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You Can’t Fire Me. I’ll Quit! (When I’m Good And Ready)

October 25, 2013

Rodney, could you come to our office in Salt Lake tomorrow?

Sure, what’s up? (I knew very well what was up)

Oh, we’d just like to go over the latest feature lists. (Boy, was HE a rotten liar!)

Oh? So, should I bring Dave, our head of development? (Yeah, like they are going to let him come!)

No. I think we just need the three of us. (Ah. . .so, there will be a witness.)

Okay, great. I’ll see you in the morning.

Six weeks earlier Brock, my investor had started to ask for a whole bunch of reports. As president of RESMARK, I was also the chief sales guy, Marketing Director, equipment procurer, and just about everything else that didn’t involve writing code. The reports covered all of it. He wanted a monthly breakdown of our budget. He wanted number of customer contacts. He wanted to know what software we were buying; how much we were paying contractors. We had an office manager, but no secretary. To complete all the paperwork, I would be spending more time writing reports than actually running the company.

Dave was convinced that there was a more sinister motive.

You’re gonna get fired.

Oh, I don’t know. . .

We are sucking all the Christmas bonus money from Brock’s company. Those board members are used to getting big fat checks at Christmas. They don’t get them this year. They are putting pressure on Brock. He’s gonna fire you and the reports are just the paper trail.

I had to admit that Dave had a point. And having been through over a dozen companies in the past 10 years, he was an expert on choosing to leave or getting fired from a company.

Start up companies are hard to run. There’s a reason most don’t make it five years. I had to admit, other than being slightly too interested in adding features, our investor had given us pretty good autonomy. There were a couple of times where I had made decisions that he disagreed with. (He Also Deserved To Be Fired.) But, overall we mostly shared the vision of where RESMARK needed to go.

The difference was that Brock was a rafting guy, not a software guy. He continued to get the User Interface, which is what the program looked like, and the actual functionality confused. Brock assumed that adding a field was as simple as drawing it onto the UI. He understood nothing of the data mapping and validation that had to happen on the back end.

If I was going to get fired, the real reason was that Brock didn’t want his company to be second fiddle. We had ten beta customers. But, aside from the $5,000 deposit each had put down, the other 9 didn’t provide any financial support. Our burn rate was about $30,000/month. Which for a company of 10 people, was pretty lean. But still, after we shipped in Sept, it became obvious that Brock’s requests had to be evaluated in light of the other 9 companies. I’m guessing this was a very hard sell for Brock to try to convince his Board of Directors.

Wait. We’re paying 100% of the costs but we don’t get our features implemented first? That’s messed up!

Okay, their board was made up of guys in their 60’s and 70’s. They probably didn’t say, “messaged up.” They might even have uttered a cross word.

Well, the next day I headed up I-15 from our offices in Orem 40 miles north to Brock’s office in South Salt Lake City. I walked straight into the conference room where Brock and his chief lieutenant, Brad waited.

Rodney, thanks for coming on such short notice. Have a seat.

I sat down at the chair that had a blue folder full of papers on the conference table in front of it. I’d been through this before and knew that it was a negotiation. Like most negotiations, it was a good idea to avoid talking unless you had something to say. I folded my hands and calmly looked from one to the other. No way was I going to make this easier for them. Brock was in charge and with some glances at Brad he started his pitch.

We don’t actually want to talk about new RESMARK features. When we started RESMARK we all hoped it would be successful. The Board is concerned that it’s not showing the returns that they would like to see.

He just sort of ran out of gas at that point. Apparently Brad got the tag and jumped in. I liked Brad, I like Brock for that matter. But, this was about business at this point.

Ah. . .yeah, like Brock said, we feel. . .well, the Board feels like, we should pull RESMARK back in house. Have the programmers became our employees. That way we can ensure that our own needs are being met by RESMARK.

He paused and looked at Brock for reassurance. Since I hadn’t been asked a question, I still sat there calmly looking from one to the other.

If we’ve got RESMARK in house. . .well, Brock is already the president and we don’t really see a need, or a role for you. We understand that it will take some time for you to find a new position. We’re offering you one month salary and benefits as a severance package. . .so, how does that sound?

Having been asked a question, and more importantly seeing what their offer was, it was now my turn. Honestly, I thought their offer was insulting. I’d already been working for about 1/3 of what industry would have paid. I was the lowest paid RESMARK employee. My office manager made more than I did.

I appreciate your offer, but I don’t think a month is going to be long enough. Finding a senior manager position typically takes several months. My suggestion is that you go ahead with pulling the programmers in. We can close down the Orem office and you can give them desks here. I will commit to finding another job as soon as possible. In the mean time, let’s keep me on the payroll and insurance. If we do this transition correctly, I think we can keep most of the programmers on board and keep most of the beta sites committed.

What do you mean, “If we do this correctly?”

You just fired me, Brad. What do YOU think it means? We’re holding $50,000 from the Beta Sites.

You wouldn’t call the beta sites would you?

If you kick my butt to the curb, you better believe it. But, no one wants that. I’ll let the Beta Sites know that we’re making this change and that I’m convinced it will be in the best interest of the product and they won’t see any interruptions. If I let them know it has my blessing, I think most of them will stay on board.

The meeting pretty much broke up after that. They were stunned. And I was disappointed. I’d really hoped that RESMARK would be successful as a company. The fact that the investors were essentially buying it out represented a failure to me. Maybe it never really had a chance. Maybe, if the person in charge had been a better manager, or a better salesman, or a better president, it might have made it. The product still exists today and while the number of customers in no way matches the pro forma that I spun to the Board when we were trying to set it up, it is none-the-less a good reservation system and one that the programmers and contractors can be proud to have worked on.

When I got back to the office in Orem, I called a staff meeting and informed the programmers of what was coming. I also drafted an email to the Beta Sites expressing my utmost confidence in Brock and his plan.

Dave had called it. It was six weeks almost to the day. And he had a new job lined up by the end of the day. It helped salve the wound a little to know that the much of the staff, despite my best efforts, and they truly were sincere efforts, didn’t want to remain with the company if I left. We lost two beta sites, but I’m pretty sure that Brock was hoping to cut down the number of customers competing for features anyway.

Dave and I talked in my office at the end of the day.

Dude, you are amazing!

How do you mean?

You are the only person I know who walked into a meeting to get fired and walked out with a better deal than he had when he went in. No more reports. No more nasty meetings with Brock. You are still getting paid the same amount and you now have ZERO responsibilities. That is fantastic!

Maybe he had a point, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d failed.

This is the fifth in a five part series about the birth and death of RESMARK, describing my time as president. Here’s how the rest of the week will look.
– Monday: My Brother Wouldn’t Lie For Me
– Yesterday: I Want The Jacks Not the Balls, How I assembled our team and managed to not screw up their careers too badly
– Wednesday: We’d Lost Before We Ever Started, how we launched the program to incredible good press
– Thursday: Being a Management Sandwich, When your customer is also your investor
– Today: You Can’t Fire Me, I’ll Quit. . .When I’m Good and Ready, know how many bullets are in your gun before you go in

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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