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Turning a Layoff Into a Launch Pad: When I Started My Business

5 Mins read

Was it 18 years ago? No. 16 years ago. Holy bananas… In the spring of 2006, I was “liberated” from managing technology and development resources for a group of web properties at How Stuff Works following an acquisition. Why was I the victim of a layoff? Perhaps I was redundant. Perhaps I was outspoken. One thing I knew pretty early on is that I wasn’t a long-term fit, though I did try to fit.

The Ole College Try

Before the decision was made, I had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life and I talked to my wife when we were away learning a treatment modality for our son’s autism. We were in Houston for a week and I shared with her that I was going to give this job the old college try. I gave myself six months to work my butt off and see where it gets me. My thought was that this was a wise use of time because I could either spend that time looking for a job or I could double down and see if I could turn that job into something I valued.

Canned

Well, wouldn’t you know… we returned from Houston and then within a month my boss flew in from Atlanta unannounced. Never a good sign.

“Hey Steve,” he said, “do you have a few minutes?”

I quite literally looked up and said, “Oh, you’re firing me, huh?”

And he looked startled and he said, “What do you mean?”

I said, “Scott, nobody doesn’t tell their direct report they’re flying into town and then asks for a meeting if they’re not going to fire them.”

He took me into my own office and I don’t know if he was uncomfortable firing me himself, but he invited my previous boss into the office as well.

I looked at him. I said, “What, do you need backup?” Admittedly, I was being a bit of a jerk.

By this time I knew I actually was getting fired.

This experience is actually one of the reasons I am so adamant about setting context for meetings. Bosses don’t realize the effect that they have on employees. I always try to provide context.

Onward and Upward

That day was an inflection point for me. I’d been fired once before and the time before scared the crap out of me for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here. This was now the second time I was let go and it made me realize that perhaps I wasn’t meant to work for somebody else. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few people out there for whom I might walk away from everything I’m doing today and go to work for. There’s at least two that I can think of… and I’m not naming their names because I don’t want them to read this article and call me… they have to figure out who they are.

So, when I was liberated from How Stuff Works, I pondered quite a bit. I had fallen in love with search marketing and I was qualified to manage and build technology. I decided that this is one of those sight-unseen moments of knowing that I never wanted to be an independent contractor, I instead started my own search agency.

Into The Fire

Mind you, I’d never worked in an agency before. I have no agency experience. I’d used a couple of agencies and I was overseeing search in my now-previous role for three or four years by then, which is where I fell in love with search marketing. But being in love doesn’t necessarily qualify me to go out and do it for a living.

So, I decided to start an agency. Kind of crazy. But there were a couple of fundamental reasons that I did it, and these are some of the things that I still consider today. The motivating factor came down to my desire to change how people are treated by most companies. I simply don’t like the lack of transparency and the cloaking that goes on in companies. You have no idea where you stand.

Transparency Is Key

I believe business can be transparent and it can be essentially by the people and for the people, if I can steal that phrase. It’s this idea that somebody can found a business that’s democratic at its core. When everyone shares responsibility, you can get information, ideas, and great thoughts from anywhere in the business if you’re open, honest, and transparent.

I’ll admit over the dozen or so years of BFO, we’ve had our troubles with transparency. But we’ve learned from it. The idea of starting an agency as a launchpad doesn’t come from knowing how to do it or not knowing how to do it… but knowing the wrong way to do it and what to avoid. I wanted to avoid people feeling like a number.

Be Found Online Is Born

Feeling like a number is the reason I left the banking world. I had an exorbitant budget to work with where I was supposed to change the technological face of the bank. And I wanted to take that budget and make an impact, but I couldn’t see the impact of my job. I couldn’t see my impact on the top line, the bottom line, or any of the middle lines at the bank. And I came to a realization that I was simply a line item or a number with the bank. And this is what drove me away from that feeling and toward what is now Be Found Online.

At BFO we have the ability to build and operate the business that we want to build and my hope is to continue to share that vision with the team. I don’t have to have all the ideas at BFO. I have to inspire and support ideas, sure. But I don’t have to claim all the ideas are mine. I don’t want all the ideas to be mine. This is sort of the genesis of running my own company and running BFO. Collaboration.

Glad That I Jumped

I applaud people who knowingly jump in and do what they are passionate about and try to change the game for the better. I kept talking about jumping in the past, but I was afraid to make the jump. Oh my gosh, was I afraid to make the jump! When I finally made the jump though, and it took a couple years until I landed softly, I was really thankful. There are so many things that don’t scare me anymore because I did make the jump.

So, cheers to folks who have the ability to take that jump and cheers to folks who are forced into that jump as well because there’s room for all of us at the table. What the leap means for me is that I get to work with the people and the customers that I want to work with.

And I think, just a little bit at a time, we can leave the world a little better than we found it.

Steve Krull is the CEO and co-founder of Be Found Online, a digital marketing agency where he and his teams have been helping businesses with online visibility for more than 10 years. BFO specializes in working with clients to drive business and web traffic through time-tested digital marketing tactics. When he’s not working, Steve can be found reading spy novels, rooting for the Chicago Cubs or riding his bicycle.

 

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