In early 2006, my mentor (and later business partner and husband) approached me with an idea. “Let’s start a business.”
At the time, I was a project manager working for an international conglomerate and overseeing two product lines. Stan (name changed) had watched me as I took a struggling team of about twenty software engineers and put it back on track. “You’ve got what it takes to run a company,” he said.
I told him he was nuts.
After all, I was in no position to start a business. To start, I was forty, a single mom who was living paycheck-to-paycheck. I knew nothing about accounting, marketing, sales, or human resources. I’d never seen a business plan or a balance sheet. I’d been successful with my software engineering team only because I was a geek like them.
In short, I had absolutely no business starting a business.
Stan persisted over the next few weeks. He was an entrepreneur himself. I’d even call him a serial entrepreneur because he liked starting companies. At that time he already had two businesses in Birmingham. A new venture was a thrill for him, something that got his creative juices pumping.
Me, on the other hand, couldn’t stomach the idea of not knowing where my next paycheck was coming from.
The next few months were a battle of wits, with Stan arguing that we could be very successful if only I would take the risk, and me arguing back that a single mom needed direct deposit.
My position changed in August. We were having a rough delivery at my day job. For three eighty-hour weeks, I lived at my office while other people watched my kids. I only left to get pizza and beer for my developers. Yes, I fed them beer. Otherwise, I might’ve had a mutiny.
At the end of those crazy three weeks, the software was published, the websites were updated, and we were sent home with a short “Thanks, see ya Monday.” I’d missed my oldest daughter’s first day of school for these folks?
Stan and I sat down at my kitchen table to set some ground rules. I was so proud of my list, even though I would later figure out the things I considered important weren’t the important ones. My demands were:
• Funding. Stan would be the angel investor, and I wouldn’t be putting up a dime.
• Separation of labor. Due to non-compete agreements, Stan couldn’t be an active player in the company. So I became chief cook and bottle washer (and marketer, and bookkeeper, and salesperson, and website designer, and…).
• Salary. I would maintain my current salary level (although I gave up all the cushy benefits I was getting at my day job).
It sounded like a great deal to me.
We used my laptop to write up our agreement, printed it out and signed it, right there on my kitchen table. The next day, I used my lunch period to get an attorney to incorporate Arroyo Enterprises. The name didn’t stick, but that’s another post.
Trident Technologies‘ tenth anniversary is on August 31st. Ten years from the day I signed some papers on my kitchen table.
Other female entrepreneurs can probably spot a dozen things wrong with my ground rules. I’ll cop to naiveté. But I will share, in this post, the number one problem with our terms: We’d agreed to go into business, but hadn’t agreed on what that business would be.
And that was an almost devastating mistake.