One Embarrassing Secret I Will Share With You
We all know how it goes in interviews with successful entrepreneurs. The questions focus on their success and how they achieved it. But most often, they spend little to no time remembering those “struggling” periods. When they do, it goes like, “… and then we suffered for some time, but then X happened, and things started to improve.”
But hey, wait, stop there. Tell me more about that! Stop at your struggles, and tell me all about it! Because I’m getting started, and I really want to understand what I should be prepared for!
Sometimes, it’s just that they forgot about the little details. Our minds tend to minimize our past obstacles. And in other cases, these entrepreneurs might be uncomfortable with how much they struggled in the past; it’s easy to take situations out of context, which might bring trouble to them, or plain, old shame.
But there’s a lot of value in these horror stories.
That is why today, I will open up about one horror tale that I survived while operating Startup Embassy. My intention is for you to understand just how awful things can get.
(If you haven’t already, I suggest you read the first “Coliving Horror Story” about the Startup Castle; it’s a popular tale that resulted from not having a diverse community. You also might’ve seen it in the news.)
I once had rats
This horror story is a result of delegating my business for the first time. Did you read about when my wife had our second child? I was forced into delegating Startup Embassy to Nick, who became my first House Manager.
Long story short, my trip back home turned out to be much longer than anticipated, thus Nick got burned out and quit his position. I managed to find a substitute, Fernando, who on arrival found the house had been very poorly managed, at least for those last three months.
Fernando was never trained on how to run the space because I didn’t have a system in place to do it. I was concerned, so I set up a daily call to ensure he always had me as a mentor for any situation.
Fernando had a great attitude and got up to speed pretty quickly. On arrival, he was open to advice, criticism and was generally open-minded about his naivete. He listened and acted accordingly, becoming more proactive as his confidence built. —the perfect team member.
This is why looking backward; the “occurrence” doesn’t surprise me. On one daily call, we were going through the task list I had implemented after my bad experience with Nick. Now, I wouldn’t ask broad questions like, “is everything OK,” instead, I would go into detail about specifics: “Did you empty the trash and when?”.
He followed through these queries, and suddenly, he included the word “rat” in his sentence—like if it was something accessory, not worth mentioning.
I stopped him:
– “Wait, Fernando, did you say rat?!”
– “Uhm, yes, rat,” he replied.
– “Fernando, what do you mean with ‘rat!?’”(I was visibly nervous.)
– “…a rat.” He repeated as if it was perfectly natural.
– “Fernando, where was that rat?”
– “In the kitchen,” he said.
Some years back, a rat did indeed visit the kitchen. Palo Alto is full of them, especially in the location we were, just by a big park. During the day, we had plenty of squirrels running by our fence, and as the night came, they were replaced by rats.
You could see them every night running over the fence back and forth. We used to joke about how I would make a squirrel paella (as a substitute for rabbit in the famous Spanish dish) and how I should be careful when hunting the squirrels if I didn’t want to accidentally serve a rat instead of a squirrel.
We never hurt either of them, if you are wondering. One day, one of those rats found his way into our kitchen, and we just as quickly invited it to leave our space.
Fernando’s tone was so calm that I wondered if this was a more common occurrence. I told him to be careful, especially with making sure trash doesn’t accumulate in the kitchen. That was very common, especially with our Brazilian guests, as they would go on an Amazon buying sprees every time they stayed with us. Countless boxes accumulated if you were not careful.
And then, the next day, the word “rat” slips again into the conversation.
-“Wait, wait, wait. Fernando, a rat? Again?!”
-“Yes, we see them every day,” he said.
-“Fernando, that is not normal; what do you mean “every day”? Where do you see them?!” I asked.
-“Well, in the kitchen, in the living room, sometimes I see one in the bathroom. Oh! And sometimes I see rat poops on a bed,” he said as if he was talking about the weather.
-“What!! Fernando! On the fucking bed? What the fuck are you talking about?!! On-the-bed?!!”
-“But why on fucking earth didn’t you tell me?” I was incredulous.
-“Well,” he said, “I thought that it was normal here.”
-“Fernando, that is NOT normal anywhere!”
Fernando’s “observe and act” attitude on arrival worked to his detriment. He saw rats and thought that it was normal. Did I say I like the guy? Luckily this time, I was on top of the business and was aware of the situation early enough to solve it.
As it turned out, one of the palm trees we had in the front yard died. The landlord had it cut down, but the remains were left in one of the corners of the property, making it perfect for rats to build a nest. The pile was left there for weeks because the landlord didn’t reach an agreement with the gardener on the cost to have it removed—and rats were happy about that. Once we knew what the problem was, it was rapidly solved.
It’s interesting, though, the way the community reacted. Surprisingly, they didn’t make a big deal out of it. To this day, I’m surprised how no one complained! Why!!?
My best guess is that we had built such a close community, based on the feeling of a big family, that they assumed that it was something we would solve quickly, and they kept working on their startups. I know, weird, but no one complained.
Mama Carlos Says
What is my take on all this? Well, first, make sure that you build a community that is so strong that no matter what extreme unplanned event happens, they will understand and be supportive.
Second, make sure you implement ways to know everything that is happening inside of your space! Don’t take for granted that your staff will react to everything as you would. Dangerous and critical situations need to be either taught or checked upon by you. For Fernando, oh Lord, having rats was not a big issue!
Third, and this is obvious, act fast!
Like I said before, this is an embarrassing story, but it happened. Hopefully, telling these stories will help someone else understand what things can go wrong in your coliving and be prepared.