Dear Past Employer,
Thank you for the job.
I launched my first startup in July of 2008 with classic entrepreneurial passion for my great idea – an innovation in business public relations, Handshake 2.0! Handshake 2.0 would generate hockey stick growth and create jobs!
I was a business novice and believed with classic entrepreneurial arrogance that my great idea would create its own market and its own customers. Jobs would magically and organically result.
O, Past Employer, I had no idea of the heart, mind, thought, effort, time you gave and the risk you took to create that job for me!
Using Dunn & Bradstreet’s numbers, my company is one of 51% that “survive at least 5 years.”
“Survive” is the accurate term. With grateful thanks to our clients willing to give an unproven startup a chance, half way into year 5, we now generate enough revenue for me to receive wages, $1,000 per month, which will be $12,000 per year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, if I lived alone, that would put me just over the 2012 poverty threshold income of $11,945. I received my first direct deposit in February of 2013. As what the press and economic development initiatives glorify as the entrepreneurial startup founder – and I believed myself when I began – I went 54 months without a paycheck.
Although I so wanted to be part of what the Kauffman Foundation cites as the “net job creation that startups dominate” and of Startup America’s mission – “raising the entrepreneurial game of the United States. Why? Because startups create jobs” – I don’t think taking almost 5 years to create 1 low-paying job counts.
According to our company’s QuickBooks records, since 2008 I have paid 59 independent contractors, primarily for the content they created for Handshake 2.0 – text, images, and videos. Their pay rate ranged from $10 to $100 per hour depending upon services provided, probably an average of $25 per hour.
I so wish it were more. To offer non-monetary compensation, I have worked hard to empathize with independent contractors and to work fairly with them. I have explored ways to offer them benefits, particularly health insurance, but my company simply doesn’t generate enough revenue to provide any benefits at all.
I don’t think offering part-time, short-term, hourly wage positions counts as “startups create jobs.”
Past Employer, I see now that I felt entitled to the job you gave me. I felt you were lucky to have me as an employee because of my creativity, my experience, my credentials, and my hard work. I know you received value from me. But without thought for you, I challenged you on your leadership of the organization and I challenged you about the organization’s policies. I felt I was owed my salary, my health insurance, my life insurance, my disability policy, my long-term care policy, my sick leave, my vacation time, and my retirement. I remember that the contract I signed probably listed more benefits than these, but I took them for granted so don’t even remember them.
How small my view was! I had no idea running an organization was such a complex, all-consuming undertaking. I didn’t know that every detail matters because every decision has consequences, some great, some tragic. I thought you needed the singleness of my individuality. I didn’t know how much you needed the synergy of my teamwork.
I can only imagine how frustrated and unappreciated you might have felt by my challenges, demands, limited view, and sense of entitlement. For every time I behaved in a selfish way, I am profoundly sorry. I know now that I was the lucky one.
Long Ago Past Employer – you know who you are – you gave all of us handwritten thank you notes with $100 bills enclosed at the holidays. I remember my first year there and how surprised and treasured I felt! And every year thereafter. At the end of 2012, I tried to emulate you in this virtual world with a $25 bonus through online bill pay to a few of our most recent contractors who worked many tireless hours. “Thank you” just fit into the memo text box.
Thank you, Past Employer, for the job. What you did – create, offer, and continue to offer, with benefits, jobs to many – I, so far, have been unable to do. I am in awe of your effort and your sacrifice on my behalf. I am trying to pay forward your patience and generosity.
Graphic by Kelsey Sarles