The adventures and musings of an aspiring shoe designer

Archive for the ‘Ventrano shoe story’ Category

I Surrender

Through much contemplation I have decided that it is within my best interest to take a breather and stop trying so hard to make the shoe design business work.  I have come to realize that sometimes the harder you try the more you miss the reason you enjoy it in the first place.   I have learned through this process that there are more important things in my life and none of them have to do with getting anything more than I already have.

These are some of my visions and I know just how they should look.  I find the ideas come naturally, the drawing and specifying a little more difficult, but the execution well; this is the difficulty.  I am well aware that the execution is what makes or breaks them.  Through many lessons that I could share one day, I have learned that I alone do not possess all the necessary elements to make this work at the level to which I aspire. 

I am finding that although I know it is possible for me accomplish what I wish, it comes at a cost I am unwilling to pay.  I would love to see these shoes come to life but, in order for that to happen I would need the right team around me.

If someone wishes to steal the designs, so be it.  I know better than most what it takes to make this happen and not just anyone can do it, regardless of the money spent or the willingness to learn.  I am at peace knowing the designs are mine. 

The way I see it, they will either become a bad knockoff and will not look as intended or I will find the person(s) who can turn them into reality.  If the latter were to happen without credit to me, I will still be at peace.

Should my drawings find their way to the team of people who can make this work and should they think I have enough talent to invest the time into developing the designs and the designer that would be one dream come true.  If not, I accept what is and what will be.   

In any case, I am taking the time I need right now to gain balance in my life. I will gladly share more of my drawings when I have the time and inclination to do so.

Balance

It has been eight days since my last post and I am writing this one to say that although I will still continue to blog I need to create more balance in my life. If I intend on having any time to devote to starting this business again I need to apply more focused effort and reduce my task list drastically, which means the blog will be less frequent.

Like many wives and mothers I continually face the struggle of attempting to wear many hats and often times I find when the balance is off, not much is accomplished. I am making a conscious effort to take many things off of my to do list, decide what is important and what is not, so that I may begin on much more sold ground.

The lesson is complete

My first thought was to let her go; in fact this is probably the best thing that could happen.  Like Maya Angelou says, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

I weighed everything in my mind, and then I went to talk to my uncle.  He has run his own company successfully for as long as I can remember so I wanted to ask him how he thought I should handle the situation.  More than anything I think I needed permission of sorts by someone I respect to do what I knew I had to do. 

Sometimes I find that I tend to get stuck in a place like this simply because I don’t know what to do afterwards, the uncertainty of what’s next can be very powerful.  I always feel much better when I have a plan or at least the inkling of the next step or two.  

One of the things he said to me was exactly what I needed to hear, “Business is hard enough; you have to constantly watch your back.  Usually enemies come from outside but, when you realize you have an enemy in your camp; you have to get rid of them, the longer she stays the more damage she can cause.” 

I finally woke up and realized that surely she wasn’t the only person who has the knowledge that I needed; her price was too high in many ways.  I knew without a doubt that regardless of what she brought to the table, I never have and never will, need anyone that much.

As I mull this over I ask myself “what is the lesson here?  It is crystal clear, I needed her to be that outrageous, that ridiculous in order for me to stand up and say unequivocally, this will not be tolerated.  The fact that she had done so many other things and I had allowed it gave her permission to walk on me and this was far more a fault of mine than it was hers.

Once I made the decision to let her go, I felt such relief, until that moment I hadn’t realized just how heavy the burden had been.  All those little things, the moments where I felt uneasy, the times where I willingly allowed this to go on I had been carrying that around unconsciously and it was quite the load.  I have found, as I’m sure you have, that you know you’ve made the right decision when once it’s made you exhale and feel a sense of peace and lightness.  I felt light as a feather when I called her that day and then sent a follow-up email with a written version of what I had said on the phone.

Hi Mary,

 I have attached my formal acceptance of your resignation letter for your records.  As I said in our conversation, I will not worry about the 2 hours of services that are still owing, please consider it a gesture of goodwill.  I wish you the best in all of your future endeavors.

Below is the resignation letter excluding greetings and legal formalities.

This letter is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of resignation dated June 6, 2009.  I accept your resignation and wish you the very best in the future. 

As a reminder it is implied in our consultant agreement that non-disclosure of Ventrano, LLC. Company information remains in force indefinitely.

Some may be wondering why I let the two hours go in light of everything but, this was not me being naive.  I have learned lessons before this and what I know for sure is that I would not get my money from her without engaging her in battle and frankly, it isn’t worth it.  I also thought she might attempt to bill me for some unknown reason and it could turn into a he said, she said.  I wanted to preempt that with an acknowledgement of her owing me time, because she had in fact shown me who she was and this time I believed her.

I was given one thousand percent assurance I had made the right decision as this was the email I received within minutes of the acceptance of resignation.  All emails with the exception of name changes are copied exactly, misspellings and all.

Kathy Jo,

Thank you for the letter. I have sent a letter to Dillard’s and to my Nordstrom contacts as well as my other contacts stating my resignation form all aspects of Ventrano shoes

Please make sure X bank is notified that I will no longer be acting on your behalf of Ventrano shoes and all projected sales with Dillards will no longer be honored

Best of luck with your company,

Mary

When I don’t respond I get this email

Kathy Jo,

I have just read your letter and at no time have I agreed nor signed any consultant agreement with you or your company. If you have such document please forward it to me immediately.

 My consulting was just that consulting and anything I disclose from our meetings is information owned by her company name.  

Nothing can be implied as an agreement of non-discloser since I had no formal contract with Ventrano,LLC. indefinitely or other wise.

If you wish to discuss further we can set up a meeting at my office,

Sincerely,

Mary

In response, I forward a copy of our consultant agreement but, say absolutely nothing.

Kathy Jo,

This is my contract with you, not a contract for the safety of Ventrano, LLC or from Ventrano, LLC. This contract only applies to her company name, my consulting fees and liabilities and the protection of her company name. It does not state anywhere that I cannot use any of the information developed during our meetings. Nothing can be applied or considered non-discloser by Ventrano, LLC with this contract since it was not issued by Ventrano, LLC and does not state this coverage.

Again, Nothing can be implied as an agreement of non-discloser since I had no formal contract with Ventrano,LLC. indefinitely or other wise.

Sincerely,

Mary

I decide to stay silent as I know that engaging at this level is bound to cause me more aggravation and to be honest, I have better things to do.  I figure eventually she’ll tire herself out and I can make better use of my time by not letting anger get the better of me.  In my younger days I might have jumped into battle but, sometimes the battle isn’t worth the effort.  I was able to let the anger go almost immediately.

More than anything I was grateful and felt like I should thank her.  Thank her for teaching me that I need to be wary of people like her and how her nice, sweet façade quickly faded to such nastiness.  I should thank her for being so obvious, had she went about this in a more intelligent fashion I may have given her everything, who knows.  I was grateful that this happened when it did, as opposed to launch week or some other time where I might have felt more insecure.

 I was grateful for the lesson early on the path to watch my back and to pay attention to the signals that indicate people are motivated for reasons other than presented.  I’ve always known this but she had sold herself well and I am forever grateful to her for this lesson.  I believe that she was absolutely the best teacher I could have had at that moment; it was obviously a much-needed lesson. 

I know the truth of the Buddhist proverb “When the student is ready the teacher appears.”  I think we usually look at this from a different perspective but when I look back on my life, the best teachers I have had and the strongest lessons I’ve learned have come in the form of someone who is not so nice.

 

Wall continues crashing down………….

What she does say really takes me by surprise. She begins by saying how she has no doubt that my company will be successful and I will be rich and famous.  But ………I don’t see you and your husband staying together. Well that’s straight out of left field, I can’t even imagine why she is saying this and I am starting to wonder if she is crazy.  I just stared at her in utter disbelief, I dropped her off and she was still clueless as to what I might be thinking.

After I dropped her off I can’t quit thinking about her proposal, should I give her 10% plus $50 an hour this doesn’t feel right at all.  What if I say no and she quits then what will I do?  I start thinking about all the times where she overcharged me or steam rolled over me and I let her get away with it.  I should have put a stop to it sooner, I am disappointed in myself. Every time I turn around she’s finding a new way to take more, more money, charge more time and now this.  My first instinct was to say “hell no” and after thinking about it all day I was still struggling with it the next day. 

At this point I decide to ask Amy for advice but, she can’t meet with me until lunch on Friday.  I should be thinking about the loan but all I can think about is Mary, I am very unsettled all week.  I just keep thinking that if I do this she will keep upping the ante but if I don’t then she will quit.  I have a feeling she is threatening me, she isn’t saying it but that’s the energy around not only this incident but looking back at other things that’s the general feeling I have. 

June 5, 2009

 I meet with Amy for lunch and I bring my contract with Mary so Amy can look it over.  Amy was very concerned that although we have a consultant agreement, it doesn’t say specifically that she cannot use her knowledge of my company.  She checks on the laws regarding this in my state and it is implied that consultants are bound by non-disclosure.   I need to have all my ducks in a row before I make a move.  Amy and I discuss at great length what I should do. 

Amy had some strong opinions after the meeting with the bank.  Her take was that Mary was way overstepping her bounds as a consultant. Amy thought that Mary wanted this to be her company and that if you didn’t know better you would think that Mary was the owner and that I worked for her.  She made some comments about it being the Mary show and that Mary came off as not credible and very arrogant.  Which was also my opinion but it’s nice when someone else feels the same way.

 We discussed getting a non-disclosure in place with Mary; my idea was to say the bank wanted to see a contract and non-disclosure to add to my loan documents.  After talking to Amy the consensus was that I would just tell Mary very nicely that I cannot afford to pay $150 an hour even though I think you are fantastic and are worth it (not really, but she is ego driven I think this approach best).  I was also going to nicely say that I didn’t want to give up any ownership in my company and remind her that was why I was trying to get a loan first.  But that worse case I might have to bring in investors and I would need that for potential investors now or in the future.  I was going to tell her that we could revisit the $150 an hour when the company became profitable.  I still was feeling uneasy and kept contemplating ways to handle this situation so that I would feel better. 

June 6, 2009

I get woken up by the sound of my phone at 7:55 am on a Saturday (obviously this person doesn’t know me very well.)  Then I see its Mary and all I can think is “I can’t deal with you right now.”  I let voicemail pick it up.”  As I’m making coffee I decide to see what is so important and when I hear her message my heart starts pounding. 

She has just got off the phone with her friend who is a PR person who had recently recommended someone to me and after 2 meetings the lady totally flaked.  Anyway, in the message it states that her friend suggested to Mary.  “You could do the PR, you are a writer you are a marketing person.”  So Mary barrels on about how she can take over marketing and PR and advertising she just needs to set aside time on her schedule. 

I panic “thinking oh my God this is how she’s going to take all my money.”  She wants 10% she wants $50 an hour and now she will start taking marketing, advertising and PR to the tune of who knows how much.  In my panicked state I think I have to stop her and stop her now.  Although we have a meeting on Tuesday knowing Mary she will say on Tuesday that she has worked all weekend and here is the new bill. 

As it stands I paid her $250 on Tuesday June 2nd and since she spent an hour with me at the bank and an hour telling me how she wants my business and an hour for lunch (I paid of course) she still owes me 2 hours and I think that’s beyond generous on my part. 

So I call her back and tell her that I have a friend that is a writer and I would like to have her to do these tasks.  To which she replies “well if she doesn’t work out let me know.”  Then she goes on to say that she is a writer her husband was just saying that to her.  Remember the paper she wrote on her cancer the doctor wants her to write another one for his patients. 

Then she says that since she is asking to be a bigger part of the company she wants to start doing more.  This would be a good offer if she wasn’t also adding billable hours to me at $50 per hour. 

I very nicely say I don’t know how to say this, I’ve been thinking about her proposal and I would love to have the money to pay her $150 an hour because she is worth it. But as she already knows I don’t have that kind of money.  I explain that I don’t want to give up any control of my company, I remind her about the loan and then point out that I might have to use shares of the company to get started.  The loan isn’t in the bag yet and even though I don’t want to, I might have to sell shares of the company to raise capital. 

That’s when she very clearly tells me that she has other designers wanting her time and that she is getting to a point in her life where she needs security.  She needs to know that she’s making more than an hourly wage and that she will give me until Tuesday to decide but if I don’t give her the 10% she will have to resign on Tuesday.  I say I will think about it and see you on Tuesday.  Within the hour I get this email copied exactly as written misspellings and all.

Hi

I don’t want to leave the conversation the way we did over the phone,

As per my request for shares of the company, this is what I need to continue. My roll in helping you get to where you are has been enormous, for which I have been compensated at a fraction of my normal fee. I did this to help you get started, but now in order for me to continue with you I will need to know that my time and knowledge is worth more the an hourly wage. If you do not feel you need my consulting to continue and grow your company to its fullest potential then we can part ways. I have no ill feelings about this and I hope you do not either. It is just business.

Please let me know your decision by Tuesday, if you do decide to not continue with my services you will need to revise your plan and remove my name from your business plan.

Well there you have it my friend, the ultimatum.  I was so angry when I saw this I thought I would blow.

The wall comes crashing down

Part 1,  Part 2,  and Part 3

June 2, 2009

I have actually taken excerpts straight from my journal, this was the first time I documented this journey while it was happening.  I knew this would be an experience that I would want to look back on one day as it has taught me many lessons. 

Tuesday June 2nd was the big day.  I was pitching to the bank for the loan to fund my company through the first few years.  I had spent countless hours preparing my business plan, presentation and financials, needless to say I was very nervous.  I picked up Mary for the ride to the bank and as we drive she starts telling me about these new bracelets she’s selling and how they are the next hot thing. 

Then she starts gushing to me saying “I know Kathleen Jane is going to be famous, you’re going to make it big and I’m sure that you’ll get a buyout offer in a few years.”  She said so much in such a short span of time it’s hard to remember all of it.  She was going on and on about how much I’ve done and how she was so excited to be a part of it.  She was laying it on so thick that I started to wonder what she was up to.

That is when she tells me she wants to partner with me, here’s the deal, she will be charging everyone else $150.00 an hour for her consulting.  Apparently she has other designers that want her to consult with them the same as she does for me.  She says she wants in on my company because she knows we will be rich and famous in a few years.  So she will keep her rate at $50 an hour for me but she also wants 10% of the company. She continues on about how she will start invoicing me that way. She starts saying I will bill you $150 an hour and cut the $100 out and put that towards shares of the company.  In fact I can even claim that in my taxes and save even more money.  How thoughtful of her to be worrying about me and my taxes, I guess this way I can have more money for her to take.

Something I’ve since realized was that she was always quick to point out that something wasn’t worth the money or when she thought others were trying to charge me too much money.  Which I appreciated, but apparently that did not apply to her.

 I am really kind of stunned seeing as we are on our way to the bank and she’s saying these things so fast and saying so many different things, it’s hard to take it in right away.  I decide to deal with this later and focus on the task at hand, presenting to the bank.

We meet Amy (fictitious name) at the bank as she has also agreed to attend to lend her support.  We meet with the bankers, whom I have already semi presented to so I know them and feel comfortable with both of them. 

Mary immediately hijacks the meeting and will not stop talking. She starts throwing out crazy numbers, and dropping names, she is so over the top I think I am going to have a heart attack as I listen.  As if these bankers even know or care who these people are.  I was stunned, at a certain point I actually considered if kicking her under the table would be a good idea.  I needed to shut her up but, she just keeps droning on and on. 

When I blatantly interrupt her to get a word in she barely lets me get a few sentences in before she takes over again.  As I sit there listening to Mary ruin any remote chance of me getting the loan.  I look across the table at Amy’s face, I see she is as alarmed as I am.  At one point Amy abruptly brings the conversation back around to the conservative numbers in my projections and attempts to get this back on track.  I am grateful to her for trying but Mary doesn’t have a clue and continues on.   

I could even see the bankers feeling for me as they attempted to ask me specific questions and when I open my mouth to answer Mary literally talks right over me and answers for me.  Finally mercifully, the meeting ends. 

So I take Mary to lunch which we had preplanned weeks before the meeting, she has absolutely no clue that the meeting didn’t go well.  During lunch she continues to talk to me about her new role in the business.  As if this has already been decided.  I find I’m only partly listening as I am trying to process what she is saying I keep getting these flashbacks of past incidents with Mary.  As she plans my life for me I have all of these scenes playing in my head.

 Then she says something that brings me back to the now, she looks at me and says very seriously, “ I want to tell you something and I don’t want you to take it wrong.”   She’s got my undivided attention now “what on Earth could she say to me at this point, she wants my whole company and I can work for her. “

Then came the rocks……..

Part 1 and Part 2

April and May of 2009

I had allowed Mary to create an environment where I thought I needed her more than I did.  Truth be told; no one ever does something like this to us without our permission.  I am attempting to take responsiblity for my contribution to my own mistakes, I find it’s much more empowering.  If you are able to recognize and be aware of how you contributed then you can actively change things.  Not that I think she was an angel, not by a long shot, but I can only change me.

The following is the part of the story that I am most embarrassed about.  In fact even when it happened I didn’t tell anyone because I knew I was being walked on.  Like I’ve mentioned before; I became friends with Mary and there were days where she was upset about the surgeries and I consoled her.  One day I was having a bad day, I don’t remember specifics but mainly that I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to pull off this launch. 

I find that when you start a new business, a business where you have no specific training and no guide or guidelines and the business is built on creativity it can be very scary.  For reasons I can’t even remember, I was very upset and she spent some time showing me how far I had come, how much I had accomplished and then told me the stories of others she’s worked with that had gone through the same things. 

Then she presented me with a box and said something along the lines of “everyone told Taryn she couldn’t make a comfortable high heel and she proved them wrong and here’s the proof.  Keep these in your office for your inspiration.  When you start feeling like things are impossible, let them inspire you.”  In the box was a pair of Taryn Rose high heels, I thanked her and left feeling better. 

I’ve mentioned before how many times I had to have her correct her invoices for “mistakes” but what I didn’t mention was that as time wore on these “mistakes” were happening more frequently.  Although she would correct the errors most of the time, I sensed a slight hostility, nothing that I paid much attention to at first.  I would notice that when she had to correct an error, she would be unavailable for meetings for weeks at a time following the correction. 

This gift came at a time where we were focusing on getting funding, in the way of a small business loan or looking at possible investors.  I was working day and night preparing my business plan, creating the cash flow projections and meeting with potential banks.  I found a bank that I thought might be the right choice for me and had an initial meeting with the Vice President and the SBA loan manager.  The meeting went well and they suggested I gather the necessary information and formally pitch my business.  Mary had indicated all along that she would be there for me and help me in my presentation. 

Not too long before the bank meeting Mary and I were meeting to discuss the presentation and last-minute details.  Before I left she said “oh I forgot to give this to you, your invoice”.   When I saw it, I about fell over, there was a charge for the Taryn Rose heels she had “given” to me as inspiration.  I was stunned, so many thoughts swirling around in my mind.  I said something to her about the charge, honestly I don’t even remember what I said but I clearly remember her reaction.   She responded as if  I had misunderstood and there was nothing wrong, as if she was doing me a favor because she had only charged me her cost for the shoes.  These were her samples from when she had been a rep for Taryn Rose. 

I walked out without saying much else, the more I thought about it the madder I got, but in the end I paid it without another word.  I didn’t tell anyone what she had done, not even my husband.  I think I couldn’t say anything because if I told anyone then I would have to fire her.  I was afraid that I needed her, especially with the bank meeting right around the corner.  I had so much stress building that my reasoning was that after the presentation I would figure things out.  I paid the bill knowing I was getting screwed and reasoned with myself that sometimes you do these things for the greater good.  I should have known better but, because I didn’t, the brick wall was on its way. 

The kicker is that they were a sample size 6 and I wear a 7, so I couldn’t even wear them.  I left them in a box in my office because I found every time I saw them I would get angry.  To this day I believe this was the point in which she thought she could get away with anything.  I could not have possibly prepared myself for her next move.

More Pebbles……..

The Pebbles pt 1.

During this period between February – June 09 I was getting other signals that Mary might not be the best person for me to be working with.  I do want to say this, she did a good job up to a certain point and I learned a lot from her.  All of these signals came along with other things that were positive.  She introduced me to boutique owners, sales managers, buyers, public relations people, sales reps and department store buyers, etc.. which is exactly what she was hired to do.   Many times when she would introduce me to someone they were very complimentary of Mary and her work, they also were very helpful to me.   There were times that I clearly knew that things weren’t kosher but, I weighed things out and decided that maybe sometimes you take the good with the bad. 

One thing that started off just being annoying but later turned out to become  a real problem was that she was late, consistently.  I would meet her at her home office and she would be anywhere between 10 minutes to 30 minutes late, sometimes longer.  I have always had a problem being late myself, no matter how I try I am almost always running about 5 minutes behind.  At the beginning I didn’t think much of this, she would generally call and say she was running 5 minutes behind but often would get there 15 minutes or so later. 

Like I said this was annoying, she would always arrive in grandiose fashion with some story about why she was late.  (grandiosity..more pebbles)  At first I didn’t say anything and went about our meetings, so if we were supposed to meet for an hour at 4:00 but we actually got started at 4:30 I would note the start time in my notes and continue with the meeting until 5:30. 

Then one day, after only getting through thirty minutes of an hour meeting she indicated that she had another appointment and needed to leave.  My agenda for the meeting wasn’t complete so I let her know that we could make it up in the next meeting.  Imagine my surprise at the end of the month when I received an invoice that charged me for the hour appointment that was only 30 minutes.  I called her and she corrected the invoice, at this point I started tracking very carefully the time we spent on the phone and in meetings.

The next time came when she had done some work for me that I wasn’t present for, it seemed to me that the invoice had been padded.  When I asked she showed me her proof and documentation and although I felt uneasy I paid it because I couldn’t really prove otherwise. (pay attention when you feel uneasy, there’s a reason)

Another thing I started to notice was that she was always buying me gifts, for example one day I met her for a lunch meeting and she presented me with a Mother’s Day gift.  At the time it caught me off guard and I felt empty-handed although I usually don’t get Mother’s Day gifts for anyone except my Mother and Mother in Law.  I started to notice that she would throw me a little off kilter like that and then within a day or so of these gifts I would get a questionable invoice.   I didn’t pick up on the gift thing at the start but looking back it was definitely a pattern.  In hindsight I think that the gifts were little ways for her to assuage her guilt over being dishonest and taking advantage.

Another pattern I didn’t notice right away, but now clearly see was that, from the beginning she found ways of making me feel insecure. Not only because she knew so much more about the shoe business than I did but, in other ways.  For example, I had gained about 15 pounds in the first two years of quitting smoking and for someone who is five foot one inch, 15 pounds is quite noticeable. More to the point was that I was not comfortable in my skin.  She was nearly six feet tall and very thin so I often felt big and frumpy around her, one day I mentioned, while we were talking about ad campaigns, that I didn’t want to be the face of my company because I didn’t feel good about my weight.  Her comment was something to the effect of “You should still be in your ads because being overweight more people will relate to you, often times models aren’t relatable so this could be a good thing.”  I didn’t know what to say to that, I never do well with people who are that honest, although I am honest I always attempt to be kind rather than say something like that.

During this time she was going through surgeries for her skin cancer, I saw the scars and stitches and it seemed every time she turned around they were finding more malignancies.  There is the part of me that I am not at all embarrassed to say even now, I felt for her and what she was going through.  I think that the way I felt about her cancer is one of the reasons I let more things slide than I would normally.  Although I let her get away with much more than I should have, I will not let anyone change the part of me that cares about people and feels compassion for them, regardless of their other faults.  I made this conscious decision long ago, I have to live with myself and how I treat people, we all do, this one decision brings me peace of mind.

%d bloggers like this: