It’s during the first internet boom. One small company was both my easiest interview ever, and was also one heck of a learning experience in 7 words.

It was a startup, and I knew the person who was CTO. A friend of mine who I had worked with before was employed here. When I was looking for work he said “come in, we’ll get you started there.”

So unannounced I walked into the office of the CTO with my friend. I had worked for him before. He looked up from the desk and saw me and said “I don’t have any money to pay you.” My response was a shrug and saying “I know.” He asked, “When can you start?” I suggested: “Tomorrow?”

And that was the job interview. Thankfully within the week they found funds to pay me and we did the normal job paperwork.

It was fun and a lot of work. The idea was a good one and we were quickly making progress.

The business guys sold it well and we soon had the interest of a VC fund. Though most of us at the worker level had no idea that was going on.

The execs kinda messed up the surprise. They decided the best thing was to surprise their half-dozen tech people with a fancy meal at a local golf club lunch for the team.

Let’s be clear: this was a very upscale golf club. One of the tech guys was weaering his “little engine that couldn’t give a rat’s ass” t-shirt.

The kind of tech rats that would staff a startup were not a golfing crowd.

But the news came out. Millions had been invested. We would be stable. We would be a real company with funding behind making this idea actually work.

Later, back at the office, there was a more detailed meeting and presentation. Including introducing a few folks that were coming on board and how ownership of the new corporation would break down.

I noticed a discreptency though. They were describing ownership of the company, but some things were missing.

I rasised my hand and asked: What happened to the stock options?

Bear in mind the ownership slide they were discussing in front of us was supposed to reassure us: our exec team was still mostly in charge. But in the process they had mentioned total ownership of the company.

Then came the sentence that was an education in seven words:

“Your stock options were dissolved in the transaction.”

That was a smack in the face. Bear in mind I had worked for-free for this company and long-hours for sub-market pay with the idea that stock-options could make up for that compensation deficit.

That day I learned a valuable lesson. Unless the company is public, stock options are merely a promise. At best. And even if the company is public, I still don’t trust them.

I’ve had a few people suggest that I should have sought legal help at that point. But bear in mind I had worked for an extended period for survival-level pay. I had no cash to engage the lawyer.

Even then, the new company was not public. They could easily have diluted my shares to nothing.

I watched a later company do that with their employees.

Fun times.