15 Minutes Until Padlock

The Attempt

In early 2001, I walked into an all-company meeting at ePrize completely battered and exhausted. Fifteen minutes prior to the meeting I had to prepare my remarks for the fact that the company I had founded in 1999 – my baby – would close its doors. We had secured venture funding from a longstanding, stable investor. However, with the dot com bubble burst, this capitalist decided to get out of venture deals altogether; in addition, anything “e-“ was shunned, along with Pets.com. Our VC pulled the plug and I was left scrambling. Negotiations got hostile and there wasn’t a contingency plan. After a whirlwind mad dash we brought on new investment and the wire went through 15 minutes in advance of this meeting.

What Went Wrong

Preparing myself to speak to a group of 35 passionate people who had jumped on board with me was heartwrenching. Knowing I’d have to tell them that they were the first people to believe in this idea for what ePrize could be wouldn’t count for anything, since we’d have to padlock the doors. Knowing their blood, sweat, tears, and passion for what we collectively envisioned would be for naught was brutal.

Of course I was able to breathe a sigh of relief walking into that fateful meeting in 2001, but that 15-minute interval before it was an inspiration for how I’d lead the company for the next many years. Watching that second-hand tick on changed the way I do business, since I knew I never wanted to have to sweat like that ever again.

Lessons Learned

Not only did we build a reservoir tank of confidence in our vision and abilities going forward, but more importantly, this incident led me to build the business in manageable chunks and always allow for a contingency plan. Sometimes, Plan A isn’t what you thought it would be – and that’s ok. If you’re prepared adequately in advance for the potential need for a Plan B, it isn’t as alarming to go with it. Avoiding the scramble is only possible with careful thought processes and action plans before you’re in crisis mode. Utilize times of “a plateau” when things are going well to figure out the ways you can reinvent and preemptively solve problems – even before they arise.

Now, ePrize has hundreds of employees, grown from that first core group of people I all knew by first name (along with their families). When you think of what’s to come, remember that it’s never a linear journey. Relish in the bumps along the way – they’re what make you a great, resilient leader – but be ready for them to make sure they don’t ruin the trip entirely.

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Josh Linkner

Josh is CEO and Managing Partner of Detroit Venture Partners and the New York Times Bestselling author of Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity. He is the Founder of ePrize, the largest interactive promotion agency in the world providing digital marketing services for 74 of the top 100 brands. Josh is also a Berklee-trained professional jazz guitarist performing regularly in jazz clubs throughout the United States.

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