I have to interrupt my series of summer holiday reviews to discuss some breaking news. The Fitzroy based Abby Winters porn site is in trouble again. The bogan press journalist, who has been pursuing a vendetta against it since 2007, reported yesterday that G Media CEO Garion Hall has been charged with numerous offences including ‘making objectionable films for gain’. For the background to this story read my December 2007 and June 2009 posts.
The charges are the result of investigations following his June arrest. A number of people writing about this issue then analysed the law and came to the conclusion that while it may be legal for Abby Winters to publish its content on the internet (which is not examined by the Australian censors), the legality of creating the content in Australia was uncertain due to archaic, incomplete and contradictory state and federal laws. The links at the end of my June post provide more detail on this.
While the Herald Sun stories from 2007 and 2009 are full of irrational emotional nonsense and short on analytical argument, the charges are serious, particularly in relation to child pornography (one allegation made in June was that a model was only 17 when she modeled for photos that appeared on the site).
I have been writing this post for some time. Its original focus was about a pattern of unethical behaviour I have experienced from entrepreneurial employers. Since my June post, my opinion of Hall has changed dramatically. In August – September this year I interviewed for the position of Marketing Manager at Abby Winters, which is one of three employers whose behaviour I will discuss below.
Based on the information I had gathered from various acquaintances, I had a mostly positive view of Abby Winters (NSFW official and SFW wikipedia) prior to interviewing there. The June raid was concerning, but at the time it did not seem a fundamental problem as no charges had been laid.
The Marketing Manager role was advertised on Seek and called for someone with a combination of traditional and internet, especially social media, marketing experience. My previous (then current) employment with StreetAdvisor.com (now localvoices.realestate.com.au) was the perfect background for the role, which offered a wage of $95,000 pa plus 10% at risk performance bonus.
I submitted an application with my CV and covering letter as specified. I was shortlisted and then offered an interview, which I attended. It was with a temporarily contracted marketing manager and the permanent business manager. It lasted an hour, was entirely professional and I thought I did well in it.
I was quickly offered a second round interview, this time with CEO Garion Hall. I attended the interview, where I was kept waiting for nearly 20 minutes. Once in the interview, it was apparent that Hall was flaky and disorganised. He had not read my CV and wanted me to explain myself as he knew nothing about me. The interview became a rambling three and a half hour conversation about the internet, marketing, social media and online communities.
I left happy that I had seemingly built a rapport with Hall, that he appeared to like me, and that he was impressed by my ideas about how I could develop social media marketing strategies for his subscription based content business. While I was also frustrated with the unfocused nature of the interview, a lot of money was on offer.
Hall also gave me a book he liked to review. He wanted me to give him a free review or report on the validity of its predictions about the value of online communities. Hall wanted to merge the Abby Winters forums with the main site to expand on the online community developing around his product.
When I was asked to come in for a third meeting, I was expecting to be offered a contract. After another rambling 90 minutes later with Hall I left having made no progress. While stating that I would be entirely competent in the Marketing Manager role, Hall was now totally enthused by my social media marketing ideas and wanted to create a new position focusing on this. My suggestion that I start the role as advertised and transition into more social media over time was rejected.
Hall was also surprised by my negative review of the book Smart Start-Ups: How Entrepreneurs and Corporations Can Profit by Starting Online Communities, by David Silver. Written in 2007 by a middle aged suit with no knowledge or understanding of the internet, social media or online communities, the book is embarrassingly awful.
It’s full of basic errors of fact about the internet and absurd ideas that will never work, such as embedding iPod like internet enabled devices in car dashboards through which drivers will consume paid content while commuting to work. The fact that Hall thought this book had merit (he had about 10 copies of it on his bookcase) meant he also had no clue about these things.
I was never formally rejected for the Marketing Manager role. Instead, Hall strung me along for another two weeks while he wrote a position description for the new role. He emailed it to me and asked me to come in for a fourth time. The new position reported to the original position, and I replied by asking for the details of the unspecified salary. Hall replied that it was $60,000 base plus $50,000 at risk performance bonus.
I was indignant that I was considered worthy of a management role paying $95,000, yet was now being offered only a subordinate role with a guaranteed $60,000. I told Hall I was disgusted by his time wasting behaviour and insulting offer. I thought his failure to clearly reject me (the only candidate to get a third round interview) for the original role was unprofessional. I withdrew my application.
I had a similar experience in 2008, when I interviewed at the Melbourne offices of the developer of the virtual desktop software 360desktops for a social media / marketing role. The first interview went well, and I was invited to a second, which also seemingly went well. I was then invited to lunch at the local pub to meet the development team. I expected an offer to be forthcoming, but I did not hear from them. After a week I contacted them to reaffirm my interest in the role and to ask if they had made a decision. They replied that they had not, but that I would hear from them soon.
Two weeks went by with no news. I contacted them again, and the CEO complained that I had not been in touch, and said that if I was serious about the role I would have been chasing them for it. I reminded him of our previous conversation and made the pragmatic observation that, as the employer, he was in control of the situation and needed to take responsibility for it. I made my displeasure with his disorganised and unprofessional behaviour clear and withdrew my application.
The third employer was Dow Digital, an early example of a digital agency (website design and development company) that operated in Perth in the late 1990s. I worked there for three months in 1998, supposedly writing project and proposal documentation. I spent more time fixing their crappy old Macs and refusing to attend seminars at the Landmark forum, a personal development cult with which the business was infested.
They sacked me on the last day of my probation period with no explanation (apart from the obvious but unstated conclusion that I would not join their stupid cult). Dow Digital crashed and burned as a result of the dot com crash. I cheered when I read about its bankruptcy in the newspaper.
I’ve met many egotistical entrepreneurs, whose ambitions exceed their abilities, and I’ve learned to see through their spin to observe the flacid reality beneath. I was right to reject Abby Winters. If I turn on the television news one day to see Hall being sentenced to gaol time, it will be even more satisfying than Dow Digital’s bankruptcy. Bring it on.