Working at a company is such a long and complicated story, it can be difficult to know where to begin – or which parts of the story to tell.
Five years! – That’s as long as I was in high school for, half of my twenties (and half a decade). So much has happened, it’s all I can do to pull out a few little stories, and a few tiny highlights from the great adventure, much of which has already been forgotten in the sea of faded details.
The Open Day
On the 18th of July 2012, I took a day off work at my then-current job to take a special trip somewhere.
That’s right – it was to an open day at E-Web Marketing, a digital marketing agency in Sydney that had won Australia’s best place to work award.
I travelled out to St Leonard’s, where the office was at the time, and walked in. The office was full of vibrant colours, out-of-this-world psychedelic decorations, and bright, smiling young millennials who clearly were having lots of fun at their job.
We had a tour of the office, and went through a kind of guided program of introductions to the company. We were told a bit about its history, its culture, its clients, values, etc.
Then we played a game, Matthew Forzan who was the director of operations at the time, told us each to take “as many pieces of toilet paper” as “we needed”, for a game that was yet to be explained. Nervous, I took one piece of toilet paper. He then told us to go up, one by one, and for each piece of toilet paper we took, we could say something awesome about ourselves to “sell ourselves” to everyone there. Suffice it to say, I regretted only taking one piece of toilet paper!
As I departed from the open day, I reflected with a tinge of sorrow. I deeply yearned to work at a place like E-Web Marketing, but there were – no kidding – about 30 other people who had come to the open day, and – guess what – they all wanted to work there! What competition!
But a seed was planted deep within me. I knew for sure – I wanted to work at E-Web Marketing, and I would pursue this dream until it became a reality. Competition was irrelevant. Time was irrelevant. Lack of experience was irrelevant. That’s where I was going to go.
Little did I know that I would one day work there – for five years – become a manager there, and one day be writing this blog post reflecting on the blast of a journey that it had been.
It took me over a year to find my way into E-Web Marketing. There were various reasons, (mainly visa related), but after a series of interviews (and even some “challenges”) I finally made it in and began working there on the 16th of September 2013.
The first few weeks working in E-Web were like living in a dream. Everything was special. Everything was novel. Learning Search Engine Optimisation and online marketing unlocked a deep and abiding passion within me that remains kindled to this day. The lunchtime conversations with the brilliant and intelligent people around me were incredibly stimulating. The ping-pong games were funny. The wall of inspiration quotes were inspiring.
I worked hard, and I learned quickly. Within a short time of beginning to work there, I took on some of my first few clients; the business and economics department of Macquarie University, some random lawyers in Bundaberg, and an eCommerce store selling Mechanical Keyboards — my first “brand new” client — which has kept a special place in my heart since the beginning.
When I started working at E-Web, we had 31 employees in total (including me). I can still write down all of their names. It was a big and diverse team. The company was trying a few different ideas. There were multiple departments and different people and management to get to know. But I worked hard and integrated myself as best I could into the SEO team at the time.
As you can imagine, time raced on. Looking back on it today – it all seems like a massive blur. If it weren’t for my journals that I keep I’d have no idea now exactly what happened at what times.
I see no reason to maintain any pretence – as this was a long time ago – like all companies, E-Web has had its ups and downs.
Before arriving at E-Web, a friend of mine who worked there warned me that E-Web might be coming on hard times. I took his opinion into consideration, but overall thought it’d be worthwhile pursuing a career there anyway.
The seeds of decline were planted before I arrived and were only beginning to sprout when I arrived. Analysing what those seeds were, how they worked, or why they affected the business is a very complex conversation. Suffice it to say, “decline” doesn’t happen overnight, and in a business it can be a thing of several years.
Over the course of the next year and a half, E-Web ran into trouble. What kind of trouble? Again, too complicated to explain, suffice it to say, things became harder.
Several people left the company. Several clients left the company. There was a lot of action, fireworks, and hurt feelings.
Then something happened. The owner hired a new CEO — my (now) friend and colleague Sam Shetty. Sam came in in the middle of E-Web’s toughest times, and things were only going to get tougher. But it’s a testament to the Sam’s character that he stuck it all out.
Again, due to complex circumstances, on the 27th of February 2015 – some tough calls had to be made. E-Web made five of my then colleagues redundant. As (bad) luck would have it, on that day I was taking my family out to the zoo for my daughter’s birthday, which made it even more stressful for me – not being around for this significant event. I returned the next Monday, with five people gone, who I never knew were going to go the previous Thursday when I was in the office.
Making people redundant is never nice for anybody involved, but credit needs to go where it’s due. Firstly, I credit the leadership team at the time who made some incredibly tough calls — how do you choose five people who need to stop working immediately? How do you tell them? That took guts. It took courage. It took strength.
Secondly, I credit the people who got made redundant. They left gracefully, with an understanding of the hard times the company was in. It was hard for them. I’m sure tears were shed, families were made upset.
After that day, the atmosphere at E-Web changed dramatically — how could you expect it not to?
… But, over time, we healed.
The New Start
In May 2015, E-Web moved office from St Leonards to Chatswood to cut costs. Before moving, we spent at least a week cleaning up the old office, packing things, and preparing for the move. It was strangely cathartic to pack things up and clean them, it gave the sense of new beginnings, cleaning out old problems and challenges, and renewal. We found lots of interesting old junk, had a few laughs, and got physical exercise from the work.
The new office in Chatswood wasn’t as big as the old one. It wasn’t as psychedelically decorated. It didn’t have much – but it was clean, new, and fresh. Moving there infused me with a new sense of hope and direction. I came to believe (correctly) that the worst was behind us, and now we had a fresh start. (Chatswood was also, hands down, a way cooler place to have an office than St Leonards).
When we moved to the new office, we began to regenerate the business significantly. We held seminars, partnership programs, mentoring sessions, and other networking initiatives. Gradually, over time, the new leads coming to the business began ramping up. It didn’t happen all at once, but over the subsequent years.
The business stabilised significantly. Things were going OK.
The Manager’s Office
In February 2016, as a natural segue to the work I was already doing with the team, I received the job of Operations Manager in E-Web Marketing.
Leadership has been something I am very passionate about for a long time. I admire the great men and women who took the mantle of leadership (and the burdens associated with it) in order to make great things happen. I aspired to be like them – not in order to have “subordinates” (I don’t care much for positioning or power) but to scale my ability to add value to people, to mentor and build meaningful relationships, and to provide an environment where people feel their work is meaningful and special.
Becoming operations manager was a big deal for me. I take my responsibilities very seriously. This was manifest in many various initiatives.
A few months later (August 2016) I moved into my own office. This was the first time in my career that I had my own private office. It was a big deal for me. It inspired me. I put a few inspirational quotes on the wall, and did my best to make it an open space where people could come in at any time and talk to me.
But — ironically — as it turns out, I got bored of the office after a short while. It was lonely. I didn’t feel the same energy I felt as when I was out with the team on the floor (we have always had an open office). So, within a few months, I moved out of the office again and back to the floor. I was happy to be with the team again.
Time passed on as it always does. Staff came, staff left. Clients came, clients left. We tried this business strategy, and tried that business strategy. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t.
Many of our key staff who I have worked with for many years still hung around – in a small team of “seniors” in the company. There’s a core group of people in my company who have been working together for over four years now (in the digital marketing / tech world, that’s a LONG time). As we all endured “the fall” together, it’s given us a sense of loyalty and solidarity with one another. I love working with these people. I think they’re great. I feel honoured daily to be around people who are passionate about digital marketing.
The company is doing well – quite well in fact. Over the last few years, we have been growing in size and revenue. Now as I prepare to step out of the business, we have 16 employees, where we had only 11 just over two years ago.
Now, after being operations manager for over two years, my mind turns to the future. Where will I be in the next 5-10 years? What will I be doing? Where will I be going?
Considering everything is going so well at E-Web, why would I choose this time to leave?
Firstly, I think by staying with E-Web through the hardest times, I have demonstrated that I’m not a deserter. When the going got tough, we didn’t get going. We pulled this train around and turned it into a positive direction. Once again, lots of credit belongs to Sam Shetty -my boss- for his consistent dedication, passionate energy and assiduous work over the years to build this business up.
If it were purely a matter of “are you happy?” I would presumably never leave E-Web. In happiness terms, I’m about as happy as I’ve ever been at E-Web. Everyday I wake up and do what I am passionate about with a group of great people – could I want anything more? No, not actually!
But there’s a but.
For about two years now, I have come to realise that the next step in my career is to become an owner or co-owner of the business that I work in. In my mind – for me, this is the a way to more fully give of my passion and energy to a project (a business) over the long term.
When you’re happy in your job, but know where you will be going next, life then becomes a matter of gently and patiently seeking out, and/or waiting for, the correct opportunity to present itself.
In this case, the opportunity presented itself. It wasn’t early, it wasn’t late, it was just at the right time.
The details of the opportunity are complex, but in short, it came by, and I chose to go for it – no looking back.
I once had the opportunity to have dinner with a personal contact who had been highly successful in his career (had been CEO of large companies, had his own ventures, etc.)
I started out by asking him about his career; how would he characterise it? Was it successful? Where’d he work and where’d it go?
He answered me by saying, very tersely:
“My career was a series of benign betrayals.”
Puzzled, I asked him what he meant by that. He explained:
“I grew with each employer until it was time to leave and keep growing elsewhere – each time I left after having built myself and building that company for a time. Each time was a betrayal yes, but of a benign sort. Eventually you have learned all you have to learn in each placement, then it is time to leave.”
This idea stuck with me. Yes, I do view my departure as a “betrayal” of some kind. I am betraying the years of loyalty I have towards my company and colleagues. But it is benign. Life does go on, and people, no matter how loyal, do leave companies — (even in startups like Apple, Steve Jobs had to leave at one point). No matter how entrenched you are at a company, eventually you leave.
And that leads me to the future:
It’s been an incredibly difficult decision to choose to leave E-Web. Yes, I have lost sleep over it — (mainly my mind being so active and buzzing late at night, considering all of the variables). Seeing that about half of the employees who work at E-Web were hired by me, that makes it doubly difficult for emotional reasons — of course I feel a strong connection to the people who I have hired. Of course I don’t want to leave them — that’s made it quite tough.
But again, the decisions made today are made with the next 5-10 years in mind. With that view, decisions are made differently.
E-Web has been a blast. I have no regrets. I’ve met some brilliant people. I’ve learned a whole bunch of things. This experience here has changed my life.
Five years working at a single company (in this day and age, in this niche) is no small feat. That’s as long as I was in high school. As I reach the end of this chapter of my life, I distinctly feel exactly as I did when finishing high school — that profound “the end of an age” kind of feeling. To be honest, it doesn’t even feel completely real yet.
As I reflect on my emotions towards E-Web for this era, any past frustrations or difficulties are washed away by an immense feeling of gratitude for the magnificence of the journey.
Thank you E-Web, you brought Happiness, Success and Fun in copious amounts to me.