It’s been a weird, strange kind of a day, because today marks my last day working with icix.com. I don’t have my diary for 2003 anymore, but nearly 11 years ago, around the middle of August, I took a call from my youngest child’s godfather, who coincidentally happened to be an advisor and mentor to a bunch of startups and business people.
He told me he knew of a couple of guys who had secured investment and were trying to build a web site, but having problems coming up with something that worked. I said I’d go and have coffee with them, and in a dingy office on the NEC campus in Melbourne I met Matt Smith and Tim Marchington, the founders of icix.
Before too long the “coffee” morphed into them asking me to build a site, from scratch, to be ready in 5 or 6 weeks, without access to the previous developer’s 6 month’s worth of work. A short time frame, but we prevailed and to cap everything off, Tim’s wife gave birth the day the site launched – two births in one day!
Since then I’ve worked almost continuously for icix, although with a bit of a break in the mid-2000s after the sale of our Artshub business and the birth of our youngest child. She had a number of health issues, starting with severe epilepsy at 5 months old, and culminating in open heart surgery at 20 months, so we took a great deal of time out from all work related projects to look after her, something I am grateful the Artshub sale money enabled.
I wish I could say I am leaving icix because I’ve had a better offer, sadly I cannot. After spending 12 months trying to firm up my ongoing contract status we were not able to come to an mutually agreeable arrangement.
Maybe it’s a cultural difference but Americans seem to favour the shock and awe approach to any negotiation, I’ve seen even the most inane meeting turn into a slanging match in my time in San Francisco. Many Americans in business appear to regard the smallest negotiation as a competition, ignoring that this only results inevitably in a winner and a loser. It’s in contrast to my experience in Australia, and indeed the UK, where in general a consensus approach is more the norm. Obviously tough decisions can lead to disharmony, but I always feel a more collaborative attitude prevails, seeking to find the balance between the needs of all parties, whether it’s deciding on a venue for lunch or negotiating the sale of a company.
In this instance, after a year of being told how valuable I was to the company, how they’d welcome an opportunity to provide me with pathways to expanding my contribution, eventually I was presented with a contract offer with a pay rate less than I was paid to build the original icix site all those years ago. I felt incredibly disheartened, not just because the amount was so low, but because it seemed the last 10 years had not mattered one jot.
All this was in the name of ‘sustainability’, I apparently don’t fit their system, so I needed to be ‘standardised’, which is also saddening because it means they don’t understand that if everyone is slotted into a convenient generic box, there’s nobody empowered to disrupt, to call out something as rubbish, to act as the irritant that forces people to think twice.
Standardisation is another word for bland in my dictionary. Every company needs a rebel, although that’s far from how I ever would have described myself. But I’ve always been the odd one out at icix, the square peg in the round hole, which led to a constant stream of people asking for my help, my advice, my accumulated knowledge. And in turn I hope I added some colour to offset the routine.
There are some fantastic, dedicated and talented people I have had the privilege working with at icix, and others who have already moved on, either voluntarily or because they too did not fit the cookie cutter mould. I certainly wish all of them the very best whether still at icix or in their new roles. There is a close coterie I will miss terribly because they’ve become my friends as well as colleagues.
One thing I definitely won’t miss are the work hours, for the past couple of years I’ve managed an engineering team spread between San Francisco and India. So 5am has been my normal work day start time to talk to the USA, but I’d still be answering Skype chats at 7pm from the Indian team, meaning I’ve been available and online for 12 or more hours a day, including Saturdays given the Americans are a day behind. That kind of routine takes its toll on your health and family.
One benefit of no longer being at icix is as an outsider I can keep a close eye on their progress. I have a decade of my life invested in the company. Of course I’m privy to much internal information that I cannot share publicly, but from now on I’ll have no more access than any other outsider, and can cast a more critical eye over their public activities and progress.
Later today I’ll be pouring a drink, possibly two, and indulging in a little reflection. And then consider how best to embark on the next 11 years.