This article was based on Episode # 26: Dimitri Constantantine’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!
Morgan (Host): Hey, everyone, welcome to the latest episode of “Client Horror Stories”. I’m excited to jump in only after having scheduled it eight months ago with Dimitri Constantine, “Happy to have you here, Dimitri!”
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Thanks, Morgan! I appreciate it!
Morgan (Host): The best episodes are those that begin under extreme stress, as they say. So tell us the sentence by yourself, and then I’m eager to hear today’s episode.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): So, I’ve been in commercial web development since 2005. And about 15 years later started a company and we work on web applications. And this is a story about one of those projects that we worked on. So jumping right in, I had a friend from my childhood who went to the same church as me, and we had kept in touch over the years, and she knew we did website designing. Someone approached her about selling medical devices at a convention center. The gentleman approached her and told her about his amazing idea. And usually, she gets pitched ideas all the time because she’s good at her job, sales. So in this pitch, she saw something different; it was unique, had a good basis, and the guy seemed to be pretty credible. So, she gave it a chance, and went to his meeting, met him and his wife, and she was sold.
So she brought me in as well to see if I saw the same thing. As for the idea, it was based on consumer-oriented marketing. Basically, they needed a web designer. So given the fact that I had an agency, I was probably one of the only people she knew who does web development. So she called me in to build his website, and I spoke with the gentleman as well. As a rule, I poke holes in everything, but I found this idea to be brilliant. Moreover, I learned that he had already brought on a couple of partners. And he was the number one salesperson of this medical device for one of the larger companies in the industry, and he had just recently quit to start his business. He had pulled together someone who was running operations for another larger company for many years. In addition, the CEO had over 30 years of operations experience in the industry, with relationships, vendors, materials, and all that fun stuff.
Morgan (Host): By the way, I’m just I’m always alert for risk factors. And there’s this interesting risk factor here that hasn’t come up in any previous episode, which is too good to be true. Is it possible for something to be so perfect and amazing?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): It was exactly like that. I deal with hundreds of companies every year in betting ideas, and my background is in product development. I love business. I love the business side of things. So, I try to design websites in a way that they are appealing to the consumer and can achieve their goals. As part of my job, I estimate whether or not a strategy will be successful, and I do that four or five times a day. The rare thing is when someone comes to me with an idea and we just love it right away, and I try to poke holes in it and I can’t. Again, I think what you said is true, the too good to be true is a thing. It’s very rare.
Morgan (Host): I like using the dating metaphor and it’s like if I’m alone in a bar and a supermodel with a 200 IQ self-made billionaire comes to randomly pick me up and really likes me, what is going on?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Like the guy who eats happy meals at night. Don’t tell my wife she’ll really enjoy a happy meal. So everything was coming in together. I mean, there was a legal officer with 30 years of experience, a CFO with 20 years of experience as a controller for a construction company, which is a different industry, but the same discipline. So we had some pretty good strengths. Moreover, I joined the board pretty quickly, and behind me was a phenomenal team. We had some excellent people there that can tie it all together. After I had done my due diligence, I jumped into it.
So we faced a massive gap in the industry. And I’m talking about a massive upside there. It was one of those products that anyone could use. In fact, 90% of the population would need this product at some point in their lives, regardless of their problem or demographic. There is currently a solution for it, but it’s not pretty, it takes a long time, and this is faster, and cleaner, but much more expensive. And there was no good reason for that it was a simple product that just had an expired patent. And a lot of people are entering the industry.
In other words, I was captivated by the margins on this product. It was amazing to compare the prices that physicians charged their patients with what the vendors themselves were actually charging for the same goods. Observing the space between, I was able to understand why a few market leaders would simply dominate because they were situated in the upper middle. So, we came in with the mindset to automate this process. We were going to do the marketing directly to the consumer. Therefore, a lot of people relied on doctors to push brand-name product that was of subpar quality. Because of this, I thought this product was of the highest caliber. I personally used the stuff. And it produced excellent outcomes.
My background is in price and costing, so I was a believer and I started examining the logistics. So, after running the numbers, I thought, “This is crazy.” The only thing left to do was to figure out how to advertise it to customers directly and then devise a system by which they may pay the moment when they go to a doctor. How will we accomplish that? Well, given my background, I was considering collaborating with some financing companies and payment companies to automate the entire process, so that patients could purchase the product right there while sitting on their chairs, the doctor will confirm the payment and provide a specific sum of money when the procedure starts. The entire payment process would then be automated, as well as the administration process, and we would provide customer service through the app. A pretty brilliant idea overall, and it wasn’t just me, the whole team came together to create this.
And leaning to 2019, we finally set out to build the product. And it was very exciting. The idea was really easy to sell. Right away, we were able to find a few doctors. Given the facts, I had faith in the team, and I truly believed it would be profitable. In addition, the bankers appeared to have developed a pretty powerful brand, so I offered the business a lot of my time for free to help it grow. We immediately shifted direction after identifying several problems as part of my investment in the company to develop the brand, a really strong brand website, and all those things that ignited the sales price as collateral. This was a positive indicator. There was a dead end in one area.
So we figured out a solution using some of our vendors to create another product that could generate revenue fairly and quickly. So things were really good. For the first couple of months, we were moving fast and had some minor issues, but we got past them. We were at the point where we needed some marketing. We had the product figured out, so we needed some financing for the marketing budget. I did rely somewhat on these guys’ experience and knowledge in that area. They weren’t unknown; they had some level of industry recognition. Knowing that they were behind it, I had assumed that they would be able to attract some major names. In fact, the fact that we were seeking money was the first indication that something seemed off to me.
And I was thinking, “Why can’t these men who are the company’s top seller and have 30 years of operational experience have all these contacts? Why aren’t they receiving investment?” I guess I kind of felt that was strange.
Morgan (Host): So, up until this point, it was self-funded by everyone?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Correct! My company was driving all the design, and that’s the fall right there. They were doing research. As they were getting some vendors in place and negotiating prices, they were taking care of logistics.
Morgan (Host): Here’s what’s interesting. That could also be another risk factor. I guess that now you know, but a year ago you didn’t know if you couldn’t really get even one person to give you money.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): It’s what happened after you find out that it wasn’t really what you thought it would be.
Morgan (Host): Out of curiosity, were any of them doing full-time?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): And that was another Red Flag!
Morgan (Host): I’ve seen situations where a bunch of guys in the industry only put an hour a week, that’s another lesson.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): The overstatement of how much they work! They’ll be like, “I did 30 minutes of work and made three calls.” And act like that was a big deal. A person could accomplish more work in an hour than they could in two months when they put their minds to it, but it didn’t appear immediately. I don’t think that it was immediately apparent.
Morgan (Host): I didn’t mean to jump into the story. Let’s go on.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): So at that point, it had been about a month, and we needed to arrange some funds. We had the idea, it was formed, we had the brand, the sales collateral, the doctors, and they were just waiting for patients. And after a certain time, we were going to lose their trust. And there were a lot of promises made behind the scenes that I wasn’t aware of. And I can understand why only after two months people start getting frustrated, especially the doctors. There was a lot of pressure.
Morgan (Host): What sorts of behind-the-scenes promises were made?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): As a result, there were volume and case delivery guarantees made without any facts. I was in charge of the vetting because I was managing the development of the application and working on product development; in addition, I have a background in marketing. Due to the overwhelming amount of work, I was unable to focus on both at once. In order to help us, we actually looked for another marketing firm. And that person was extremely gifted and skilled at what he did. But we brought him in, and he joined the team a few months later right before we were about to get investment money.
At this point, I was definitely invested and felt comfortable going to a friend who trusted me quite a bit. He was a really good friend of mine and a very nice person. I told him the idea and he did his homework with his team, and we ended up pulling in a pretty decent size seed investment round. And, that was great, because it gave us the power. We now had a marketing person too. We had the ability and a very talented team behind us. And things were moving right.
Morgan (Host): The investment that came into the comments was through you or them?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): It came in through them, but via me as the contact, so I had my social equity on the line with my trust and reputation to pull that in. You have this innocent person who has nothing to do with it, who trusts you, and you’re about to see what happens. Some warning signs started appearing. In early conversations with some fortune 500 companies, we were dealing with Ally Bank because our market was so appealing.
There is a huge financing potential for this fast-growing market, so at the moment, dropping the name of our industry and showing the team behind us was enough to get everyone excited and create a large team that would develop integration and automation in those places. After that, we met with some of these bigger people, and I noticed something was wrong when our CEO talked about us being a trillion-dollar company, but we hadn’t sold a single product. And I was like, “What is he talking about?”
Morgan (Host): The ambition to become a trillion-dollar company, at that time, or the fact that it was a trillion-dollar company?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): The audacity to say that to a company in your first meeting, and then act as if they will miss an opportunity worth trillions of dollars if they don’t provide the best price possible. It was just a very, very strange meeting. After listening to the whole meeting, I think we all felt like we were in physical pain. But that didn’t end there. The same thing came out with every person we met after that, billions, and hundreds of billions, we’ll be the first trillion dollar device company. And it didn’t make any sense.
As part of his duties at the previous company, selling these doctors and establishing networks, this guy had promised to bring in 50 doctors within the next six months. However, despite all of those efforts, we only managed to bring in 12 or 13 doctors. We would complain every time this individual dropped the bomb since nothing would ever happen now and nothing would ever result from it. But oh my god, if someone else didn’t follow through on a commitment, hell would rain down. So it was an odd situation where nobody held the top three accountable, but everyone else would suffer the consequences.
I believe I was pretty immune to anything there, assuming there was anything at all. I believe they needed me at the moment to accomplish the goal. They needed me for that model. Today, they are using a different model. But they needed me for that model. As a result, I was able to defend the team as much as I could using my immunity. But the attacks kept coming.
Every week, there was a different target. In the end, it was the marketing person at one point, or the customer service person, and everyone except the top brass, who was just taking one phone call a day.
Morgan (Host): For long, long, 20 years, I worked at a company where they were having a bunch of problems and were firing people regularly. And after firing someone, the top brass would always say that all the problems in the company were caused by that person. And three months later, he would fire someone else by putting all the blame on him. And that taught me that basically, the top people talking shit about a particular person in front of current employees only makes the top brass look bad. In other words, if a person makes a mistake, it is whatever, but if every problem is caused by every single employee, then it might not be the employees.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): It’s not, and we created a revolving door, it taught me a lot about culture. It’s not possible to grow a company without looking at attrition and reasons why people leave. It’s a lack of appreciation, it is a lack of understanding, imagine someone who doesn’t understand your department or what you do and expects something because they overpromised something, but they don’t get it, which is impossible. Given the tools and resources we had, it was impossible, especially when they failed, in the beginning, to deliver what they promised, which would have made everything all right.
So it was a downward spiral caused by a lot of different things. We started getting complaints about the quality of the product as well down the road, there were a lot of deliveries missing because the person in charge of logistics wasn’t doing very much. And that was another one of the top brass. Also, the company was a foreign company and they were trying to make a foray into the US as the manufacturer. So there were some supply chain issues too. You know, you can handle it through customer service, but at some point
Morgan (Host): The company itself was foreign or supplier was foreign?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): The supplier of the product is a foreign company. They had a good quality product, but the deliveries to the US were not 100% great. They had a lot of problems that were painful to wear and eventually we resolved those issues, but there was a lot of kickback and we lost people as a result. So rather than growing at a pace that we were supposed to be growing, we were losing people. So we lost a lot of credibility right away in early vendor discussions. Our product was phenomenal, but then we had a team that didn’t understand the investment required to build an application.
Those people thought that things would work out if they hired a developer. However, when working with payment systems, you are gathering data. That’s PII, you’re dealing with security, you’ve got the infrastructure, and all of these things require someone who has worked in the field for a while to properly grasp them. People don’t realize Mark Cuban will tell you that if you don’t state $500,000 or more whenever you go and claim you’re building an app, he’ll laugh in your face and tell you that it’s simply not possible.
Morgan (Host): Mark Cuban was in there? I didn’t know that!
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Yeah, in Shark Tank. People seriously underestimate the budget of an app, so if you say you’re building one, he’ll immediately ask you about how much money you’re setting aside. I don’t think the general population understands.
Morgan (Host): I think there is a more general explanation of that observation, which states that people frequently understand the complexities of their own business but assume that everything in other industries is quite simple.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): That was one of my favorite things to say. I don’t care if you have 30 years in the legal industry, you know nothing about software. This person did a couple of contracts with software developers. However, they forgot to do a contract with us. But that ultimately worked in my favor because honestly, I was able to park very easily. I handed over everything. I did everything down the road, but it was just these huge missteps. Except for the CEO, who was fully committed to it, none of them were. However, he was the root of all the problems. Therefore, the more we gave him the freedom to act, the worse it grew and the fewer opportunities there were.
Morgan (Host): So the point is, do you remember the old saying about boiling a frog gently to prevent it from jumping out? So it seems like you were being gently cooked through this story. Did something big happen or was there a point when you consciously added all the things and realized that it was fucked up?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Yes, It ended up being one of those cultures where there was a split between the top brass and everyone else. Although we were doing the majority of the labor, the weekly attacks, with their constant swapping of targets, quickly became tiresome. And so we moved on; at one point, we all joined together because the idea was so great that it temporarily overshadowed all of our efforts. And we succeed in removing the CEO from the daily operations for a day or so.
At that point, we threatened to leave the company if the CEO didn’t resign and make this change. But it was irrelevant to the board, and he continued to pull puppet strings while whispering in people’s ears. And that was the point where we all said that we were out. And all three of us left right away. You know, there had been a lot of issues. You look at people in abusive relationships and wonder, how could they let that happen? That’s how I’ve always perceived myself. Someone who lacks the confidence to decline. Well, when someone overpromises you the world, you see it, and it becomes reality.
You may occasionally become blinded and more willing to take the punishment that comes with it. In some relationships, they promise to take you on vacation and spend a lot of money taking you to this all-inclusive resort. So that you forget about the time when they called the cops and locked you in a room.
Morgan (Host): I want to add a different point that you glossed over in passing. I like how you said that a good deal overshadows everything else, And I think that’s a really important point. Sometimes, when something is so amazing emotionally and psychologically, your mind blocks out all the problems. As well, I’ve seen the same working with brands and superstars, but it’s so and so. Because of the name or idea, your mind doesn’t even register the awful, terrible behaviors or decisions and the huge Red Flags that it is about to explode.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): It has changed my entire perspective of people in general. I have fired clients since then. Over the years, I have become a lot more aggressive about ensuring that people are good and respectful, like the amount of fighting I did to defend people who were doing hard work but getting screamed at for things that were outside of their control. These people were so awful, that I couldn’t believe they existed, I spent hours screaming, and my wife heard me scream for two, or three hours.
Morgan (Host): So far, we are talking about things overall. I’d love to hear an example of them being terrible, because our audience, and especially me, would love to hear one specific example. They were not doing full-time. Are there any quintessential moments where your listeners or I would think, Wow, these guys are real scumbags when the horribleness came out?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): There are so many stories, but one that comes to mind is the CEO trying to get everybody on board with firing our hardest working person. The person who managed an entire video photoshoot, worked 16 hours a day, recruited everyone, and handled so many logistics. But she did that so smoothly that it looked easy. It was like talking to a multi-talented individual, but the CEO was calling all of us to badmouth her and was trying to fire her because he wanted to make room for another person at his previous company, who he thought was slightly better.
He ended up joining the company later and also caused another mess behind the scenes. That previous company that they work in had this vicious culture. It’s a very litigious industry, the moment we left, we felt great. It was rainbows and sunshine after that but there’s recovery after that it was a lot to process. They faced a lawsuit right away from one of the largest companies. The culture of everyone talking about each other behind their backs in this industry was something I’d never seen before.
I come from the candy industry where everybody is happy. We trade nerds and Oreos. All of us go to dinner at the end of the trade shows, even our biggest competitors. It’s respectful. You have some fun, get some drinks, and talk about the industry. But they were terrible as they were just constantly spying, trying to figure out what was going on with each company. I know that happens. It’s very common.
Morgan (Host): I want to point out that your example of humans doing something is really good. It caused two examples of bad behavior that are worth noting. One is I have a personal rule of thumb, in which I don’t say anything negative about anyone unless I’m willing to say it to their face, period.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): It’s funny because every word I’m saying, I’ve said 100 times to their faces.
Morgan (Host): You are great, you follow the same rules, but notable thing is that the boss contacted each of you privately to badmouth the girl. If the CEO does that, it is a Red Flag, because he is badmouthing her behind her back. I have a very New York attitude, so if you’re going to badmouth someone, look them in the eye, unlike the Californians who would never bad mouth anyone but will ghost them and disappear.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): There would not have been a problem if that person understood her job and could fathom it, but he wasn’t capable of doing so. He was not capable of empathy. He couldn’t even fathom how much work she did. He just looked at the things he understood and assumed that they were super easy to do. And I think from that place that he was at, he was unqualified to be a CEO. His termination was not because he had left, but because he was terminated, and given an ultimatum.
The reason, he was a number one salesperson was due to a client we brought in, who refused to talk to him after a month and hated him. It was weird. All of the partners that were at the top had one foot in the company, except for the CEO whose one foot was in the company and one foot on another ship. One of them was still managing their law firm, and the other one was also still managing. He was great in trying to make a connection with the vendors in one aspect by telling them a story and then telling us a story and sort of working the whole thing out. He was very sneaky about trying and working both sides and it ended up being one of the things that I noticed. And he was a very measly person, and I’m sorry, but I would say these things in person to them too.
Morgan (Host): I commented behind people’s backs since we’re being anonymous. I didn’t mean that against you. I mentioned that as a criticism of the CEO’s behavior because I think it’s very bad behavior of the CEO to criticize anyone working with them. Sometimes, you have to criticize people. The CEOs’ mistake is criticizing them behind their back.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Yeah! This was the issue: given the circumstances, which they didn’t fully disclose to us, then the audacity to come after us, and anyone on the team who was working hard, I think that was what made it the worst. It was just the inability to accomplish anything on their own, the inability to achieve anything, and using their years of experience as a number to try and establish something, but really, all three of them together couldn’t move a mountain. They had an abusive culture around them. And that’s why I have zero regrets for leaving the way I did. So that being said, there were lessons learned though.
Morgan (Host): Yeah! Unfortunately, in my experience, this type of inability to do stuff is just characteristic of life and big companies. In other words, some of the big companies are not the ones that are promoted. They’re the ones that have a remnant of their former selves squeezed out of them to quit.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Got it! And that is true. I am also confident in saying these things because it wasn’t just me who noticed. Our vendors, doctors everyone noticed that. Several doctors left because of the way that they perceived the people being treated. My entire team at Brandcoders was waiting for me to leave. I felt like I was violating their trust if I didn’t do that since they dealt with those people every day. And I was there to guard them. But I was also putting them right in front of the lions, where they could only hear criticism and attacks. And it was so rampant and crazy.
Fortunately, it did not bleed in our culture. However, we witnessed that culture and did not want to be in it. We learned some lessons, such as the importance of understanding and respecting those who suffer through horrible relationships. When someone experiences domestic abuse, they feel like they are beaten down. Isn’t that absurd? How the analogy between domestic violence and business comes full circle makes me feel understood. I know what it feels like to be humiliated.
Morgan (Host): As If you’re locked in a closet.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): That’s it! I had a fairly good upbringing, great family, lots of support, friends, great team. Even I fell into that trap. So, anyone is susceptible. One of the big lessons learned is to look for the signs right away. In my book, if I see someone try such a thing or speak badly about someone, I’m immediately on alert.
Morgan (Host): There’s another lesson, or let’s say, a Yellow Flag to look out for in this culture of politics. Some people want to get stuff done. And some people only want to gossip and talk about people and complain. And it’s almost incompatible. When it’s all about moving pieces on a chessboard, those people will likely move them against you at some point.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Absolutely! And that’s exactly what happened has they figured out all loopholes, you know, too, in the end, I wanted no part of the company anyways, I didn’t want to be linked to them in any way. In other words, they found a way to get us out of what we earned, but I knew the company wouldn’t go very far with the team that it had, Regardless of the help they got, they would always have puppet strings in the background, and one person trying to control with politics, so nothing would get done. So it was a clean cut. It was such a relief the day we quit, it was just the three of us going out and celebrating, you know, and catching up every month for a little while. And I created a great relationship with them.
Morgan (Host): Breaking up with someone who deserves to be broken up with has an interesting consequence; it’s because you’re always scared. This is why humans are scared to cut off that money, that equity, that hope of something. But once you cut it free, it’s so relieving.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): It is! In those cringe-worthy meetings, we were meeting with huge companies and watching the CEOs embarrass us. We couldn’t predict if he would embarrass us by saying something. He’d say racist things to a group of people like a crazy person. Speaking with no candor, using inappropriate language, walking up to people, and telling them our product can help them with the part of their body that isn’t ideal. And people won’t just shake their hand with him on that. You have to understand that this person was not normal. He was like a walking shell of a man with no understanding or empathy.
Morgan (Host): To be a good leader, you need a few different characteristics. And he seemed to be lacking in all of them. Putting them into words or summarizing them might help you identify whether the people you might work with are missing any of them. One that you mentioned is empathy. To work in accomplice with anyone, they will need to understand your situation.
Working with people without empathy will make you think that they treat you well, but that is not true. When things go wrong, they may not understand your financial situation, or may not know how much things cost, so your empathy always turns against you. As a result, I value doing things in the spirit rather than being political, so like leaders or clients who want to accomplish something, I am that person rather than just being political. The extreme version of that is where one consequence micromanages you, so you always need that healthy balance between the two.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Absolutely! Part of the reason we’re there is that information is siloed, right?
Morgan (Host): Oh yes! Siloed information is a really good one.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): It’s a very good indicator. You should be extremely concerned if people are hesitant to share their visions or plans with you or if you observe a difference between their words and what is actually happening, which is a major Red Flag. And we were ready at that point I think. They were infighting and just constantly infighting. In good cultures, there are no people who do things wrong on purpose, so how can you focus on going forward with constant fighting, finger-pointing, and blame games? Sometimes despite doing their best, things turn bad. In the right circumstances, letting people fail is okay if you’re encouraging them properly. Creating an environment where people are afraid to fail, and never try anything, will cause you guys to stagnate. So one of the lessons we learned was to not be afraid to try something. People were afraid to fail because they would become a target if they failed. That is why in that horrible culture where instead of growing in knowledge and expertise, we ended up regressing.
Morgan (Host): Yeah, I like your infighting observation. The most common pattern of these is seeing other people do bad things and thinking it won’t turn into you being pulled into it. And it’s incredible to me. I often tell clients and companies I invest in that what kills companies. Is it murder? Is it suicide? It’s the infighting that is so common and brings teams down.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Absolutely! And I think every company will have some form of infighting when you have partners. It’s like a marriage. It is impossible to have a healthy marriage without arguments because one partner may not be expressing himself or herself appropriately. So their arguments are a part of a healthy company. You should make a point, it should go to vote, and you should accept the vote. That is the right way.
Morgan (Host): There is also my perception of that. I do agree that it is similar to marriage, on the one hand. There will so be disagreements. On the other hand, I believe there are constructive and destructive ways to disagree, whether in a business setting or a marriage. “I’m shocked that you did that. You’re terrible! You’re awful! You do what you always do, duh duh duh.” On the other hand, having healthy arguments is, it requires some sophistication and some experience.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): That’s the whole point, as I said when you have healthy arguments, you can choose votes. In contrast, when someone is siloing information, trying to make them look bad, telling lies, or trying to convince a person of something that is simply not true. It’s impossible to have a good organization if everyone isn’t on the same page or is dishonest. I’ve learned that you need to trust your partners.
And I know that seems obvious, but you need to trust them. Of course, why wouldn’t you? Why would you join them if you didn’t trust them? But now I’ve really understood what trust means. The reputation of the resume or anything else goes so much deeper than that. It goes deeper into several things, like these little tiny signs that we discussed earlier, like the way they treat others if they talk bad, and you know, the rules, they tell you or someone else that they’re talking about you, etc.
Morgan (Host): These are great points. I have two points to add to that. One, you had a great observation a moment ago that everyone must be on the same page and organization. The outcome of that is that it’s important to repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat what page you’re on, even if we’re on the same page as you. Even when people aren’t assholes, you’re right that everyone needs to get along with everyone. I have been in situations where I thought we were on this page, and the other person thought we were on a completely different page.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): That will ruin an organization, but if you have a vision and you repeat the vision, some lack of clarity on the vision would be fixable. I think what I’m more focused on is the non-fixable traits of personality.
Morgan (Host): You can’t turn a scumbag into a non-scumbag.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): After six months of trying so hard and when you’re talking one on one to these people, they would say, “I understand. I know what I did wrong. I want to change.” That’s a sign of a bad relationship. I never had a bad relationship. I’ve never been abused in a relationship. But those words don’t ring true. They swore to change but continue doing what they’re doing because they got you off their back for a month. I’ve noticed these behaviors are common ones that don’t work.
Morgan (Host): Yeah, which is why in these “Clients Horror Stories”, we talked about how to save and improve the situations. But often, it’s just recognizing everything early on because you can’t discumbagify someone. I like that word! I just invented it.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): They’re stuck. It is not unusual for people who have been successful in their life at a certain age to turn off that learning switch, thinking, “I do not want to learn anymore. I want to dictate.” Therefore, there are two types of older people. One type of people is always learning. They’ll buy the latest computers, and will try to understand what TikTok is. They might not use it, but they’ll understand it because they want to learn. And then you have the other generation that is the opposite. You could be in either bucket, but you’ve done things the way you have.
There are many ways to skin a cat, and you did it one way, and it worked, great, but it’s not the same for everyone, so you must keep learning and understanding how society and the world work constantly. Some people get it, and some don’t, and the ones who don’t, need to recognize that when they’re young and have a different perspective on life. The world is open to them, so if they try to hold on to something that they’re losing, it won’t work. There’s another dynamic there with those types of people. Whereas with the other type of same age, they are more open to listening and learning and will get along with you just fine.
So that was another interesting observation from dealing with those people. I’ve dealt with people who were way more experienced, had many more years in business, and were constant learners and a pleasure to work with, and some people aren’t. People who have fallen into that bucket are not pleasant to work with.
Morgan (Host): I love it! I agree! I would add that it could be a great way to find good people to work with. Like you can tell if someone’s a good learner or not at any age by asking, “What’s the most recent book you read?” Readers are more likely to be lifelong learners than non-readers. You can also ask anybody at any age, ‘Have they learned a new skill recently?” My best friend at the university grew up in the house next to mine. I grew up in his house, so his parents are like my parents’ age, well past retirement. In the last three years, they took silversmithing classes and now make such beautiful silverware and have turned the whole basement into this.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): I bet you have fun at parties too. I bet you tell stories galore because it is a common marker. One of the screening questions and the first 15 minutes of the interview with any potential candidate, we have a phenomenal team because of the lessons I learned from this company. Because I had this entire experience, I knew exactly what I didn’t want at the moment. What I learned is that culture is defined by what you tolerate. In other words, if you tolerate someone making fun of someone else and you do not address it, then that’s now the new baseline, you’ve lowered the bar.
And eventually, you lower the bar so low that the revolving door starts, and people start attacking each other and don’t help each other anymore. It is important to maintain that high standard to address any behavior that violates those values. That is what your core values should be. And that’s who we are. That’s what this organization is. So you define your core values, and you say, we trust each other? One example of a cultural violation is, “The toilet paper roll shouldn’t have been stolen, so why did you? I’m not bothered by the dollar. I would have given you six if you had asked for it when you came in and took it. But why did you act that way? Why did you do that without first asking?” That’s a code violation.
To maintain a good culture, setting guidelines and addressing them when they occur are crucial to maintaining the culture. In light of the pandemic, we are one of the few companies that had only a 5% attrition rate and still talked about the people that left withdrawing from 13 to 22. The best lesson I’ve ever learned was not to tolerate behaviors but to let them go. Because it festers and becomes something uncontrollable. So that was one of the biggest lessons that I think I took from that
Morgan (Host): Reminds me of the final lines of Shakespeare’s sonnet 94; “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” I was on a call, an hour ago, talking about company culture. And I made the argument that a culture is defined by what that culture rewards. Your point about our culture is defined by what it tolerates is like the converse of this seat. A culture allows anything to be done from here to here but you can define it by adding a boundary. Don’t tolerate anything past the sign. Therefore, I would add my point to yours right now and say, “Culture is defined by the boundaries of their culture.”
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): I’m sure if you blindfold yourself right now, and I guide you and say, left, left, left and only say left when I wanted you to turn left. But I never said right. It would take you a lot longer to find if I told you there was a left and a right.
Morgan (Host): Oh, I like that example!
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): I can guide you a lot straighter. I can guide you into the exact culture that I want. It’s about defining both sides. What you tolerate, but also what you reward. I like rewarding creativity. I reward people who try things and fail and when they succeed, I reward them big time. As an innovative company, we fail a lot, so I want them to feel comfortable with failure, which is part of what we do. Don’t be afraid to fail. And it has helped my culture tremendously. I love everyone in the company. I would hang out with them. If you have a good company culture and nice people, it takes away so many problems. You don’t realize how much time you spend on infighting and fixing things so you can finally move on.
Morgan (Host): Totally! It has been great! We had lots of super interesting lessons and stories. And our conversation has been fun on top of all that.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Thank you, Morgan! And appreciate you having me the on this podcast.
Morgan (Host): It was great! Any final thoughts to wrap up or share a lesson that you did not get to?
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): There are things I regret in this business, there are things I’m happy I went through. I realize that in this instance, there were many good words said at some point, but sometimes it’s just not the right thing to say. But the vital thing is we learned some lessons. My lessons proved more valuable than anything else and led me to where I am now. So sometimes, you don’t have to learn by doing it. If you listen to Morgan Friedman, and “Client’s Horror Stories”, you don’t have to experience them yourself. I’ve enjoyed watching some of your podcasts because I learned without going through that stuff.
Morgan (Host): I started this to help younger versions of us learn without experiencing the pain you and I had. On the other hand, I chose this format because I wanted to learn about the podcast, and I thought it would be fun. And it is. We made new friends like you. But on top of that, I think you cannot learn these lessons if you just read them in a book. All these books of advice ask us to make sure of a client. However, it’s only when you hear these traumas that you realize that smart, competent, hardworking people like yourself have been in these miserable situations, just like you. That’s when the stories resonate home and you can learn the lesson much more effectively than generic advice in a book.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): And I think one of the most important things to that point is, you never know you’re in it until you’re in it too deep.
Morgan (Host): Oh, loved your point.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): I won’t criticize someone about that again like I was never criticized for it. I just didn’t understand it. Now that I fully understand it, I can defend someone who is in that position immediately. You never know how something will work out until it just clicks one day, and you wonder, “How did this happen? Why am I here?”
Morgan (Host): That is fantastic advice to end the episode on. I don’t think anyone has made that observation before. But I bet it’s great. I would add to your observation that you never know you’re in it until it’s too deep, this is an awesome reversal of the classic line, You can’t see the forest for the trees! because then you usually step back to see the big picture. In contrast, you make like the harder negative inverse of that, like, you’re stuck in the bottom of the well, surrounded by darkness. You don’t even realize you’re stuck at the bottom of the well until you’re stuck at the bottom of the well.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): There’s always a rope that was hidden all along. And now you’re like, oh,
Morgan (Host): Exactly! always shining from the above.
Dimitri Constantine (interviewee): Exactly! After that, you have to climb out of the well, but once you’re out, everything is normal again. So it was a pleasure. Morgan, thank you!
Morgan (Host): Thank you for being here and thank you to everyone who made it to the end!
This article was based on Episode # 26: Dimitri Constantantine’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!