If you are looking for Manuel’s story, you can find it here:
If you are looking for my little OnlineGrinds.ie story, here is the table of cuntents:
If you are looking for Manuel’s story, you can find it here:
If you are looking for my little OnlineGrinds.ie story, here is the table of cuntents:
Before we take flight on our very final chapter, I have a little song you might like to hear. My advice is to press play on the video, and let the song play as you read through the chapter. I’m sure the song will end before you finish reading; it’s only 12 minutes long, after all.
Despite all the bullshit I had to put up with, I did enjoy starting OnlineGrinds.ie and working on the project for nearly 3 years, even if I never received a cent payment. However, if I was to do it all again, my approach would be somewhat different, to say the least. If I had a few words of advice for any entrepreneur starting up their own business, it would be the following:
If you are going to take on a team on an equity share basis, research all team members well before you take anybody on. Use a fine tooth comb during this process. Don’t rush into things. Don’t take on a web developer ‘because you know him’. Take a look at projects they have worked on before, check the number of fans they have on social media sites etc. If you see that the large majority of their work falls into the vintage website category, you can assume that this project will follow suit. If the vintage style of website isn’t something you are too keen on, keep looking.
If they say they will develop and design a website from scratch, with all the capability of broadcasting live and interactive online grinds, this does not mean they should simply purchase third party plugins and insert them into their very basic site structure. That’s cheating. All the code should be indigenous. Otherwise the company will have very little IP, which means in the event of sale, it will have very little value. Besides, a blind ape with no arms could develop a website if it was simply based on third party plugins and no indigenous code, and you wouldn’t have to give him any equity at all.
A friend of mine said to me yesterday, “I’m sure it must kill you to wonder how OLG might have taken off with the right team”. She is dead right (thanks again T.).
Never yield too much power. Always retain more control than anybody else. Otherwise they’ll walk all over you like a race horse on a fallen jockey. Never give away more than 49% equity. Always retain 51% for your good self. More power to you.
If your tech partner decides to drop a bomb 2 days before your official launch, stating that the majority of the source code of the site belongs to HIS Company, not your joint company, and that there is no value in the site he was commissioned to develop, tell him to fuck off. Threaten to pull the plug on the project if he doesn’t cop the fuck on. Don’t let your pride stand in the way of bullshit like this. It’s infinitely better to delay your launch, and find a proper developer, than to launch with a cunt like this. In the long run you will be far better off.
If your tech partner starts acting like a contractor, rather than an owner, get rid of him. He is a liability to the company. There is something wrong when your tech partner, who has the same equity stake as you, starts putting time limits on his work output, and spends more time writing emails about how much work he won’t do, rather than actually doing any work on the project itself. He needs to go. Simple as.
For some reason I envisaged BS to be a hoody-wearing, idea-generating, Mark Zuckerberg type who would rock in to me in the office at 7am saying “Paul I was up till 3am working on this new page, I’ve had this awesome new idea”. But no, BS didn’t come up with 1 idea for OnlineGrinds.ie. That was up to the rest of the team. And whenever we brought up an idea, and asked him to implement it, he would reply with 2 words, “Phase 2”.
I firmly believe (and I could be very wrong) that Sean often wonders if I was the right person to go, and that maybe it should have been BS who was ousted. I guess I will never know the answer to that question.
If you receive love letters from Arthur’s Cock and Everyone Shites, choose wisely who you share them with. One of my biggest regrets is showing MBB AKA CUNT the second love letter from Everyone Shites. Who’s to say that Learnology wouldn’t still be still going, if I had kept the letter to myself.
Always employ a group of dwarves, they are indispensable.
If you notice that the amount of cash coming in to the business represents a mere fifth of the amount going out (a ratio of 1:4), take a step back and question your business model. Call a halt to the dwarves; tell them to take a seat and have some tea and cakes, or a round of Jägerbombs and a few lines (whatever they’re into). You need to seriously review what you are doing.
They say that it’s good to locate your desk near a window so that you can take momentary breaks from the computer screen and give your eyes a rest by looking out at the beautiful views in front of you. This principle works particularly well when you have an art workshop across the road with life drawing classes every evening. I wouldn’t recommend locating anywhere else.
Read up on company law. Know your rights. Always be able to distinguish a real threat from a shot across the bow. My rule of thumb: if a love letter is signed with the company name, rather than an individual lawyer’s name, it’s an idle threat.
Be able to differentiate company lawyers from litigators (Daniel O’Donnell vs. Vince Vaughan). This tacit knowledge could save your life, one day.
There are a number of reasons why I decided to write my story:
(a) So many people ask me how OnlineGrinds.ie is going. To spare these people the 3 hour explanation that I usually have to give them (and to spare me the 3 hours each time someone asks), I wrote this blog. Now I can simply point them in the direction of www.paulstenson.com and, if they care enough, they can read it. If they don’t care, they can pretend to read it (and slyly have RedTube open in another window).
(b) To vent my frustration. I am sure you can appreciate that my mental health was pushed to its outer extremities while I was working with BS (note that the verb ‘working’ applies to me, rather than BS). This blog provided an outlet for me to vent my anger and extinguish the fire that has built up inside over the past 3 years. As I said in one chapter, it was far better than any form of conventional therapy.
(c) To try my luck at writing. Writing is something I have always wanted to try, and I actually fucking enjoyed it. It was almost (quite literally) a sexual experience at certain points. Most of the time, I had no preconception of what to write and it simply came to me as I was typing (as it is now).
I did try to get an editor or ten to glance over my work. Most editors took one look at the story and turned it down immediately on the basis that the content was far too risqué. One editor came back saying that she would have no issue working with me, as long as I toned it down slightly. This didn’t happen.
I am much happier to be able to tell my story (vitriolic as it may be) i.e. the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me dog (I’m an atheist), even at the expense of one or two grammatical errors and/or misspellings, than have an editor tone down my words.
Many thanks again to all my friends and family who were worried about me. I couldn’t count on 3 hands the number of people who asked me “are you sure you won’t get into legal hot water with this blog Paul?” to which I generally replied “oh I sincerely hope I do”.
(d) To see how many solicitor’s letters I could get. To date I haven’t received any SL’s which is a little disheartening, if I’m honest. I tried my best to make life easy for the solicitors; I even put the letters (SL) around the blog for their convenience. But alas, no letters at all. I am living in the hope that maybe they are waiting for me to publish my final chapter and then they can send one big letter containing all the offences throughout the blog, as opposed to hundreds of letters each containing one offence. This is not ideally how I would have liked it, but I guess it will have to do.
Please solicitors, I am pleading with you at this stage. Please please please send me at least one letter. You can ignore the instructions I gave you in Chapter 1 and use whatever kind of language you want. I promise I won’t give out. Pretty pretty please???
(e) Legal representation. Believe it or not, I have already received a number of offers of legal representation from blog readers. Having read the blog, they said that I may well have a case against Sean & Co., and that they would be willing to consider representing me on a no foal, no fee basis. My initial reaction to them was that of ‘meh’, but then when I thought about the suit-buying opportunity this would present, my opinion changed completely. I’m a little conflicted now however; if I did go to court and had to breathe the same air as BS in the courtroom, I think I might be traumatised for life. So, let’s just say ‘the jury is out’ on this option.
(f) Investment. One particular man who read the blog wants to have coffee with me about potentially getting Learnology back up and running. He said it “was too much of a great brand to let go”. While seeking investment funds was never an intention of writing the blog, I am going to meet him; for the craic, if nothing else (hi A. if you are reading this!). While this is not at the top of my priority list, it is exceedingly more probable than option (e).
(g) To draw a line under the nightmare that has been the last 3 years. The main objective of writing this blog was to put an end to the horror that was OnlineGrinds.ie. The lads have the company now, and as a matter of fact, I wish them well (even BS). I am not sure what their intentions are, and whether the cancellation of the May revision courses was an admission by Sean & Co. that “this is the end, beautiful friends, the end”. I guess we won’t know until their “full launch next Sept”, if it ever happens.
With the right changes, the company has potential to do well. Ashfield teachers are without a shadow of a doubt the best in the country, and the picture we have painted of OnlineGrinds.ie in the media means it is already a recognised brand (again, good enough to do a deal with Ashfield). If the lads can get the business right by creating a freemium model and tidying up things in the tech department, they could actually do very well for themselves.
They may even still have a chance of getting in there before Alison.com, as Alison are only running free maths grinds at the moment. If OnlineGrinds.ie can roll out all subjects, for free, this September, they may beat Alison to the mark, and have a chance of success.
While I lost both OnlineGrinds.ie and Learnology, this doesn’t mean that I am exiting the grinds industry altogether. Despite the fact that the entire industry is worth only €40m per annum (a very limited pot) I do want to keep one egg in this basket. But I have no intention of devoting 100% of my time to a space where the maximum I could potentially make per year is €40m. You might think I am joking, I’m actually not.
Any website where there is a lot of human involvement upfront (like OnlineGrinds.ie) is costly, as you have to pay these humans. The only way you will make money on a website in the grinds industry (or any industry) is if the website generates passive income. Look at the likes of Adverts.ie, Boards.ie, Daft,ie (pretty much any of the Fallon Bros sites); these are all passive income generators. You don’t have gob shites acting the clown on camera, and being paid €110 per hour to do so, while you have 2 viewers watching them, each paying €10. Look at the likes of Cartell.ie or TripAdvisor.com. These are user generated content, database-driven websites, again with little if not no front-line labour. Again, more classic examples of passive income generators. This is where the money is at folks.
To that end, my next grinds related venture requires little or no front-line labour. It’s called GrindsAdvisor.ie and it’s launching in September. For fear of boring you, here is a quick low down on the new biz.
At the moment, if a student wants to do grinds, there is no independent website that reviews and advises on the grinds options available in their area. Students and parents have to do all the research themselves, which usually (and solely) involves checking out the individual grind provider websites. The mummy and student visit a grind school website where the school blows their own trumpet until the cows come home, saying how amazingly, awesomely, fantastically, outstanding they are. The mummy gives her credit card details and pays for a term of grinds, unaware as to the quality of teachers on offer and whether the exorbitant price being paid actually represents value for money, or not. Ditto for online grinds websites and, to some extent, one to one grinds.
Grindsadvisor.ie is a user generated content site (a bit like Tripadvisor; similar model) that will provide reviews and advice on the grinds options available to secondary students across Ireland in terms of price, teacher quality and convenience. It’s an independent advice platform for students and parents to voice their opinions, concerns and advice on grinds providers, so that students are well informed before they fork out anything between €2,000 and €4,000, which is the average amount a parent will pay on grinds in the exam year (Student Enrichment Services Survey, 2010).
In case the Kearns family from the Institute of Education and Sean & Co. from OnlineGrinds.ie (for example) are pooing their pants at the thought of Paul Stenson slating them on his new website. Please don’t worry guys. Paul won’t be doing any slating whatsoever; the students and parents will. However, if you get your act together guys i.e. stop ripping people off IOE, and get your business model right OLG, you won’t give them any reason to slate you; you may even give them reason to praise you. We know how damaging the likes of Patrick’s Tweets in yesterday’s chapter can be for your business. Don’t give students like Patrick any bait in the first place, and all will be well.
GrindsAdvisor.ie aside for a minute, in any of my future ventures, I am going to exercise extreme care and caution in relation to who I work with. The BS saga has certainly taught me a lesson I will never forget. I am increasingly thinking about working purely with animals going forward. I much prefer animals to humans. Certainly on my list of potential projects for the future is a 5 star hotel for pets. The animals will be treated like royalty; they will have ensuite bedrooms with plasma screens showing pet related movies (not Marley and me), and they will get their meals delivered by room service; sushi for cats, sirloin steak for dogs. If you are an investor and would like a slice of this pie, I am taking inquiries now.
That’s all folks. Thanks for reading my blog. Hope you enjoyed it. Sorry again if some of the language seemed crude, and some of the themes seemed unsophisticated. But that’s me, and I make no apologies for being me.
If you want to contact me for any reason, maybe you are a lawyer who wants to represent me, or an investor who wants to make a massive return, you can get me at my email:
Before I go, I promised you I would revisit the cunt poll to see who has been the biggest cunt in this blog. Here are the updated results as of today 08/07/2014:
As you can see, BS is improving nicely, he has gone from 62.5% to 66%. Both MBB AKA CUNT and Sean are also gaining ground.
Rest assured that the poll will remain open for the foreseeable future. As long as the blog is live, the poll will be live. Also, if there is any movement on the SL front, or any more kind gestures from BS (like yesterday), I will make a point of sharing them here on the blog, so that you are kept in the loop. Just because you won’t have daily chapter updates, doesn’t mean the blog will wither on the vine.
Over and out.
This Means War
It was now mid December and I suspected that Sean & Co. were anxious to get into bed with Ashfield, have sexual intercourse (I would call it fornication actually; weren’t they married to me after all) and give birth to their illegitimate baby (launch their business) in January 2014. The knowledge of the Ashfield relationship, and the child they were trying to have out of wedlock, was something I was going to keep as a secret between me and I.
I didn’t send the ‘tell not ask’ email immediately. I decided that there was a lot more time for mischievous hand rubbing and a lot more sweat left in the guys. So, I held my ground, continued to ignore emails and began to mentally formulate the wording of this legendary email I was going to send.
At this point I realised that there were a number of questions I forgot to ask Vito. I think I spent so much time trying not to poo in my pants in his regal office, that I lost sight of these vital questions. In hindsight, there was one question I should have asked after he had given me the nuclear weapon that was his 6 wise words. If I could borrow Marty McFly’s car for a few days and go back in time, I would have followed his 6 words with the reply: “at what price?”.
Was I going to place a value on it or was I going to let them come up with a figure? This was a difficult decision for me. If I aimed too high, I might damage any possibility of a buyout, if I aimed too low, I would be limiting myself if they paid out immediately. So, I decided to leave it wide open.
In reply to an email from Sean saying he needed to make a decision on his next move ASAP, I wrote the ‘tell not ask’ email. I left it open in that I didn’t place a figure on it. Here is the email:
The reply I got marked the first time in two and a half years that I had ever seen any weakness or vulnerability in Sean. You could read in his words that my email had shaken him badly. At least force 7 on the Richter scale. His reply was short, aggressive and full of fire. Here it is:
The thought of going to court excited me. It meant I was going to have to buy a new suit. But I had never really been to court before, so I didn’t know what kind of suit would suit a court appearance. As it wasn’t an everyday occurrence, I wasn’t going to buy a boring black, grey or charcoal suit. This was a special, once off, occasion and it therefore deserved a special, once off suit.
After a bit of research online, I decided I would buy a suit like this for the big day:
Yes, this suit was perfect. Hat and all. Gadaffi was my idle when it came to suit fashion. I was weak at the knees at some of his ensembles. I even considered wearing earphones upside down on the day of my court appearance, just to finish off the look.
But alas, I knew this was just another idle threat on Sean’s part and researching suits online was simply wishful thinking. You can’t blame me though, we all like to fantasise at times, no? When I woke up from my day dream, and the reality of never actually getting the opportunity to sport a getup like this in the High Court hit home, I realised that there was in fact a silver lining to the dark cloud that was reality; I still had another solicitor’s letter to look forward to!
I love a bit of drama. And apart from anything else, the letter would also provide the means to make another paper airplane for my dog to chase. Endless hours of fun…FOR FREE. I was in my element (as was the pooch).
So, a day or two later, the parts for my new paper airplane arrived in the letter box. Here it is:
Here again you can see that the letter was signed ‘Everyone Shites’ rather that the individual solicitor who had written it. Too right though. Could you imagine the strange looks you would get from your pharmacist if you presented a prescription that had been signed by a vet?
Ignore The War
I never had so much fun making a paper airplane in my life. Usually when I play with the dog, I like him to bring me back whatever I have thrown down the garden. In this case, I didn’t want it back. He could eat it, excrete it, dance on it, make a doggy hat out of it, break it up into thousands of pieces and use the pieces as doggy toothpicks over the years, use the letter to taunt the dog next door, and so on and so forth. As long as he was happy, I was happy.
As Sean & Co. were expecting their baby in January, they really needed me gone ASAP. Remember it was mid December, the height of silly season. The last thing they needed was me to fuck around. If I didn’t sign the option agreement, Ashfield would have no comfort in knowing that I “was legally committed to leaving OnlineGrinds.ie” and the deal may fall through. This is why Sean had Daniel O’Donnell send me the second letter. He thought that I would freeze in the head lights and sign the document without hesitation. How wrong was he. But then again, he didn’t know that I was aware of the impending baba.
Despite my serious urge to reply to Everyone Shites saying that the firm of solicitors I was nominating was Saul Goodman and Co., I resisted the urge and ignored the letter completely. I let the 3 days pass to see what would happen. The days soon became weeks and low and behold nothing ever happened. Surprise surprise.
But how long were they willing to wait for me to sign the option agreement before it was too late to launch in January? Would they give in and pay me just before it reached this point? I didn’t have an answer to this question, as no more oops emails were sent. But I was willing to wait and find out.
In any case, it looked like Sean & Co. had no intention whatsoever of taking me to court as (a) it would cost too much and (b) they were much more at fault than I, and being in court would expose their wrongdoings much more than mine (especially because I didn’t have any).
In many ways this is why I have no qualms about writing this blog. The lads are much more guilty than I (you will see why as we get towards the end). This is why I can pretty much push the boat out in terms of what I say, with no fear of legal retribution from their end. Bearing this in mind, allow me to say one thing:
BS, you are, have always been, and will always be, an absolute and utter Bollox.
Writing this blog is far more rewarding than any form of conventional therapy. I recommend it most highly. I only wish I would receive an SL though. I have wagers with my mates that I will receive at least 2, and most probably 63. Whatever I do, I cannot lose this bet.
So guys, can you please get your act together, take out the thumbs that are firmly lodged up your bottoms and send me an SL without delay? Yes I am talking to YOU Arthur’s Cock and YOU Everyone Shites. Please don’t delay now. Good boys. Love you lots.
After our meeting with Sean, the three of us (PWD, MBB and I) walked up towards Harcourt Street to perform a post-mortem. It took us approximately 23 seconds to come to the conclusion that bringing Sean & Co. onto the Learnology train was not an option. It was my job to break the news to Sean, and here is the email I sent him:
Sean was not a happy bunny when he received my mail, and a few days later he replied with the following:
As you can see, reading an email from Sean is a pleasure compared to reading one from BS. Not simply because it could take you the same time to read a PhD thesis, backwards, as it would to read one of BS’s emails, but also because Sean’s emails were emotion-free. He was always very composed and level-headed.
All correspondence from this point on was going to be with Sean. BS went to ground immediately after the Everyone Shites letter was sent. This was most probably because he was burying his head, but then again, maybe he was out of the country (for a change) and there was no internet coverage in Ulan Bator (he wanted to discover the other side of the world, he had already explored every nook and cranny that exists in the Americas, and that was during our 6 months of broadcasting alone).
You may notice that Sean is still wearing his poker face in this email. He still makes out that he has a case against me, and more importantly, Learnology. He threatens to come after Learnology, if we didn’t ‘let him in’. I knew that this was a super bluff, but the guys in Learnology weren’t so sure. In fact, MBB was pretty shaken.
What did Sean want?
To get a clear understanding of what Sean wanted, I sent him an email in which I bluntly asked him what he wanted? He replied saying that there were a number of options, 7 to be precise. These were as follows (click to enlarge):
The were some similarities between these options and the options BS gave me in the last chapter. Having been given the option of relinquishing my shareholding in OnlineGrinds.ie and walking away from the company by both, and having been put under some pressure from my colleagues in Learnology, I decided that the time had come to take flight and get the hell out of OnlineGrinds.ie.
You would think that it would be very difficult for me to walk away from a company I founded and ran for two and a half years, with no return whatsoever. While I admit that it wasn’t easy for my pride, the truth is that my departure was somewhat tinged with relief. Relief that I didn’t have to interact with, or even see, BS ever again. Considering that the very sight of BS would make me gag and vomit incessantly for hours, I think it was best for my health that I departed (SL).
In addition, I was also acutely aware that OnlineGrinds.ie had no future. It had no hope of working, never mind success, for the following reasons: (a) Mammies are simply not ready to send Johnny up to his room to do grinds with ‘his computer’ (to that end, I’m not sure if online learning will ever work at secondary school level, if I’m honest). (b) Any company in which BS plays a role, silent, loud, present, absent, in the same country, in a different country, in the same galaxy, in a different galaxy, would not succeed. As long as BS was involved in a company, even in the most minute capacity, it would fail. If he walked into a company, stood in it for 6 seconds, breathed in and out, and walked straight out the door, the company would be cursed forevermore.
So, on 19th October 2013 I wrote a very official ‘good luck’ email to the rest of the team in OnlineGrinds.ie.
My theory was that neither BS nor Sean thought that I would leave the pitch and hang up my boots. Even though it was an option they both gave me in their respective emails, I still believe the outcome they wanted, and thought they were going to get, was that somehow we would ‘let them in’ to Learnology. In the words of Alicia Silverstone, as if.
It turned out that my theory was correct. When I sent the email of relinquishment of shares, and my letter of resignation as director, I never received any acknowledgement. A number of weeks passed where I got no correspondence from them whatsoever. I’d say my resignation had literally gob smacked them and now they hadn’t a clue what to do without me, considering that neither of them had been actively involved in the company thus far (Sean because he didn’t need to be; he was simply the man with the money, BS because…… he was BS).
This now meant that someone would have to replace me i.e. be in the office virtually 7 days a week and be present for every single live broadcast. This was obviously not going to be Sean as he lives in the UK, and this was obviously not going to be BS (no need for qualification of the latter). They were rightly screwed. I suggest at this point they highly regretted giving me the ‘escape’ option (SL).
I eventually heard back from Sean in relation to my relinquishing of shares. In this email Sean states that he is ‘considering’ my relinquishment of shares, despite the fact that it was a clear option he had given me previously:
The Stool Pigeon
Approximately one month after sending my letter of resignation, I got a call from Sean. Sean basically reiterated that there was no real advantage (to them) in me leaving a company that had debts (why give me the option in the first place, says you). After a brief argument along the lines of ‘so it was okay for me to leave a month ago and now it’s not?’ Sean made a proposal to me.
He said he was going to get his solicitor to draw up an option agreement. The option agreement was a document that I would sign which would allow Sean and Co. to take my shares at any point over the following three months, at very short notice. If the agreement was triggered, they would take the shares and there would be no further threat of legal action. If the agreement wasn’t triggered, they could still take legal action against me (and Learnology) during the three month period.
At the time I hadn’t a clue what they were playing at. My initial reaction was one of non-description tinged with slight confusion, further tinged with not giving a shit. Having given the matter further thought and spoken to a few people who actually gave a shit about the whole agreement (a bit more than I), I learnt that this agreement simply amounted to Sean & Co. having their black forest gateau, and also consuming it.
They decided to renege on their original promise of allowing me walk away (without being sued) if I relinquished my shareholding, as they realised that the company couldn’t survive without me. They were now going to try and get another partner to replace me, and if they managed to find somebody within the next 3 months, the option agreement would be triggered, my shares would be transferred, and everybody would live happily ever after. I may go in peace to love and serve the lord, amen. In the case that they weren’t successful in finding somebody to replace me, it wouldn’t be the end of the world for them, as they would still have me (and Learnology) standing in the corner like a stool pigeon for 3 months, waiting to be sued.
The 3 month time frame was actually quite a clever move on their part, as it would give them time to see if Learnology was going to be successful or not. A lot can happen in 3 months, especially given that the school year only lasts 9 months. If they had seen that Learnology had done very well over the 3 months, they probably would have sued for damages and tried to claim Learnology profits.
When someone with much more sense than I explained the whole situation to me, I felt as used and abused as Solomon Northup. The kind of behaviour in which Sean & Co. were engaging brought me back to my days in the Merrion Hotel, a five star hotel in Dublin City. In any five star hotel you usually have a very special type of clientele. The type of people who walk around as if they are minted, yet they don’t have a penny to their name. The type of people who comment on the ‘beautiful nose and bouquet’ of a red wine, when it is probably corked. The type of people who eat caviar, yet they can’t spell the word. In other words, total tossers.
The feeling I experienced in relation to the option agreement wasn’t dissimilar to how I used to feel after presenting a bill to a guest in the Merrion Hotel. You would present the bill and then have to stand there like a complete and utter gob shite waiting for the guest to take money from his wallet, put it into the bill folder and hand it back to you. This process could sometimes take a couple of minutes, as the guest would continue to talk (bollox) to the others around the table, distracting him from the act of taking out the €50 note from his heavy-laden-with-other-clearly-visible-€50-notes wallet, and placing it in the bill folder, all the while without making eye contact or acknowledging your presence.
If I had one very small request to ask of you, my beloved readers (all 7 or 8 of you): BE NICE TO WAITERS. They are, in fact, human beings. Don’t be an asshole when you are in a restaurant or bar. It’s already a demeaning job. They already feel like gob shites. Please make their work easier by treating them nicely. Before you make fun of a waiter or waitress the next time you are in a restaurant, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Imagine how much of a twat they feel. Don’t make them want to call you a cunt. Respect them.
I realise that today’s chapter was a little downbeat. So to end on a lighter note, do you remember this video? Can anyone spot a Doberman?
Next Chapter – Chapter 16: OOPS and Buy Me Out Oh Baby Buy Me Out
BS found out about Learnology through the old reliable grapevine that is Facebook. I didn’t mind him knowing about it though. I wasn’t hiding it at all. He was (note the use of the past tense) a Facebook friend of mine, and I would share Learnology stuff on my page all the time, usually annoying the fuck out of my Facebook friends in the process. So, why didn’t I care if he knew about it? Because I had clearly asked him and Sean to be involved, and they turned it down.
However, as soon as BS saw the awesome, state of the art website that PWD had developed for Learnology, the line-up of teachers we had put together, the pictures of all the students in the classroom on our launch day etc. etc., he threw the biggest hissy fit ever known to humankind.
I received a barrage of emails and a torrent of abuse asking what the situation was. He claimed that I was ‘going off’ with the developer of another online grinds website and had set up a business that was in direct competition with OnlineGrinds.ie.
Here is one of the beautifully worded and stunningly formatted emails that BS sent me in relation to my starting Learnology (click to enlarge):
Learnology was no more in competition with OnlineGrinds.ie than Crayola chalk was in competition with Kilmeaden cheese. Indeed, according to the shareholder’s agreement to which he refers, the definition of the business of OnlineGrinds.ie was as follows:
As you can see, the definition of the business of OnlineGrinds.ie is as precise and to the point as can be. It doesn’t even mention the word grinds or grind schools. It relates solely to online tuition and broadcasting platforms. Quick question: Had I set up another business providing online tuition that had broadcasting platforms? I think not. I had set up a grinds school with no online or broadcasting elements whatsoever.
Incidentally, as stated in an earlier chapter, a business plan entitled ‘Proposal for Survival’ was sent to Sean on Wednesday 3rd July 2013. I guess BS was simply suffering from partial amnesia the day he sent that email, and the memory of him resigning as director of the company (which would result in him no longer having any say in the running of the company) had simply slipped his mind? Maybe our dwarves were plagued by a clan of brownies like in the movie Willow. Didn’t these brownies have some form of potion that could make you forget stuff? Yes, maybe somehow the brownies had come into contact with BS and had managed to put some amnesia potion into his earl grey tea. That MUST be the reason. It’s the most plausible reason I can think of, anyway.
Just so you are sure it was BS who was given the amnesia potion, and not I, below is a screenshot of the email I sent Sean with the ‘Proposal for Survival’ Business Plan attached:
So what was up with BS? Why did he appear to be in extreme agony? Was he giving birth to a miniature BS? Were the Brownies attacking him with their teeny weeny spears? What ailed him, at all at all? My guess is that he was now beginning to regret not having listened to me about the traditional grind school idea, now that he could see that Learnology was going to be a success.
Going a layer deeper still, maybe he was really pissed off with himself for having stated that he was no longer willing to do any work in the company, making it impossible for us to set up Learnology under the auspices of OnlineGrinds.ie, in any case.
Whatever way you look at it, one thing’s for sure, BS was extremely, exceptionally, extraordinarily, exceedingly JEALOUS. On the count of three, everybody say awwwwww 1………. 2……….3 (click below):
At this point I want to reiterate one thing very clearly, and for emphasis I will make it bold, CAPITALISED, AND THIS TIME IN AN FABULOUS SHADE OF MAROON:
I HAD INTENDED TO CONTINUE WORKING ON ONLINEGRINDS.IE (AS WELL AS LEARNOLOGY.IE) AND WAS INTENT ON MAKING THE TWO COMPANIES SUCCESSFUL
Just because I was working away on Learnology.ie, this didn’t mean that I had left OnlineGrinds.ie behind. In fact, I was still intent on pursuing the next available option. Option B (the broadband provider deal) didn’t work out, Option D (the traditional grinds school idea) was turned down (but I proceeded in any case with a new team), but there was still one option remaining; Option B (the freemium model of online grinds).
It would work a bit like Spotify where the grinds would be free to all and made possible by advertising. Free grinds would work better because (a) parents wouldn’t pay for online grinds in the first place, and (b) the inevitable tech issues would be tolerated as the service is free. My biggest concern, which I made abundantly clear to my partners, was that we did not have the technical capability of developing such a site. BS would not be able to do something like this. It would be like an ant trying to climb Mount Everest (SL).
I sent a proposal to the whole team this time (yes I guess I was feeling sorry for BS that day), but raised a serious concern that we didn’t have the technical capability to do something like this (which we hadn’t). A developer who specialised in websites of the vintage movement, fashionable and all as they may be, would not be able to come up with something like this.
The first person to reply to my proposal was BS. Here is his exact email:
The only acknowledgement of my new idea was that ‘technology wouldn’t be the issue’. There was no discussion apart from this. The focus of his email shifted firmly back to my association with Learnology.ie. This email amazed me to the point that I fell off my chair (again). I think ‘dumbfounded’ would be the most apt word to describe how I felt on receipt of this email. But why was I so gob smacked? Was it because his email was all about Learnology, Learnology, Learnology and because almost no attention had been given to the freemium idea? Meh.
The aspect of the email that I found much much much much much much more shocking (in a tremendously good, and most surprising way), was that BS had actually managed to write an email that contained only 2 lines. This was unprecedented. He had clearly beaten his personal best for the shortest email ever written in all time. What a feat. I was willing to buy this man a pint. This was an achievement worthy of celebration.
Realising however, that this email was very out of character, an aberration as it were, BS sent a second email a few minutes later. I can’t include his entire email here however, as I don’t think WordPress would have enough space on their server to include it all, but here is the general gist:
Yeah, I hear what you are saying, focus shifted back to Learnology again. As you can see, it got to the point that no matter what ideas I came up with to grow OnlineGrinds.ie, they were all shot down on the basis of my involvement with Learnology. Of course I have my suspicions that this may have been an attempt to cover up the fact that he would not be able to develop the freemium site. In any case, whether he had the wherewithal to develop the site or not is secondary, as he had already stated that he wasn’t going to do any more work for the company.
So, getting ever so slightly annoyed with BS now, I sent him an email saying that he needed to forget about my involvement with Learnology and that it was quite literally none of his business. I told him that we can’t let Learnology distract us from progressing OnlineGrinds.ie. Below is his response:
So, he had now confirmed a second time, that he was no longer going to carry out any ‘non critical work’. Note that he neglected to define exactly what non critical work was. As far as I was concerned, all his work was critical. He was the tech partner in a tech company, for fuck sake.
It now got to the point where BS was actually preventing me from furthering OnlineGrinds.ie. He had said he was no longer going to do any work, and whenever I came up with any new ideas for how we could get OnlineGrinds.ie out of the shit pit it was in, and into profitability, he would ignore these and perpetually focus on my involvement with Learnology. Needless to say we got nowhere with my idea of a freemium online grinds website. 3 options tried, 3 options failed.
Oh and guess what, in January 2014, an e-learning company called Alison entered the leaving cert grinds market with free online grinds, made possible by advertising. My freemium model idea was proposed back in the summer of 2013. Again, while I am not trying to blow my own trumpet, trombone or french horn, this was the second time that BS made the mistake of not listening to me.
Next Chapter – Chapter 14: Let’s Get Dirty
When the deal with UPC didn’t pan out, I contemplated putting out a contract on BS. The quotes were vastly more expensive than I could afford, and represented very bad value for money, so I scrapped the idea and went back to the drawing board. Option B (the deal with a broadband provider) didn’t work, but there was still option D (the traditional grind school idea).
Being acutely aware of the quantum of cash a south Dublin grind school was making, I decided I wanted a slice of this pie. I therefore proposed to the partners in OnlineGrinds.ie that we go back to basics and develop a traditional grinds school where we would hire the best teachers in the country to come into a traditional classroom setting to deliver low cost, high quality grinds.
Online vs. Traditional
Having given one-to-one French grinds for over ten years, it is very easy to distinguish the student who is doing grinds because the mammy wants them to, from the student who is doing the grinds off their own bat. The ratio is approximately 4:1, in my humble opinion. Therefore 4 out of every 5 students doing grinds are doing them because of their mammy. The mammy has never, and will never, be in favour of online grinds. Why? To some extent because of cyber bullying, to a greater extent because of social media, and most importantly, because of internet porn.
There is a lack of control when you send Johnny up to his room to learn. You might think he is getting a lesson from stentorian Dr Clarke, but in actual fact it could just as easily be Miss Johnson:
The mammy would much prefer to rock up to Leeson Street or the Stillorgan Park Hotel in her SUV and drop off the kids, thereby offloading the control to a professional human (as opposed to computer), for an hour or two. They would be much more prepared to pay for this than they would for an online grind. So, if online grinds are to work, it is only for the 1 in 5 student. Considering grinds are not a necessity, and given the broadband we have in this country (not to mention the technical incapability on our end) (SL), this made for pretty slim pickings when it came to the online grinds business model.
What I am going to say next is exceedingly important. Possibly one of the most important things you will read in this blog. It was my intention that we, i.e. Sean, BS and I, set up the traditional grind school TOGETHER. I gave them every opportunity to embark on this journey with me. I repeat, this time in bold, CAPITALISED and in an odd shade of violet:
I GAVE THEM EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO EMBARK ON THIS JOURNEY WITH ME.
As Sean was the only other director in the company, I sent him a business plan entitled ‘Proposal For Survival’. The basis of this plan was that we would go down the traditional route of human teaching, and broadcast the grinds online. Effectively, the money would come from the humans, and as we didn’t make any money from the online wing before, we probably wouldn’t here either, at least not for the next 80-90 years or so.
If I were to sum up Sean’s reaction in one word, I would use the word ‘meh’. For those of you who don’t know what this word means, here is the urban dictionary definition:
Given the fact that BS had unilaterally taken the decision to resign as director only a few weeks previously, I decided not to send him the business plan. Business plans are a privilege for directors only, and as BS had resigned, he was undeserving of this privilege.
When he got wind of the idea, he reacted in a similar vein to Sean, although his reaction was a little less indifferent. It veered more towards the negative. He did not want to divert from the business model of live and interactive grinds. He thought that this model worked just fine. But sure, why would he think any differently? If he had actually been present for more than one live grind, and actually in the country every now and then, he might have seen the light. But no, for some reason the Chief Technology Officer does not have to be present in the studio for live broadcasts (SL).
Another obvious reason (in my opinion) for his reluctance to embrace the new model was that it would most probably require extra work on his part.
Despite the fact that he wasn’t a director of the company, he still made his opinion on the traditional grind school be known. As you can see below in another one of his enchanting emails, he tells me I “need to park this offline school plan” and concentrate on “getting more money into the company”. He must have thought that the dwarves were bored shitless and needed something to do. In fact, I was convinced that his motivation for getting in more money was to keep the Ballymun bonfire alight and the dwarves in gainful employment. Surely he couldn’t have been as deluded as to think that there would be any other destination for this money???
Incidentally, he also reiterates that he has no intention of doing any more development work. See below (click to enlarge as usual):
Excuse me for a minute. I just need to pick myself up off the ground and settle into my seat again. Did I just read that he would be able to meet up at some point the week later? I mean, we wouldn’t have to wait a couple of months before we were graced with the presence of one of the most important partners in a company? The tech partner of a tech company?
Anyway, I am now left with a decision. Not an easy one. I founded a website. Took on a loser to develop it. The concept failed. We lost 64 grand. I now needed to start something new and get a return on my investment of nearly 3 years sweat equity as well as a return for our investor Sean, who put in €80k of his own money. A return for BS wasn’t top of my priority list, as a return implies that something was invested in the first place (SL).
So, my partners do not want to go down the road of a tried and tested model and start to actually make money for a change. They want to continue along the path of futility. What do I do? What I do is I truck on with the idea. If I can’t get my own partners to start the school with me because (a) they are not interested and (b) BS has clearly advised he is no longer willing to work, I find other people who are. Please note however that this did not mean for one minute that I was abandoning ship. I was intent on starting a traditional school but was not going to let my partners prevent me from doing so. Just because they didn’t want to join me didn’t mean I wanted to leave them. I had absolutely no intention of leaving OnlineGrinds.ie. Its success was still as important to me then as it was the day I founded it. Even if the lads didn’t buy into the traditional school idea, and despite the fact that BS was no longer willing to work, I was sure there were other avenues to explore with OnlineGrinds.ie, and miracles that could be performed therein.
But let me reiterate one more time, and my sincere apologies for my repetition, but it has to be said:
Regardless of whether Sean thought it was a good idea or not, given the fact that BS was not going to do any more work, there was NO WAY WHATSOEVER that the traditional grind school could be set up by Stenson Institute Ltd., trading as OnlineGrinds.ie. I had NO CHOICE but to look outside the company for help to achieve this goal.
So, I met with an actual web developer who shall remain nameless. For now let’s call him proper web dude (PWD). There was one main difference between BS and PWD; PWD was actually good. He was the type of guy I should have taken on in the first place. He was a hoody-wearing, idea-generating, beard-inhabiting, intelligent, bright, articulate guy. He was excited about challenges and could always find a way of developing whatever website functionality you wanted, regardless of the technical scope. He relished the challenges I gave him, and the ones he gave himself. He was an owner of the business. Its success was as important to him as it was for me. Whenever I gave BS a task to complete, he would reply with two words, “Phase Two”. Everything we wanted him to do was put on a list called “Phase Two tasks”. He would not work on any of these tasks until we entered Phase Two of development (SL). Needless to say Phase Two never came. With PWD, I would give him a task and it would usually be done sometime that afternoon.
So now that I had a PWD for the traditional grind school, we needed money. We put up a proposal on a number of investment networks and within a week or two we had an investor on board. He was younger than us, but had brains that were literally bursting out of his head. His head was a rather odd shape, but I always put this down to an over presence of neural tissue within his skull (SL). For the purposes of this, let’s call this man Mr Brain Box (MBB).
MBB was relatively square, certainly not the type of bloke you would find off his head at Electric Picnic. But where he lacked in his ability to let loose, he made up in multiple measures in his ability to compute and develop complex spreadsheets. He was an ace when it came to finance, and as tight as a granny’s crack. He would never pay a bill until at least the second demand. Even the money I spent on my lunch would be scrutinised and examined with a fine tooth comb. Gone were the days of going to Canal Bank Café for my usual staple lunch of chicken wings. It was a €3 chicken fillet roll in Spar from here on in. MBB was just what we needed.
This line up of PWD’s technical expertise, MBB’s financial competence and my semi-dangerous marketing skills, made for a pretty stellar team. Having come up with a number of different names for our business, we decided in the end to call it Learnology.
Next Chapter – Chapter 12: Learnology – Say Goodbye to EGGS
Despite all the negativity I have asserted in relation to the live and interactive online grinds business model, the company DID generate SOME money. In fact, we made the guts of €16,000. Not bad considering we invested €80,000……or……wait a minute……that’s a loss of €64,000……hmmmm……perhaps not so good after all.
One of our Junior Cert students could probably tell you that a business model such as ours was not sustainable. So, something drastic needed to be done. We needed a new plan. Rather than drawing up a plan as to how many hours I would work and how many I wouldn’t, I decided to come up with some new ideas for the company. These were as follows:
A – Review the model of live and interactive grinds – develop a freemium model
If you remember back to our free trial grinds, we got 70-80 students logging in to watch each class. This was partially due to some students logging in to extract the urine from their own teacher, the most eminent, stentorian doctor, but largely due to the fact that these grinds were free. Free grinds would work wonders. Why? (a) The mammy is not going to pay for them anyway and (b) the multitude of tech issues that will inevitably arise would be tolerated, as the service is free. So, if you have paid to watch a geography grind, and it cuts out half way, never to return, you can simply leave the site and go have much more fun on Xtube. Everything is hunky dory; there is no real worry, as the service was free in the first place.
So, if we could make all our classes free and monetise with advertising revenue, this could potentially work, in fact I was pretty sure it would work. If we started with 70-80 students logging in, we could potentially end up with thousands watching for free. But did we have the technical capability to develop something like this, tech-issue free? Even if we did have the capability, was our tech partner willing to put in anymore work? Both of these questions are rhetorical, obviously.
B – Set up meetings with broadband providers and do a deal along the lines of Eircom Study Hub
For those of you not familiar with Eircom Studyhub, it’s a service available to Eircom customers where exam students can access video tutorials as part of a bundle. The videos are provided by a company called Exam Support (hi John if you are reading, big hug) but they are recorded as opposed to live (the sensible approach). Students who are not with Eircom can pay a small fee to Exam Support to watch the videos.
Could we partner up with another broadband provider? The obvious partner at the time was UPC. They didn’t have anything education-related in their portfolio, they were the only provider of fibre power broadband (at the time), and most importantly, they wanted to be ahead of Eircom at every bend. And what better way to achieve this than to enter the education space with live online grinds where students could ask questions in real time, as opposed to recorded videos with no interactivity.
C – Focus on other disciplines – the grinds industry was limited to Ireland – TEFL online, adult learning, corporate training
No matter what we would do to try to make our business work, or what we would be restricted from doing technically, one thing was for sure: the grinds industry was a limited pot. It applied simply and uniquely to Ireland and was only worth €40m p.a. If we wanted to really make money, our business would have to reach further. Our focus needed to be global. But given the fact that BS had put a limit on his time commitment already, and was not willing to put in any more work, we were stuck with the IT infrastructure he had already developed. If we were to enter new global markets (such as TEFL online), we would need to use the website framework already in place for OnlineGrinds.ie. For those of you who have read the book The Lean Startup and who are familiar with the term Minimum Viable Product, we didn’t have an MVP.
D – Do away with the online element, go back to basics with a traditional grind school
Being acutely aware of the quantum of cash being generated by south Dublin bricks and mortar grind schools, and being equally aware of the Irish-dancing dwarves fucking our cash into the Ballymun bonfire, I decided that maybe online grinds wasn’t the way forward. Maybe we needed to go back to basics and start a traditional grind school, with human being teachers as opposed to computers. Could we start a traditional grind school and possibly broadcast the grinds online? This was an eminent possibility.
Possible Deal with UPC
Of all the above options, some seemed more feasible than others. B and D seemed to be the most doable. So, I began with option B. I approached all the major broadband providers single-handedly. I am not saying I did this alone because I want to blow my own trumpet, or because I am looking for praise, I simply want to point out that BS had no involvement in approaching these companies, or coming up with any ideas on how to further the company generally.
Having made contact with all the major providers, I heard back from one a day later. It was QSAT broadband, Niall Quinn’s company. We met with a guy from QSAT out in the Red Cow hotel and had a very interesting chat on how our two companies could work together and how we could potentially enter the North African market and bring online education to the folks down there. This was exciting. So, all QSAT needed were log in details so they could see how our system worked. We gave them a log in, but alas we never heard back from them. I wonder why. Could it be that there were tech issues? Your guess is as good as mine, but I distinctly remember around this time that there were major issues with our archive. The user kept getting the error message ‘Error Loading File’ and no video would play. Absolute disaster. To this day I wonder is this why we never heard back from QSAT.
A few weeks later, I was paying for a few shirts at the till in M&S on Grafton street and I heard a dog barking. It wasn’t a poodle shopping for slim fit shirts, it was the ring tone on my mobile. I answered the phone and there was a gent called Kevin from UPC on the other end. He wanted me to come in to UPC HQ to have a chat about a possible deal.
Despite much of an urge to pee in my pants with excitement, I managed to hold it in. However, I am sure the girl behind the counter thought I had just received a phone call saying that my lotto syndicate had just struck it lucky, or something along those lines. Such was the message the grin on my mug would have given off.
Kevin asked me to bring my tech partner along on the day, and as I don’t have a degree in email writing and feel much more comfortable relaying messages over the phone, I picked up the mobile and called BS. The appointment was entered into the diaries on my iPhone and BS’ Samsung Galaxy (he doesn’t do Apple – another reason why he was never a real developer).
On the morning of the appointment, suited and booted, BS collected me in his convertible Audi, roof down and all. We were men about town and we were going to do a deal with one of the biggest players in Irish broadband. We were invincible. And for a number of minutes, I was able to put the BS of BS to one side and concentrate on what lay ahead; riches beyond our wildest dreams.
We met with Kevin and showed him what we did. I spent the majority of the meeting worrying that he may not have been au fait with the vintage website movement that pervaded the industry at the time, and that he may have been unimpressed by the fact that our website looked like it had been designed back in 1992. However, he seemed to like the look of the site and the concept generally. Luckily he was aware of the new trend.
After about a 20 minute chat, Kevin announced that he would go and pretend to be a student for a while, watch a few live and archive grinds, and get back to us in a few days. With this declaration, something in the pit of my stomach began to feel very heavy. I began to feel quite unwell. The feeling of déjà-vu I experienced was so intense that I think I actually had a black out, with no drink taken. When I woke up from this momentary, hellish-nightmare-filled black out, the voice in my head was shouting at me (it normally spoke). The crux of the message was: “Remember what happened with QSAT???”. “Oh fuck”, I said (to myself).
Low and behold, a few days later, we received an email from Kevin in UPC. Below are his EXACT words along with the screen shot he sent via email:
I really wish I could say I was surprised and taken aback by his email. Unfortunately, I can’t. During my black out in the UPC offices, I had a premonition. In this premonition was a vivid vision of this email. The email I received from Kevin resembled the vision so closely, that I’d swear I have clairvoyant tendencies and am considering taking up a new career as Mystic Mike.
Premonitions, visions and hellish nightmares aside for a minute. For a student (the user) to get an error message like this, or worse again, their parents (the customer), with no reasonable explanation given, is catastrophic. But for a guy from one of the biggest broadband providers in Ireland getting this error message? The word doesn’t exist; at least I am not familiar with any word which would appropriately describe the gravity of this kind of fuck up.
Needless to say the deal with UPC never panned out.
Next Chapter – Chapter 11: Back to Basics