(NOTE: I wrote an update to this rant at the very end of this post.**)
I’m usually not in the habit of writing about other people or companies that I work for, especially if the project in question is ongoing. But someone whom I was doing work for had recently talked me into writing a post about this new startup he had founded in this blog that you’re reading right now instead of taking the time to set up a separate blogging account for that startup that would be dedicated only to that startup. I now know that it was a major mistake on my part and, as a result, I’m posting this retraction.
In light of recent events I have just created a new policy for this blog. I will no longer write about any side ventures that I’m currently involved with for other people until after a project is completed or a certain item is sold or there is some other type of closure on this project. Anyone whom I’m working for that wants me to write about what I’m doing for him/her while the work is still in progress will have to settle for having me set up a separate blog account that’s intended only for writing ongoing status updates of that startup/company/side project.
Way back in May I announced in this blog that I was doing work for a brand-new startup, which was going to specialize in selling products especially made for those suffering from Lyme disease. My role was to do various administrative tasks because the founder not only suffers from Lyme disease but his longtime partner is currently struggling with dementia. I was to serve as the equivalent of a plane’s autopilot where if any sudden health related issues arises for either the founder or his partner, I would continue to do day-to-day tasks like data entry, printing flyers, etc. so the couple could be free to deal with their own health issues while the company would continue to function on a day-to-day basis.
I only mentioned anything about this startup in this blog because I wanted to help get the word out about the existence of its first product and the company founder was especially eager to have me write something about this product in my own blog—a white hooded jumpsuit that was pretreated with Sawyer Permethrin that kills any ticks or mosquitos that land on the suit. The jumpsuit is a disposable one whose target market would be hikers and/or campers who forgot to pre-spray their clothes with the Sawyer Permethrin (which takes at least six hours after spraying before it becomes effective) and they need something immediately that will help ward off ticks, mosquitos, chiggers, and other nasty disease-carrying bugs. I’ll admit that, in hindsight, I should’ve set up a separate blog account for the startup with either Blogger.com or WordPress.com (depending on the company founder’s personal preference) and done all official announcements regarding that startup there instead of using this blog. But I was naive and idealistic and the company founder was eager for me to get the word out by any low-cost means necessary so I thought it was no big deal to take just a few minutes of my time to write a separate post about this startup and its jumpsuits in this blog.
Well, here’s an update: I am no longer involved with that startup. At first I thought the company had a lot of potential since it was founded by an entrepreneur who had previously founded another profitable and successful company that he had to step away from due to his ongoing struggles with Lyme disease. (Or so he told me that his previous company was successful. He said that he was living in Colorado at the time and I live close to Washington, DC so there was no way I could even check whether this was true or not.) With this new startup, which was formed to market and sell products that would both prevent Lyme disease and help Lyme sufferers like himself, he couldn’t devote as much time to this new company as he wanted so, over a two-week period, I helped with preparing the 60 prototype jumpsuits that were being test-marketed at a Lyme disease event. At the same time I was helping the company deal with creating a logo, creating a website, and preparing promotional flyers to hand out to people at that event.
But then a few things happened. While I received some money for helping with the administrative tasks, the startup founder said that the rest of the money would be contingent on selling these 60 disposable jumpsuits that would be manually sprayed with Sawyer Permethrin because he had tied up the bulk of the startup money in those jumpsuits and permethrin sprays. We would test market these jumpsuits at the annual Loudon Lyme 5K/10K/1K Fun Run in Ashburn, Virginia and if they had sold well—which he confidently assured me that they would definitely sell very well—we would look into having them mass-produced. I mentioned to him that my only concern about the jumpsuits is that they made the wearer look like he/she had just stepped out of the movie Ghostbusters. He convinced me that they would be a hit despite the Ghostbusters look so I decided to help him with spraying those prototype jumpsuits while doing other administrative tasks (such as researching whether to file for a trademark on the startup’s name or which online platform we would use for e-commerce). He ordered 60 of those jumpsuits that all needed to be pre-treated with that permethrin spray then packaged.
During those two weeks I put in long hours preparing those 60 disposable jumpsuits with Sawyer Permethrin, which took up the bulk of my time. One night I didn’t even leave until 8 p.m. I had friends telling me that there’s a possibility that those jumpsuits would fail to sell and I was putting in a lot of time and effort for something that may turn out to be a bust. I pressed on thinking that it’s just a temporary two-week situation that could pay off for me.
I tried tolerating everything, including the times when I would get reprimanded for any mistakes that I made—no matter how minor—while rationalizing that he had a lot on his plate with his and his partner’s various health issues. It didn’t help that I was discouraged from taking notes while I was learning on the job because I was expected to commit everything to memory the minute I was shown how to do something new. (I literally had to secretly create a cheat sheet on which color labels should be packaged with which type of jumpsuit so I could avoid being reprimanded for making that kind of mistake. I only did this because I had a hard time committing it all to memory when everything was still so new to me.)
Then there was the informal rollout of these jumpsuits at the Greenbelt Green Man Festival, which was held the weekend before the Loudon Lyme event, when the startup founder asked me to wear one of the jumpsuits while trying to sell the others out of my recyclable Aldi shopping bag (since the deadline for vending booths had long since passed). At one point I had to use the bathroom, which meant that I had to take off the jumpsuit before I could even pull down my pants to use the toilet. When I was finished, I tried to zip my jumpsuit back up only to have the zipper broke. So I had to wear that jumpsuit with an open front as a result. When I told the founder what happened he made this snarky remark about how that jumpsuit must have fitted snug on me (implying that I was so fat that the zipper broke) even though, in reality, the jumpsuit I wore was pretty roomy. The zipper merely broke because those jumpsuits were so cheaply made since they were meant to be disposable.
In hindsight I had cut this startup way too much slack for two reasons: 1) the ongoing health issues regarding the founder and his partner and 2) I had originally met that startup’s founder through one of my friends and I let my bullshit guard way down because of that.
At one point the company’s founder thought that the jumpsuits could be customized so that, for a fee, kids could draw or paint on them at various events then take their newly customized Sawyer Permethrin-sprayed jumpsuit home. I was tasked with testing one of the jumpsuits to see if it was feasible. I purchased a cheap $5 tye-dye kit from Five Below to try it out in my own home only to find that the dye refused to stick to the jumpsuit. I followed the instructions to the letter only to have the dye immediately wash off when I tried to run it through the washing machine as the instructions said. I wasn’t about to try more expensive tye-dye kits because the jumpsuits are meant to be disposable.
Then I tried pouring acrylic paint a la Jackson Pollock. I found that, while the paint stuck to the fabric, it took a much longer time to dry than usual. I know that part of the reason was due to the humidity because it had rained far more days in May than usual. But I think the paint was reacting to the paper-like fabric of the jumpsuit (like I wrote earlier, this jumpsuit is meant to be disposable) by taking a very long time to dry.
In the end I spent time testing this jumpsuit only to find that it just can’t be customizable in any way, shape, or form.
When the founder asked about other events where we could test market the jumpsuits, I mentioned that the only upcoming event I knew about off-hand was Greenbelt Green Man Festival, which took place the weekend before the Loudon Lyme event. He was very enthusiastic about having me try to sell some jumpsuits at that event, even though the deadline for getting a vendor booth had long since passed. Using his suggestion, I walked around the Greenbelt Green Man Festival wearing one of those suits while carrying six other pretreated suits in a recyclable Aldi shopping bag for me to sell. While the jumpsuit I wore was a great conversation starter in terms of getting attention for myself, I wasn’t able to get anyone interested in buying any of those other jumpsuits I carried around with me in my recyclable Aldi shopping bag. I should’ve seen it as a warning that these jumpsuits may be a harder sell than I was led to believe but I pressed on figuring that things will work out in the long run.
I found out two days before the Loudon Lyme event that we wouldn’t even have a vendor booth at all. Instead we would walk around wearing our jumpsuits while selling the rest from backpacks we would be carrying on the grounds of the event. (The same way I was tasked to sell the jumpsuit at the Greenbelt Green Man Festival the weekend before.) When I arrived I saw a competing vendor known as BugBeWear.com that not only managed to get its own vendor booth but it was selling a variety of very casual yet stylish clothes that were made from a special bug resistant material that was originally developed by the U.S. military so there is no need for permethrin sprays or any other kind of bug repellents. In addition these clothes were designed to withstand repeated washings (the website itself said that it can last up to 70 washings). In contrast we had no vendor booth selling disposable jumpsuits that were sprayed with bug repellent that only lasts around six weeks and they made the wearer look like he/she had just stepped out of the movie Ghostbusters. For only $10-15 more than the jumpsuits’ $20 price anyone could buy BugBeWear.com’s clothes that were not only more stylish but would last way longer than those jumpsuits.
I was relatively inexperienced regarding the Lyme disease community so I never once entertained the idea that another vendor selling better quality bug-resistant clothing would be also there at that event. So I was pretty naive going into this work with that startup.
To make a long story short, we wore the jumpsuits around the event area but didn’t sell a single jumpsuit. A couple of days later I was sent this very long, very angry, multi-part text where I was accused of being into self-sabotage (never mind the fact that if I was going to sabotage myself, I would not have bothered with making the hour-long commute to Ashburn while being stopped at two toll booths along the way and enduring heavy wind gusts that forced me to drive slower than usual so my car wouldn’t be wind-blown into the other lane and risking an accident). The day after I was accused of being into self-sabotage I received another text where I was asked if I would go to other upcoming Lyme-related events wearing one of the jumpsuits, walking around the area, and selling the jumpsuits out of backpacks instead of registering for a vendor booth ahead of time. WTF?!?
As for the self-sabotage accusation, if anyone was doing any kind of self-sabotage it was the startup itself for not getting a vendor booth when we had 60 jumpsuits to sell. Having a booth would’ve been more effective because not only could we display the jumpsuits but we could’ve had literature and business cards on display as well. And I wasn’t told that there would be no booth until two days before the event. Then there was the issue of trying to sell 60 jumpsuits when, in hindsight, we should’ve started with a smaller run of around 10-20 jumpsuits so, if they failed to sell, we would’ve been stuck with far fewer extra jumpsuits. (In fact, what started the whole self-sabotage accusation came when I received a text message asking me for feedback and what was one thing we could’ve done differently. I replied that the one thing I could think of was having fewer than 60 jumpsuits. That was when I got that response consisting of a multi-part text message that hurled the self-sabotage accusation at me.) In addition I was encouraged to write about that startup in my own blog instead of taking out a separate blog account that was dedicated solely to that startup. (And most blogging platforms offer free accounts so there was really no reason why the startup couldn’t take the time to start its own blog.) Then there was the startup wanting to use my Square card reader, which is tied to my PayPal account, instead of getting its own Square card reader/PayPal account. It’s almost like the accusation of being into self-sabotage is a case of projecting one’s own problem on to someone else.
I just wasn’t inclined to try selling the permethrin-treated disposable jumpsuits at any more events after I was accused of being into self-sabotage and the dismal reception they received at both the Greenbelt Green Man Festival and the Loudon Lyme 5K/10K/1K Fun Run. Especially since I had an issue with not getting paid.
Basically I got paid some money for my effort but I wasn’t paid the rest that I was owed because I was told that much of the startup money was tied into those jumpsuits and permethrin sprays and we would need to sell a certain amount of jumpsuits in order to raise the needed cash so I would be paid for the work that I had already done spraying those suits. I decided to leave before I got sucked into spending more time working hard for money that failed to materialize while being surrounded by more drama and reprimands on top of it.**
At the end of the day, I was willing to put up with the drama, personal insults (I was told I was naturally secretive due to my birth order because I was silently trying to figure out how to work my own Square card reader that I hadn’t used in a while—which I was only doing at the startup’s request—without verbally announcing “I’m going to try option A first and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try option B…”), and reprimands only if I was getting paid on a regular basis because there was no way in hell I was going to put up with that shit for free. Especially since I’m currently financially struggling and I need to pay off some debts. (And that’s not to mention that I also needed to cover travel costs from my home to the place where I did the bulk of the work for that startup.)**
I also began to question the founder’s sales and marketing methods. First there was his idea where we would just show up at events wearing the jumpsuits while selling the other jumpsuits out of backpacks instead of filling out the proper paperwork and paying any required fees to get a proper vendor space reserved just for the startup. Then, just a couple of days after he hurled that awful self-sabotage accusation at me, he sent another text saying that he was contacting the local Whole Foods Market near his home asking if they would be willing to sell the jumpsuits. If he hadn’t accused me of being into self-sabotage, I would’ve answered back by telling him that I don’t think it’s a good strategy based on this one fact. I’ve been into a couple of Whole Foods a few times in the past (I don’t go there too often because of the high prices) and I’ve never seen any of its stores sell clothes. As you can guess from the name, Whole Foods Market sells, well, food. On top of it, Whole Foods is a corporate chain whose corporate headquarters is based in Austin, Texas and I’m sure that a local store couldn’t just say “yes” to selling an individual’s products without checking up the corporate chain of command first.
But since he concluded that the debacle at the Loudon Lyme event was entirely my fault because I was into self-sabotage, I decided not to bother with saying anything and just let him have his own direct first-hand personal experience with marketing disposable jumpsuits sprayed with permethrin spray to a local supermarket that’s part of a corporate-owned chain with no history of selling clothes. A few days after that text, he sent another text saying that he was going to follow up on this Whole Foods lead. I never heard any more about Whole Foods after that text.
At least my time with that company only lasted two weeks. If nothing else, my brief affiliation with that company has opened my eyes to Lyme disease and how important it is for people to make the necessary preparation to protect themselves when going hiking/camping or mowing the lawn or gardening. From now on I’m definitely going to be more careful about protecting myself against ticks, mosquitos, and other biting bugs that carry diseases.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that, from now on, I will no longer write about working with potential startups or new jobs in this blog until after I’m sure that everything will work out for me in the long run. I definitely jumped the gun on writing my post about the permethrin-treated disposable jumpsuits on behalf of that startup before we test marketed them to see if they would really sell. I should’ve stuck by that old saying “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” because it’s still sage advice even in this day and age.
I think it’s more beneficial to me because in the future I will avoid having to write posts like this retracting everything I’ve had previously written about whom I’m working for. Sure I could just delete the relevant posts but it doesn’t mean that those posts will ever be completely scrubbed from the Internet. One thing I’ve learned a long time ago is that once you post something online, you’ll have a hard time erasing it because there’s always a chance that a backup copy of what you’ve posted will exist somewhere online.
Like I wrote earlier, if anyone is adamant about me writing about that company in my blog, I would be more than happy to set up a separate blog account that would be owned and controlled by that company. We would both be better off in the long run if I did this.
And one other thing, I will no longer do any work for anyone else for free unless it’s for a non-profit 501(c)3 organization on an extremely tight budget whose work and goals I personally agree with. If I do work for you, I expect to be paid. If you don’t pay me in a timely fashion (meaning no later than one week after I do the work), I will walk out the door because I’m not in a position where I really can work for free for any profit-making venture. I feel so strongly about this that I recently joined the Facebook group Stop Working for Free.
Basically I learned some lessons from my brief work with that startup and I intend to draw on those lessons regarding doing future work for other people. That’s all I’m going to write about this. I wish this new startup and the person behind it all the best.
**UPDATE (November 14, 2016): Yesterday I finally got paid the money that the startup founder owed me. I’m very happy that the money came through. I know that six months is a long time to wait but at least I got paid. Would I work for him again? I don’t know. It really depends on a lot of things (such as whether he would do things differently now or not). In any case I’ve basically moved on from that startup and I’m currently pursuing other opportunities that might land me a new day job to pay the bills.