Lesson learned: expose your haters

One thing you learn as an entrepreneur, especially if you’re a Romanian entrepreneur, is to grow a very, very thick skin. Because once you show even the slightest form of success – you will get bullied & slandered. I have yet to meet a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t have at least one hater, and apparently the more successful you are, the more haters you have.

Me – I’m not that successful just yet. So I only have one hater. But boy, what a hater. I think he spends all his spare time hating me, one way or another. His name is Cristian Arbunea, and I hired him when I was 21, while I was running an outsourcing company called Brainient Media. He was a pretty smart guy, a bit strange (he never had lunch with us at work, he never came to any of our parties or any of the company’s team building trips), but for an outsourcing company he was great: always on time at work and relatively good with deadlines. He worked for me for a couple of years.

The outsourcing company I ran back then, Brainient Media, was also the company behind BrainTV, one of the first online TV channels in Romania and one of the worst investments I’ve made in my life. After spending way too much money on content production, hiring people, marketing & hiring more people, the outsourcing business started to suffer. We were burning cash like crazy, so I decided to shut down BrainTV, which I did in the summer of 2008. I had to let go most of the people that were working on the TV channel, but by that time a lot of our outsourcing clients were unhappy. Some of them were even asking me if I could recommend other outsourcing companies in Romania, and a few of my developers quit. Hardest summer in my life, I tell you.

Late 2008, I still had a few outsourcing clients that we needed to finish some work for, and a few developers working on those projects. And while I was doing work for our clients, I was also planning my next venture. A new company, focused on smart tools for the video market. First – I wanted to build a video management platform, because I already had a few clients lined up for it. So I asked Cristian and another developer to create an alpha version for that, in the spare time they had after working for our outsourcing clients. It didn’t really work, ‘cause they didn’t have enough time for it. And then, in January 2009, because the recession hit some of our clients, they had to delay their payments. And I had to delay the salaries. Cristi hated that, and one day in February 09, he sent me an email saying that he won’t come to work until he gets paid. It was the moment when I realized that outsourcing + product development is never going to work, so I decided to start fresh. Late February 2009, I finished the projects for our outsourcing clients, got our payments,  paid the employees, fired everyone, pointed the clients to other outsourcing shops, chapter closed. Start fresh.

Or, that’s what I thought. Cristi wasn’t happy with the fact that I fired him and that I wasn’t interested in working with him anymore, because he saw the opportunity of the video management platform. So he started accusing Brainient Media SRL that we din’t give him his two week notice when firing him (he didn’t even come to work for almost two weeks, but anyway), and that we owed him two weeks of extra salary (600 euros or so). And – hear this out ’cause it’s a good one – he accused me of forgery. I still don’t know how he came up with that.

Anyway, with the new venture plan in mind, I started another company, Brainient 2.0. I put most of my economies in, received angel funding from a well known angel in Romania and hired back 4 of the best people I had in the outsourcing company, who were more than happy to jump back on board. What did Cristi do? He emailed my investor, telling him that I didn’t pay him and that he shouldn’t be doing business with me. My investor showed me the email and told me that I should learn to grow a thick skin, ’cause the number of haters is only going to go up. I’m still working on it.

Fast forward to the autumn of 2009, my attorney in Romania calls me to say that an ISP in Romania sued Brainient Media SRL for 1,500 Euros, for hosting BrainTV in the period of Aug 2007 – Dec 2007 or so. And because no representative of the company showed up, the judge declared the company bankrupted. And, besides that, there’s another guy, “Cristian Arbunea”, who claims the company owes him two weeks of salary and I’m accused of forgery. I asked him what’s to be done, and he said we can’t do anything about the actual company because it’s already been declared bankrupted, but that he’ll prepare a file proving that we paid Cristian to the last cent and that he was legally let go. Which he prepared. A 3 cm thick file, that is.

If you still think Cristi’s not the hater of all haters, read on. The saga continues.

Late September 2009, with a fabulous team, a great product and awesome plans, we won Seedcamp Week. Bells and whistles, second Romanian team to win Seedcamp Week, two years in a row. What does Cristi do? He went to every blog that wrote about Brainient, and left a comment with the same story. I won’t repeat it, you already know it by now :).

That brings me to where we are today. We just got selected to launch some pretty cool new stuff at The Next Web in Amsterdam. What did Cristi do? Well, what do you think he did? He went to the blogs that wrote about us and did what he does best, of course. Oh, and by the way – he’s such a man that he’s never done it under his name, but if you look it up you’ll find the pattern. Currently, he’s using our CTO’s name, Andrei.

And that’s how the story goes. It can be confirmed by any of the people around me, whether it’s my former or current colleagues, investors or attorneys. And because I don’t find chasing him on the internet fun in any way, I’ve decided to write a long blog post (sorry, I didn’t think it’s gonna get this long) that I can just point to.

I’m the type of guy who tries to learn something from every experience. And from this little chapter of my life I’ve learned two things: Firstly, never hire someone you wouldn’t be willing, or able, to spend a weekend alone in the mountains with. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that with Cristi from the moment I hired him, but I didn’t trust my instincts for whatever reason. Secondly, and this is something I just realized recently – it’s better to expose your haters than fight them. Lessons learned.

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