Here’s what happens in every meeting I have with investors: They ask about my divorce.
Many people ask about my divorce. Usually it’s because the person cares about me. But with the investors, there is no pretense. They just want to know if Nino is going to get a large percentage of my stock in the settlement. The risk to them is that at some point, Nino would have so much stock in my company that it wouldn’t be worth my time to continue doing the company. The investors want to make sure they don’t get involved in a situation like this.
So I assure the investors it won’t happen, but honestly, I have to work hard to make that true.
For the most part, divorce is a divide-down-the-middle thing. For an entrepreneur with a venture backed start-up, the trick is finding the middle. Because there’s no perfect way to figure out the value of the company. I try to make the company look valuable enough that I can pay off our debt and support the kids, but not so valuable that Nino thinks it’s his ticket to divorce heaven.
My lawyer, Allan, sees it as his job to put the fear of God in me: If I cash out big and it turns out I mislead people in the divorce proceeding, then Nino can come after me for everything. “Just be honest” is what Allan tells me. For $400 an hour.
I refer him to the blog post where I say that lying on one’s resume is an art form and honesty is not black and white.
He tells me that divorce law is different from career advice.
I say I think the difference is that career advice has more than a one-time use.
Allan thinks this is not true because he thinks that one day I will divorce the farmer. He says, “Your farmer has land in the middle of nowhere. If you like farmers, I have a farmer for you. He owns the land at the end of [sworn to secrecy — major road in Wisconsin]. And he just sold a bunch.”
I remind Allan about how pissed off he was when I wrote a post about the last guy he set me up with.
Allan concurs: I am a nightmare to set up on a date.
This conversation takes place on the short walk to the building to meet Nino and his lawyer.
Allan asks me how I’m feeling about custody.
This is why I like Allan. He cares about me. He is thinking of the flurry of phone calls I made to him after I read that women who make a lot of money are losing custody to their husbands who make no money.
“Where did you read that?” Allan asked.
“In the London Mail.”
Allan said, “Forget it. This is Madison. Don’t worry about it. If you want to know what to worry about, worry about the company.”
I didn’t know if I should believe Allan. I didn’t know if I should worry. I have so many mentors who help me with my start-up: almost all of them are men, and all are extremely generous with their time and ideas. But none has experience losing custody as a mom.
So I asked Nino one day, when it was our three-year-old’s birthday and I was premenstrual and I forgot half of the goodie bags, “Do you think we parent equally or do you think you do more?”
He said, “I think you do way more than I do.”
I said, “Really?” I should have recorded it or something. But instead, I cried.
He said, “Could we just have a normal birthday party? No crying?”
Okay. So, flash forward, to the meeting with our lawyers. And in our ongoing quest to be normal, Nino and I sit in the room and we try to do niceties. But niceties are difficult for me and Nino. Not because we are not nice to each other, but because we are bad with small talk. I feel an affinity to him when both of us are befuddled during lawyer small talk about the weather and the Badgers.
We get down to business. Which is the business of figuring out how much my business is worth.
Nino’s lawyer, Steve, is worried that my business is stupid and I’ll never be able to pay off our debt. He says, “So much of the business is you. What if people start saying bad things about you?”
I say, “Haven’t you been reading my blog?”
Nino says, “No. I told him not to. I thought it would be too expensive.”
Steve says, “I’ve looked at it.”
I say, “Did you like it?”
Steve smiles. Or maybe he says yes. I can’t remember. But I remember getting the distinct feeling that he would let me use his name in my blog posts even though Allan told me to never use Steve’s name.
Me: Didn’t you see the comments? People tell me I’m an idiot all the time.
Steve: Well. I didn’t see that. But I saw the letter to the editor in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Allan: I have it right here.
Me: What? What is that? A scrapbook?
Allan: Yeah. Sort of. Here is where you were covered in the New York Times. Steve, did you see this?
Steve: Oh. What is this?
Me: Let me see the letter to the editor. Oh, this is just some over-educated person from Madison whining about how her graduate degree mattered.
[I look up. The lawyers are lost in the clips. Nino is shaking his head incredulously. Then everyone looks up.]
Me: I get hundreds of comments each week saying how stupid I am.
Steven: Really? I think I don’t understand how the business works. I thought you were an authority.
Me: It’s a fine line, stupidity and authority.
Nino: [giddy at the line of questioning] Oh, do you think so?
Steven: Can you explain the company again? How do you tell investors that you are going to make money from this thing?
Me: Well, I think the way I explained it last time probably didn’t work for you. So, I have an idea. Would you like me to give you the pitch I give to investors?
Me: Should I stand? I usually stand.
Me: Well, I usually have a PowerPoint presentation as well.
Allan: We can imagine it.
Allan is excited that I’m going to do the pitch. He thinks our best-case scenario is if Nino and his lawyer understand the company very clearly. Allan says they’ll leave all the stock to me if they see it’s in everyone’s best interest.
So it turns out that the key to a good divorce is good communication. Hilarious. For people who are not us.
I look over at Nino. He’s never even asked me what my company does. I am secretly happy to finally tell him. I think he should be more curious.
I do the pitch. At first I sort of tone it down, but then I get rolling. I realize that I don’t need the PowerPoint. I say, “We aggregate people who blog about their careers.” Then I talk about how great the bloggers on our network are: “Super-engaged employees that employers are looking for.” I toss around some financial estimates and explain, “We encourage employers to recruit by having a conversation in the blogosphere.”
Steve says he thinks that companies don’t know what blogs are.
Steve says he doesn’t see an employee shortage in Madison law firms.
These are not good observations. I worry that I have not explained things well.
But then Nino says, “That stuff is not going to be a problem. The problem is that the PR people won’t want to let everyone talk to bloggers.”
I say, “Nino’s right. That’s the weak link in the plan. He’s so smart. That’s why I married him.”