An Accidental Entrepreneur, 10 Years On

I vividly remember my giddy first days at Sapient Corporation. The company — an Internet consultancy that was flying high during the dot-com bubble — had recently made the S&P 500. (We even got T-shirts to celebrate the accomplishment.) And I was lucky enough to land a job there just a few months after leaving my beloved sports-writing gig at ABC Sports.

I got the offer to join Sapient as a content strategist in June 2000. A few days before starting work, I met with someone in HR, who walked me through the employee benefits. It was the golden era of inflated stock options. The HR dude pulled up a chart on his laptop. “If you max out your contributions and our stock continues to perform at its recent pace, your holdings will be worth this much in 10 years.” It was something like $500,000. Wow, I was going to be semi-rich.

Five or six months after I started, we began hearing whispers about Sapient’s financial struggles. Managers and executives reassured us our jobs were safe, but some of us weren’t so sure.

In March 2001, I joined my future wife for a business trip in Orlando. We had a great week in the sun and on Friday morning packed our stuff and got ready for the ride back to the airport. Now, this was the pre-cellphone age, at least for me, and I didn’t have a laptop with me. So I had been out of contact with my office since the previous Friday. Before leaving for the airport, I checked my voice mail at work.

The first message was from early that morning. It was the co-CEO with the announcement that there would be layoffs that day. The second voice mail was my manager asking if I could give him a call ASAP. Gulp.

I couldn’t reach my manager before my flight, so I flew home not knowing if I was newly unemployed. When I touched down at Logan that afternoon, I reached a colleague who confirmed my suspicions. My first layoff.

I was pretty disappointed at the time. But 10 years later — hey, I should’ve had $500,000 in Sapient stock by now — I have no hard feelings toward my former employer. I made some good friends and valuable business contacts there. I learned a lot too, both about content strategy and the harsh realities of business.

Most important, getting the boot at Sapient pushed me into this career as a Hired Pen. I’m an accidental entrepreneur, and I love this life. Like I tell friends who have just lost their job, sometimes a layoff can be the best thing that ever happened to you.

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