Dealing with Unprofessional People and Start-Up Issues

I will be the first to admit that I am still learning about how companies “should” be run, how employees “should” be treated, etc. Recently I have had an experience that while it put a bad taste in my mouth, I actually learned quite a bit. A few of these notes are from various projects I have worked on. I cite this as a learning experience and hopefully writing about it will help others learn from my “mistakes”:

1. Some people really abuse the intellectual property of creative people with ease and no abandon:

I had this happen to me once before. It was not a pleasant feeling, that first time the person in question was reprimanded for plagiarism. They got what was coming to them. This time it was purely my trusting nature that put me in a bad spot, a rock and a hard place if you will. From now on people will be signing NDA’s and contract agreements when they wish to use my work, or discuss it in anyway. I hate that I have to do that, I wish I could just trust people… but when it comes down to it, some people (I am not saying all of them, just some) have a really loose understanding of creative rights. You can’t really explain it to them either, its like talking to a wall, a very very dull wall…

image credit – http://www.spaces.nl

2. If you feel that you aren’t being disrespected in any way; get out, get out fast:

Now this is different then not liking your boss or your co-workers. Some people just clash, that is the nature of the beast in social environments. This is about not getting basic human respect, you should never have to do something that goes against your morals. Furthermore you should never put up with someone who is blaming their own misfortune on you. The latter was my experience. I was told that if I marketed this “thing” better my co-worker would have had a paying job by now and the company would be bringing in money already. Which I knew not to be true, all my friends in marketing also knew that this statement was ridiculous. A company in its infancy, being 3 months old, should not expect to even be breaking even yet. He just wasn’t experienced, and he was taking out his lack of professionalism on me. Which was inappropriate and very disrespectful to the work I was doing. When I went to the gentleman in charge he listened and then said he would talk to him about it. Which I was happy to hear. Though… nothing happened, there was no sit down talk about it, no apology. That should have been the first sign that I needed to leave. It seemed like neither of the individuals seemed to understand that start-ups in the first couple of months don’t gain a ton of traction without any network connects of ties to other companies and projects. This was the case with this one, I was running in the dark with little to no support and expected to preform “miracles”.

image credit – INC online

3. Never sign into a company until you have a better idea of their operating policies:

One of these projects; I never really had an idea of where is was going, or what people thought my role was. To use “couch therapy” lingo: I feel as if I was putting a lot in and not getting a lot out of it. I feel like I was doing plenty of work and then being told that I was not doing enough because they viewed giving money and expensive equipment as more valuable in an employee. I just shrugged it off in the beginning, things really hadn’t heated up yet. Then life happened and I needed to take a short break from being super involved with the company. This was a unpaying gig, that I was spending money on, I was doing it in my free time. They seemed very understanding, though I heard later there was some very ugly smack talk being thrown around out why I needed time off. Some of my friends that had a better idea of what was going on set the record straight with the others but it was just so… well unprofessional. Then I started to hear from other people around town about how things were going. I didn’t like what I was hearing, but I tried to consult with people about it. “It’s bad but It’s not THAT bad.” “I’ve seen worse.” “Yeah, I don’t know, I doubt this is going anywhere.” is what I was hearing from other people involved with the project.

Red flags were being raised all over the place. There was clearly a difference in opinion on how the company should be run, and how the project was being handled. Those in higher places were content, those in lower places were not. No one was speaking to one another about it, people were being defensive and avoiding bigger issues. It was getting ugly.

To be honest I had signed into the company at put money in before I truly knew these people. I did so through an online posting – which I will never ever be doing again without asking some serious questions first.

image credit – mudflats.net

Since then I have invested time and money into other start-ups but only after I had a better understanding of the people and their operating policies. People are always going to have different ideas on how a company should be run. If you are signing into something and the people involved have no idea, can’t answer simple questions, and have a “We’ll figure it out as we go” attitude then to me that’s a bad sign.  It is understandable that some instances will occur in a start-up unexpectedly, that you will have to figure something out as you go but that shouldn’t be your policy. Also if they can’t commit to a company structure and they all seem to think they are in charge, than that’s even worse. Companies need some structure in order to function properly and live past the infancy. You can be casual about somethings and open about others but making your operating polices clear is something you should be more firm with.

Clearly the biggest thing I got out of all of this was a greater understanding of what a “bad” company looks like. Also if you are in your infancy and you are loosing members left and right, and loosing most of your founding members… Not a good sign. I met some wonderful people in the process and really learned a very valuable lesson. I just hope some others can also learn from my mistakes! Mainly if you aren’t getting paid, your not being respected, then just leave. Other things will come along, I promise.

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