months after I left nobody could figure out my programming code. Because I had the ugliest code known to man. It was indecipherable.
Xceed bought my first company, Reset. They were going to keep all the brands separate but then they combined them and moved us all into one big building. I had an office. I was a “senior vice president” along with about 40 other people. But Xceed had acquired too many companies. Everyone was gossiping all day long about everyone else. I stopped going into the office. I started looking for other things to do. I finally told them I was quitting and they threatened to sue me. “The one area where slavery is legal in America is when one company buys another company,” the Chairman of the company told me. So sue me. He has since produced the latest Superman movie.
10 Signs you need to leave your corporate job
A) You can’t wake up. You need 10 extra minutes to get up. Then another 10.
B) You get physically hurt while on the job for no real reason (subconscious at work).
C) You don’t feel like returning emails or phone calls. When the number of un-returned emails or calls hits 20, you need to leave.
D) You are unsure about your compensation (with the private equity firm above my compensation was very unclear).
E) You are afraid to run into people in the office for no real reason.
F) You are not creating any additional value for yourself. View yourself as a business. Is the value of “your business” going up. When I was at the fund of funds, the fact that I could only sell my fund of funds if I signed a six year employment agreement, showed me that I had not been creating any additional value in my business.
G) You are thinking about selling diet pills. Tim Ferris aside, nobody in their right mind should sell diet pills.
H) Someone yells at you. You’re not a kid. Yelling is abusive. Nobody should ever yell at you. Ever. But that’s a hard habit to break if you are used to people yelling at you.
I) You think about office politics more than you think about how to do your job well. Never gossip at work. Ever.
J) You date someone at work. One of you needs to leave. Pronto. Or else, work, relationships, life, gets ruined. Don’t shit where you eat.
I think 90 percent of people should quit their jobs right now or do something utterly drastic to shake things up. “What would I do?” People ask. “I have responsibilities, mouths to feed, mortgage to pay. You don’t get it.” Yes I do. You throw yourself into the abyss. You get scared. You stay up late at night thinking and thinking and thinking. You feel like the death of emptiness is worse than the slow death of your job. But you’ll figure it out. One by one all of your old colleagues will disappear from your life. They will die.
You’ll still be alive.
*As a side story, once I was at the second wedding I ever went to. It was a lesbian wedding, so we had to go out to sea in a boat. I saw this pretty woman on the boat. She started talking to me and I still didn’t recognize her. Finally, she realized I didn’t recognize her and said, “James! It’s me, X!” And I remembered the last time I’d seen her. It was six months earlier. I used to work with her every day. Then she had been fired. She had been ugly then. I mean, hideous. Now she was beautiful and unrecognizable. Six months is a long time when you are free from prison.