The entrepreneur’s guide to a good divorce settlement

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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?

Steve: Sure.

Me: Should I stand? I usually stand.

Steve: Okay.

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.”

84 replies
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  1. rennie
    rennie says:

    I find reading blogs a lot like reading Ann Landers – I learn so much about life, both from the author and the comments.

    Yet there’s nothing that guarantees any of them to be completely factual. They’re not journalism, after all, and never claimed to be. For all we know, Penelope isn’t going through a divorce or even has kids. Whatever. But, hey, including the personal tidbits of her life (whether true or not) sure adds spice to her topic and keeps her readership going.

    Isn’t that her whole motive? And isn’t that an example of successful marketing?

    Here’s a fact, as much as we hate to admit it: Our personal lives and our career often intersect (thus the point of this blog). PT is a career columnist. She offers career advise. Good advice would include managing the intersection.

    And how should she offer this advice?

    The first thing we learn in journalism school is “show” the reader, not “tell” the reader. Penelope can simply tell us her advice and we’ll all be in snoozeville. Instead, she shows us with supposedly real life examples and we stay addictively interested. And what better way to establish credibility than to use yourself as the example.

    I find it humorous whenever people bash PT’s blog. They say it’s worthless and pathetic, yet they keep coming back for more. Hmm, what does that say about them?!

  2. Jason Monastra
    Jason Monastra says:

    I was referred to this blog and frankly was quite taken aback. I write a blog ( myself focusing on career advice and navigating the job search process. I will say that your approach and subject matter are outstanding and this post encompasses the true intersection with work and life. I love it. Nice job and glad I came across your site.

  3. Charles
    Charles says:

    I have to agree with IRG. If I was an investor, I would be tempted to pull out after reading posts about your divorce. As someone who gives career advice for a living as well, I know there are times to inject relevant personal stories as a means of empathy, motivation and to support a point.

    But one has to wonder what your point is by injecting all this personal drama into a career advice blog? (Especially dragging the farmer into this fray?) Admittedly the blog has some soap opera attraction which is likely to keep readership high during your divorce, but consider your ultimate goals. Do blogs such as the above really give career advice or is it more of a personal platform for venting?


  4. Ann
    Ann says:

    J — I wouldn’t have responded to the blog personally if I hadn’t e-mailed Penelope several times in her previous companies. Don’t assume. Remember the old adage….

  5. Dave the Volleyball Mgr.
    Dave the Volleyball Mgr. says:

    Being also trained as a mediator – my advice is to read “Getting to Yes” authored by the Harvard Mediation Project. I this circumstance coming a year ago or so when I initially began reading your blog. I have empathy for what has occurred in Nino’s professional career (life happens) and I believe that if Nino had either went back to grad school or hell, drove a tractor trailor for Schneider National (at 50K per year) – I believe they’d still be together.

    Penelope – your first start up is your marriage and you gave up. What’s more disturbing is that having been a professional athlete, not giving up ought to have been ingrained within your being.

    Of course no one in the blogosphere knows each side to each of your concerns. I’m pretty sure Nino became clinically depressed from his career “imploding” (as reported by you), however as a spouse or helpmate your reponsibility was for you to help him through that period spiritually, emotionally, etc. You appear to have been very transparent throughout all of this, so I suppose if you didn’t report on it – it may not have occurred. Even if Nino had taken a job as a security guard, his inherent worth as a provider, husband, father etc. ought not to have been questioned, so long as he attempted to provide etc.

    Divorce ought not be a spectator sport – I probably won’t read any more entires addressing your divorce.

    Dave the Volleyball Mgr.

  6. Nino
    Nino says:

    I have something to say about grad school, since Dave brought it up.

    I actually applied to and got into a good graduate program for Public Policy, but couldn’t get enough financial aid.

    I weighed the long-term cost of paying off school loans versus the marginal increase my salary would have seen over several years (non-profit salaries being comparitively lower, even with a grad degree) and the time I would be away from my kids while I was in school, and I decided it wasn’t worth it.

    So there’s your intersection of work and life.

  7. Grace
    Grace says:

    I don’t find the business idea of blogging so hard to understand. We’ve all heard of companies that primarily exist to create networking opportunities. I see blogging as a creative networking tool that can really connect people in the business community.

  8. Grace
    Grace says:

    If I were an investor, and I saw this post, I would put even more money into the company. Do you see the interest that she is generating? Incredible. I am starting to believe the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

  9. Grace
    Grace says:

    Sometimes people are more successful when they are disliked by a lot of people (Donald Trump, anyone?)I think it is interesting that someone said, “I probably won't read any more entires addressing your divorce.” But this person is going to keep on reading other entries. And I bet they will still peek at your posts on Penelope’s relationships. Sometimes we get entertainment from a train wreck. (Sorry Penelope – not all your relationships are train wrecks!)

  10. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    "There are two sides to every pancake, no matter how thin the batter." Love that! I’m surprised no one mentioned yesterday’s NY Times article ‘Blogging’s Glass Ceiling,’ about the BlogHer conference in SF. Take heart, Penelope – apparently most women bloggers struggle to be taken seriously!

  11. Greg
    Greg says:

    Nino, if you get the feeling someone is behind you, following you a little too closely or watching you and glancing away just as you turn to catch her stare, call the police. It’s likely Ann. Seems like she might be a bit over-protective of Penelope, maybe some sort of unrequited love. In the near future I think Ann will be subject of some dark, sinister thriller loosely based on interviews conducted from her prison cell.

  12. Jenflex
    Jenflex says:

    I think that’s what I love about blog feedback the most: when the community handles a silly comment. @Ann — really, curmudgeon is right (and his comments are clear, which is more than you can claim). You didn’t so much want PT to hear what you had to say as it seems you wanted her readership to take note of your insight and (ahem) personal connection with PT.
    (And besides, the way I heard it, there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and what really happened.)

  13. Dara
    Dara says:

    Greg, that’s the funniest comment I’ve read in a long time. Honestly, if I were an investor, I would be highly intrigued, but unsure of whether or not I should pull the trigger.

    This site generates a lot of publicity and response. Penelope, her life, work is interesting, disturbing, whatever…but it “sells” or does it? That’s the question investors are probably musing over. Does this sell? I don’t know that there’s an answer.

  14. MJ
    MJ says:

    Ann, are you also “Theresa”? Because she’s also overprotective of PT and fights like a girl.

  15. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    I have only left one comment here ever, because your idiocy was just mind-boggling. And it had nothing to do with whether I like or dislike Penelope. Glad it was memorable, though. :)

  16. rennie
    rennie says:

    >>Ann, are you also "Theresa"? Because she's also overprotective of PT and fights like a girl.<<

    Interesting point! One has to wonder how many names posting are not aliases of the same person? In fact, some of them could be PT and Nino themselves. Think how they could be feeding the conversation along!

    Which leads to questions investors should ask before basing their decisions on a blog: Do comments determine the readership/success of a blog? And is someone’s success elsewhere determined by the success of their blog?

  17. Roger
    Roger says:

    I find it interesting that having now entered into your divorce/negotiations you seem to have stopped bragging about your success. It’s all so tenuous. . . now. I sure hope you’re not looking to cheat Nino by characterizing your company’s earning potential as depressed after all you’ve said.

    Ann, you sound like Chris Crocker.

  18. avant garde designer
    avant garde designer says:

    This topic has digressed to the listserve mentality of ten years ago. You know, where we used to subscribe to an email list and receive 500 emails a day, all of which were back and forth lame, off-topic arguments of what originally was a legitimate subject…

    I remember thinking to myself, how does anyone get any work done? How am I going to get work done if I don’t cut myself off?

    PT, hurry up and put up a new post before we all kill one another. Or, get fired.

  19. Mike
    Mike says:

    “Here's what happens in every meeting I have with investors: They ask about my divorce. Usually it's because the person cares about me.”

    Hmmm.. a lot of unusual men that you meet.

    Judging by your picture, I would think that they’d be asking about your divorce so they could ask you out, instead of talking about money.

  20. Tim
    Tim says:

    You are a narcissist. You blog about your marriage counseling and divorce with no realization that you only have your own perspective and you are blind to so much. From what I have read you have never loved your husband, you have only loved yourself.

  21. dblanchard
    dblanchard says:

    I’ve read maybe 30 of your posts and really enjoy your blog. While I enjoy the career advice, I am realizing that like the farmer, I mainly read it for the personal stuff, which seems odd to me. The other blogs I read aren’t at all personal, and I feel almost like a stalker reading your private journal.

    Anyhow, even having read many posts, I didn’t know you had a business and was actually surprised that you do. It also seems that even with low levels of communication between your husband and yourself, he would have a fair idea of what you do, and what your business does. I’m still a little confused though. I’ve been through the site, and I’m still not sure what your company does. “Aggregating blogs” is clear enough, but how do you make money on that?

    I’m not trying to be critical; I’d really like to understand, and I think a post on it would be a good read. If you’ve already written one, would you tag it with something distinct?



  22. la petite belle
    la petite belle says:

    I agree with whoever said this is blogging at it’s finest. And I have to say. Penelope, your blogging is so addictive. I cannot stop reading your posts!! Even your old ones.

  23. Tina
    Tina says:

    Hi Penelope. This post was a hoot! Somehow, business-wise, I think it will all work out. After all, you’re an entrepreneurial genius!

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