Do not engage in startups with clowns: in fact, beware the heavy consequences of doing so. Where are the clowns? One may have heard that quote in a song composed by Stephen Sondheim and immortalized by the Frank Sinatra.
Clowns: A more powerful noun than one may think – a noun that can create a certain type of image for one individual, and another type for someone else. Clowns are associated with humor, mainly through kids who can stay entertained by their goofy stunts and silly antics. Clowns at the same time can be associated with tragedy based on concept of makeup and paint, which cover up their true feelings of or hurt. Images of clowns are also known to pop up in nightmares.
It is also known that whatever connotation the clown holds, most take offense at being called one. Clown is essentially synonymous with the term “fool”, “buffoon”, or “idiot”. More recently the term “clown” has surfaced in the business world, in a time most apropos; an era where more and more people, inspired by technology powerhouses like Google and Facebook, are jumping on the small business startup band wagon with the goal to duplicate the success of these giants.
Exuding confidence in one’s own potential is wonderful and in fact necessary for their morale. However, some of these novices go overboard and draw false conclusions that the great silicon valley phenomenon happened over night, when this is not at all the case. Google took years to develop as well as Facebook. Misinformed regarding the amount of time it took, these wannabes delude themselves into thinking that all they need is a revolutionary idea and willing investor to take things to the next level. “If they can do it, why can’t I?” is their rationalization, thinking that the whole world will cheer them on and someone with a lot of dough would in no way refuse to invest with them.
Now, for those who have ever been at a networking event, it is highly likely that they have come across a person new to the small business world with grandiose ideas. Granted, there is no shame in being a newbie; after all, everyone has to start somewhere. Newbies who take their work seriously, are organized and anticipate the arduous trip ahead, eventually break out of their green phase and take the necessary hits in life in order to learn from experience. However; when a newbie refuses to exercise proper accountability, continues to make the same mistakes, assigning blame to outside conditions and less talented people, he or she fails to take in life’s lessons. Thus, instead of graduating into a true businessman, they degenerate into a clown.
When working with a prospective partner, it is very important to pinpoint from the start whether this person is a genuine businessman, or in fact a clown. Most of the time, clowns are easy to spot as their bad habits are mostly predictable. However, since there are so many newbies-turned-clowns in the small business world as a result of job scarcity coupled with the desire to escape the drab corporate world in favor of the exciting and unpredictable startup sector (the same excitement which fills an aspiring actor when he or she lands a gig in Hollywood for the first time) clowns have and will continue to fester in the business world. They feed off not just the money and/or energy of their hapless victims, but their sense of self-worth as well.
It is imperative for individuals to encourage their colleagues who come to them for job advice to become part of a startup, rather than tell them to go the way of the traditional job. This is due to the traditional type of environment being fairly non-conducive to putting ones creative energy to use, as well the encouragement for one to discover potential that they would never thing he or she had if they remained just manning a desk surrounded by the gray walls of the cubicle. However, it is also important (if nothing else) for one’s personal sanity to discover a clown from early on. A seasoned clown on the surface will appear to be truly professional – he may dress in a suit and tie, and have a nice attractive office. Alternatively, one’s prospective clown could come to work in shorts and flip-flops every day.
Outward appearances are no big deal; however, clowns have habits, which are consistent. Some clowns possess habits which can be rectified, while others are more chronic ones. Some examples are: lack of proper business knowledge or experience, poor business ethic, disrespect for other people’s time, narcissistic (mainly of their own ideas), unable to commit to a payment schedule, making unrealistic promises, asking for blank checks, sense of entitlement, lack of integrity, rock star complex, as well as bait-and-switch tactics.
As so many people possess one or more of these traits, it can be pretty overwhelming and depressing overall if one discovers that their partner yields more than one and has become a problem. A potential partner’s business idea may be one that is so innovative that one is even willing to overlook these negative attributes. While this is not encouraged, one can manage their own risk to a certain extent, when they figure out where to categorize their special clown. For simplicity, these categories have been narrowed down to a mere four, which are henceforth labeled as “the 4C rule”.
First, the cretin. This is the basic type of clown, that enters into the business world without any proper business knowledge or experience. He has a hard time understanding how markets work, creating plans and communicating with his prospective audience. Now, as previously mentioned, everyone at some time or another is a newbie in the business world. However; some things, like the simple basics, are common sense. How hard it is to reply to a time sensitive email or return a phone call? Even if one does not have an answer to all the questions or is able to reply to all the points, the sender of the email needs to know that he or she is not being ignored.
Other basics include showing up to meetings on time, keeping a schedule, returning phone calls/emails, documenting important points of the meeting and knowing where one just left off. A person who cares about their business and how customers will perceive them will chalk up their mistakes and become more professional over time. The cretin has no respect for an individual’s time and cannot come to fathom that they have other priorities to take care of. They do whatever they please, without any thought of how they are affecting others around them.
When the cretin does call, it will typically be at the most inopportune time, when one is about to sit down at the dinner table or retire to bed at night. They lack any sort of business ethic whatsoever, and continue to make the same mistake; blaming the current economic climate, or others around to compensate for their lack of knowledge. Those people namely consist of the main person this cretin is involved in a business partnership with.
Second, the coconut. The brown coconut shell has those three indentations similar to the holes on a bowling ball and a hard shell. This person, in a figurative sense, has a head as hard as this shell. Sure, he has an innovative idea, it hasn’t been done. “We will make tons of money in a year”, he assures you, just invest with him and work for him (for free). This stuff sounds like it is made up. It is not. This is reality and this is an instance where reality sucks.
Now, coming up with a revolutionary idea is a great thing, and it is creativity/innovation that has contributed to the advancement of civilization. Think about all the great people;, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller, who started out from nothing and built great empires that changed the landscape of human society. What made these people giants, however, was their resolve to give it their all. This refers to not only their time and money, with only a minute fraction of the resources people have today, but also the technology.
The coconut loves to boast about how great their idea is and how many billions it is worth when they in fact have not invested a dime into it themselves, let alone any kind of hard work. Since their idea is so revolutionary, individuals should want to jump in with both feet, and stick it out by working for free as the coconut continues to provide works with empty reassurances that once company starts to generate profit, they will be making tons of money.
To be reasonable; it is indeed granted that a large amount of startups are bootstrapped, and lack the funds in which they need to pay their employees and finance future products. Honchos must be willing to invest a certain amount, sometimes a large one before they can afford to pay themselves, let alone others. However, some sort of time frame must be kept to in reference to when one can expect to pay others for their hard work (or if funds are lacked, reward them in another sincere way while giving them a concrete time frame when they should expect to dividend to kick in). If there is an amount that needs to be invested in exchange for company shares, the number of shares to the amount invested needs to be set in stone
Thirdly, the child. What comes to mind when one thinks of a child? Being able to love them for their innocence and sense of wonder. Children are very excited when it comes to learning new things; walking, getting up on two wheels, and making new discoveries. A child will not hesitate to wake their parents up at two in the morning to share with them his new insights. A child, when he becomes an adult, will do the same thing. Like the cretin and coconut, they wil start blabbing about their latest paradigm while an individual is having a business discussion, even waking one up at two in the morning to talk about it. As one goes through the 4C’s, a child focuses on the 3M’s: mainly “me, me, me.” A child, when small, can get away with some brattiness, as difficult as it may be to let this slide.
Cuteness and innocence compensate for it, and he/she can be totally wonderful. However, when the adult turns child, along with it comes a sense of entitlement. This mindset is often attributed to the young folks of the millennial generation, although this tends to be a stereotype, given that many millennials have been proven to put in their time/energy and work extremely hard to create benefits for society as a whole. It is, as in most cases, a situation where the loud minority ends up ruining things for the majority. The child with the sense of entitlement is known for their refusal to account for anything in their life, and no matter how much one dedicates themselves to the child’s idea, they will at some point completely catch said individual off guard.
What makes this possible for the child is their deceiving nature. At the start of the business relationship, this so-called innovator appears to be easygoing and, for the most part, will place all their trust in an individual and their judgment. They have no problem with someone dealing with all the PR, clients, and investor relations. The individual has the free reign of everything and the child sits back, approves, and thanks them profusely. They are also willing to put in their share of the work, a promise they come through on. If asked to take care of something, they will take care of it. Sounds like a great person to work with, right?
If the person is an adult, the answer is yes. However, a child is a child and like that Longfellow poem about the little girl with the little curl; when they are bad, they are horrid! This is often discovered when, like any business venture, you are liable to convey the wrong message or antagonize a client/vendor. It happens, and an adult understands this, and will come to an employee’s aid when the party at the other end (whether it is a vendor or potential investor) is reluctant to accept their apology.
The child, however, does not do this. If the employee is wrong, the child will go and make amends with the injured party while throwing them under the bus no matter how many hours have been put into the child’s idea (as well as the fact that if not for the employee’s council, their partner will not have gotten to where they are.
A child’s creativity and dedication is a great asset, but in the end their lack of integrity will turn individuals into the persona-non-grata among the same investors/vendors and relationships they continues to nurture at the individuals expense. Do not expect the child to ever grow up, and they will never have any sense of appreciation, no matter how many bottles (alcoholic or non) or diaper changes they are given.
Fourth, the con man. Congratulations! One is now a 50/50 partner in an innovative idea, which will rock the world several light years over! They have even been crowned the prestigious title of CEO! This individual prints up all their fancy business cards and updates their profile on Facebook and LinkedIn to reflect the new prestigious title at hand. Their life is now set, right? Wrong! A truly seasoned clown – in other words, the con man knows how to get the most out of your money, time and energy and turn the deal to where it is 100 percent in their favor while the partner absorbs all the risk.
Also, said partner is now about to incur another expense – legal fees (they WILL need a lawyer) to review their partner’s elaborate scheme (or “business agreement” as the con man calls it). Here is why: the con man is a different beast altogether. Con men can be newbies who are forever scheming to rob their victims, whether it is of their money or intellectual property, and these type of clowns are easily discernible because through their lack of experience they easily blow their cover.
The seasoned clown, however, knows how to cover up their past dealings and look like a true professional. Granted, some of these acrobats are outright professionals; they include doctors, lawyers and accountants, and investment bankers who dress corporately. They work from elaborately neat and decorative offices on Park Avenue, with their degrees and certificate mounted prominently on their walls. Some of them even hide their flaws behind their religious faith. These are the type of clowns mentioned at the end of the first paragraph; the ones who haunt individuals in their nightmares, the ones which one finds themselves waking up in order to be saved from drowning in a pool of sweat.
Whatever is the case, they will use their so-called professionalism and phony reputation (they have a lot of associates as well as money, which they have robbed from others to pay for a strong SEO campaign on Google) to assure you that you they can be trusted with your money. Or, like the coconut, they will convince people to work for free promising a huge share in the company; only, the con man takes it one step further.
The con man, with his rock-star complex over his brilliant money-making idea, has no issue putting his feet up as he convinces people to both put up a hefty investment of their life savings and at the same time give them a fancy title like CEO, and convince them that you are in charge of the company from top to bottom. They rationalize, after all, that since their current practice demands a lot of time, or their highly established position would be at jeopardy if they were to take on an outside business venture due to conflict of interest, that the individual in question will need to run and finance things.
He assures the person that once the company is up and running, he will dedicate more time to the company; after all, it is his, right? Well, the con man has far grander plans than the one he presents to people. The con man has at least a couple of attorney friends (that is, if he is not one himself) to draft a contract, which appears fair to either party but is in reality overwhelmingly in his favor. Here is how the classic bait and switch works:
The individual is now 50/50 in ABC, incorporated . They will invest in half (or possibly all) of the company, be awarded said fancy title and be given their day-to-day responsibilities. However, ABC corp is only the small part of the greater holding company, XYZ corp. This structure is extremely important to the veteran clown; placing his idea, in which one is now his partner, underneath the larger umbrella makes it appear as more of a conglomerate and satisfies his delusions of grandeur/his feeling of superiority over said individual (who only manages the small division.) One is no longer a partner, but insubordinate to Bozo.
Funds from one’s small percentage, which they initially thought was 50/50, filter into the umbrella company in which one has no share to finance new ventures (read – con his future victims) of which you will have no part. His position of dominance will also give him the power to throw people out, no matter how many days and nights they slaved over his idea, while he retains all rights and ownership to the idea in which one thought they had a significant part. The reality of it, at best, was that this person was merely just a middle manager. All those titles, stationery and empty promises in the end have no meaning. When one discovers this and questions his motives, the response will typically be, “I brought you into this deal! This is my company, my idea and that alone is worth more than the time you are putting in or the millions I think you should invest!”
The conman has no interest in one’s well-being, as much as they acts like they do. They have no qualms about destroying one’s future and their life. If the attributes of this clown are not enough to sway one away from this loser, hire an investigator and run a complete background check. Chances are they will find a shady deal or a lawsuit or two.
The purpose of this article is not to dissuade people from joining a startup. On the other hand, the idea is wholeheartedly encouraged. However, it is important to keep oneself as protected as possible, this achieved by taking the precautions necessary before jumping into a venture with someone they barely even know. Even if they may know the person, or thought they knew him, things can and will change when and if a discovery is made regarding the clown in him (this is a common way that friendships end). When coming across someone who may exhibit the 11 characteristics, one should ask themselves “Where are the clowns?” Chances are, they will hear the answer: don’t worry, they’re here.
Written by Bill Ades