In 2013- I was a few years removed from college, in a wild adventure of odd jobs moving city to city. I found myself stuck trying to find the right path, living back at my parents house, working part time at a local restaurant and the rest of my time at a struggling fashion start-up. The startup world was exciting- the idea of stepping in on the ground floor and working with people that put their all into it while working for scraps at the idea that this could be that big moment to create your own destiny. Unfortunately, I also got a crash course into the dangers of start-ups- money laundering, indecent relationships and people with bad intentions all put this start-up on the brinks, a story for another time. My hours were cut and I forced to give up that quick dream of fashion mogul and start again on my journey of what the hell am I doing.
Frustrated and tired, I was drowning myself in job applications and cover letters. I never had luck with traditional employment- I was impulsive and hungry, it didn’t fit the mold of company man. Late into the night I received a quick response for an interview in the morning for an emerging tech start-up to help launch an app in cities around the country. Better pay, actual benefits and the chance to travel the country- this grandeur of this successful vagabond hit so many spots for me.
The train ride was filled dreams of modern-day tech Jack Kerouac- like escapades. My day dreams don’t always make sense, but are often incredibly lucid. I was ready to take hold of my reality and to change a stagnate future the could never live up to my lucid brainwaves.
I walked into a Center City co-working space to find an awkward man in an ill fitted suit. He painted the role as this sexy George Clooney character brining the country the future… the future that is essentially the Uber of childcare. I was blinded by the idea of unlimited potential getting in the ground floor of a tech company. Plus there was a write up in Forbes and Parenting Magazine for start-ups to watch- what could go wrong. I seemed in the zone during the interview and soon enough the interviewer hit me with “I think you’re the man for the job, when can you start?” ASAP was the wrong answer, after a brief awkward silence he joyfully said, “Great, I emailed you a plane ticket to Las Vegas, you start tonight.” This should’ve been one of many red flags or things I question, but the adrenaline and romance of hitting the road fogged my vision.
Let’s call this awkward man who owned this mysterious company, Todd. Todd is a poor stereotype of a coder. Socially awkward, poor style, always seems to have too much saliva in his mouth, but secretly you knew his brain was operating on a different level. Quickly into this interview, I was aware that a large portion of this role would be communicating for him. So, when he couldn’t tell me how long I was going to be in Vegas or why he booked the flight from Baltimore (we were in Philadelphia), I didn’t take it as much more than a lack of social awareness and an inner genius of some sort. I was naive.
Time was tight, I somehow had to make the trek to my mother’s house an hour away, pack for an indefinite amount of time and down to Baltimore in time for a cross country flight. My heart was racing, my mind buzzing, I was operating at a super human level. There was little chance for error, going violently fast down I-95. I arrived to the airport and was off with a duffle-bag, about $100 in my bank account and a weird nauseous/invincible feeling.
The flight from Baltimore to Las Vegas is about 5 hours, I was excited to sleep and get ready for the adventure of the lifetime. To my delight a beautiful woman with a neck sleeve and a small puppy sat next to me. I was drawing in my notebook, when she took notice and we began to talk. She was a high-end ‘dancer’ who flew around the country to her clients, but was based in Vegas. She was incredibly smart and charming. I told her my story of my day and we decided we would be best friends. The flight was something I could never make up, we traded books, played with the dog, played pranks on the other flyers, had a champagne toast and used each other as pillows. This was off to an amazing start. We landed and parted ways, exchanging numbers. Unfortunately, that experience was very Vegas in itself, inexplicably awesome, but very temporary, I never spoke to her again.
I hopped in to a cab and headed into the cold dessert night. The lights eerily lit up the sky and my heart. I arrived at my hotel, the 118 story Stratosphere Hotel, towering over the city and the last stop on the infamous Las Vegas strip. This I assure you friends is the beginning of a cautionary tale.
Upon arriving at the check-in counter with seasoned gamblers, families (a weird amount of them) and all sorts of people, I found out that my new boss never authorized my check in. I called Todd, no answer… again, no answer… so I waited. After three laps around the casino floor, Todd called and told me he missed his connection in Phoenix and was driving to Las Vegas, he would be there in the morning. After some difficulty in communications, I was able to get him to authorize my check-in. Keys in hand, I headed to my room, but first the roulette table to see if the gods of luck were on my side. I put my $10 in cash on the table, playing $2 my favorite numbers 8,23, 7 and 18. The ball was off and to my delight it landed on 8. I took the majority of my winnings and put $10 on the same numbers, 8 again! Again I decided to put down $10 on the same 5 numbers, when I shit you not, 8 AGAIN!. It was freaky, unheard of voodoo, I knew the next chapter of my life was going to be something of epic proportions. I took my money off the table grabbed a quick drink at the bar and a McDonalds burger and headed to my room. This was easily one of the weirdest and most exciting days of my life. I couldn’t explain the feeling. I was scared, excited, lonely, but mostly I was ready to fuck shit up. Little did I know what I was in for, but it didn’t matter, that was tomorrow’s problem.
After the initial day everything started off fairly normal. I became more acquainted with the product, began structuring a marketing strategy and started the process of interviewing nanny’s for the service. Everything seemed above board- while I didn’t see any documents I was told we were bonded and I was providing all the information from the interviews to a childcare expert for background and personality checks. It all seemed pretty standard. The only thing that threw me off was that during the interviews, Todd would sit next to me and not say a word but would just slouch and work at his computer at the desk we were at. It definitely made the interviewees uncomfortable, but I kept it together and mentioned he was the tech side and it all made sense. Most of my conversations with Todd outside the interview room were these grand ideas of the future, about how every two weeks we would conquer a new city and with me by his side the product would take over the country like an epidemic. He painted this great image of living out of 5 star hotels and rubbing shoulders with tech gods. It was alluring, and even at the time, staying in the Stratosphere hotel seemed to fit the narrative.
My first red flag came on the 5th day, New Years Eve. It was snowing in Vegas, a sight that blew my mind. I designed some flyers about the app and hit the strip to stir up buzz about the new service. Unfortunately, the flyers were on computer paper (his idea, not mine) and the app didn’t feature any of the local women we hired, so the sell was a bit hard. Hey heres some random kid in his 20s handing you a piece of paper on the strip to let him take your kid for the night, probably not the best call to action. But the scene was electric and I did meet a lot of people who were interested in learning more. I’ve been involved in hundreds of street campaigns and that was one of the most fun. I came back to the hotel in the spirit ready to celebrate with my new employer for a year we both dreamed would take us to new levels. I didn’t know Todd too well beyond the fact that he snored, but it was more of an off putting gargle- and tonight seemed like the right time to learn more about the man while celebrating in a town known for its magical moments. When I got back to the room we talked a little bit- I learned that he has a wife and two small children, one toddler and one small child. After some light bonding we agreed it was time to let loose and get out- my idea was to hit the strip and be with the people; his idea was to venture to the strip club. Having no money, I wasn’t very excited about that idea, at least on the strip I could hustle free drinks in the casinos. But he insisted and aggressively told me that I’m his assistant and I needed to have his back. So we ventured to the strip club.
We sat down and watched the stage performances- Todd sat there jaw on the ground, drool dripping down his chin (as per usual). As the girls came by he refused to tip, a serious faux pas, especially for a pervy gawker like himself. I made myself comfortable at the bar behind him, slow sipping my overpriced Coronas, quite literally ‘having his back’ while avoiding spending dollars I didn’t have on entertainment I didn’t need. Sitting in the empty strip club I could hear everything and the first girl that started grinding on Todd soliciting a private dance- I could hear him brag about being a tech CEO. My eyes rolled and he went to the back for his dance. A bit later he emerged and I told him I was going for a walk, he told me, “these girls love me, I got it from here. You can’t hang with the big dogs.” My eyes rolled and I told him to call me when he is ready. I ventured into the night, finding a building who’s roof I could climb up to and watch the new year ring in with fireworks over the strip. Back to casino, I waited to hear of Todd’s exploits.
Todd showed up with a big shit eating grin, drool still moist around his face. He bragged about how the women loved him, not because that was their job, but because he was a charming successful tech CEO. I tried telling him, that is their job and they just wanted money, and that bragging about being a tech CEO only sprung dollar signs. This upset him and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and he could’ve had any of them. He said the $800 was celebratory and well worth it. If you’re wondering he did not get laid or anything other than a dance- no touching. I figured I wouldn’t press anymore and go to sleep.
We woke up and hit the buffet for breakfast- by this time, the reality of the night before set. Todd broke into a misogynistic rant with a lot of manipulating sluts and how they would be lucky to be with a genius like him. It was mind numbing, but it foreshadowed the level of maturity and rationale I would have to manage in the journey going forward. A lot told me to leave the very moment, but having no money and a fear of failure I stayed.