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You turn up at the new company - and it's not what you expect - what should you do?

Surprises in new jobs
Surprises in new jobs

The interviews were awesome. The CEO and the board sold you on the green meadows, limitless opportunity, the upwards trajectory, cash in the bank.

During the interview they indicate that the problem with the company is really just the previous people in post "Didn't know what they were doing." And that with "you" on board it's just a question of applying your knowledge and skill - and this is going to the moon.

They talk innovation - amazing products - markets just to grab - it will be almost limitless and the shares they will give you are going to double or triple. This is the company - this is the ride - this is the amazing team.

You talk with senior management - and everything is rosy - "There's a few small challenges day by day - but it's great." You talk to some of the the hand picked team and they say "It's been tough but the culture is great and we have great aspirations and hope."

It's a challenge - but nothing you haven't seen before and succeeded in before. You leave the interviews and they offer you the job - great. You leave your last post for the pastures new...

A few month later it's the first day in post and it's all smiles and welcomes. And then slowly as you make your inevitable 90 day plan - you start to lift the lid on the box. And day by day the dawning reality of the utter shit show you have joined becomes evident. 

You start to realise - "This is not what the CEO and Board sold to me!" 

I don't want to say they flat out lied to you... but saying they "stretched the truth" would be disingenuous to the word "truth."

Quickly as you see the finances, hear the real inside stories, dig deeper - you start to realise that the reason the company is struggling is because of some deep fundamental issues. That lofty sales number they boasted about - was smoke and mirrors. A pumped up sales number that has no real cashflow behind it. The "impeccable product" has more defects and issues than it should have - and it is only working because a team of dedicated people in the field are killing themselves to support it. Who are now leaving the sinking ship.

That abundance of cash - is actually a haemorrhaging bleed that will last the company until the end of Q4 - and at that point they will be forced to close the doors. (no one said it was that drastic in the interview!!)

Worse is that the lofty projections of months of runway were not based on cash in the bank - but rather a pumped up sales target that would throw off an abundance of cash and stretch out the runway for the company - hell - even get the company cash positive!!!

In a dawning reality you realised you have not stepped on to the holiday bus - but rather a careening bus out of control - running down the hill with no brakes and a crazy delusional driver that is heading that bus right to a burning dumpster.

That realisation starts to include the fact that you and your reputation are intrinsically now linked to the crowd on that bus - and you are going to be one of the people that took a massive success story and will be seen as part of the team that will slam this into that burning dumpster.

You go home at night - you're a few months in, and you say to your industry friends. "This is not what they sold me. I think I'm in big trouble."

So what can you do?

This is a super common issue that sometimes hits SMEs, and big companies alike (their new product divisions) - but it is also super common in startups that didn't hit the projections they promised to investors all those years ago.

It's that lower than promised sales result that is often the disastrous issue and underlying symptom. The historic team that hit those lofty initial and encouraging sales - were often able to do that because the product was "new" and promises of performance were not yet tested in the real world. But the dawning reality is that the market was assessed wrong, technology couldn't deliver on the promise, competition ramped up, the value proposition didn't hold up. 

Many companies get into this over promise - under deliver loop - especially in startups. Founding teams get fired as investors think "That was the problem." Because they are not deep enough into the issues. So the board and investors may have not lied to you at interview - they may have just passed on their lack of understanding in a positive spin.

But the CEO - the operational head has zero excuse. They know exactly the "real issues" and the traps awaiting. It may be wilful blindness, or misjudged blame culture. But they will absolutely have understood what the issues were - and they absolutely had an obligation to tell you the truth. If they didn't.... then you have every right to be angry with them. Hell you're good - but you are not a miracle worker; and finding out at the 11th hour that the issues are possibly terminal for the company leaves you few options to help the company. 

You are left with the horrible predicament of sales crashing because the market has acknowledge the product and the value prop is not competitive. It just took a few years to find out - and when the "relationship" people left - they took all the good will with them. So now suddenly sales dry up.

You are burning cash at a fearsome rate and the lack of sales is eating the runway. Now you need to go out and raise money in a difficult market - with ample competition and your inside shareholders feeling they have been burned. But you need to help the company.

Firstly - you need to decide if this "Omission of truth" was actually a well constructed "lie." If it is - then you better get out of that culture. It is better to acknowledge that is not a cultural fit and resign early. If not you risk to be seen as one of the people that created the disaster - and once you get tarnished with that brush - it is hard to get that tar off. Way better to bug out - at the exit interview complain about the lack of transparency and get away from the burning bus.

The biggest mistake people make when the company is all but dead is to believe that through sheer will power they will resurrect an effective zombie. You're good - I'm good - but read the signs. If it's terminal - get out before it implodes. This was not your mess. You have no moral obligation to stick around.

You absolutely should confront the people that "sold you the bill of goods" and have a deep talk with them - and make them understand that this is not acceptable - and demand to now "know everything." Even past issues and skeletons. It may well be that an element of the issues is founders - senior managers - bad employees (that's all often real) - but if that is just part of the issue, you need to have a heart to heart and say "you have once last chance to tell me everything!" And I mean everything.

I think a critical action - and this is to retain your own credibility in the company. Is to discuss this with middle management - acknowledge that you are disappointed - but say that despite the "lie" you are willing to give it a shot. But only if the culture changes and at all levels the company is honest - up and down the chain. If you get even a whiff that that poisonous deceit continues - you need to take action.

So what went wrong?

Primarily - if it was just a "stretch of the truth" then there maybe is no mal-intent. The team were just trying to not scare you away as they desperately wanted you to join. But if it's a downright "lie" where material issues are hidden. Then you have an issue.

So my advice - especially at higher management - and especially in startups is to do you diligence fully and properly. If there has been a change of management team - a cleaning of the boards - you need to understand if the issue was the management or the actual business. You need to pick at that scab until it bleeds.

I am utterly and totally shocked that most people do not do that one simple thing. Pick up the phone and talk to the people that were in place prior to you. The ones leaving or being fired. Why not?

It may be that you feel you will get a bitter answer - well yes - so you need to filter venom from real issues. But in that conversation I guarantee they will point you to some of the real underlying issues in the products, the business, the company. 

It may be that you think that a former employee would be "bitter towards you." Rare! Because you were not part of the management team that let you go. They normally have no beef with you - and in fact they often feel protective so that another industry professional does not become the "fall guy."

So before signing that contract - phone the former employees - or reach out to them through mutual connections. Industries are small and clicky - someone will be able to get the real story on your behalf. Worst thing that can happen is they refuse to take your call. (That may give you an indication.)

In startups - dig deep into the sales numbers - and reality of the sales targets. Talk to "on the ground sales people" - not the number massaging senior leaders. Hear from the people that need to sell the product - and find out why they genuinely struggle. Why do they think the company is where it is.

"Shitty management" should give you some hope. But if they say - "Our last manager was great - the issue is that the product just sucks." Then there you have your answer. You can then make a balanced decision on if you can pull this around as a company - or it's really terminal.

Maybe they say "Great management - great product - dumb strategy!" - that too can be super positive. You can impact strategy.

For sure don't read the company hype and marketing - I know how the spin goes - and any manager worth their salt will talk to end users - end users that started well and are either struggling or even sending product back. Talk to distributors that deal with the company. All of this diligence - for any seasoned manager - will point deeply to the "real issues."

If it all passes the sniff test - then great - go into the challenges with eyes wide open. If not - then seriously think twice as to why there is such a disconnect from the rainbows and unicorns being pushed to you by the senior management - and the reality on the ground. Wow - maybe even that right there is the real problem.

Make sure you talk to competition - other investors - neutral industry experts. Get their external spin on it. Read Glassdoor for God's sake. Filter it - but read it! Negative spin reigns for sure, but some insights come out - especially about senior leadership.

Do deep research via linked in. See the trends - see the positive news and the "silence." Ask who the best users are, the most important voices - and see if those voices are espousing the company... or now they seem to be on to the next company. And that silence is deafening.

This is your career - and future - so make sure you dig deep before taking the plunge.

Reputation takes years to build and trust is gained in decades. The last thing you want as a season pro (at any level) it to join a failure and get tagged with that failure. This is especially true if it is a super high profile division, a former successful startup, big news. Because your failings will be pretty public - and your reputation will get bruised. Few people will say "They used to be brilliant at this company and that company - this was just a blip."

No. The last thing you did - how you ended your own career in a horrible fireball is what you will be remember for. So pay particular attention to not get into the situation in the first place. That is the best way to not end up with disappointment.


1) It was a well constructed lie - and that is why you are now shocked.

2) You didn't do the right internal diligence.

3) You didn't do the right external diligence.

If you relied on the first one alone... more fool you. If the diligence went well - and then you still feel cheated - then that is just the way things go. But at that point - take action. Don't be duped twice. 

Learn more about building startups the right way to avoid this company wide issues at

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