It all started in May 2016 when I was searching Angel.co for opportunities in the Bay Area while living in Dallas. I applied for a marketing director position with Startup X and soon received an invitation to interview with the CTO. I took the initial phone screen in Los Angeles where I happened to be, and he asked me to fly out the next day to meet in Santa Clara. The responsibility of the less-than-24-hours flight wasn't addressed, so I asked who would be covering it. When the CTO asked me to book it and told me it would be reimbursed later, I was hesitant and skeptical but followed through with blind faith. There's no way a start-up I found on Angel.co is going to screw me over, I thought. The next day, I was in Startup X's office meeting the co-founders and small dev team of 8.
Michael, the CEO, introduced himself as the owner of a successful international mining business group, a millionaire investor, and a former JPMorgan analyst. Charlie, the CTO, founded his first start-up right out of college, sold one in the past few years, and worked with IBM. Both men pitched their experience to me more than their product (I later learn this is a recurring theme in investor meetings), nevertheless I thought they had a viable idea and one that I was interested in building. They told me that I would have $4 million for the marketing budget and carte blanche to build my team. They seemed like veteran entrepreneurs, the kind I could trust, but one thing that would later haunt me was something Charlie said. When I asked him if hired employees were given a probationary period (it was standard for several of my past employers), he said "No, because I hire fast and fire fast." I didn't know which part of that sentence gave me more pause.
Red flag #1: When someone says they "hire fast and fire fast" believe them and walk away.
After our interview, they took me to lunch with the rest of the team and asked for a high level marketing plan for round two. The following week I received a check in the mail for my reimbursed flight expenses, I delivered a keynote with my marketing team plans, and I received a job offer. We had to negotiate and rewrite my employment contract a couple of times (it was written by someone with absolutely no HR experience), but we finally agreed on a $10,000 sign-on bonus (relocation assistance), a $135,000 salary, equity, and a 3-month severance package if I were to leave for good reason and without cause (which was defined as role / compensation changes, office relocation over 50 miles, cease of operations, or change in the company's market focus). It was a pretty solid deal and I had always wanted to move to California. After a final review, I signed the contract and took a pre-planned trip to Japan for two weeks.
Red flag #2: If it is too good to be true, it probably is.
While in Japan, the CEO called me (knowing I was on vacation) and asked me to put together a user-acquisition strategy over the next couple of days. Wanting to put a good foot forward, I brushed off the confusion, chalked it up to culture, and spent time on what he requested with the limited knowledge and resources I had at hand. I didn't bring my computer to Japan so I wrote what I could in notes and typed up the deliverable as soon as I got home. As a side dish, I included new names and logo ideas for the company since the start-up had an anti-SEO name and wanted to be a recruiting / job platform. My first priority was branding. Later on, I would learn that my preliminary work was worthless because we never had a $4 million marketing budget which was what I based my projections on.
Red flag #3: Give some people an inch and they'll take a mile. They'll constantly test boundaries and see what they can ask of you or get away with.
Things moved fast after that. I sold everything, packed what I couldn't part with, and asked my boyfriend at the time to watch my cat for a month or two until I settled in. I said goodbye to my apartment of the last 6 years and goodbye to my city of the last 12 years. After 3 days on the road, I arrived in Santa Clara with a car full of boxes and an excitement to start something new, both professionally and personally.