Crippled CEO Blog #114:
I once did work for a famous mobster.
Right before I dropped out of high school, I started a web design and computer repair business with one of my oldest and closest friends (to this DAY), Michael McGahee, and another member of our weird computer class. The other guy quickly lost interest, and then it was just Mike and I.
A handicapped highschooler doing entrepreneurial things was good press, and we got covered by several publications, but the most notable was USA Today.
Our feature in USA Today attracted the attention of one Frank Rosenthal.
Now, you probably don’t know that name. However, you probably do know Robert De Niro, and there’s a pretty good chance that you saw Robert De Niro in the movie Casino.
Mr. De Niro plays a character based on Frank Rosenthal in Casino.
Frank told me all of this when he called me, a barely 16-year-old, and explained that he was firing his fourth web designer in a year and he wanted to hire me for the job.
My Spidey senses tingled and a dozen crimson banners (y’know, red flags) appeared before my eyes.
And then I said, “Absolutely.”
Frank was upset that I had not seen the movie or read his biography, so he sent me a copy of both and told me it was required that I watch the film before starting the work.
While the book and DVD were on the way, my novice business skills were being tested. I prepared a quote, created a proposal, and asked for a deposit. Frank agreed to everything — no problem. I was pretty pumped.
When the movie arrived, I watched it with my parents. It’s a mob movie, with mob movie things. Thieving, murdering, car bombs, and so on. At one point, De Niro’s character (aka my client) has a crew beat the tar out of a guy who is putting the sausage in the spaghetti with his wife.
Meanwhile, the web design is underway and completed. The site was essentially a subscription business where folks could pay a monthly fee to get access to Frank’s (crazy accurate) sports betting picks.
Frank decides that part of my job as the web designer should be posting his picks every day… at 7 AM. For some reason, I agreed, but unfortunately, I was 16, and routinely failed miserably at transferring the info from his daily emails to the website on time.
Frank was getting angry. At one point, he told me there could be “consequences” if I failed to deliver again. He may have meant just firing me as his web designer, but given his history, the threat felt like it had more weight to it. But what was his history? All I had seen was the movie, and we all know that Hollywood exaggerates everything. Surely this was the case for Frank, as well.
So, I asked him. What did the movie get wrong, Frank?
“Well,” he said, and I imagined he paused to take the cigar out of his mouth on the other end of the phone, “you know how it showed me starting a TV show in the casino?”
“Yeah,” I said. “You didn’t?”
“No, no. I totally did. I hosted that show. It was great. But in the movie, Robert De Niro has me jugglin’ like some kind of clown.
I don’t fucking juggle.”
“Oh,” I said, swallowing a lump. “But that’s the only thing they got wrong?” I recalled the menagerie of crime and violence that flowed through the movie.
“Yeah,” he said. “That was it. Everything else? Exactly right.”
It was shortly after this that I told Mr. Rosenthal that I wasn’t able to continue being his web designer and I returned a portion of his money.
It was the first time that I learned two extremely valuable lessons in business: some work you should turn down, and sometimes, you need to fire your client.
Very, very politely.
(You know who wants me to put the sausage in her spaghetti? Your mom. She also gets a text from me every Sunday with a link to the latest blog post. Send a text to 561-726-1567 with the word CRIP as the message to get a link to the blog as soon as it’s up.)