Are you an Athenian or a Visigoth?
We’re all one of the two. Which sounds more like you?
by Matthieu McClintock, former Co-Founder and PM at Smith McClintock
Six years ago I quit my job, dropped out of school, sold my car, pooled money together and started a company with a friend from high school. My experience was in technology and digital marketing, his was in sales. He had been run out of his previous company and was blurry on the details. We both differed on an ideological level but I felt we were close enough to work through it. My business partner, who I will refer to as Mr. Smith, turned out to be, without doubt, a closet Visigoth. I’ve always been a student of the world, even when I wasn’t in school. I pour through novels, articles, iTunes U lectures from different schools, textbooks, etc. always trying to improve and progress intellectually. My partner, however, hadn’t picked up a book of any kind in almost six years. He constantly ranted about how books were worthless and he had all the smarts and experience he needed to become the next big technology billionaire.
He would constantly say, “Well you’ve read all these books and learned all of this, but have you ever made six figures?” This was the first red flag.
The truth, however, was that Mr. Smith knew nothing about technology, aside from what I had taught him. He didn’t care about the product, strategy or more importantly, the proprietary technology behind our product which I had built. Mr. Smith cared about one thing, making money and gaining power. I was obviously unaware of this before we embarked on our endeavor.
He was a great speaker and could convince anyone of almost anything. He constantly talked about how he drove a BMW and made six figures at only 21 years old: this made him superior to everyone in his own mind. He preached about business ethics and being an unstoppable force, but this was all until the money started coming in.
We started everything off as 50/50 partners even though the company was my idea, my design and financed by myself personally and a few investors I had pooled together. I had sacrificed everything to start this company, he had sacrificed nothing. He was unemployed and soon to be evicted when I moved into his lavish apartment and took control of the bill paying. This was obviously a naïve mistake.
After Mr. Smith made our first sale, he came into my room and plainly told me that he believed he was entitled to all of the profits from the deal. I mentioned that we were fifty fifty, and that my responsibility was technology and marketing, and his was sales. Why would I take on a partner to head up sales if I couldn’t profit from them? He responded by saying that he could replace me and that I was obsolete. I was shocked and appalled and quickly began to think of an escape; I had never seen greed so blatantly in front of my eyes.
Over the next several weeks, I decided to pick up the phones and start selling. Now, I was doing everything. I was managing our accounts, marketing our product and making sales. Mr. Smith, however, after a few deals, decided he didn’t need to work anymore. He started insisting on hiring “phone monkeys” to carry the work load. He would prance around in his pajamas all day, preaching, grandstanding and occasionally yanking the phone from another monkey. His work ethic was pathetic and his attitude led to every employee quitting within weeks, always on bad terms.
Mr. Smith felt entitled to the world and everything in it. He really believed in his mind that he could become a billionaire without working or doing anything to get there. He believed he could manipulate others and use them for his own devices. He had no clue that I was onto his true nature and was making plans to remove him from my life and business. I was in a sensitive position since everything was split fifty-fifty on paper. I couldn’t let him know how unhappy I was with his performance, demeanor and attitude because I knew how he would react: with violence and aggression.
He started talking down to me more and more often, taking credit for things he had nothing to do with, and bragging about “his company” to strangers. After a few months, his refusal to pick up the phones was our undoing. He spent roughly $7,000 of company money per month on personal expenses and didn’t sell anywhere near that much. He was spending OPM, “other people’s money” and there wasn’t an end in sight. With the few deals that he did sell, he always promised and guaranteed the world and never delivered.
Mr. Smith, being a Visigoth, had a plan and the money was running out. He told me that he would move back in with his mother to save money so we could invest in search engine marketing to drive sales, something I had insisted on since day one but could never pull off. I felt this was a great opportunity to distance myself from Mr. Smith and I jumped right in. I thought maybe he had an epiphany and saw the error in his ways. Two days after moving back in with my brother, I found out that Mr. Smith had rented my room out to someone else and had used the money this new roommate had given him to take his then-girlfriend out to expensive nights out on the town. All of my worst fears had been realized.
Within the span of twenty four hours, I shut down our bank accounts, website, servers, emails, and opened up a new LLC under my name. I let him keep all of our clients and started pounding the pavement for new ones. By the time he realized what had happened, I had created my own business, one that didn’t have to pay for Mr. Smith’s lavish apartment, BMW, drinking/eating habits and other miscellaneous expenses.
“I explained to him in total calmness how inappropriate and disturbing his behavior had been over the previous months: it was as clear as day, outlined in black and white, but Mr. Smith could never see the fault in his ways, he had completely lost touch with reality.”
The reason I tell the story of Mr. Smith is because it is a prime example of a Visigoth and Athenian going toe to toe. I was always emphasizing knowledge and enlightenment, learning more about our industry and competitors, improving our product, being fair to our clients and treating our employees with respect. Mr. Smith had no respect for knowledge, wanted to charge our clients ridiculously inflated prices, refused to invest in our product, and treated our employees like they were caged monkeys. In his mind, everything was his, even if it clearly wasn’t. For the first time in my life, I saw what money could do to people. I learned how drastic the difference was between what people preached about, and what they actually put into practice in their own lives, especially when tempted by money and power. The world has an interesting way of working things out: since I left, Mr. Smith has since lost the apartment, BMW and girlfriend, and is now unemployed, without a single client, and living with his parents. I was able to start my own smaller company, get my old job back part time, re-enroll in school and buy a new car, all in only three months. I believe this is because when tried, I was a good person and did the right thing, even under the most adverse circumstances, and he did not.
To a lesser degree, I worry there are a lot of Mr. Smith’s in the world, more than we may care to admit. I hear stories of backroom politics and side dealings on Wall Street and I think of the individuals that make these wheels go round and round. These are people who cannot imagine participating in any action that doesn’t directly affect their own forward advancement, people that cannot comprehend doing anything for others, or being fair and reasonable so that others may too prosper. The Visigoth’s of today are the corporate executives making four hundred times their lowest paid employees; the same executives who are shoveling jobs out of the U.S. so they can increase profit margins and write themselves bigger bonus checks. As a result, our economy has collapsed and our middle class is rapidly shrinking. And even after all of these universal consequences, have they changed their ways, do they finally see the error in their behavior?
Of course not, they just gave themselves a raise.