Nightmare Factory — The Nonprofit Startup that took advantage of me
“We don’t feel like you are a good fit…” ~J.F.
To explain the present I must go back into the past.
In August, I accepted a job to work for an “incubator” for nonprofits and startups called, Audacity Factory. It was only after I my unfortunate time with another startup that I proceeded forward.
It was a foolishly-clever decision to learn marketing on their time. The funny part, even before I paint the picture of deceit, is that I wrote an article about the “incubator” several months before accepting a marketing position and there was an alarming vibe that was given off.
I didn’t entirely understand it at the time but it was hidden in the shadows, behind every smile the founders offered the group who had come to their launch party.
The claim was that the environment would be a place of innovation coupled with splashes of big and bold thinking on how we could change the world, but even then I could feel that something was off. Even at the recommendation of a few friends to apply to be a part of the program, I did not.
Even if I didn’t understand it, part of me knew something wasn’t quite right.
Either way, needing money and a way to gain some experience in the marketing world, I took the job.
No resume was required. No prior work experience was really needed either. I was asked to provide a reference list and some of my past work was talked about with the founder of the Factory in an initial “interview.”
What I now understand is that Joe, the founder, was constantly seeking young, college age talent. I didn’t understand it at the time but I can only speculate in saying, even given his vast network, he chose the college age because of the easy nature in which they could be “guided”. Unfortunately, I did not fit that mold.
Something he asked me when we first met, stuck with me, even till now, “Are you willing to work? You see millennials now-a-days are afraid of work…” I thought the question, comment tandem to be a bit condescending.
I wasn’t sure what the heck that even meant and to generalize millennials in that way was perturbing but I kept my cool, nodded, smiled and answered, “Yes.”
The first week of working at the Factory went well, from my perspective. I was still getting acclimated with working a 9–5, which I had never done before. The lack of flexibility did catch me off guard for this claiming to be an entrepreneurial place. Now, it was never discussed the exact time that I would arrive to work but it was suppose to be around 9am (keep this note in mind because it will come up later).
Either way, I did what was asked and genuinely enjoyed being part of the team and learning. The Factory had a project of its own looking to end human trafficking. During my first week many of the tasks given centered around understanding their nonprofit project. Eventually I began primarily handling their project.
Joe was only in the office maybe 1 or 2 days my first week and due to him being busy, we never actually got to talk or work together, but apparently something was already wrong.
The next week (Monday) he called me into his office to have a meeting. I really thought it was just to talk but it was much more than that. He tried to give me “feedback” on my work performance, but the interesting part was we had not worked at all together.
He started off by asking me whether or not I liked being here, making sure to let me know that it would be ok if I didn’t. The way he asked it too, I found that interesting — I never understood it. It wasn’t to make sure I was doing ok, there was more, hidden behind the question itself. I was a week in and still getting adjusted. If I didn’t want to work there, I just wouldn’t work there, right?
As the conversation progressed he proceeded with his feedback saying there were things that I needed to work on. His first comment raised my blood temperature, quite a bit. He said that I was “too often in an aloof.”
Now, for those who don’t know, aloof means: conspicuously uninvolved and uninterested, typically through distaste. I was deeply offended, and my thoughts quickly wanted to lash out. The fact that he had not even really been in the office, further boiled my emotions. I had been attentive, warm, and ready to work, learning everything and anything I could.
The second thing he said was that I was not organized. Now, I had to chuckle at myself because,
a.) I was still in the learning phase so there wasn’t even much I needed to organize. There was barely anything on my desk besides my computer, for crying out loud.
b.) He hadn’t really been in the office at all that week, so he never even got to see how I operated.
Now, I don’t know for sure but my “supervisor” Joanna may have had something to do with this, but again, I was doing a lot of research work on my own, so there wasn’t that much communication between us. In fact, my on-boarding process, which was suppose to be handled by her, was not handled properly. She, admittedly would mention how poor a job she was doing managing me and providing information when I needed it.
After the first encounter with Joe, I was very very upset, wondering to myself if I really was in an aloof or if I really was disorganized. And after being depressed for a day, I realized that the answer was no. There was no problem of mine and I regained myself.
Either way, I decided to focus on being more attentive. I tried to “engage” more which entailed nodding at everything, smiling, and laughing. After a few days Joe and I were talking and he praised me for having a better attitude.
Internally I laughed. I hadn’t really changed anything but I didn’t object.
After that moment I was a little on edge but I still enjoyed coming to work. It was one of the few jobs that I actually enjoyed going in to and didn’t ever really look at the time. Out of the first month I left work on time (at 5pm) or early 3 times. Once was the first day, the other two were because of appointments a little after 5.
I normally got to work around 9:05am but no later than 9:10am, except for two occasions, when my car decided to put up a fight.
Now, the whole reason I was brought in was to be the “cool,” young millennial and offer guidance on innovative and young trends to reach that market — they said their target market was millennials…
I quickly realized that while they offered lip-service to going after millennials none of their actions actually signified this. When I began, I was the ideas/creative guy. Whenever they had an issue or a problem or just wanted a creative twist on an issue the brought me in to figure it out.
Ha its funny, most of my job entailed being given a task to just figure it out, but i’ll get back into this point.
BUT the kicker was they didn’t use many of my ideas. I would spend a vast amount of time conducting research, putting my own creative spin on things and time after time it would get shoved to the side and they, themselves, would do the task. This often led me to wonder why in the world I even bothered to waste my time to these endeavors.
Another interesting thing was that on those off chances that they used my ideas they wouldn’t even tell me or would rarely congratulate me. Better yet, they often would, after hearing my idea or proposal, dismiss it and then later come up with the same idea I had, making it seem like it was they who had come up with the idea in the first place. Joe, the self proclaimed christian, was notorious for doing this.
Let me stop here and say, that I do not enjoy bashing people. We are all facing a struggle with life challenges unique to us BUT there are people out there that take advantage of anyone and I want to make sure I accurately depict how these people were. So, please forgive me if my emotions set of sirens in your head.
I didn’t know it at the time but Joe was a wordsmith, much like myself. Gifted with the ability to talk and twist words with the precision of an aerial acrobat. He was a very prideful, conceded, and arrogant man. He had found success by starting a company back in the day and sold it for a great deal of money. In a nutshell he was, or least liked to think, he was an extremely big deal because of all the cool things he had done, all the partnerships he had built, etc. etc.
I, really wasn’t too impressed. Now I say that at the risk of sounding arrogant. What I mean was I wasn’t in awe. His background was pretty cool, for sure and I respect the hard work it took to get there, but that never gives someone the right to put others down or be rude/disrespectful.
Things took a turn for the worst at the end of September, when, after a long week where the entire team had worked ridiculous hours to submit a last minute proposal for a big account, I was blindsided by a meeting.
It was a Friday and we had all finished working hard. It was nearing the end of the day when Joanna and Joe called me into Joe’s room to talk. Now, I was under the impression that things were all good. We had, as a team done a great job of doing a lot of things under the given time constraints.
I walked in confidently, thinking that they would be singing my praises about the good work that I had done (I should have known better because the singing of praises only happened a handful of times, if that, my entire 3 months there), but that was not at all the case.
Instead I was met with a barrage of “critiques,” not based on my work performance but based off perceived characteristic traits that I exhibited.
Again, Joe started the meeting with the question that had caused me pause almost a month and a half earlier.
Do you really want to work here? Because we wouldn’t be offended if you wanted to leave. We just want to make sure that we find the right fit and that you are happy here.
This time around there was definitely something hidden behind the question. I thought to myself, what in the world is the world is happening? What had I done to warrant this question yet again? I was getting my work done, enjoying getting to know the team, etc.
That was the last day that my blinders were on.
From that day forward I saw behind the smiles, behind the walls, into the shadows that were ever present, even before I started — the previous marketing employee had been around my age but I never fully understood why she was fired. Apparently she made too many mistakes and eventually that became her undoing. I never understood the mistakes though.
Anyway, after they asked me that question and I answered with a resounding, “Yes, I enjoy working here,” I asked them why in the world they were asking me that and the responses shocked me.
I gave off a vibe that I didn’t care, I seemed to be looking at the clock, always ready to leave, I gave off an arrogant/braggadocios vibe, I was dismissive and, it seemed that, if I wasn’t using something then it wasn’t cool.
Not once did they say that my work was poor. It was a barrage on things they thought, things that were somehow perceived about me that were not at all true. Unlike them, I was myself all the time. I didn’t change who I was for anyone, and most people who know me can attest to this fact. I am who I am, and that’s authentic. If I don’t like something, I say it, if I do like something, I say it.
Over the course of my life in the entrepreneurial world I have built vast connections and friendships. By nature, I am outgoing and get along with everyone and never once have I had these negative feedbacks.
It was a terrible meeting where their perceptions, which had to have been true since they thought it, were all heaped on me. There was no positive moment. No “thank you” for the work I had been doing. No appreciation whatsoever for the sacrifices that I had made that week to help get things done. Nothing. I write this now with a growing level of anger and bitterness, remembering that moment.
It was funny though, because all of the characteristics that I had, for the first time in my life, been told I possessed, mirrored that of the people giving the feedback.
Over the weekend, I brewed and stewed over the meeting turned personal attack. I thought, I dissected, I studied. I tried to find the good out of the critique. Was there anything that I could use to grow to be a better person? I didn’t/don’t mind criticism. In fact, I admire those with the courage to tell me when I am doing something wrong or call me out because I truly want to be the best person that I can be, but this time it was different.
I made sure that there were no truth in their “feedback” and I found none.
I decided to call a meeting the next week with with Joanna, the “supervisor.” I talked about how upset I was over the last meeting. I told her that I thought the attacks were on flawed perceptions of my personality. I asked for an explanation on what things gave off these perceptions and whether or not their were specific examples where my work was suffering.
It eventually turned into her trying to backtrack and beat around the bush. In hindsight it was a complete waste of time. I was not happy and everyone knew it. She did tell Joe of our meeting, which I was not aware of until I came back from lunch.
I had lost all work respect for Joe by that time because, unlike a lot of people, I could see through the antics.
He called me in and the battle began with the closing of the door. He asked me to tell him what was wrong and so I did. I mentioned my frustration with his continual “do you want to work here?” question. I told him that while at work, I had actually never looked at the clock. Working there made time fly by because I was having fun. I mentioned that I was telling all of my friends about about the cool projects and interesting pieces of info I was learning. Lastly, I inquired about why they were getting this vibe. I spoke and he listened, often looking away, thinking.
I talked for 5–10minutes showing my displeasure and wondering how they could be so wrong about everything. He asked if I was done and then, all hell broke lose.
I don’t remember all the things he said or did but there are a few that were seared into the back of my brain.
Right before he made his points we talked about something and Joe, in a very condescending way made a remark to me. I immediately called him out on it because he had twisted my words to mean something that was not at all intended.
He looked at me and without missing a beat said, “I am really trying not to be more condescending, because I would sure like to be.” Those words were the dagger that began the massacre.
One critique that apparently gave him the impression I didn’t want to work there was the fact that I seemed tired a lot. Now, before he hired me he knew I was working on my startup. In fact, my entrepreneurial spirit is part of the reason he hired me.
My daily schedule was: get up at up at 7am, get to work at 9am, get off at 5:30pm, then head to a library or a coffee shop and work on my startup till 11pm. Often I worked to 1am.
And, again, Joe and I didn’t have much contact besides long pointless meetings which would always end up in him telling a story that wasted a lot of time. It was during these meetings that you could see me being tired.
I made my rebuttal by saying that my tired state in no way affected my work performance. I asked him directly what was wrong with me looking tired if everything got done? I even asked him point blank whether or not my work performance was affected.
His response shocked me. No, my work performance wasn’t affected but he personally didn’t like that I looked tired. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “…since I am paying your check I get to decide that looking tired affects your performance…”
He pointed to an event that happened Friday the previous week saying that I looked like I was about to fall asleep several times, which was not at all true. And looking around the room everyone was tired. It had been a long week and people in the room were just as tired. Don’t forget on top of all the work I was doing, I was getting things done for my personal startup.
The funny part is that he for some reason singled me out, and even went as far as to count how many times I had yawned on Friday was a total of 5. I didn’t say this, but let’s consider an 8-hour work day — yawning 5 times throughout the entire day is actually not that bad.
He followed up his fact sharing by saying, “He didn’t want people yawning in his face.” I was appalled because multiple people had yawned as well but what was I to say.
The next thing he brought up was another incident that had happened on Friday (notice that the examples of me not wanted to work at the Factory extended as far back as just the prior week).
He had asked me to edit a presentation that was to be given to some board members, so all morning this is what consumed my time. I did make quite a few grammatical errors, put in commas, ended run-ons, etc.
Upon finishing I met him in his office and he asked me, “Were there any grammatical edits?”
My answer was, “Yes, there were quite a few edits that I made to make it more readable.” I didn’t say that in a condescending way but just as a normal answer to his grammatical question. In my mind I just thought he was referring to commas, periods, like, actual grammar. Apparently, he took great offense to this.
During #Round2 he asked me what I had said to him that day regarding the grammatical errors question. I said I didn’t remember because I really didn’t. It was a small moment in a day that was filled with a lot of last minute craziness.
He then read what I had said, “there were quite a few edits that I made to make it more readable” and asked me if that is what I had said. I said no, because I didn’t remember.
He then proceeded to tell me he had written down my exact words and that was indeed what I had said. So, given that new light I defended myself, saying he asked about grammatical edits and that I had added some things to it but their were my opinion to make it flow better. He had asked me to edit and so I had.
I actually get paid to write for an online publication called ExitEvent so, I am well versed in editing. I didn’t see what I had done wrong but apparently I had come off as condescending and if Joe didn’t know me (which he clearly didn’t) he would have thought that comment to be a bit backhanded.
I actually laughed inside at the information I had just heard but kept a straight face.
In a slightly different direction of our 2 hour conversation, he called me a wild race horse that needed to be trained and he prided himself on mentoring young talent. I thought this a little offensive and, at the same time, contradictory to what he had told me in one of our first meetings in that, he was not the best at managing or developing young talent; basically my professional/personal development was on me.
There were so many events that happened in that meeting because Joe used most of it to talk, mainly about himself and all the things that he had done, believing that they, somehow, gave him the position to talk down to me and be right on every topic we talked about.
I will mention one more thing and that was about the time. This was one of the final straws that was pulled.
Neither Joe, nor Joanna, ever made a hard time for me to get into work, as long as it was around 9am. So, because they left it up to interpretation, I came in around 9 between 9:05–9:10am.
On multiple occasion Joe had said, “Now, I don’t care what time you get here but make sure it is around 9am.” For those with half a brain, when someone continues to say they don’t care about something but continually bring it up, they actually do care. So why not be forthcoming and say what you mean while meaning what you say?
During the meeting Joe talked about time again and how I was looking at the clock and I immediately let him know that I was only following what they told me and that I, on average left between 5:30–6pm. His response, slapped me across the face.
Well I never asked you to stay past 5, that is what we agreed upon right?
There wasn’t a thank you, no acknowledgement of the good work I was doing. I got nothing for being a team player and staying later than I should have. All that mattered was that I get there when he wanted. He settled on a time, 9:15am. I silently laughed to myself because I had always been in before 9:15am, so I didn’t understood the whole ordeal made about the time.
The meeting snowballed and at the end I was left bloodied and bruised while he, on his high horse continued to look down on me. He said I had to decide what I wanted to do from here because he was over the conversation.
When I walked out of that meeting and for the remaining months I was there I contemplated quitting everyday. I was so close on multiple occasions, going over in my head what I would say and the music that would be playing in the background, but I never did.
I am not a quitter. I wasn’t raised that way.
So, that’s why when I was called into Joe’s office on October 20th at 3pm by Joanna, only to hear the words, “We don’t think this is working out,” there was a deep level of happiness. It sucked that I had to hear those words, but it is how it had to be because believe it or not, as much as I wanted to quit, I don’t think I ever would have gone through with it.
Hired by Joe, fired by his right hand woman. Of course.
I also wasn’t upset because after #Round2 I began actively looking for a new job and even turned 2 two job opportunities. I even had an interview the day after I got fired.
When I finally left the factory, it was almost as if I had been freed from bondage. I can’t say that I know what it is like to be finally free from prison but this is as close to that liberating feeling that I will ever experience.
So, what now? What did I learn?
Well I am working my startup company Espirer (espirer_) which will be launching 11.27.15 aka “Black Friday.” I would truly love for you to check it out our newsletter. Eventually I will tell you what the company is about along with what I have learned so far, but that is for a later post — the sequel to this one.
I also do have new job which I will be starting soon doing more marketing, but the main thing I have learned is to embrace my time off and pour myself into my passions.
It has been a crazy past 3 and a half months but despite all the heartache and struggle, I know I am destined for more and each day I continue to put one foot in front of the other is another day I feel the presence of God guiding me where I need to be.