A startup horror story from an employee’s point of view

I come from a humble professional background. So after spending many years in big corporate houses, I wanted to witness the cool workplaces that so many startups boast about these days.

I joined a startup media agency that was trying to sell digital marketing and traditional marketing as a package to local businesses. The only problem was they did not have a business model yet. They would make me sit in a large group where we would discuss the package. On average, the discussion would go for several hours. Everybody would come up with their own idea. A short girl would write those ideas on a whiteboard. When everybody had presented their ideas, we would go through each of them in great length trying to fathom their practicality. Every day would end like that.

By the end of the month, we had a profound service package ready to be sold. The sales team was ready for the skirmish–three humble guys motivated enough to sell tanks to priests.

The very first day they sold more than 30 such packages and got a call from many who were interested. We were successful beyond doubt and celebration was bound to happen.

Within four months, we were a team of 30 or something people: copywriters, designers, frontend developers, backend developers, mobile app developers, we were outpacing every of our growth projections. In addition, there were many remote freelancers to unburden the original team. Two new investors had joined us by then.

We started as a team of eight people and now we were around 50 people, on and off-site to manage. The team grew so fast that the managers had no idea how to manage them. On top of that, many clients were growing frustrated with our quality of our work. We had close to 5 designers making Facebook creatives night and day, 25-30 posts per person everyday. A person was posting them to the clients’ social media page. Many clients had a different idea what their Facebook page should look like and they were deleting the post as we were posting them. Meanwhile, many revoked our admin access to their Facebook page.

The final package consisted of social media management particularly, Facebook and Instagram.

We were literally sending 5-10 apology emails every day asking them to regrant us the access. That went on for like another month. Soon we were left with admin access to 40 Facebook Pages. The sales team were spending more time trying to bring those clients back than to bring in new ones. We even offered them a month of free service just to retain them and show our investors good numbers.

The investors called me and few other people. We had a meeting. By the end of the meeting, they had forced a CEO on us. The CEO was an ex-Accenture and blamed the startup environment of mismanagement for everything. There were many changes made in the way we work. Like everything on the clients’ social media properties will go upon the CEO’s approval. The approval process would go through project management system (PMS). We are no longer allowed to use email, skype or anything for communication but only to use the PMS.

The sales’ part of acquiring new customers was forwarded to an external agency. And we were offering the first month free to anyone ready to sign the service contract.

By the end of that month, the agency had brought us close to 70 customers with no additional revenue though. I sat with a few designers and a manager to create a universal design guide that would go on every customers’ Facebook Page we were managing.

The design head was supposed to send the finalized design guides for approval to the clients. Only upon approval, a designer can start working on creating Facebook creatives. The head of design resigned two weeks later citing personal reasons. But we knew loud and clear what exactly happened. None of the clients approved the design guides, some even didn’t look at the email.

We resorted to sending a member the of sales team to their business and insist them to either approve or reject the design guide. That did not work either. Most of the clients promised to do so, but none of them did. With our uncontrollable upstream of phone calls, they stopped picking our calls, some blocked us and even marked us as spam on Truecaller.

In that span, we lost most of the remaining paid clients. There came the great startup dilemma. Should we proceed or halt? One of the investors backed out and soon we were receiving the same number of calls requesting payment, we were making to the client a few weeks ago to approve the design guide. Every incoming call was either a freelancer from a different number or a representative from the marketing agency.

We had a meeting with two of the remaining investors surprisingly the newly appointed CEO was nowhere to be seen. They cared less. We not at all.

Those two had a meeting earlier where they decided that they won’t fund us further until we could bring some money into the company. That was out of the question until the next month. The bald investor had a flight that night. Perhaps, he was going to Singapore. That was the last day we ever saw him.

With one conditional investor on board, the startup was clearly breathing its last breath. He sat with two of his trusted aides (he brought in many employees to the company). After like 3 hours in the glass cabin, they introduced new packages starting from Rs 50, 000/ month. The top package was around 200000/ month. We protested. Two months had passed since the free package. We extended evaluation time somewhere around.

At the rate of Rs 50, 000 per client, our sales team was supposed to bring in Rs 25, 00, 000 from 50 free cleints. By the 50th client, they had only 75, 000. A client insisted on partial payment. We wanted to add another free month.

In midst of the discussion, a meeting was called upon in which a performance-based salary system was introduced. 10 people argued with the investor. They received their termination letter the very next day. A few more followed the suite. Soon only 8 employees were left. A part-time designer, a freelancing designer, a copywriter (they made him write the termination letters), two from the sales staff, a web developer, a social media gal and the digital marketing manager.

The very next week demonetization happened. The investor would leave the office every morning and come back with a bag full of money. Various sources indicated he made around 20 crores during the run. Enough to fund us for another few months.

Fresh funding arrived we started offering packages at Rs 10000/ month. More than half of the remaining clients were retained. For the first time in history, more than Rs 1,00, 000 got pumped into the company in a single day. We celebrated the very night.

The only problem was, we had no more resources to manage them. The celebration was short-lived. The negotiation bringing back the fired employees did not work either. Two law suits arrived in fact. An out of court settlement took out more than 3 lacks from the company funds.

The celebration stopped as soon as it started. The month has passed, most of the clients refused to continue with our services. Some even asked for a refund. Free services were out of the question with only one conditional investor.

We were all given a two months’ time to find a new job. Quite a journey!

 


  • Typical. What country are you in? What is Rs 50, 000/ month ?

    Investors don’t know how to run a business. Execs from the likes of Big consultancies like Accenture put in processes, but not good business growth tactics.

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