There are certain life-changing events that happen, and they stick in the memory for years afterwards. And one such is when I parted company with First Alternative, for whom I had been exclusively training for the best part of 10 years - initially as an employee and then as a contractor. This was an arrangement which suited them because they could cancel the courses at short notice and not have to pay me, and it suited me because it allowed me to develop Well House Consultants materials and sell the places on courses at First Alternative which (earlier) were sold through their catalogue exclusively. I have not written about this in the past; far more important to get on than look back ... but an email that asked me about it has lead me to write as follows.
I presented a week long Perl course in that August , and Lisa joined me for an evening meeting with Mick, where we were to discuss the program for 2001. We had prepared a steady growth plan, and were fully prepared to present our initial proposal under which both Mick Hosegood / First Alternative AND ourselves would benefit dramatically, taking advantage of all the building up work we had been doing on the Perl and Java courses.
Lisa and I were taken aback - shocked - when Mick asked us about one of our own contacts and suggested that we had accepted a direct order from that contact as a result of stealing the sales lead from him. We were accused of taking a copy of his database too. Pointing out that we had taken an order from a different company to the one that the sales lead in question referred to, based in a totally different city, didn't wash. Pointing out that people shop around and they had found us independently didn't wash. "I don't want to hear anything. You have just completed the last course you will ever give for me. Please give me your key and leave now" ....
I would say that we denied stealing a copy of the database (for that is in effect what we were accused of), but we didn't. We weren't given a chance to say anything - we had been tried and found guilty before we even walked in to that meeting. "Kangaroo Court" we felt!
But they do say that revenge is sweet, don't they? I'll admit to taking pleasure in hearing, a year or two later, of a customer who turned up for a course one Monday morning shortly thereafter, having traveled a long distance the night before ... to be met by one startled and embarrassed secretary who was the sole occupant on the training centre. The course wasn't running - no tutor - but so certain was the proprietor that I had stolen the database that he hadn't bothered to contact people and cancel bookings!
It turned out that First Alternative had done us a huge favour in the medium term. We had
asked ourselves what we would do if something went belly-up there and had some vague ideas ... Lisa and I drove off to find a quiet table nearby and discuss how we would develop "Plan B". Residual nastynesses (such as a struggle to get payment for courses that I had already presented) served as an early reminder of how much better we were going to be on our own, and we had sufficient resources to handle the initial cash flow issues with setting up our own training centre for those issues to be more of an irritant than anything else.
And look where we are now. We've grown and blossomed - from a single training room that was part of our home, up to our own training centre with luxury hotel accommodation
as well as our offices / HQ. And course have grown from Perl and a Java course to include Linux, MySQL, PHP, Python, Tcl/Tk, Ruby and more. Start here
to browse the full details.
From a business viewpoint, I do understand that Mick was worried that a growing percentage of his business could be lost at the whim of a single contractor. Also that he would do better to control when the breakup happened if he felt it was likely, and do it in such a way that it would be a quick break. I'm told that business went very quiet there, and that declared his staff redundant just before Christmas the following year, closing the centre completely; he now hires a room nearby if he wants to run a course.
We have tracked First Alternative over the years since we parted, more on an emotional basis than anything else - with their "First Alternative" (alternative to Sun Microsystems) Solaris and FrameMaker training courses, and a host of other tryouts, they were never in the same market as we were. (written 2007-10-16, updated 2007-10-21)
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