Chapter 1: Bad Advice

That time I got my money’s worth from some dime-a-dozen advice

What you see is what you get. Except, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Birds of a feather flock together. Except, opposites attract.1

I’m gonna crush this pitch. I’m GONNA crush this pitch. I’M GONNA CRUSH THIS PITCH! That was me, chanting my affirmations, shirtless, in front of my parents’ bathroom mirror. Every morning in the two-ish months leading up to the big pitch we had to give to win a grant, I’d wake up and say that line three times, each time with greater emphasis. I was just following some advice I got from a book I found in the “entrepreneur” section at my local library. The book basically sucked--it felt kinda “life-coachy” to me, and I think I read somewhere that the author had recently filed for bankruptcy and his wife was leaving him.

So yeah, so much for that advice. It eventually proved useless, just like so much other advice I’ve gotten. Obviously rearsight is 20/20, and looking back, it’s obvious I should’ve ignored most of it. But it’s hard because everyone wants to dish out their guidance to you. You’re constantly getting hammered with new tips on how to succeed. And the part that pisses me off the most is that almost no one is following the same crap they’re telling others to do. Great example--have you ever heard someone tell you,

Live each day like it’s your last!

God, I seriously hate people that say that. There’s almost no way that the doinks saying that are actually doing it. It’s obvious. For one, they’d have no money because they’d most likely blow all their savings in the first couple weeks. And why wouldn’t they? They thought each day was their last--might as well live it up. Not only that, but if they really adhered to that garbage quote, they probably wouldn’t have any new income coming in because -- who wants to work on the last day of their life? So, I guess they’d probably be living in their parents’ basement. One because they’re broke. And two, I guess they’ll probably want to spend that last day with family.

Well, I got at least that last part down. At the time when I was practicing for that pitch, I was living in my parents’ basement (technically, I still am). I had been since college, since Salesly, since my “partnership” with Chet, and since all that other Salesly tommyrot happened--all within the last year and some change.

We assumed the pitch to be perfect to win this grant we wanted. We were trying to win this pitch/grant for our company Salesly. The prize was $50,000, which would almost guarantee we’d take off.

As far as Salesly goes, things were great throughout the last year until toward the end. It was only about three months ago when the company, and my life, really started to spiral down the plunger. This was when I had started prepping for the pitch--when I was practicing those affirmations.

Besides trying to inject good vibes into the pitch, I also was in charge of finalizing our application. As part of that, I had to fill out this background info sheet about Salesly--sort of like a due diligence worksheet.

For the most part the sheet was pretty much boilerplate crap, except for this one question (and I guess a couple others, but this one in particular was the shawl that broke the camel’s back). It asked me to list Salesly’s top five competitors and to include the URL to their websites.

Of course, like so many other entrepreneurs think, I knew in my heart we had no competition. Not with our incredible product. So I wanted to just answer, “N/A” because I felt like no one came close to competing with our product. We were one of a kind. Easiest way to explain it--we were the first ever company to “automate the automation of Sales.” Yeah, obviously there’s other sales automation web apps out there. But show me any company that took it to the next level--actually automating the automation--like we did. And I’ll show you a company that doesn’t exist.

Our product was so incredibly easy to use. Imagine having to literally click three buttons -- one button to purchase our monthly subscription, one button that synced all your accounts with the software, and a third button that said, “Salesly Me!” And then all your sales issues would be taken care of by our proprietary software. The product really was incredible.

But I watched Shark Tank enough to see that investors always got super irritated at companies that said they had no competition. So, I knew I had to write something. I listed out these one companies I’d studied when researching the market--they did the first part of automating sales, but of course none of them automated that automation like us.

After doing that I decided, just for fun, to Google the “Automation of Automation of Sales.” I think we’ve all been there--googling our own names, seeing what comes up. This was kinda like that. So I did and started scrolling down the page past the first few articles from some local business journals about Salesly and . . . What the FUDGE?

I found some search result for a company called “Sailsly.” No joke. The description said, “Start Smooth Sailing your Sales with Sailsly: the first company to AUTOMATICALLY Automate the Automation of Sales.

I went through a range of emotions and then started laughing. Obviously someone was doing some type of genius parody of my product. So I clicked on the link to see what happened, and the more and more I read, the more I realized this was no joke. These thieves, whoever they were, even stole my bit about only pressing three buttons, but instead prided themselves on the subscriber only needing to hit two.

I almost started to vom, but before I went to the bathroom I first wanted to see who was behind all of this. I already felt like I was reading the Facebook page of an ex who dumped me and who just changed her relationship status from single to “in a relationship” only one month after our breakup. Like, I needed to see who the dbag thief was. I clicked on the “About” tab and silently whispered to myself with my 13 inch screen’s glare reflected on my face, What the DOUBLE Fudge?

And then, as I started feeling the reheated Wendy’s Spicy Chicken I ate two hours before about to blow all over my computer, I gagged out something like, This is WAR, while simultaneously throwing my fist through the closest drywall to the computer. Trouble was, it was a basement, and there was concrete on the other side of the drywall. So I ended up breaking several bones in my left hand.

 

Ever wanted your business to grow from five to EIGHT figures in less than a year?


That was part of the marketing campaign that I created for Salesly. You see, most people that say things like that always stop at seven figures or less. We went for eight. We knew we had to be at least 10x better than the competition. At least, that was the advice I got from from some book I read.

So I took that advice to heart when I wrote that question. To be straight with you--since giving out this info doesn’t really matter so much anymore--I’ll admit I joked all the time with my friends that, “No one said the two digits after the decimal can’t count!”

I liked the 10x advice. I always thought our Salesly idea was some serious 10x shit, and I like advice that supports whatever I got going for me at the time. Admittedly, some advice can be good, despite my earlier cynical ramblings about the virtues of “advice.” I guess another “good advice” example would be a story this prof told me when I was in college. Around that time, the professor in my entrepreneur seminar told me that his one regret was not starting his passion business earlier in his life. I took that advice to heart. Shortly after I graduated--so, this was about a year ago--I decided to run with the idea I came up with in that seminar and launch what’s now known as Salesly. That advice worked out at first.

The momentum behind Salesly really started to heat up on the last day of that seminar, which was also the last day of college for me. As part of our final, we had to present our ideas to a group of “judges” affiliated with this nonprofit in Saint Louis called Arch Grants. This wasn’t “the” pitch or “the grant”--it was just a sort-of mockup thing in a college class--but it did spark the plug that led us to later applying for the real grant. I’ll never forget the feedback we got from the judges--it was kinda like when you make something awesome, you know it’s awesome, but you still need validation. And when you get that validation, it’s like total ecstasy. The judges gave me that ecstasy.

Or I guess it was more, they gave “us” that ecstasy. I had a partner, Chet Wellington.

Chet did almost nothing on the project. We got paired together and I came up with the idea and basically did our entire business plan. Chet would occasionally try to interject when I was putting together everything for the pitch, but everything he proposed was crap. I eventually made a deal with him that if he let me make all the business decisions, I’d let him give the pitch on the last day of class. Chet has this obsession with image--he wanted everyone to think he was a hotshot entrepreneur, especially his daddy. Chet liked the arrangement and agreed. It was ideal for him since it let him slide by with what seemed to be his general approach life--do the minimum effort for maximum credit.

So, we struck that deal, and on the last day of the seminar, we absolutely destroyed the pitch. Chet stuck to the script I wrote for him. And I did the Q&A because Chet didn’t know anything about Salesly that wasn’t written verbatim in the script. So yeah, it went well, nut honestly, I didn’t know for sure that I was onto something really legit until my old high school friend approached me after the presentations ended.

Mister William Bone, entrepreneur extraordinaire.

The voice, coming from behind me, sounded hot, but that phrase was really irritating. I just really hate it when people that say stupid words like that. Honestly, there was just no reason to say that “extraordinaire” word.

I turned around and saw Tiffany. Tiff worked for Arch Grants--from my understanding, she was one of those people who’s always annoying the shit out of corporations and people trying to get donations. But she obviously knows a lot people in the org so what she told me had me super pumped.

We talked for about twenty minutes, and she told me I should seriously think about launching a startup with my idea--and that several of the judges thought I’d be a shoe-in to win one of those coveted Arch Grants. Basically if I won that prize, they’d give me $50,000 with no-ish strings attached. I just had to say some nice shit about Saint Louis--where I’m from and where I’d have to be--every once in awhile.

Chet was a few feet away during that whole conversation, just hovering in an awkward way. I’m sure he overheard everything because the next day he called me and asked to meet him out for a coffee. Hearing him ask me that made me realize just how little Chet and I actually worked together creating Salesly. You see, I have this weird rule that -- anyone who knows me knows that I won’t do anything social without a drink in my hand. It’s not like I’m an alcoholic or anything--I just like to operate my life in two modes: work and social. And if I’m not sitting at a computer hammering away on my work, I’m in social mode, which means I’m drinking.

But anyways, I politely told Chet that our meeting had to be over a drink, and so we met up the next evening at a local Irish pub. Exactly as I expected, he wanted us to partner up on the idea. Chet knew the idea would get nowhere without me--I had done basically everything so far and would be doing everything in the future. And because of that, I had zero interest in starting the company with him.

Had zero interest, that is, until he said he could solve what he knew was my achilles heel--money. I remember Chet getting all fatherly toward me near the end of the night, like he was about to bestow some advice that had me on the edge of my seat begging for it. Knowing now his advice was shit (and, in part, a lie), it’s hard to be objective, but I think he said something like that I wasn’t getting anywhere without money because (1) I needed my own income and (2) I needed a lot of money to hire someone to build the web app. He offered to cover all the expenses and pay me $1,500 a month in exchange for me running the company. And that we’d split everything 50/50. At the time it made perfect sense--I needed to partner with Chet if I wanted Salesly to get anywhere. He was rich, I was desperate. So I took his advice.

 

But, I guess I never really finished talking about the application for that Arch Grant. Or for that matter, why the grant was such a big issue. Shortly after we launched, I told Chet I was going to apply for that Arch Grant award. Chet and I had our own reasons to care so deeply about winning it -- Chet wanted all his old high school buddies who still lived in Saint Louis to think that he was a badass. I wanted us to win because of the money--getting $50,000 would help me stop having to rely on Chet, which I totally hated. That, and I still lived and worked in my parents’ basement.

So I had the dream of breaking free from Chet’s financial handcuffs on my mind when I sat down to fill out the due diligence sheet as part of the Arch Grants’ application. The sheet was more complicated than I originally thought it’d be--a mistake I’ve made on pretty much every action I’ve taken since I started calling myself an entrepreneur. I mean, obviously I had that nightmare question about “who are my top 5 competitors”--the one I mentioned earlier involving Sailsly and he who must not be named.  

But even before I got to that question, I was already running into problems. In fact, the very first question was kind of a nightmare. It asked me to list all “actions currently pending or threatened against Salesly.” When I read that, I wasn’t sure what sort of information they would want, or that for matter, how in-depth I had to be. I’ve had people threaten to sue me all the time, even a couple random pedestrians that bumped into me when I would bike on the sidewalk to avoid traffic. Surely I wouldn’t have to put that crap down on the paper.

But I called up Tiff just to make sure. She made it sound like I should write down anything I could think of because apparently their lawyers were also gonna do their own due diligence to verify all the stuff we told them.

This made me kinda wonder if I should disclose a story about this doofus who called me from shithole Alaska about a month before then.

I remember him calling the number we had listed on our website and asking, “Is this the decision maker for Salesly?

I started giggling because--seriously-- who actually starts a conversation asking for a “decision maker.” So, just to be a dick, I asked him in my fake Southern accent to define “decision maker.

He ignored my question (he was breathing so heavy into the phone I bet he didn’t even hear it). Then told me he was “Myron from Alaska” and that he was going to “sue the shit out of me” if I didn’t pay him $100,000.

I’ll be honest with you--I was pretty worried about that. Who wouldn’t be? So I asked him why would I owe him $100,000.

Your product was complete shit, and made me lose thousands of dollars in profit. It came nowhere near pumping my business up to eight figures in a year,” he neighed, slobbering into his flip phone. Then he gave me some advice: I need to pay up or else he was gonna destroy my company with a lawsuit in Alaska.

I didn’t follow that advice.

Instead, I bought myself some time and told him to give me his information, and that my lawyer would be in touch. After I hung up the phone, I went for a run to clear my mind and figure out what to do for my next move.

I did my own research that afternoon and found some articles talking about scammers that call you and tell you that you have a pending lawsuit. They always say they’ll make their claim go away for a certain sum of cash. God, what a piece of shit, I thought to myself. It was all just a scam.

So I called Myron back and played along with his prank--I told him to let me know how to get him the money and that the check would be in the mail asap. I took down his information and was planning to doink around with him some more, but got too busy with my company to remember to follow through.

So there was that -- but then a couple days before I filled out that application, I got a letter from a law firm in Alaska saying that they were representing Myron and were prepared to file a lawsuit in Alaska against me and Salesly if I didn’t pay them $100,000 for their damages. The letter mentioned that Myron had purchased our services, tried it out, and that he wasn’t reaching eight figures like we promised, but instead had lost over $100,000 in future profits.2

Well, I’m screwed, I thought. And decided that this was serious enough to bring Chet in on the issue.

I called Chet that night and filled him in. Chet started laughing when I told him about the story. “A lawsuit in Alaska? That’s hilarious,” I remember him saying. “Why the hell would we get sued in Alaska? We’re in Missouri, not that shithole state.” I started laughing because I assumed Chet knew his stuff--his dad was a lawyer and Chet had taken a business law course in undergrad, so I was comfortable relying on his advice.

Regardless, there was something about that letter that felt real. So I did my own independent research just to confirm Chet’s opinion. I read the first couple articles from my google search that seemed to agree with Chet’s advice and saw that scammers sometimes wrote letters in addition to calling people.3 So I closed my laptop for the day, feeling confident I was covered.

I marked “no,” on the worksheet, laughing to myself. Arch Grants would’ve thought I was such a dud to fall for that stunt, I remembered thinking.  

Of course, at the time I finished the worksheet, I had no clue how bad following some of the advice I had gotten from so many people would be, and that it’d ultimately destroy Salesly. Even worse, how we handled that issue was practically a sprinkle on a cake donut compared to the real batter and icing--Sailsly, and he who must not be named who ran it.

Footnotes

The problem with cases like this is that they could be easily prevented with a solid terms of use on your website. Terms of Use have provisions like limiting the damages that could be sought to the amount the subscriber paid, for example. They could also include caveats to things like the fact that the “five to eight” figure claim is not guaranteed. Finally, they could include something like a jurisdiction provision to avoid a situation where Bone would have to go litigate the case in Alaska. He could’ve had something that said it had to be brought in Saint Louis, for example. Check out our Terms of Use blog for further details.

This can be a big issue with relying on stuff from Google. For some stuff, Google is clutch and saves a ton of money from having to paying others for tips you could’ve got for free. For others, there’s so much contradictory crap that it’s tough to know who’s right. Not only that, but the couple articles Bone read weren’t the same facts as his own, despite seeming similar at first glance.

Blog

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