Thursday, May 20, 2004

Picking up where I left off...January, 2002

OK, so, I guess I should get back to my chronological account of what happened with my company, FUEL new york....

Around this time, in early January 2002, I’d received an unusual call from my mother. She was crying. As you might imagine, being Japanese, this is a truly rare occasion, and I can literally count the number of times I have heard or seen my mother cry on a single hand. This was serious. I was somewhat shocked since I'd spent some time with my parents on New Year Day, just a few days before, and they seemed fine as usual -- I asked her to take a breath and tell me what was wrong, and she was immediately apologetic, which I assured her she needn’t be.

She'd begun to share with me that, due to financial problems my father was having -- the Japanese bubble had burst and the economy there was still declining -- this, in conjunction with 911, there was a severe drop in Japanese business coming to my father. My mother was upset as it appeared that, in order to make ends meet, they may have to sell their beloved property in Westchester, where they'd lived in for over a decade, the property they'd spent a significant amount of energy (and money) into renovating.

I knew that, even with the slowing economy, their Westchester property was worth well into seven figures. Thankfully, I'm a little more familiar with the American financing system/industry in some respects than my parents, and I assured her immediately that the property needn't be sold -- there were other ways to leverage the property. I told her that, as hard a pill as it may be to swallow, they could rent their property out to someone, and as much as it would be difficult to have to move and to let someone else live in their property, it would allow them to retain ownership. Further, the money coming in from rent would likely be enough to provide them with a comfortable enough base income to make minimal adjustments to their lives. Plus, if they did want to ultimately sell the property, it would allow them to buy some time to ride out the economic slowdown, allowing them to sell the property for a lot more, should they choose to down the road.

This seemed to calm her, and we talked some more before deciding that I should come out there to talk it over dinner with both my parents. My father decided that the renting route was the way to go, and they needed to act on the decision relatively quickly -- their financial situation was fairly dire.

As you may recall from my earlier postings, at this point, Jeremy Tick and I’d decided fairly conclusively to move ahead with FUEL new york, mostly based on Jeremy Tick’s repeated assurance that we would be certain to make well into six figures with this venture by the end of the year (again, which was why I’d made sure we’d met with Steve Kleiner, my financial advisor at UBS). However, given my core apathy for the fashion industry (I couldn’t care for the “glamour” of the industry --having grown up in New York most my life and being of relatively down-to-earth constitution, I was jaded by the glitz), I was still not emotionally committed to the idea, which is why I was still entertaining the idea of the job in Tokyo with Siebel Systems.

In addition to the apathy, given my lack of experience in the industry, the only reason I was interested in the venture at the time was for the experience of helping build and running a business -- as I used to frequently say to potential models and other colleagues: “I want this to be a business, that happens to be a model agency.” Since day one, I didn’t want to have much contact with the industry people, given my sentiment regarding poseurs in general I mentioned before in a separate post and given that this industry was ripe with poseurs more so than any other given industry, and my main focus was on the back-office.

After having had the discussion with my parents in regard to their financial situation, however, it became more definitive that this was no time for me to go to Japan...even with the plan of renting the property and seeking somewhere else to live, it was going to be a time of tremendous change and stress for my parents. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I'm an only child and my parents haven't much family here in the States (another long story I will get to later on...) -- my parents and I were a small unit of mutual support that needed to stick close, especially during trying times, which were certain to come (albeit in a far different manner than anyone might have imagined at that specific point in time...!).

That night, upon returning from my parents' and to my apartment in Manhattan, I'd told Jeremy Tick that our venture, FUEL new york, had to work. It was at this point I'd made my full emotional commitment to the venture -- if in fact Jeremy Tick was right in his repeated assurances that we would be generating "well into six-figures by year end," I would be in the position to remain in close quarters with my family, and I could look to picking up where I'd just left off with Accenture within a year as far as income was concerned.

The decision was final -- that night, I sent Geofferey Dallas at Siebel an e-mail, communicating the decision. I'd followed up with him with a phone call explaining that I needed to remain close with my family, and that regretfully, I was not in the position to be able to relocate to Japan at that time.

In retrospect, to be fair, I should have been a lot more skeptical in believing Jeremy Tick outright, especially what with my past experience in reading and helping prepare business plans for other start-ups -- rarely do you see companies making profits within the first year of operation. However, it was an industry I was wholly unfamiliar with, and, on paper, there was minimal overhead -- the bare minimum needed to operate the company was a live telephone line (at least as we knew at that time). With such minimal overhead, and given that one of my ex’s was making six figures a year as a model, barely working four months in total per year, it wasn’t infeasible that with 15-20 models we were aiming for, we could be generating six figures in profits within the year.

Finally, both Steve Kleiner and I had the repeated assurances of Jeremy Tick (whom we thought was) a Skidmore grad who had worked at John Hancock. Upon having reviewed all of the contact information we'd collected over New Year's, Jeremy Tick was even more confident we could do it, and to his defense, he probably did really think he could achieve those figures, likely because of his minimal brain power. Unfortunately for all, his guestimation was FAR FAR off the target, as we would discover relatively soon.

All posts regarding FUEL new york have now been separated out to its own blog, which can be found here.

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