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Tales from the Trenches

I Built That, You’re Going To Jail

Back in early 2007 I was hired at a start-up in the Pacific Northwest. One of the big reasons I got hired was my gaming background, although the company had built a CRM product; it was just moving to a new “Game Design” influenced interface.  I was to be the first in the new Analytics Department. The company had a wonderful culture; everyone was involved, the product was something we were actually proud of, the 100-odd people there became like an extended family. I even got to make up my own job title after 6 months.

After a year I was working directly for the CEO and CFO, building all of the projection models for a start-up company that was nearing profitability. In less than 12 months, assuming nothing happened, we would be in the black. Big companies were looking at purchasing us. It came to pass that my financial projections model needed to published, so I cleaned it up and made it “Presentation Ready” for the CEO. A few minor tweaks later and he told me it was the most important thing I’d done yet.

One of those “minor” changes was an adjustment to our starting revenue flow. At the time I didn’t question it, assuming there was revenue I had missed somewhere. When I mentioned this to my brother over lunch (he worked in the area) he too thought it weird, but not alarming.

Seven days later, the CEO didn’t come in to the office. Neither did the CFO. Instead, a member of the Board came in around 11:30 to inform everyone that both of them had “…resigned effective immediately.” At lunch, a reporter called one of our staff to ask if they had a comment on the arrest of our CEO and CFO by the FBI for wire fraud for lying to investors. Three days later none of us had jobs and the company had declared bankruptcy.

During the court proceedings the model I had created was used as evidence of lying to investors about revenue flow. That “minor” change I’d made at the CEO’s instruction? Apparently he’d been doing things like that for years to get more investor money. The model I’d built was too easy to read though and gave the investors the first clue something wasn’t right.

I’ve never felt such conflicting emotions of pride and horror in doing a good job.