Postcard from a startup

When we first arrived in Perth, naturally enough I started looking for work. It's a beautiful place, but very insular, if people don't know you, and their friends have never heard of you, they're reluctant to take a risk on you.

Eventually I found something, and after 2 interviews, got a job as Technical Director of a start-up ISP, or Internet Service Provider. The money was OK, and I started on the first of July in a serviced office block in the CBD. There was plenty to do, the two other directors wanted to bring proper marketing to the Internet industry, and they seemed to understand the marketing side well, but were close to completely lost with the technical issues.

They were setting up a franchise arrangement, and would bring in franchisees to sell Internet access throughout Australia. I wasn't entirely convinced with this, but was told that other companies started out doing the same thing, so it was clearly possible. So, I started documenting what needed to be done.

Four weeks later, a posse of gents in smart suits arrived. The ATO had turned up, complete with lockable steel boxes to raid the company, and take away lots of paperwork. I was interviewed by 2 guys who were very polite and very professional, and after a couple of days they left. The other directors couldn't explain why this happened, so I resigned.

The work still needed to be done, so I stayed on as a contractor. 6 weeks later I walked through the door of their "call centre" to find more suits and some relaxed guys in jeans. This time the ATO (the suits) had brought back the National Crime Authority (the guys in jeans)!

Years later I was a prosecution witness in the Supreme Court, and the 4 people who ran the company got jail time.

The lesson here? Ask a lot of questions when you get a job with a startup. You're unlikely to have the exciting start that I had, but not all startups will make it through that first year. Although, few will see directors serving prison time.

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