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    (February 18, 2002) - When we first met Don Ramer, he was 6'4", incredibly thin and had a full head of hair. That was before he accepted $3M in venture funding and the promise of more to grow the company. These days our shorter, stouter, grayer friend is putting the finishing touches on the post-money cleanup as he navigates his company (RecruitUSA) from the high-rolling days into a mode of customer-centric service.

    Compared to some of the huge explosions, $3 Million is small change. But (unless you are one of the few who got much more) ask yourself how you'd feel as a small businessman on the receiving end of the money and its accompanying guarantees of further support. Ramer took the money and dutifully invested it in the various things required to grow an organization in order to meet the promises that came with the money.

    And, they were big promises. $3 Million will swell almost anyone's head. Sustenance until profitability with the objective of becoming a really big company required that Ramer create large scale processes and procedures. The workforce exploded, everyone needed computers, phones and support systems. Relationships were forged. Momentum was high.

    Among the extreme expenses were the things required to interface with the investors on a reporting and business level. Huge resources were poured into investor-facing IT projects and integration. Customer service was expanded to prepare for the promised onslaught of investor generated business. By January of last year, Ramer's operation was ready to receive the sales and additional cash promised in a hundred conversations. The company was scaled for a big future.

    It's probably human nature. The investor couldn't say in English "No, we decided not to invest." Rather, an endless series of meetings that ended with an "Any Day Now" set of promises continued through the spring and well into the summer. Money flew as the company waited for the investor to deliver on its promises. But, nothing ever happened.

    Don must have felt like a man standing out on a cliff overlooking the beach as the waves eroded the base out from under him. Although the investor was continuing to promise relief, he had to act in July of last year. Cleverly, he laid off the top layer of management first. He put all outbound payments on hold, cut the staff in half, curtailed travel, ran expenses to the bone and waited on the investor.

    A month passed with no clarity and Don was forced to repeat the drill. Meanwhile, on the personal front, his life-partner underwent a serious health scare and related major surgery. Don was playing head nurse on all fronts. In a Biblical reference he said in early September, "Maybe Job didn't have such a hard time after all."

    Our industry is not unlike others. There are actors and a front row of spectators. Ramer was deluged with rumors and bad-wishes along with the increasingly expressed irritation of his vendors. Concluding that the investor's promises had become worthless, he began to dote things required to secure the company's future.

    When you accept the job of CEO, it's all your responsibility. You make decisions based on trust and experience. It's inherently a house of cards as you try to balance expenses, payroll and marketing with income and investment. While your promises are always based on promises taking responsibility can end up meaning the acceptance of blame. It got ugly in October.

    Tirelessly, Ramer thinned staff, renegotiated payment obligations, hand massaged customer requirements, soothed nervous employees and the countless other things required to shrink a company to a manageable size. His focus remained clear, "no customer's service will be compromised in the process." The days were long. The anger and bitterness you might expect were nowhere to be seen. Rather, in good mid-western fashion, he emulated Job kept his nose to the grindstone and solved the problems.

    Today, Ramer is a somewhat changed man. His company runs in the black on a month to month basis. The workforce is focused on the things that are important. The customers are happy. The vendors have a plan. The investors still want meetings and accomodations.

    RecruitUSA is going to thrive and prosper. The company has a stable infrastructure, good customer service and a solid product. Though unpleasant, Ramer's story is an example of a well harnessed on the job learning experience. He learned that all truly useful money comes from customers and that anything else is a second priority distraction. If you see him, congratulate him on his survival.

    While we know of a couple of success stories like this one, the playing field is littered with the dormant websites of other casualties. 

    - John Sumser

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