For a while I was a start-up millionaire. Well , I worked in a start-up. The suddenly it all came crashing down ..the dot.com bubble burst and made a horrible mess.
When I was 30 I was full of enthusiasm and energy. Then suddenly I was made redundant, lost all my share options, and had my youthful arrogance quashed. I was a victim of the dot.com bubble bursting and it hurt.
I had been working at a startup company called Entranet. It hard progressed fast to become one of the top tech companies in 2001. Then suddenly it all went wrong.
E-commerce agency Entranet has slashed its workforce in a move described by staff as a “Valentine’s Day massacre”.
I knew it could go wrong. I had a finance background, and could see the lack of control from afar. Televised table football tournaments, beer fridges, lunchtimes in the pub.
This was where I learnt to play bar billiards. There was a real dot.com feel to the place and excitement all round. It’s why I joined. The chance to become a millionaire! We had work with some really big names, including Tesco and Eagle Star, plus a management team that the market seemed to like so how bad could it be?
However in the world of business cash is king, and when a couple of customers postponed or cancelled contracts, when the market turned the money quickly started to run out. Then the VC backers got nervous, withdrew funding, and in an incredibly short space of time people had to go.
One morning I went to work as usual. Bag, lunch, work to do. The rumours of trouble had been circulating for a while but as a young thirty something I ignored them. I remember finding the front door to the London Soho office locked which was strange. It was a discrete door, nestled amongst the market stalls and other less salubrious buildings. (As an aside, on my first day when they had told me to go through “the unmarked black door behind the market stall” I had chosen the wrong one and ended up in some seedy flat being offered a different sort of business).
Redundant and empty handed – a brutal HR process
On this day though I knocked on the right door, but was quickly intercepted by a manager and HR office who shepherded me into a small side room.
“Unfortunately we’re going to have to let you go,” they said sadly. “We’re running out of cash and there’s a few going today.”
The sinking feeling is hard to describe, even when you suspect bad news nothing quite prepares you for it. Especially when it’s that quick. The bizarre piece came next.
“We need you to return all company property, so we’re going to take your bag and check its contents. Anything relating to the company, including information, needs to be handed over.”
From here each item was excruciatingly discussed. Was the biro mine? The novel? Did my notepad contain work information?
“Is this yours or the company’s?” was the question repeated over and over again until my rucksack had been emptied and the spoils shared between me and the receivers.
I wasn’t allowed to enter the office to say goodbye to anyone in case I did some damage to equipment (anarchist that I am). I was basically turned around and pushed back out the door, clutching my pen and a book I’d been reading on the train. One moment high flying young exec, forty minutes later broke book reader with no means of communication (I have always kept a personal mobile since).
I went to find a phone box (they still existed then) to tell my wife the news. Unfortunately she wasn’t in, so it was only that evening when she said “I’ve had a shit day”, I could reply, “but not as bad as mine.” That was the only satisfying thing that happened all day.
The aftermath – a Christmas blow to those remaining
So I was redundant for the second time. At this age though my skills were still in demand and I was seen as eminently trainable. Large companies were sweeping up the dot.com employees and I was soon re-employed in an altogether more stable business. When I was made redundant midlife, it was a different story.
Entranet unfortunately continued its decline and eventually everyone was made redundant, the last being informed through a process ahead of its time. A text at Christmas.