UPDATE: Ben (from The Consumerist) and I have worked together to get the facts straight regarding The Gift Assistant. Ben was happy to get the right information out to people, and he should be commended for that. Please read the updated post at Consumerist: EXCLUSIVE: Giftassistant.com Scam, The Inside Scoop
The Consumerist is website/blog that investigates companies engaging in various forms of fraud — companies like my previous employer, The Gift Assistant (who I won’t bother linking).
The Consumerist received some well-warranted complaints about The Gift Assistant and did some research into the company. In their research, they found me and my good friend PJ as the authors of the website. However, Consumerist automatically assumed that PJ an I had something to do with frauding people, which is not true.
Consumerist: great work on revealing The Gift Assistant for the fraud it is. However, do not create monsters from victims.
Please allow me to give you the history of my experience with The Gift Assistant:
PJ and I have been friends since high school. We played lacrosse together, roomed together in college and were each the other’s best man at our weddings. It was a no-brainer when PJ approached me one day with the opportunity to work with him in a new start up with a great idea. I was sold.
I left my cushy job at Atomic Dog Publishing, and started working on a brand new website for The Gift Assistant. The two owners were nice enough guys and had a great vision of a custom gift card company that would challenge some of the most entrenched players in the field. In a span of approximately 3 weeks, PJ and I worked several 14 hour days to create an entire database-driven ecommerce website from scratch. It was quite a feat and a project I am rather proud of. The new site went up, orders started coming in and things were looking up. The two fearless owners now had money in their eyes.
A few months, a few additional employees, and a few successes later, a company meeting was called. We all rolled our chairs into the room where a whiteboard had the ominous scribbling, “January 2007 – $100 Million”. The owners let everyone know that the new goal of the company was to sell it for $100 million by January of 2007. Red Flag #1. To achieve this goal, the owners started chasing money-making schemes that would add value to the company as quickly as possible, regardless of whether or not we could sustain the scheme profitably. The idea was to make the company look great on paper so that some unsuspecting investors with stars in their eyes would snatch it up.
With Christmas came a barrage of orders, and for the first time PJ and I saw a glimpse of the trouble that the owners had created for the company. The 11 employees (including the owners) were stretched in so many different directions trying to run so many different “sub-companies” that it was nearly impossible for us to keep up with the orders from the core business. Red Flag #2.
Orders started backing up. PJ and I outlined several plans for fixing the operations side of the company which were promptly ignored by our fearless leaders. They wanted to sell the company, and paying customers were a pesky nuisance that stood in their way. After months of our customer service folks taking repeated tongue lashings from irate customers, the owners finally found a solution: stop answering the phones. Yes, they actually told us to stop answering the phones, turn off the website chat, erase all of the voice mail messages and lock the doors (some upset customers were coming to our office). At about the same time, the owners mentioned that they were in talks with someone who wanted to acquire the company and stopped coming in for weeks at a time. Red Flag #3.
This is the point when all 9 of us employees, who were clueless as to what the owners were up to, started looking for new jobs. PJ and I managed to sit one of the owners down at dinner, and we told him to his face that we were leaving because we felt that what they were doing was unethical and not morally sound. He then promised us equity, which we laughed at and left. On a Friday in April, I had two job interviews in the morning. When I came into The Gift Assistant office that afternoon, the owners were there handing out termination letters to everyone. Their reasoning: “A Fortune 500 company is going to acquire The Gift Assistant, but it will take a few weeks for them to get the paperwork in line. In the meantime, we can’t afford the burn rate of employees, so we are letting you all go.” Thanks.
Thankfully, all of us who were laid off now have new jobs with much better companies. I am not sure what has happened with the two owners, but I promise you that any Fortune 500 company that does their homework on The Gift Assistant wouldn’t touch it with a 20-foot pole. What infuriates me most is that the website is still up and running. However, an insider tip: Before we left, the owners had us turn off the credit card processing part of the shopping cart (don’t ask me why). Therefore, people who have placed orders since we left have not been charged.
I think it is pathetic and petty what these two men are doing. Although there is not much I can do for the customers who fell victim, I do offer to speak with anyone who would like to know more about my experiences with The Gift Assistant and its owners. I have spoken with several customers who found my information and contacted me directly, and they will all speak on my behalf for trying to right the wrong that was done to them.
Please recognize that employees of fraudulent companies are often victims just like the customers. Please use common sense before placing blame on the first person you encounter.