One More Day…

21 Aug

Day 13

It was much harder emotionally than I had imagined the last few days, having to go in to the office and say goodbye to everyone.  I don’t think there was ever a time when I didn’t shed a tear leaving a group of people I love, and this would be no exception despite the circumstances.

On Monday, I took my hour train commute to work.  I shared the news with a train conductor I see regularly, and he made me promise I’d come by to say good-bye on my last day Thursday.  Going into work, people came downstairs left and right to bid farewell, went through contacts and offered their linked-in connections, and one of my close mentors, upon hearing the news was greatly saddened, and told me about positions he may have opening up at the end of the year if I decide it’s what I want and I’m not harboring anger towards the company.

Not really.  It may not be how companies should work, but I understand why it works the way it does, and I feel fortunate enough to have met so many wonderful people, learned a good set of experiences that would make me marketable, and have been offered a great opportunity to pursue my own dreams with the generous severance package.

He asked a good question though – what is it that you want to do?  What is your dream?  His possible open positions sound amazing, and he would be the only person I’d want to work for were I to come back.  But would that be what I want after taking some time to think about it?  It’s hard to tell right now, but I am extremely grateful for that open window.

Yesterday, my team organized a unofficial going away party for me at my favorite speakeasy bar in NY.  It was really nice of them, with my boss and colleagues footing the bill, and though we part our ways now, I wish them well and will hope that our paths cross again soon.

On progress.  After five discovery interviews, I have more insights on the direction of the product now.  I looked at a site close to my concept that has recently been through the incubator program I’m looking at, but while they’re human-powered, mine will be automated and hopefully more scale-able.   Fingers crossed that incubators and investors will also think the same.

I may also have found my second programmer + designer to join the team.  There was a lot of enthusiasm when I told this person about the idea, someone whom I really respect and admire their work.  But I will follow-up in two days to make sure that level of enthusiasm is still there and be cautiously optimistic about things.  It’s always easier to lose steam on an idea that wasn’t originally yours, so I like to give people the time to think it over before deciding this is REALLY it.  At least people are excited about this concept though, and the first programmer is still on board and sending me new data sources to check out daily.

Tomorrow will be my last day.  One more day to go, and then I’m officially on my own.  It’s daunting at the same time liberating, as I think the last two weeks has dragged out to what feels like forever.  It’s about time to finally let go, and begin a new chapter in my life.  One more day.

Asking Questions

16 Aug

Day 7

It has been a full week since I received the news.  Finally today, I put the emotions aside and begin to create a market test summary and next-step strategy deck for my recent project on a mobile beta app.  It isn’t easy, I feel like I’m wrapping up something that was just beginning to gain momentum.  It was months of grueling work designing and creating the product.  And the marketing effort last month has not been easy after the Investor relations team threw my go-to-market plan out a week before launch, demanding that my market test stay out of the press since they have not announced a mobile strategy to the street and don’t want this to be mistaken for one.  I am, however, allowed to do “grassroots marketing”. Not sure think they understand the concept of grassroots marketing if I’m not allowed to have anybody blog about it, but I respectfully obliged.

The exact wording was I am allowed to do in any marketing in person, with no budget. So for the last month, aside from the the social media Facebook/Linkedin/Twitter marketing, I spoke at small business and tech events, handed out flyers, looked for any cork board I can find in New York to post handouts, and chatted up anyone and everyone on the streets.  I even got a sports podcast to mention my app to its listeners and someone to drive around NY/NJ with a promo flyer of my app stuck to their car.  If you can think of it I probably tried it, aside from tattooing the app name on my arm.

I wouldn’t say I’m attached to the success of this beta product, as I understand that being a lab, every product I work on is market test, and they can succeed or fail as long as I fail fast.  But while I’m conducting the market test, while I’m developing the product, While I believe this would benefit the small businesses that it serves, I intend to work my butt off market testing the heck out of it.  My boss was surprised at the number of downloads for an app that had no marketing budget and wasn’t allowed to be in the press.  He skeptically joked that I must have a a very large network of friends, but I don’t think he realized the amount of work and creativity I put in to it.  Sadly, I will leave this job before my largest speaking engagement at a prestigious event I worked very hard into next month.  I think I will notify the sponsors Monday, after wrapping up this project.

At lunch, I met with a colleague today and conducted more discovery interviews on both her and another friend for my new idea.  The thought of moving on to my own project was empowering after a sad morning.

In the evening, I attended a workshop on how to ask better questions.  Open vs. closed, understanding vs. problem solving, etc.

It was strangely therapeutic as we learn to become better listeners and better motivators by asking the right questions.  We paired up to practice our skills, and my first partner talked about his recent layoff from Zynga, his two months off spent with his family reconnecting with his life, and his recent employment at a start up group within a large tech firm.  I could hear the energy in his voice, and the relaxed tone from having taken a good break.  In exchange, I told him my story.  After, he gave me a high-five and welcomed me to the club, and shared with me what he sensed in my voice: fear, sadness, and a lot of excitement.

The latter half of the class I worked with a woman visiting from Saudi Arabia, and a local New Yorker who loves to travel.  We were, by way of asking the right questions, to help each other solve a current conundrum.  The visiting tourist was gorgeously beautiful and looked to be in her late teens/early twenties, so I was surprised when her conundrum was feeling guilty when she would spend less time with her children so she could visit the gym and spend some “me” time.  She had a graceful air about her, and her thoughtful look gave hint that her real conundrum could be more troubling, but those insights were reserved only for her confidants, if not herself.  The New Yorker in contrast was open and sharing, much like a cheerful sunflower.  She wanted desperately to take a ski or surfing trip with her husband, but was obliged to attend a wedding in Hawaii and visit her sister in London.  I led her with questions to conclude at combining the trips, then later suggested sites for hotels, nearby ski/surf locations, and places she could visit.  Lastly, I shared my conundrum – Do I try to start my own start up?  Or do I find a job while my skills are still desirable?  While one woman smiled at the understanding of how I came about to focus on travel, the other asked the pointed question “what is your fear?”

My greatest fear is to have squandered this opportunity.  Finding a job now would make the opportunity not exist, and offer an exit out of this dilemma.  Pursuing the opportunity gives it the possibility that I might have nothing to show for after 6 months, and having no accomplishment to show for is far worse than failure because you never even got the chance to fail.

Chasing the sun

15 Aug

Day 6

This may have been the morning that I’ve slept in the latest since the news broke.  Getting out of bed at 10:30 was nice, and I felt more refreshed, and more ready to face today.

Learning from yesterdays conversations that it’s hard to go at it alone sometimes, I began to look at business plan competitions, incubators, and different start-up communities that I could belong to, and think of possible partners who might be interested in doing this project with me.  The East Coast start-up community has grown and expanded quite a bit since I last joined a business plan competition a few years back, and though I’ve been engaged by attending and demoing my B2B mobile app for market testing, I haven’t gotten involved as a start-up for quite some time.  As I read through an “American Idol” for start ups, I smile at the thought that while the tech landscape has been growing and developing, thankfully so have I, and it’s good to know that there are so many communities that I could take part in.  Sometimes it’s not just the funding, but the mentoring and the motivation to keep going when you know when you feel like you can’t take another step forward.

Eager to get started with designing a tangible look and feel for the product, it became a priority to uncover user needs and concretely determine what gap in the market this product would serve.  Thanks to a mentor at work who has recently taught me how to ask better exploratory questions, I composed a discovery questionnaire and scheduled a dinner with a Friend who travels extensively.  I will need many of such meetings, but might as well hit two birds with one stone and validate my idea whenever I meet people  so I can begin working towards a solid concept. For some reason, my time feels much more precious now that it I’m responsible for every minute of it.  I know of others who assume when you are unemployed, you have all the time in the world to squander.  But as my first week has proven out, it feels quite the contrary with a great sense of urgency.

Whether to look for another job or try to start my own business is still a lingering question.  But it’s good to have data to work with, as knowing whether an idea will serve a validated customer need can help shape that decision.  At the same time, I’m starting to get the sense that my subconscious has decided which direction it wants to head. The fact that I am dragging my feet on editing my resume, versus jumping on the opportunity to work on my own idea, makes me wonder whether it’s fear or stubborn determination. Only time will tell.

Boxed up fears

14 Aug

Day 5

I woke up and an idea today, and laid in bed thinking it through.  After moving all the components around a few times, it actually seemed feasible, and I woke up excited.  It was a gloomy, rainy day, but I had my glimmer of hope. Tying up a few loose ends at work still, I responded to a colleague email about when I will be back in the office.  She told me she envied my position. I know she’s telling the truth, and I would probably say the same if I were in her shoes. But somehow, it still feels different when it happens to you.

I grabbed lunch with a friend, whom I worked on a game idea with back in the days and has been a freelance game artist for the last three years.  He tried to cheer me up, and we spent the rest of the afternoon chatting.  Our conversation was a reminder that there are a lot of ups and downs with not holding a steady job, as I can see its toll on him.  I think entrepreneurship is for some, but definitely not for all, and while it’s nice to say you’re doing your own thing, it definitely has its moments.  I reminded myself to be mindful -there will be moments, many of them, when you have to decide whether you’re cut out for making it on your own.  This brings up the constant question – am I really ready to try to start something on my own?  Or is it time to take a safer route and apply for a job while my mobile skill sets are still in good demand?  The former is a daunting question, while sometimes the latter feels like raising a white flag before the battle even begun.

Dinner time came around and I met with a very good colleague friend who just returned from China and heard the news.  I missed her dearly, and while it wasn’t the best of circumstances, it was nice to see her in good spirits, And we discussed her trip, explored a few business opportunities, and talked possible next steps. She also said she envied my position, And again, I know she meant it in the nicest possible way.

I came home and diagrammed my idea from this morning.  Upon sharing it, I realize it may be the best one I’ve came up with so far – it builds on my expertise in app product development, utilizes my knowledge and passion in travel, and fulfills a market gap that I’ve been both talking about and hearing others complain over for years.  That made me feel a lot better about my day. Maybe, just maybe, along with my resume I can work on an idea that is actually feasible.

The space between

13 Aug

Day 4

It’s ironic to be told “I’m here to answer any questions you have” repeated but then directed to go look up everything myself without being given the website and refer to documents that don’t exist.  That was my experience with our HR.  I figured I would be fine either way with or without her help, but it was becoming comical how defensive and unhelpful she was, even as I tried to make light of the situation.  Maybe one day she’ll realize that not every employee let go is desperate or worse off, and learn to treat people with respect, as people.

The reaction of some people has become one of the hardest parts to deal with.  For those who have been supportive, I wholeheartedly appreciate everyone who has been concerned and worried, and couldn’t imagine going through this without the support they’ve given me.  At the same time, for many others, it seems like being let go from your job has a certain social stigma attached to it.  Taking a step back, crossing your arms, awkward conversations and avoidance.  These little pieces body language speaks louder than the words and sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m not plagued.

This may in fact be one of the best opportunities in my life to take some time to think, to travel, and to possibly take a alternate route.  But when people treat you with pity and avoidance, look at you like you have an eye on your forehead, it is still difficult.  Even though you understand that the layoff is across the company, that R&D is a cost center and not a revenue generator, that the company is positioning itself for a sale and you’re in the wrong department at the wrong time… you still can’t help but question if there’s something wrong with you.

After sorting through one list of postings a friend sent me from his work, I took a walk to look for work spaces in the city in case I need to get out of the house.  Being a student has its advantages, and I was particularly glad to have enrolled in continuation courses at Parsons a few months back.  In addition to their art libraries, their affiliate library access was wonderful and I found myself in a quiet law library up on the 6th floor overlooking 5th avenue.  Power, internet, Mac, check.

Two block away from parsons was a church I stumbled upon and walked into.  I didn’t know and still don’t know the denomination, but sometimes you just need a place to talk to God at the end of the day.  I thanked Him for this opportunity, prayed that I would be led onto the right path, and hoped that He’s listening.

The chicken or the egg?

12 Aug

Day 3

Some of my friends and colleagues came over for a rooftop brunch today, many of whom have been very supportive for the last few days and gave their advice on what their thoughts were on my next step options.

A part of me dreaded having to face people in my emotional state, but I know it would bring me out of my slump and put some perspective back in my life.  If this layoff has taught me anything thus far, it’s to put down my pride and accept the kindness of others with humility.  Another easier said than done item, but I’m trying.

Over food and sangria, we explored applying for the fed as a pre-step for the white house fellowship I wanted to try for with one friend, and listed all my crazy business ideas I had with another, before settling on possibly food or travel as areas my ideas should stem from.  Along of course, with the solid advice that I should focus on two tasks only, and not stretch myself too thin.  I had gotten a similar suggestion last night from another friend, who recommended me to do what I loved, and develop something in travel as well – and started to wonder if they might have a different perspective on me that I haven’t explored.

As the afternoon comes to an end, my friends leave with a content stomach, and I am left with a full heart.  Everything happens for a reason.  I just wonder how we would be wise enough to know the reason to follow through properly, or is it that we journey through life only to find its purpose when we look back in hindsight?

Uncharted

10 Aug

Day 2

Today, I learned that in a different context, even the familiar takes on a different look.

I woke up hopeful, but couldn’t get myself to look at job postings.  Heaviness quickly sank in.

The seamstress I found online coming by to alter my bridesmaid dresses for my brother’s wedding, became my excuse to stay in despite the beautiful sunshine outside.  A quote from the Francis Ha stuck in my head last night, ” it’s good to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it.”

But it’s much easier said than done.

On Youtube, I watched and listened to Sara  Bareilles as my favorite songs take on a whole  a new meaning.

“No words, My tears won’t make any room for more,
And it don’t hurt like anything I’ve ever felt before,
this is no broken heart,
No familiar scars
This territory goes uncharted…”

I watched, sobbing, scared.

“I won’t go as a passenger, no
Waiting for the road to be laid
Though I may be going down,
I’m taking flame over burning out”

If you don’t try, you’ll never fail, you’ll never succeed.  You will simply sit, wondering, wishing, and looking back to regret why.

Maybe it’s time to take a leap of faith.  To do what I’m suppose to do when I’m suppose to do it.