A is for Apple, B is for I Hate Your Guts
In November, I had my first major blowout with Satan.
He told me to do something that I didn’t want to do, and it was on.
We were holding a big meeting at the office on a Tuesday and Satan announces suddenly that everyone on the executive team is going to head into the city to speak with our venture capital backing firm. The VC folks want to get a feel for our personalities, our backgrounds, and what makes us tick. To that end, we will have individual one on one sessions with members of the VC board. By the way, we’ll be doing this tomorrow morning.
Despite the short notice, this doesn’t phase me.
But then he goes on to say that it’s of critical importance that we stress how firmly we believe in the future success of the company and product.
Because I won’t be in the individual meetings, it’s essential that we all are on the same page with regard to how we talk about our company here — the product, the solution in the business space, the culture of Hell.
We’re all nodding. This doesn’t seem to be a big deal to me at all. It’s the sort of fluffy touchy-feely optimism drenched session that, at this point in my career, I’m completely resigned to. I take these sorts of things in stride nowadays — just meet with whoever they want me to meet with, present anything they want to present. During events like this, my mouth becomes a bullshit factory, automatically producing platitude after platitude of lies and crap that gets me through the day. And I do my best to smile, even though I don’t much feel like it. There’s always a dim part of my consciousness in the back of my head who observes my behavior with disapproval, but every year that goes by, that piece of me grows dimmer.
So it’s at this point I’d like to talk about the new direction of our company. We’re going to move down a different strategical path which is markedly different from the initial vision that we’ve been adhering to up to now.
My brain perks up. A different path? Are we going to shift product directions?
Here are the ways in which we’re going to change our approach in the banking space. <ten or fifteen minutes of explanation follow.> Now, are there any questions as to how we’re going to relate this to the VC folks tomorrow? Remember, I won’t be in the individual sessions with you to back you up — you’ll have to be able to talk about this on your own.
Everyone is still nodding, heads just bobbing back and forth, small forced grins plastered on faces. No one says a word. But I can feel a shift in mood, from mild tension at the start of this speech, to barely contained panic. Imagine you’re in college and your American History professor says there’s going to be a major test tomorrow on the content you’ve been learning all semester. No problem. If you’ve attended class during the semester and done your homework, you should be ready. Now imagine that professor says: This test is going to be on European History. I’ll talk about it for fifteen minutes now and that should be enough to get you through it. By the way, I’m not the one administering the test — my excellent colleagues from the European History department will be providing it.
How do you think you’re going to do on that test?
So I voice my concern. I ask if this is the best time to completely switch gears — the day before this meeting. If the vision of the company was good three months ago, why is it suddenly bad now? Don’t we have a client already?
I had this epiphany last night that we need to shift direction. What better time to do it than now? Always go with your best ideas, that’s the way I live my life.
Sure, I understand that. But you’re asking your new ideas to become our ideas as well, practically overnight. Is that fair? I need time to digest this and see whether or not I fundamentally agree with it.
You don’t have to agree with it for now. I’m just asking you to understand it.
But if I don’t agree with it, it becomes a question of integrity. You’re asking me to sell something before I understand what it is I’m selling.
Integrity? Are you saying I lack integrity?
No, I’m saying that my integrity will be compromised. Look, if I gave you a copy of the Book of Mormon and asked you to go around the neighborhood and sell it tomorrow without even reading it, would you do it?
This is not the same thing, software is not religion.
You’re right. Given the dedication you demand from us in terms of sacrificing our personal lives for the company, it is much more important than religion. Most organizations of faith only ask for a couple of hours a week at church.
If you aren’t going to do this, we have a serious problem.
Yes, it appears that we do. I’m happy to go and speak to these folks and talk about the vision of the company we’ve held up to this point. I’m not happy about all of this new direction bullshit, dropped on us fewer than 24 hours prior to meeting with these people that we need so badly to impress. Why couldn’t we have been discussing this a week ago?
I didn’t have this terrific idea a week ago.
I have a new idea. It just came to me right now. I’m not going to this meeting tomorrow. I just learned from you that since this is my most recent idea, it must also be my best idea ever, so I’m going to go with it.
At this point, my CSO is telling us both to calm down. She’s inserted herself between me and Satan, and I can feel her clammy hand pressed against my chest. We’re all standing up — I hadn’t even realized I had risen from my seated position and walked over to him. I’m physically hot — I can feel the heat radiating off of me. Later in the day, after the confrontation, Namager tells me that he could see veins bulging out on my neck and would have placed a hefty bet that I was going to start a demon-style brawl.
It’s weird. I’m not a violent person. I have never hit anyone, and I don’t like getting aggravated like this. And yet here I was, temper flaring, ready to throw down like a street boxer.
In a piercing moment of insight, I wonder who the hell I’ve become, exactly. Just a mess of parts pieced together from various jobs with a ticking timebomb at the gooey center, apparently.
I left for the remainder of the day.
During the course of the afternoon I get a bunch of emails from people at the meeting.
My CSO: Ugly scene. But I agree with what you said. I think everyone did.
My CFO: About time someone told Satan what they think about his unpredictability. Not saying I agree with your approach, but we’re all tired of his games.
Namager: Hope you’re okay. Calm down and get some rest. This will blow over, I promise. We need you.
Satan: Thought about our discussion. Decided we can all talk about the original vision tomorrow with the VC guys. We can talk more about the new vision on Thursday internally. That OK?
I don’t respond to anyone. I’m still boiling over and don’t trust myself to say anything. Besides, I have work to do. Our client on the west coast is opening tickets and someone’s got to process it, so I dig in.
One great thing about being totally overwhelmed: You never have to worry about what to do with your free time. You never have any.
So next morning I wake up and things feel normal again. I drive to the VC’s offices in downtown Boston and check in. It’s 8:45AM at this point.
I ask an admin if anyone else from Hell has arrived yet. Nope.
I wait an hour. During this time two of the members of the VC board come out into the lobby where I’m sitting and we meet, talk a bit.
Everyone else shows up at ten thirty. The VC folks only have thirty minutes left to devote to our group — they have commitments at 11. Instead of doing individual sessions, we decide to just sit in a conference room and shoot the breeze for thirty minutes. It goes fine. Lots of smiles. They seem to like us and our product.
We all return to Hell’s offices and once we’re there, I find a private moment to ask Namager what the heck happened.
Satan asked everyone to show up at Hell’s offices this morning to rehearse so we all showed up there at 7:30. We left at eight fifteen, figuring that’d be enough time, but turns out we underestimated, plus there was a major accident that gummed up the roads, then to top it off we had trouble finding parking when we got here. Be glad you weren’t there. I was sharing a car with Satan and I thought he was going to have a fucking cerebral hemorrhage right there on the road — he looked at his watch every minute and swore at me, as if it was my fault we were going to be so late.
Jesus. I am glad I wasn’t there.
We’re gonna be OK, though, I think. Usually just takes a day for these things to blow over.
I hope you’re right.
He raged for a solid week.