Our Third Founder (And Best Friend) Never Spoke to Us Again After We Ousted Him From Our Startup

Our Third Founder (And Best Friend) Never Spoke to Us Again After We Ousted Him From Our Startup

Only then did I learn the biggest lesson of entrepreneurship.

Our Third Founder (And Best Friend) Never Spoke to Us Again After We Ousted Him From Our Startup
Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash

Here I am, in my college days, with my two best friends, Zack and Paul…

No, I am sorry, these are very generic made up names, and I always try to stand out.

I am sitting with my two best friends, Almond and Dijon (According to emmasdiary.co.uk, 132 baby boys were named Dijon in 1991.)

We were inseparable and had a lot in common. Weekly, we watched superhero movies and ate Chinese. But there was one thing that was certain for the three of us. We did not like what we were studying.

Time was ticking. Once you are done with your studies, you ought to work in that field and start building a career. That’s the reality of everyone around us. Yet, we did not want that.

There was a window. From that moment, till we were done with studying, we had the opportunity to build something that would release us from this inevitable doom.

I believe I was the most scared of this reality. I had built an F&B company that serves cereal that failed miserably right before that. Yet, you know how it goes; when you get a taste of entrepreneurship, it’s more addictive than heroin.

Almond told me that Dijon also wanted to start a venture targeting young students. Hence, we had the meeting in a coffee shop. God, it feels like a zillion years ago, but it kind of feels also like yesterday. Here’s what my mind is telling me happened on that day (this could naturally vary in another person’s POV.):

Almond: “So, let’s start this. We all do not like the careers we are destined to be in (Btw. these were software engineering and pharmacy.).”

Dijon: “Alright, I was thinking of creating an event similar to the one I attended recently but helping youngsters.”

Al: “Interesting, tell me more.”

Then we engaged in at least two hours of questions and modifications that made this idea evolve into something quite exciting and not easy to achieve. Yet, if we created this, we would benefit thousands who are having difficulty with career choices.

That was it. We were psyched. We shook on it.

Take me back in time; if I’d seen this scene, I would laugh, cry, and scream.

Three amateur founders having a 33.3% share of an imaginary company that still did not build any product does not sound interesting.

But what if this company kicks off? It won’t become Uber or Google, but what if it slightly pulls it off? Drama happens.

We started our meetings, and, if my memory is serving me right, I remember we signed some informal written agreement on the above, with no legalities at this stage.

Then we started our most stressful year in existence. We met weekly in Almond’s house to plan on paper. First, we needed to do the following (as a simplification):

  • Create a logo and a brand.
  • Create a Facebook page and a website.
  • Start cold calling schools to try to convince them of our non-existing company. If they agree to give us a chance to present this, then we’d actually go through with it.

We needed at least 100 paying students to pull this off. So we started calling our asses off. With each call, we’d remember that this is our window to escape the inevitable career doom.

I could stop the article right here. After all these years, I would confidently tell you that if anyone had such a strong motive, that person would pull something off.

Anyway, so we started calling and pitching. We had just watched “The Wolf of Wall Street,” so we’d prepared a call script to follow.

Al: “Good morning, my name is Al; I am talking from RedPeppers (imaginary, obviously). I’d like to speak to the principal about our upcoming event.”

Receptionist: “I can’t hear you. Can you repeat this?”

Al: “Good morning, my name is Al; I am talking …”

Receptionist: “I still can’t hear you. I have noise around me because of the students.”

Al: “Can I speak to the principal?”

Receptionist: “Oh, send her an email.”

Al: “…”

Seven hours of scriptwriting were destroyed at that moment. However, it did not make any difference to our spirits. So we created an email script and BCC’d it to every school in the region.

Then we called again.

Al: “Good morning, my name is Al; I am talking from RedPeppers (imaginary, obviously). I’d like to speak to the principal about our upcoming event.”

Receptionist: “Didn’t you call last week? Send her an email.”

Al: “I did.”

Receptionist (while being sick of me.): “Hold the line.”

Principal: “This is Mrs. Omega.”

At this moment, every single drop of blood rushed to my brain and tongue. My mind told me that this was it. If you convince this person, this will end years of potential unhappiness for you and others. With this in mind, I started talking.

I was the most friendly human being you could find at that moment. However, that does not matter in sales. What matters is the product. So then what happened was that my heart spoke rather than my mind. The Wolf of Wall Street did not help.

So then I told her that I am personally studying Software Engineering and feel doomed to this career. I believe other students are now hesitant in their careers and that our product will surely help.

With her positive responses and questions, we concluded the thing that could make this work for years to come without actually knowing it — there is a market need.

Principal: “Send me a proposal.”

Al: “Super, will do.”

Then the three of us gathered and worked on a purely perfect proposal, and we sent it.

*A couple of weeks later.*

Email from School 1: “We are interested; come speak to our students on this day.”

Email from School 14: “This looks interesting; come pitch it to our kids on this day.”

The three of us were extremely happy. We needed to go pitch. Presenting to many people is quite different compared to pitching to the principal. At that moment, the Wolf of Wall Street was required.

Presentations are usually uninterruptable and over a hundred students are listening. That meant one thing, we needed a staged performance that was convincing and that they could relate to.

With this in mind, we created the most fantastic presentation we could. We memorized the script. We could recite this 7-minute presentation at any moment of any day without looking at any visuals.

Then we went to pitch in one school after another. Dramatically, we were four weeks to our event’s date with a very low number of students.

We gave it our 200%, did our final presentation, and hoped for the best. Then we started calling back schools.

Principal 1: “Oh, yes, we have only 30 people coming from our school. Please come to pick up the funds, and we’ll see you then.”

Principal 2: “Hey, yes, I wanted to call you. We have some students who are interested and paid.”

Al: “Great, can you tell me how many?”

Principal 2: “Not a lot, maybe 200.”

This sentence that this principal said had extreme repercussions that she was unaware of.

  • This event and business are going to work out.
  • (This point was the one I was unaware of and the most vital.) — No matter what happens to this business, I will never work as a Software Engineer.

Eventually, we started looking at our list. We had over 500 students joining. We then focused on creating the most fantastic experience that could happen to those students. This “experience” was a two days event. I can confidently say that those two days were the most stressful days we had as human beings.

However, the result was adequate. We made some cash, nowhere near what we wanted, but ten times more than what we imagined.

The above story is what I will remember in 40 years. However, when we started to plan the second year of operations, we had to reflect.

The truth is, in the above story, there were several concerns behind the scenes. Dijon was underperforming. If he had to call 100 schools, he’d call 50 and then do something else, non-business related. There was a moment when Almond and I were planning the operations while he was sitting next to us, not working.

This is reflected in the number of schools signed up. He did not have that much of a contribution in the sales aspect.

So then Almond and I realized that for this to reach its full potential, we could not have Dijon involved in the operations.

So then we had a conversation with him that I will never forget. We told him that this collaboration was not working out and that we would like to offer him a certain percentage for being a founder and give him almost a third of the revenue we got as cash. But we did not want him to be involved anymore.

Having this ultimatum, he agreed. So then we started working for the second year. We broke every record we have. We signed up around 80 schools and had over a thousand students with collaborations from companies such as IBM and Valeo.

Then we finalized the second year with almost triple the revenue. However, we learned from the first time that we’re looking at this long-term. So our cost structure more than tripled. So we ended up having quite a small profit. However, we did not care as we were looking at the future of this business.

We then met with Dijon after the second event to give him the small percentage of profit that he ought to get from the second event. The only problem is, the more we crunched the number “fairly,” we realized that this percentage ended up in the negative. The whole profit was in the negative.

However, he was still our best friend. So, we crunched the numbers giving him a few better margins, and then gave him a symbolic amount, with a paper explaining the details of this.

The amount was relatively low, leading him to end our friendship. Some consultants who came to work as supporters on that day earned more than what he did. Yet, Almond and I did not earn anything.

He believed that we were being unfair and this would not work out. So he vanished from our lives a few months later, blocking us both on Whatsapp.

It ended. The friendship effectively ended because of this business. These sorts of incidents left scars on me, and probably Almond.

We moved on and started working on our company. We stopped this “event” as it was unscalable. Instead, we won a minor grant and used the revenue to hire a team and work on our product in VR (this was 2015.)

We had a few sales from our VR product, but the costs were tremendous. So we then embarked upon delivering our product differently.

We started pitching to VCs and had a seed offer of around $100k. The only problem is that they wanted us to return to our “event” business model, which was not scalable from our point of view. So we refused that investment.

A few years later, we shut down our startup due to the high-cost structure and embarked on freelancing in this area — business consultancy. From then, we both found success in that area, with me making over $150k from those freelancing platforms.

You can call this the end of that business. But, I would tell you that this business affected us both stronger than how it would have affected millions. Additionally, it opened our dragon appetite for entrepreneurship.

At this moment of my life, I realized that I have nothing but love for Almond and Dijon. We embarked on a journey that changed our lives for good. It’s unfortunate that it turned out to create separation. Yet, it also affected over 1500 students positively.

Could the problems have been dealt with better? At that moment, we needed to learn however we could. It’s like learning how to walk — it just happens. Nowadays, if I am to co-found a company with anyone:

  • I wouldn’t do it with a friend or a family member.
  • I would hire a third consultant who would be the judge of KPIs (Key performance indicators) and startup shares that would be vested in time.

I never worked in software engineering, and Almond never worked in the pharmaceutical industry. However, Dijon ended up happily working in one of the best pharmaceutical companies.

Circling back to that first meeting, if I could travel back in time, I would tell those three kiddos, “You’re up for a ride.” and vanish.

I’m Al, a business consultant in Zurich, Switzerland. I believe in the power of delivering value to you, the reader. Follow me on various social media platforms if you’re interested in the value of my content.

Go to Publisher:

Entrepreneur's Handbook – Medium

Author: Al Anany