Death of a Company (and My Awesome Commute)

31 Dec

It’s been said that “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” The Silicon Valley version could be “she who is hired with investor funding is fired when the investors are ready to cash out.”

In 2008 I was hired in a spending spree that tripled the size of my group and included purchasing another software company. Within six months, my group was slashed in half and I narrowly escaped the layoffs. Three years later we were profitable and were scoring A-list customers with our newest product in a new market. But it was too little, too late. The investors wanted their money and we were sold, just two weeks before Christmas.

The buyer was a private company wholly owned by Mr Z, who built his empire by acquiring software companies for their maintenance stream. The day after he bought us, Mr Z visited our California office to welcome us to the family. In his one hour visit, he proudly told us that he had flown in on his Gulfstream, which takes him around the world to the dozens of companies he's acquired. He introduced us to his lovely flight concierge who travels with him, and joked about traveling places where it wasn't safe for him to wear his expensive watches.

Photo credit: Ben Wang via Note: The Gulfstream in the photo is NOT Mr. Z’s actual plane.

Within a week over half of the people in the room were fired, including me. No need for finance, marketing, HR or most of customer support. The official paperwork said we were either redundant or our positions were not in alignment with corporate strategy. For me, I suspect it was the latter. Who needs marketing if you’re not reaching beyond your established customer base?

Most of my co-workers fully expected this outcome, so packing up to leave wasn’t as sad as you’d think. We even had time for a little goofiness in the office before we hurried off for happy hour downtown. The strange truth was that the happiest people that day were the ones let go. The ones who were kept seemed somber, perhaps in fear of the BIG UNKNOWN ahead, perhaps with a bit of survivor guilt.

Aside from losing daily contact with my friends in the form of co-workers, my biggest sadness is the loss of an amazing commute. Before working at this company I had ridden my bike to work, but never with the frequency or pleasure that this job has brought me. A five mile commute on neighborhood streets is distinctly different than a 10 mile commute on high-speed roads through office parks.

Still, if I look back at all the jobs I’ve had in the last 20-something years here, all have been within a one hour commute distance, and half have been what I would consider along Dutch-bike friendly routes where I could ride in street clothes (blue stars). The other half were in locations where I’d need to ride in bike gear and change at the office (red crosses). So I feel confident that I’ll find a job where I can still commute by bike.

My big unknown is what I will do next. We’re in good shape financially, but that doesn’t mean I can retire before 50. I’m not really worried, though. There’s always something interesting around the bend in Silicon Valley, even for a veteran like me.

If you were to lose your job tomorrow, what would you miss most? What would you look for next?

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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Around Town


10 responses to “Death of a Company (and My Awesome Commute)

  1. Rick Warner

    January 1, 2012 at 6:00 am

    Bummer. I would hate to lose my commute.

    I work just over a mile from work; so short it is really better to walk than bike. Sarah’s commute is only slightly longer, probably 1.5 miles, so she rides most days, throwing in an occasion walk or run to the office. My previous job was 22 miles away, a long bike ride and the ‘short’ route not all that great (Middlefield through Redwood City was the worst part), and the long, hilly alternative was too long for the daily commute. Sarah’s previous was about 13 miles, again the short route being a bit gruesome but her long route was good for most days. We are hoping to stay nearly this close for a few years more. My company is moving, but it is moving only about 300 meters further away, basically across two parking lots. If/when this job ends, one of my criteria for the next one will be a commute not too much worse than I have now, or the option to work from home 80%+ of the time. I am spoiled, but I have seen how much better the quality of life can be than it is when you spend too much time commuting.

    • ladyfleur

      January 3, 2012 at 10:34 am

      Rick, it does pay to live on the bay side near all the tech jobs vs deep in the South Bay, doesn’t it. I really liked my five mile commute. It was short enough to do every single day and was close enough to pretty much anywhere I might need to go for errands. Sigh. But I have great hopes for finding something I really like, hopefully with more secure funding.

  2. NadiaMac

    January 1, 2012 at 8:15 am

    sorry about your job! I hope you keep your dutch bike commute with the next one!

  3. Alison Chaiken

    January 1, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    Janet, be sure to let me know what kind of job you’re looking for. Have a look at the Hacker Dojo events page to see if there are any useful classes or networking events for you there. And let’s have lunch on Castro one day soon, since you’re also in MV.

    The tech job market is so strong locally right now, you should end up with a better next job.

    • ladyfleur

      January 3, 2012 at 10:30 am

      Thanks, Alison. I just started searching for jobs today and you’re right. There is a lot out there. I’ll take a look at what’s on the Hacker Dojo page even though my days as a hacker are long past. Now I’m just a marketing mouthpiece, albeit with a hacker heritage.

  4. Lorri Lee Lown -- Savvy Bike

    January 2, 2012 at 8:59 am

    While it may not seem the case right now, this may provide an awesome opportunity for you. Maybe something totally out of your radar right now. When I was laid off from Schwab in 2001, it was the impetus to completely change my life/career, and we know how that turned out. Who knows, right?

    • ladyfleur

      January 3, 2012 at 10:27 am

      Lorri, you’re totally right. I made major life changes after being laid off in ’98. I left my first husband and moved from engineering to marketing. I am definitely looking at new career options in light of the job change. But my husband is a keeper!

  5. Rachel Unger

    January 3, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Wow. Mr. Z sounds like a socially inept twit. Ugh. I’m glad that it wasn’t as awful as it could have been.
    I am wildly envious of your commutes! I’m at 20-22 miles each way right now, so I’ve given up the bike in favor of driving. :/

    • ladyfleur

      January 3, 2012 at 10:28 am

      Twenty miles is a hefty bike commute. I certainly wouldn’t do that one often unless I could take the train for part of the way.


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