Newsletter Genie Ltd had two – and only two – directors. Me, and the man who had helped focus and formulate the original concept.
In 2014 – sadly – our relationship was shattered, first by a breakdown of trust in our relationship and secondly by an unforced error that almost destroyed the company.
I won’t name him, though it isn’t a secret. And I wish him no harm – far from it. I doubt he feels any need for forgiveness, but if he does, he has it. If he feels the need to forgive me, I hope he can. My perspective now is radically different, because I am facing death – from advanced cancer – within the next couple of years.
But I will try to give an honest account of what happened. Because there are lessons to be learned.
Seven years on my own
My partner dropped out of the daily operations at Newsletter Genie for good and sufficient personal reasons. I didn’t blame him then, and don’t now. As a result I had to build up the company on my own – with the able and active assistance of my freelancers, of course. I had excellent admin support from Keely Taylor. I had a roster of writers with a useful variety of skills and specialties. I had an accountant handling the books.
But what I didn’t have was any real knowledge or understanding of running a limited company. That was to have been my partner’s contribution. And I made some very stupid mistakes through sheer ignorance.
Despite that, I did build a working organisation. It wasn’t as efficient as it could have been, and it wasn’t growing on anything like the scale my partner had envisaged. But I had a team I could work with. I had a client base who valued what we could offer, and – for the most part at least – were happy to commit to regular, scheduled newsletters with regular, scheduled payments.
However, I had no doubt that it could be better. I reckoned there was much we could automate, particularly in terms of management. Many newsletters now had their own team – writer, designer, and editor. I needed to coordinate those roles better, and free up time I was wasting on management to get out and find new clients.
A partnership reborn
And it was at that point my partner asked to rejoin the business. He was in a new relationship, wrestling with finances, and with a new baby on the way. He had precisely the skills which I lacked and the company needed. And in particular he could create precisely the kind of automated systems I was looking for.
Our shared vision was to build an intelligent, interactive system that would build a publication timetable for each newsletter, set sensible deadlines for the work to be done by each team member, with reminders when necessary, and store the content for each newsletter in a central data bank. Clients could access and approve first the written content, and then the final layout, and give comments and feedback at each stage up to final approval. Doing that meant losing some of the flexibility I had allowed a few of our more demanding clients and hardening some of our terms and conditions – but in the interests of our team and the success of the business, I was reluctantly willing to lose a few clients who were not prepared to accept the new deal.
Our problems began when I realised that my colleague’s idea of team management and my own were wildly different.
He was coming at the task from a programmer’s perspective. He wanted precision down to the last detail. I knew that wouldn’t work, because no one likes micro-management, and creatives are particularly averse to it. He also couldn’t understand why I was willing to keep on some of our more difficult team members. In each case I had good reasons. And he couldn’t understand why I wanted to ‘waste money’ on things like branding.
And then, in 2012, my father died.
A change I couldn’t handle
I’d been anticipating – and dreading – that moment. He was 98, fully in command of his faculties, and had literally just uploaded the last page of a novel he was co-writing with his godson. Three days later I held his hand, saw his eyes open, told him what what an amazing father he had been, and saw his beatific smile a few moments before he breathed his last.
And something in me died with him.
Something which also led, almost inexorably, to the catastrophic collapse of our partnership.