Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
By: Bor Klemenc Mencin
I was sitting at the head of a jam-packed conference table full of marketers and product people, my eyes calmly fixated on a reddened face standing before me, which started unleashing a torrent of passionate exclamations a good 20 minutes ago, occasionally blaring a gratuitous insult that either landed at my feet or somewhere in the room. My proposal was being scorned by the CEO of one of the most successful Slovenian startups in recent memory. It would seem as though I had fucked up.
I managed to keep my composure. I didn’t want to give him the pleasure of having me lose my shit in front of his people. As if enduring a painfully patronizing monologue in front of a room full of strangers wasn’t bad enough. Thankfully, a couple of comparable experiences over the years seemed to have rubbed off on me, helping me develop a bit of a thick skin and conditioned me to keep a poker face even when I was fuming inside. And I was fuming.
This wasn’t because I was taking it personally or because of the manner in which certain things were said – I’m used to dealing with obnoxious and condescending people from time to time and I took enough hints from the team to know that the guy didn’t really have a reputation for being tactful. No, the main reason for my frustration was that some of his criticisms were right on the money.
This pleasant experience came in on the tail-end of a fairly smooth coordination between me and the marketing team, which, ironically, started off with a straight up job proposal on their part. Given that I had started renting my very own office (ahem, desk, ahem) the previous week, I told them I wasn’t ready to settle down just yet. Instead, I proposed to complete one project first and see where we could go from there. It was this “policy” that helped me dodge a bullet and I’ll be sure to keep it handy whenever I’m presented with a similar opportunity.
Marketing and I hit it off pretty well despite minor disarrays in their ranks and a slightly chaotic modus operandi – a common thing in well-established startup companies, not least in up-and-coming ones intent on quickly laying down a solid foundation for world domination. Their spirit and ambition filled me with respect and made me believe I was on the verge of something truly groundbreaking.
But if previous experience has taught me anything, it’s that hitting it off with marketing doesn’t mean the company as a whole – especially if the company in question is a startup – is sold on your proposal. I knew I needed the CEO to sign off on the draft before we developed the concept any further, otherwise, it could spell trouble in the form of an endless back and forth between him, marketing and myself.
Not only that, but I needed to see what this guy was like, what his plans were and what he was thinking in order to prepare a draft that would play into his vision for the company. I knew this to be an imperative step going forward because most Slovenian companies and startups tend to suffer from a debilitating affliction known as micromanagement, even when their lower rungs are stacked with swathes of assertive, competent and brilliant – not to mention well-paid – men and women who truly are masters of their craft. The boss calls all the shots and always has the final say, which essentially means that, at the end of the day, whatever you’re trying to accomplish almost entirely depends on his character, temper and whichever mood you’re (un)lucky to get him in.
It was after a couple of sessions with the marketing team that I started ruminating over this. As luck would have it, I met the CEO on a smoke break after one of the sessions and explained what I was contemplating. To my pleasant surprise, he was all for it and told me we should arrange a meeting in the following week where I could present my draft to him. Without thinking twice, I hastily agreed, happy to have him see me before things started getting complicated.
This was mea maxima culpa.
Seeing as we’re getting close to the point of “OMG, this is just too much text for me to handle right now” I’ll cut the story short: never one to play it solo, I tried combining the marketing team’s proposal with my vision of the project, it didn’t come out so well, the bossman noticed, it made me look incompetent in his eyes, and that was pretty much the beginning of the end of our short-lived collaboration.
I learned that it was wrong for me to present something I wasn’t really comfortable with, to have considered it a team effort, to have made the whole thing incoherent by including all the different cues and proposals I got from the marketing team. Instead, I should have presented nothing and insisted on getting to know the guy’s vision first. Or, at the very least, I should have gone with my gut by completely ignoring the noises coming from marketing. That way, even if the CEO would shoot it down, I would’ve at least presented my very own vision.
I realized this wasn’t where I wanted to be. I love shaking up stale industries as much as the next guy, but I had enough brushes with wavering startup CEOs to know that I was on the edge of stumbling into a never-ending-frustration-fuelled-crap-cycle that would have sucked the living life out of me after a couple of months.
I realized what they needed was someone on the ground. Someone who’d be willing to dig in and fight in the trenches. Someone who would have the time, patience, salary, and detective skills to sensibly synthesize whatever was tossing around in the bossman’s head. I decided that wasn’t going to be me. After having met the guy I was under no illusions going forward – this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.
Seeing as I had enough on my table and wasn’t in the mood for drama, I decided to send them one more proposal, telling them that we can go our separate ways with no hard feelings if they didn’t like it. The calls I received a couple of days later proved my hunch about what was in store for me if I stayed correct. The first call was somewhat positive. They felt it was heading in the right direction and really liked some of the wordings – they only needed a few more people to look it over. OK, I thought. The second call that came a day later informed me that they were sorry, but that it just wasn’t what they were looking for.
Wanting to be a good sport about it, I decided not to charge them anything for my time. I told them that if they liked any part of my proposal and wanted to use it, they could buy it for a moderate fee and if not, that it would be fine by me. I’m not gonna lie: I felt kinda shitty. I put some serious hours into the whole thing and I had a chance to score a heap of money (the highest fee I’d charged up to now).
But the more I thought about it, the more the overall shittiness gave way to a feeling of freedom and pride – in the end, I listened to my gut and turned down something I knew wasn’t right for me, something that would’ve probably ended up stifling me instead of inspiring me. And I did it professionally, without being a little bitch about it. More than any other, it’s experiences like these that make me feel like I’m finally shedding my sheepish skin, building up the right attitude, and growing into my own way of doing things. And in that respect, I hope that these recent developments are a harbinger of things to come.