It was early 2001 and we were a five person web design company. We’d been “in business” since late 1998 but we were still kids, having started Spunlogic from our dorm room at UNC-Charlotte.
By 2001, one of our major strategies was to work with other firms to help them produce websites. There was one firm in particular, let’s just call it Blue Ocean, that was using us quite a bit. They were 20+ people and to me, they had made it. They were where we wanted to be and we thought it was terrific that they were working with us.
Their CEO reached out to me one day and asked if my two partners and I wanted to go and get a steak lunch, on him. He wanted to thank us for all the hard work. I was over the moon excited as this guy was a vision of my future self – the CEO of a “big” web agency. And here he was asking us to lunch, presumably to thank us and give us a bunch of advice to help us with our business. I’d never had a mentor before and I thought this was my lucky day.
The first half of the lunch he talked about how appreciative he was of all the great work we’d done. He talked about upcoming projects we’d be perfect for. Then he turned to Danny and said, “Danny, you’re such a great programmer. If you guys keep growing your business the way you are and getting great experience, maybe one day you can come and run development for my company.”
Then he turned to Raj and said, “Raj, you’re such a great designer, if you guys keep kicking butt with your business and you keep getting more experience, maybe one day you can come do creative for me and even run my creative department.”
He turned to me at that moment and said, “Jeff, you’re so organized and buttoned up, maybe one day – if you guys keep growing your business and doing great work – you can come and run some accounts for me.”
For about ten seconds I was furious. He thought we just had a little hobby business and didn’t take us seriously. And he was so sure we were a joke that he assumed we thought that as well and would jump at the chance to kill our dream and come work for his company.
I quickly composed myself and said, “Thank you, Frank, we really appreciate that.” But inside I was saying, “I AM GOING TO CRUSH YOU.” I made it my mission to bury his company. About three years later we passed his company in size, and four years after that we were acquired as a 75-person agency and he was down to three people.
The lesson: Entrepreneurs have to be self-motivated. When you’re the boss, no one is going to check in on you to make sure you’re doing your job. You have to be motivated and you have to find that motivation anywhere you can. For me, burying Frank’s company became part of my mission.