When your former employer serves you with a legal notice there has to be a lesson or three in there. Here’s mine.
Let’s get this picture right. It is a typical Melbourne June night, dark and cold with my wife at home with our 2 year old son and 5 months pregnant with our second child while I am in the US on business with my business partner. There is a knock on the door and my wife answers it. A man in a motorcycle helmet asks for me and isn’t convinced and/or happy that I’m not there. No explanations, just annoyance. My wive is worried and scared. Who is this guy and why is he asking for me?
Eventually he hands something to my wife and says “make sure he gets this”. My wife calls me frantically and reads the letter to me. I was in the US with my business partner who had just received a similar phone call and story from his wife in Adelaide. We had just been served by our former employer.
The previous two months had seen the two of us leave our jobs to start our own business. We had seen a gap in the market that we thought we could fill and one that our employer didn’t want to pursue. The long and short of was that we ended up starting Digital Motorworks (DMi) in Australia leveraging the DMi technology from Austin, Texas as the basis.
This didn’t go down well with our previous employer who were using some of the DMi technology (totally separate technology and goals to what we were planning) to kick start their Internet initiatives and hence the legal notice to “cease and desist”. When I arrived back in Australia I met a solicitor to draft a reply and a meeting was setup between myself and my previous employer “without prejudice” in a neutral location. There was a lot of “puff and wind” as I remember; it was a good experience.
The reality was that there no basis to the claims, it was designed to give us a scare and hopefully stop whatever we were trying to do. It was just business and another learning curve in my business journey. Well that was the way I looked at it. My business partner was a lot more prescriptive than I was and I would say held on to the experience in a different way.
I learnt 3 lessons from getting served:
1) Keep your nose clean. I knew that what we were looking to do was a path my previous employer was not taking. I understood why they wanted to stop what we were doing which is why it was important that we stuck to the path and didn’t go near their direction.
2) Don’t burn bridges. Unfortunately in business you can’t please everyone all the time. You can, however, ensure that you conduct yourself in a way that keeps the door open to conduct business with everyone a second and third time (refer lesson 1).
3) It is just business. Sometimes it is hard to understand or push through but sometimes to succeed where others haven’t is understanding that “it is just business” and move on. I have employed and been in business with family and friends for over 15 years now which for the most part has been a great experience but sometimes a “just business” decision is required.
This is not to be misconstrued with my belief that “people do business with people they like” as there is always the personal element to this but even at this level, business decisions need to be made.
I am confident that these three learnings are part of the reason I am once again working alongside the directors of my previous employer which I have done for 18 of the past 28 years – with the other 10 years being with DMi!