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Jess Singer

Jess Singer

When you start a business you pour your heart and soul into it. If you’re willing to make the commitment and sacrifices, your business makes it. If you’re really lucky it thrives. But eventually, almost all businesses fail. And when they do it is a horrible, painful and severely depressing experience. Today, Jess Singer shares her story of founding and closing Mamabargains, one of the first and most successful deal sites ever. It had crazy growth, major corporate partnerships, and a huge fan base. So what went wrong? And more importantly, how does a founder recover from failure in the face of success?

Announcer:
Welcome to the Bureau Briefing, a podcast by the Bureau of Digital. An organization devoted to giving digital professionals the support system they never had. Each episode, we're gonna talk to a member of our community doing awesome, inspiring things. Now for your host, Carl Smith.

Carl Smith:
Hey everyone and welcome to the Bureau Briefing. With me today, I have the head of business development in Know Your Company, and a good friend of mine who I met at Owner Camp 14, in Honolulu, Jess Singer. How's it going Jess?

Jess Singer:
It's going great. Thanks for having me. How are you?

Carl Smith:
I am good and I'm so glad you're here. And the thing is, this is going to be much more of a therapy session for you and me. I think that more than anything else, when we were in Honolulu, we were having lunch and we realized that we both were part of an esteemed club where we had a very, very successful business that doesn't really exist anymore. We each had our own. We were not working together. We could have closed those businesses in half the time, had we only aligned our efforts.

But we were talking and I asked if you would mind being on the show because I think, there's so much value in understanding what happens when a business does fall apart. I mean, mine fell apart. I don't know what happened with yours and that's what we're gonna talk about. But for me, I screwed it up. And then found myself, like just sitting there looking at these burning embers of 14 years of my life. So talk a little bit about Mama Bargains. Because when I started researching it, I was like, "Oh my goodness. She had a tiger by the tail."

Jess Singer:
Oh, yeah. You know, it's really interesting. We can laugh now. And, you know, I don't laugh lightly. It took me a long time, it took me a lot of therapy and all sorts of things over the last couple of years where I can say what you just said very simply which is, I made a lot of mistakes. It takes a long time and a lot of, you know, humility and kind of pushing your ego down a bit to realize the hand that you played in your business failing.

You know, Mama Bargains was just this very random idea that came from, as ridiculous as it sounds, a dream that I had combined with talking to my husband about this dream that I had. I had a dream that we started a company called Mamazon. And then I realized ... Yeah, it's funny, right? I was like, well Amazon would probably sue our pants off if we started a business called Mamazon, so let's come up with another name. 

So we knew the concept, we just didn't know the name of it right in the very, very beginning, like the first couple of days. I mean, I'm talking short time frame. The launch of the business was literally days. I mean, it was like we had the idea, I had the dream, we came up with the idea, I researched domain names, I bought the domain name Mama Bargains after hours on GoDaddy one night till probably four or five in the morning. You know, ten bucks for the domain name. I was like, Mama Bargains, how is that not taken? That's amazing. What a great name this is. 

Still formulating the concept and reaching out for mentors and doing everything we could to just grab this sort of bull by the horn. Because it was already, from the very first second we had the idea, it was this out of control bull that was ... I mean, it was a total bull in a china shop. It was insane. It grew super fast over 500% growth in the first year. It took off, in the black. Never touched that red line. You know, we never touched the red until probably year ... I don't know, end of year three into year four.

We had grown so much we partnered with Proctor & Gamble, Luvs diapers, we were the very first deal site to feature disposable diapers on our website, which was a really big deal. Every deal site by then, we were the first ones out of the gate, but every deal site by that point, there were lots of competitors. And they were all vying for the best products and the cheapest price point. 

It was this weird industry of mom-owned businesses and these moms were cut throat business owners that were just dog eat dog. Completely, very unexpected. I was not anticipating going into running a business dealing with competitors that were vicious competitors. I mean, I was too, I mean, I'm not gonna lie. We tried to shut down as many competitors as we could because there were so many of them and it was this deal site industry. Like the Groupon and the Zulily and the Woot, I don't know if you remember Woot. But eventually Amazon, even came up with their own deal site. I don't know if they even call it ... They probably call it Amazon Mom, maybe, or momAmazon, I don't know what they call it.

Carl Smith:
Mamazon.

Jess Singer:
It probably is Mamazon. That would not surprise me. I mean, it really wouldn't surprise me in the least. So, you know, we had huge competitors. Overstock.com, Groupon, like there were just big competitors. We were winning tons of awards and doing all these really great things and I had this amazing culture. My office staff was awesome. You know, a couple of little ... I like to say bad seeds, but now that I look back, I realize that I had bad seeds only because of my bad management style at the time. We were growing so fast and I had so many things that were happening and everything was going like 300 miles per hour that I couldn't keep up with the growth. That was very hard to do as, you know, I'm that mama of Mama Bargains. That's a very, very hard ... It was a very hard job. It was very, very difficult to keep up ahead of that.

Carl Smith:
Now, you grew really quickly and you ended up at three million in revenue a year, and at the same time while this is happening, how many people did you end up hiring?

Jess Singer:
You know, I think between consultants and employees, at our peak we had just right around 30. So it was like 29. Between PR team and marketing, stay at home moms that were doing moderating, in office employees, our developers. With everybody involved it was about 30, 30 there at our peak. 

Carl Smith:
And at the same time, you had two little kids, right?

Jess Singer:
Three. Yeah, I mean, we started with ... When we launched, I had a two-year-old and a four-month-old when we launched the business. So it was full-time mom too.

Carl Smith:
So how does that work? Did you just sacrifice your personal time?

Jess Singer:
Yeah. I married the business. Surprised I'm not divorced now. My poor husband, I mean, I say my poor husband, but in a way, he just has this super sassy fiery, brassy wife, woman, mom in his life and I think that he's probably really lucky to have somebody like that in his life. I like to think that. But I'm also, I'm equally as lucky to have him because he put up with my shit. I mean, I was an asshole because I had to be. I mean, there was nobody else who could run that business. I knew literally every aspect of running that business, I could do in my sleep except the coding. Except the back end. We were very lucky to have a head developer out of Florida. His name's Greg. He was amazing. And we had him from day one. Had it not been for him, we wouldn't have gotten nearly where we did. With me or without. We needed that really great developer.

But we even outgrew just having Greg. Just one man alone. We grew to the point where we needed a consultant team. And all the while my kids, I've got a nanny at home who, also, I was very lucky to have. Who practically raised the kids at that young age because I was married to this business. I mean, I was literally getting four to five hours of sleep maximum. That was on a good night, four to five hours of sleep. Putting all the energy and time into just the grind of running a business. You probably know what that's like when you first ... Or even beyond when you first start. You basically when you're a business owner, you're married to your business. And a lot of people don't realize what kind of a commitment that it. 

Carl Smith:
I started my company so I'd have more time with my family.

Jess Singer:
Yeah. It works out well, doesn't it?

Carl Smith:
How ridiculous is that? And you know resonates with me? When you just said you're lucky to still married, that you were an asshole, oh my God, I was the biggest jerk. Because I had to be a force of nature to get my company off the ground. And totally different business space where you were, where I was, but we had similarities in that, we started our web shop in 2003. It was after the bubble burst, there was a lot of crud that was just gone and there was some new growth happening. And so we had all this stuff but, we were so broke because I put everything we had into the company.

Jess Singer:
Right into it, yeah.

Carl Smith:
We couldn't fail. That was just not gonna happen.

Jess Singer:
Not an option. Yep.

Carl Smith:
And my wife, I found out years later, never believed anything that I said about the company turning the corner. She later told me, "Every time you told me that things were gonna be okay and I said I know, I didn't really believe you." She was like, "We had two little kids," right? So we had that similarity as well. I had, you know, I had a just about a two-year-old and then a newborn. And it was when the second child was showing up that I was like, "I gotta do something cause I don't like the direction the company I'm working at's going. And I'm just gonna start this company and be reckless but be very organized." We called it managed chaos and it worked really well.

But one thing that happened for me, and this was once I got to the Bureau, and Greg was there when I first got there, Greg Hoi. And he was running it and things were great, I could ride shotgun. But when I took it back over, and now that I'm shifting it, I told my wife I said, "My biggest fear is that to get this where it needs to be, I'm gonna become an asshole again." 

Jess Singer:
Mh-hmm (affirmative). Exactly. 

Carl Smith:
Or I'm not gonna get it where it needs to be. Can we separate this when we get into that mindset and we lose the sleep and we do all those things? It's tough. 

Jess Singer:
It's so hard. And I don't know ... The interesting thing is even after we closed the business and I looked back and I started to realize some of those things that were, I mean they're very characteristic of a business owner in general, I think. It's pretty rare to find a business owner that isn't ... Especially one that's a parent with little kids and a husband or a wife at home and you know, very high level, high-stress obligations at home. I think it's really interesting when you go into running a business, I kind of feel like it's a natural progression to, it's like you're the asshole CEO. You just turn into that naturally and you don't realize it. 

I mean, I think that's kind of the real shame in it all is that I was a damn good business owner. I ran a damn good business. I pretty much single-handedly lined up that Proctor & Gamble marketing partnership. Like, six-figure marketing partnership by myself in my basement eating a bowl of cereal in my pajamas. Cause that's what you do, you know? You're married to the business so you're like, "Well, I went to sleep in my pajamas at the warehouse packaging stuff, I'm gonna wake up in the morning and do the same thing." 

Or maybe you don't even go to sleep or you're responding to customers at two or three am. That's just what I did. But as a result, you know, the marriage suffered and the kids suffered and those are the things that I can't get back. I can't turn back time. I can't un-asshole myself from those days. I can just realize that that's who I was and improve. And if ever I own a business again, which will not be anytime soon ... 

Cause, yeah, I mean, we talked about it earlier. I'm still paying that. Still paying off. It's a huge stress. People don't realize when you close, it's almost ... Wouldn't you say, closing a business is harder than running a business? Would you say that?

Carl Smith:
Yeah. I would.

Jess Singer:
It's weird.

Carl Smith:
I mean, it hits you financially, it hits you psychologically. It destroyed my confidence in myself.

Jess Singer:
Yeah, same here.

Carl Smith:
And a little secret, I still haven't closed it yet. I can't because the bank would freak out.

Jess Singer:
Yeah.

Carl Smith:
Because I still owe a significant amount of money to the bank based on the way that we ended. So with my business, we did the cautionary tale of don't have a client that's too big.

Jess Singer:
Mh-hmm (affirmative).

Carl Smith:
I totally didn't listen. And instead of trying to find other clients who were really big, I got, I'll call it lazy. I started wanting to speak more and write more and run the business less.

Jess Singer:
Mh-hmm (affirmative).

Carl Smith:
And then I actually got to a point where I started to believe that everything I did would work. All the things that I told other people that, you know, well, just cause you're successful in one thing doesn't mean you'll be successful in another, I totally threw away and was just convinced that as long as I was a good person, good things would happen.

Jess Singer:
Right. Good karma's a great thing, right?

Carl Smith:
Yeah. But I'm not saying karma's not real, I'm not saying it's not a good thing, but when you start to believe that you've got it, you're in trouble.

Jess Singer:
Yeah.

Carl Smith:
You're in trouble. But what happened with Mama Bargains?

Jess Singer:
Well, you know combination of things. We brought a development team on that we needed. We really needed more than just Greg. And it was something we all realized. We had just gotten too big and we just got to the size where one developer was just not gonna be enough. A combination of a lot of different things. We had one consultant team that was doing some development work, kind of protecting the integrity of our servers and things like that, maintaining the database. All of those good things that you need in a development, in a consultant agency that handles that side of things. 

They raised their prices and were really literally raping us with what they were going to put as a price point. It was like double what we had been paying before and it was because they saw we were making great money. We were generating a significant amount of revenue. So, wow, let's raise Mama Bargain's price. So we called their bluff and we said, "No. We're not gonna do it. You know, we are reinvesting every penny we make into this business. You know, with the exception of let's pay a mortgage payment here or there or a car payment here or there." It's like, what do you do, oh gosh, mortgage is like a week late. Shoot, better pay that. So those are, that's kind of how you pay yourself. 

And what ended up happening is that one consultant team raised their rates so we went and found another one. And highly recommended from some mentors of ours that were helping us and it blew up in our face. Probably from two months after we hired them and signed a contract with them, we saw, maybe even less, we saw some red flags. And as time went on, and time dragged on because we had this one year contract. When you know your business you know, you know your business. You know it better than anybody when you're a business owner. And when you see a problem happening, and your gut says there's a problem. There's a problem. It's not just my gut. We had customers complaining. Like, they had items in their cart, they were trying to purchase, and the submit button wouldn't work. Or the field where they type their credit card number in wouldn't work, or the site wouldn't load or the products we were featuring wouldn't load.

And the differences with Mama Bargains, there's a little bit of context there. Mama Bargains was a one deal at a time website for mom, kid, and baby. So socks to strollers, everything in between. Always 50-80% off retail. But it wasn't a store front in that you could go and search for whatever you want. It was one deal at a time. So we created this buzz, people would sit there and we actually had ... You could probably look up, you could probably Google this, refresh button wearing out. Moms would sit at their computer and they would seriously, I think it's F4 on the old computer? I have a Mac now so I don't know. I think it's F4, refresh, refresh, refresh. They would constantly refresh the screen to see if the deal switched. Because it would switch two to ten times a day at random. I mean, you could have a pair of socks up one minute and then five minutes later you could have a high end $700, $800 double stroller for $300.

And so you don't want to miss those deals. Or, you refresh and all of a sudden it's Luvs diapers. You never know. 

Carl Smith:
Right.

Jess Singer:
So, the frenzy that we built this frenzy, this sort of buzz, this new development team failed on providing us our apps. They were supposed to create our Android and iPhone apps. It was supposed to take them eight weeks, it took them 11 total months. So we fell behind on that, on delivering that. They fell behind on delivering that. In the end, we did not renew the contract with them. They didn't want to renew with us. We were basically making their life a living hell because we couldn't get out of the contract and I did not want to dissolve the contract. I didn't want to do that legally. But we did everything we could to just be pains in the asses for them because we wanted to boot them without actually having to boot them. 

So, in the very, very end, let them go, hired a new guy that was sort of the head of security administration on our side. Essentially, every rock he turned over was a new problem. Firewall was never configured, the database was being backed up to the database, really ridiculous things that they were doing that they shouldn't have been doing, or things that they should've been doing that we were paying them to do that they were not doing.

Carl Smith:
Wow.

Jess Singer:
Yeah, so, you know, long story short, at the end of the day, it was my husband and I's responsibility to do our due diligence and we didn't. So I can point my finger all I want. I can blame all the people I want. But at the end of the day, I was the CEO of Mama Bargains and I did not do my due diligence. I mean, kind of aside from doing a private investigation, there's a lot of things that we found out later that we would have never discovered if I hadn't hired a PI to look into these guys. But yeah.

Carl Smith:
So, I gotta ask because, when I look back, and there were a lot of things that happened, at the end especially, just like you, I ended up working with some different people and I didn't do my due diligence. I can't even say it. I didn't do my due diligence.

Jess Singer:
Diligence.

Carl Smith:
Welcome to a professional podcast. Diligence. But I ... I want to say the entire time I was running the company, I really was weak at checking out who people were, what they had done.

Jess Singer:
Trusting.

Carl Smith:
And it hurt us all the time. 

Jess Singer:
Yeah.

Carl Smith:
You know? And you think you understand who somebody is, or you think you understand the work that somebody's done. I'll even say for me, a lot of it was imposter syndrome, that I was worried if I started digging in, I would realize how much I didn't know.

Jess Singer:
Mh-hmm (affirmative).


Right? And I would get weak.

Jess Singer:
Right.

Carl Smith:
So it was easier to just say, well so and so said this person was a good person, so I'm gonna go ahead and go with this. 

Jess Singer:
You know, I have to agree with your imposter syndrome theory. You know, when you start to experience the taste of accomplishment, especially in a business setting, not just being a mom or being a wife or any of those things, but a business setting especially when you start achieving what you almost view as this ultimate success, I feel like it can just ... It bites you in your ass. It really does. If you don't keep a good level of humility, and I didn't. I was just exactly how you described. I started feeling immune to failure. Like everything I touch turns to gold, this is so great you know? And it's just this ... That's not who I am as a person. At all.

But you know, when it comes to due diligence and things like that, it happened in so many aspects of the business, it also happened in some of the people I hired. To be honest with you. So and so's recommending so and so. Okay, cool, yeah, I trust that person, bring them on. And that bit me in the ass more than once as well. Because there were times that I wouldn't check references or, you know, I would bring an employee on that wasn't really ... And I should have known, wasn't really the best fit for the role.

But I think it's equal parts big heart. Really, I had a big heart and I really wanted to just trust people. And I think that's kind of the unfortunate thing when you close a business. You start seeing things so crystal clear and you start seeing how all these situations that you're like, "What the fuck was I thinking? Why did I trust that person? Why did I trust myself to trust that person? Why did I believe that?"

Carl Smith:
Why did I not trust the people that have been so good to me?

Jess Singer:
Right. Why did I not trust the people that have been so good to me? And really, in the end, when we closed our doors, I felt this odd sense of enlightenment. We had employees that stayed with us, even though they knew they were not gonna get a paycheck. They knew. We went in on a Monday morning and told them we were closing and today is the last day we're gonna be able to pay you. And this was after we had missed our mortgage payment for months. We sold a vehicle to pay a payroll period. We were late on every credit card. We had drained our savings account, we had taken a 401K loan out, our kid's college was the only thing we did not touch because it wasn't able to be touched. So, I felt very lucky that those were locked away in accounts that didn't let us touch them. We couldn't pull from them at all.

But we pulled every penny we could from every place we possibly could. And these employees who had this income coming in and all of a sudden, one day they come in and we tell them they are no longer going to get paid, as of tomorrow, we can't pay you. They all stayed. They all stayed and they helped us close the doors. Angela, Bridget, Trisha in the warehouse. I can't even tell you. Just so grateful to so many of our employees that stuck it out knowing. I was just packing boxes with tears in my eyes. I couldn't believe how many tears I cried and why they kept coming, like, where are these keep coming from? I thought my tear reservoir should have been empty long before that.

Because the year leading up to it was devastating. I mean, the year leading up to it, it wasn't as if it was all of a sudden, one day, things are awful and we have to close tomorrow. It was like a year of just struggles and problems and trying to get rid of this development team. It was like everything we touched disintegrated at that point. 

Carl Smith:
Yeah. So, it's weird also the timelines. Because I think we hit similar places within a few months of each other.

Jess Singer:
I think so too.

Carl Smith:
And I really couldn't talk about this until earlier this year. 

Jess Singer:
Same. Same here.

Carl Smith:
The level of, I guess I just internalized everything. And what's amazing is the people, much like you're saying with the people who stayed at Mama Bargains that last day, I still get great emails and people reaching out to me different ways who worked with me. Just checking in.

Jess Singer:
Yeah, how are things going?

Carl Smith:
And not wanting to know anything, except literally, how am I doing?

Jess Singer:
Yeah. I get that too. It's good.

Carl Smith:
I think it's easier in a way, for them. For the employees. I think it's easier in a lot of ways. Because they joined it, they believed in it, but they can move on to something else really quickly. And that was the thing for me at the end. Like, we ended up with a lot of money in the bank. And there were about 14 of us and we just rode it out. And we tried different things but I told everybody, "Look, this money, you earned this money. We're gonna see how long it can last. We're gonna try these different ideas that we have to jump start the company." And what I didn't realize was each of them would have gladly left with that money in the bank. Because they had had a good run. They stayed for me.

And it was funny because one of them, a really, really good friend who I don't talk to near enough, Matthew Oliphant, Matt called me one day and he goes, "Hey, don't drain the account for us cause we don't want you to be broke." You know? And so we did. We pulled the plug with about a hundred thousand left in the account so that we could try to keep going. But even that. I look back at that and I realize, I was just screwing up left and right, even once I realized how I had been screwing up. And I think I was just in such a downward spiral that I couldn't pull out of it. But it took me the better part of, you know, two and a half, three years to be able to now have confidence in myself again. 

But when I look back at Engine, I just feel like I really dropped a huge opportunity. And you don't get a lot of those in life.

Jess Singer:
Yeah. Yeah, they're really rare. And I think that was almost where we came from as well. The desperation does very strange things to people. It really does.

Carl Smith:
I wanted to say, my poor wife.

Jess Singer:
Well, I mean, think about when you're 16 and there's the cute, well not for you, cute guy across the room. Anyways, we're not gonna talk about cute guys cause ... But I think desperation does something really strange to people when they realize they're on that downward spiral and they're just reaching for any possible ledge or hand that is outreached that is possible. And it's pretty amazing when you feel like you're spiraling into that dark, deep hole. The one that you sat in for three years. The one that I sat in for three years. It's unreal.

And to be brutally honest, the emotions you experience when you're closing a business are nothing like I've ever experienced before. I was absolutely suicidal. And I say that, and I almost just didn't say it and I almost whispered it. And then I have realized that that is a very natural thing. Mama Bargains was all I knew. I lived it, ate it, breathed it, slept it, for six years straight. And my kids did too. When we closed it, my oldest son, who's almost 12 now, bawled his eyes out for a day. 

It was as if we lost a loved one. And not that I'm comparing it to a human death, but in many ways, it's almost worse I want to say. Because when a human passes, you get to bury them and you have the closure. And Mama Bargains closure and Engine, those closures are ... You don't just close the door and walk away. It's months and years of ... It follows you. And we have collectors that come to the door and the IRS. I mean, the IRS came to the door. My husband went to Afghanistan for four months to help pay off the debt. And to do everything we could possibly do to pay off everything that we could humanly pay off. I mean, we stopped contributing to our kid's savings accounts and our kids have suffered in this, in many ways, more than we have. That's gonna take us a long time to replenish what we have lost. Because everything we make goes towards that. And it's just an unfortunate part.

You know there are always ... Our attorney said to us one time and I will never forget this, he said, "When a business closes, there are no winners. Nobody wins when a business closes. You don't win, the customers don't win, the people you owe money to don't win. Nobody wins." And so as long as you go into closing a business understanding that there are no winners here, nobody is making off scot-free. On occasion, yes you have some creepy, crazy business owners that do weird shit and they get away with all sorts of people's money and they take off.

Carl Smith:
We're not gonna talk about politics, Jess.

Jess Singer:
No. Okay, fine. Shady fucking shysters, take off with all sorts of shit. You know, but I think, for the most part, people are, in nature, people are just good. I think most people are just good people. And I don't want to go through a life feeling like I don't want to trust everybody because I got fucked over in business. Because I fucked people over when we closed. So unintentionally but it just happened and it's just something that I have to live with forever. I have to know that that's just what happens when you close. And what I know is if I ever had a business again, I would do everything in my power to prevent those things from happening. 

But the suicidal thing, that I think, is such a valid ... It's so under talked about. There's so much shame in it. I was so embarrassed to close the doors. I was absolutely in the darkest place I could ever imagine myself being. And, you know, at that time I had three kids and still a marriage to try and put back together. And pieces of life to pick back up. And then I also had to try and figure out what next? What do I do next? What the hell am I supposed to do now? I'm good at running a business. What do I do now?

Carl Smith:
And it's the one thing you don't want to do, right?

Jess Singer:
Yeah, I don't want to do it. I don't want that stress. I'm nowhere near ready to take on that kind of stress. Which in many ways has made this, working for Know Your Company, a very unique timely opportunity for me. And I hope, obviously, I hope for Know Your Company as well. I hope that they find, and I know they do. This is why they hired me. That there's a unique perspective that I bring to the table. They could've hired just any old random sales person that is really good at being a sales person. But I'm working with CEO's directly and I have a very different perspective on how this software could work for those business owners.

And I love that I get to work directly with business owners again in this totally different way than I did with Mama Bargains. So I just think it's unique. I think I get to bring this sort of uniqueness to the table and I just feel so lucky that I get to have that. 

Carl Smith:
You know, I'm gonna hit the suicidal thing again for just a second because I'm sure you know this, that you aren't alone in that.

Jess Singer:
It's the first time I've talked about it, just so you know. This is literally, you're the first human being that I have spoken to, other than my therapist, about this topic. So go, I want to hear it.

Carl Smith:
I didn't know who I was. I was, oh this is Carl, he owns nGen Works. This is Carl from nGen. Carl he launched this amazing thing that's international now. You've heard of nGen Works, oh yeah, that's Carl. 

Jess Singer:
That's Carl. Everybody knows Carl.

Carl Smith:
And Jacksonville is not a huge city. Everybody knows everybody. I would be out and people would come up to me and ask me for a job. You know? Stuff like that. There was this level of importance and this bizarreness and then once it was gone, not unlike what you said about your kid bawling his eyes out. My youngest daughter, Elissa. I started the company right around the time, I decided to start the company when I found out my wife was pregnant. It was actually, she was about eight months pregnant when my wife pushed me to do it because I was so miserable at work. 

And Elissa said to me when I told the family that I was closing nGen Works and Elissa said, you can't. And I was like, why? And she goes because you said you started that company because you love us. 

Jess Singer:
Aw! Gosh.

Carl Smith:
And if you close it, you're getting rid of something that is a part of this family. And I was in a dark haze for weeks trying to figure out, what do you do with that?

Jess Singer:
How do you respond to that? You know, yeah, kids don't understand, but at the core, I kinda think they do. I kinda think they do.

Carl Smith:
Yeah. And that was, for me, just devastating. And then, there were some things with the Bureau that weren't great. There were some other things with nGen that weren't great. And honestly, I have to say, I had a couple of really, really good friends. One here in Jacksonville, and one who I've just known for a long time who let me just be the rawest, most honest I could be and explain to them the dark thoughts I was having. The desire to just make it stop. And, you know, neither of us did. And that's really awesome.

Jess Singer:
Yeah.

Carl Smith:
But I think there's this level of connection between an owner or a founder and a company that is not healthy.

Jess Singer:
No. It's really not at all healthy. At all. And it's not healthy to have those expectations of your employees. I mean, it's just not. And I think that's part of what happens is like you with Engine. You were, essentially Carl was, you let it get to the point like I did, that the business defined you. You defined the business. You were one and the same. But we're humans. We aren't the business. We should be completely separate from the business. Not separate as in let the business run itself, but separate as in I'm a human being and the business is a business is a business. And at the end of the day, what are my kids gonna miss the most? Me, if I'm no longer around, or the business?

Carl Smith:
Yeah. 

Jess Singer:
Me. They need their mom. They don't need Mama Bargains. I'm Mrs. Mama Bargains, but they don't need that. They don't need the warehouse to go ride their skateboards and their scooters in. As cool as that was. That was pretty cool, actually.

Carl Smith:
It's pretty cool. And I would say kids don't need nGen. But Elissa actually, she tried to change the name of nGen Works in the third year. She was just over three and she looked at me and she goes, "You should really call it Pink Pony."

Jess Singer:
Oh my gosh.

Carl Smith:
And I was like, yeah. And she goes, "People don't like engines. People love ponies and people love pink." And I just, you know, I should have hired her on the spot. 

Jess Singer:
You should have. Marketing. Your next business, Pink Pony.

Carl Smith:
Exactly. And so here's the thing. We're sitting here now. You're the head of bus-dev for Know Your Company, an amazing company, right? That's helping owners understand more about their cultures, understand more about their employees, make their companies better. I'm now running the Bureau, helping other owners connect and avoid the issues that not only I had, but that a lot of people have. So we rebounded really strongly, you know? 

Jess Singer:
Yeah.

Carl Smith:
And I just, I hope you feel better. But I have to tell you, this conversation for me, I'd never met anybody else who went through it.

Jess Singer:
I haven't either.

Carl Smith:
So when we were in Honolulu, I had to have this conversation with you and I just want to thank you so much for letting us record it and share it. Because I think it's gonna mean so much to other people who are out there. And let's face it, there are businesses closing all the time. 

Jess Singer:
Yeah.

Carl Smith:
They need help.

Jess Singer:
Well, it's why I wrote that book, you know? I mean, I haven't published it yet, but I wrote a book and it's very raw. And people don't really write books about that kind of thing. It's a topic, it's a very, very, very touchy topic. And it shouldn't be. Honestly. The feelings, very recently we had some friends who lost their nephew to suicide. He was 16 years old. And it has put some real perspective in my heart for some of those very dark feelings that I had. Not to go back to the suicide topic, but because I think that this is a very, very important conversation that needs to be had. 

Because I think when business owners are at their top, at the top of their game, there is no shortage of companies there ready to promote them and give them awards. I mean, we had a wall of awards at Mama Bargains. I won a Stevie award for fastest growing company in the nation in 2010. It literally looks like an Emmy. It's gold and it's like 25 pounds. It's ridiculous. But I loved that thing. But it began to define me. So when we closed and when I was going through those emotions, I felt like my life was sort of reduced to a box of dusty awards in my basement. And I felt like a dusty award in my basement.

And I think that what happens is those business owners have all of this support when they're running their business. And then when they close it, they're like a nothing. And there's nobody there. There's nobody there to talk to, there's nobody there to support them. There is nobody there. Unless you happen to talk about it the way you and I did in Hawaii. And it's been very cathartic for me too. It was cathartic to write the book. It was cathartic to have this conversation with you. And even just to briefly touch on the conversation in Hawaii, I felt so rejuvenated knowing that at some point we would have this conversation. Yeah.

Carl Smith:
You know, I think MC Hammer understands. I think he went through it. Pro-Athletes who suddenly find that, you know. I can only imagine gymnasts, right? They're done in their late teens, early twenties and all that stuff falls apart.

Jess Singer:
It's true. What happens? What do I do next? What happens next?

Carl Smith:
Exactly. And there is stuff. I mean that's what we're both here to show. We're doing stuff.

Jess Singer:
There is stuff, there's life.

Carl Smith:
And it's gonna ... Well, Jess, thank you so much for being on the program today.

Jess Singer:
Of course.

Carl Smith:
I truly appreciate it.

Jess Singer:
Of course.

Carl Smith:
And for everybody out there listening, if you are going through something, please reach out to friends or family. There's always a hotline in every community. And make sure that you get some help. We were lucky that we had some good friends and families that helped us through. 

Jess Singer:
Yeah.

Carl Smith:
And with that, we will bring this episode to a close. And we'll talk to you soon.

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