Finding Bronto

I REALLY wanted to work for Red Hat when I was a starry-eyed, job-searching senior at UNC in 2001/2002. I recall thinking that the company seemed "cool" and appreciating how it had built a business around the open source concept. (How does a company sell free software?!?)

After submitting my resume through the UNC career services office and, I presume, passing the initial resume screen, I interviewed with the company in February 2002. I was interviewed by a newly-minted Kenan-Flagler MBA, Chaz Felix. I don't remember much about the interview, other than feeling really nervous and Chaz asking me a question about Red Hat's competition:
2001 Chaz - Which of the following do you think competes with Red Hat - HP, Compaq, or IBM?

2001 Eric - Uhhh. IBM?

2001 Chaz - Why?

2001 Eric - Uhhh. Because they are a services-based company? They compete with Red Hat for large scale enterprise implementations?

2001 Chaz - Exactly. At Red Hat, we blah blah blah...

2001 Eric - (Sweet Jesus. I can't believe I was right...)

I managed to muddle my way through the conversation such that I felt pretty good leaving the interview. Per my Kenan-Flagler undergraduate brainwashing training, I emailed a "thank-you for the interview" note to Chaz after the interview. His reply:

Email from Red Hat Chaz

(Yes - this and the others are screenshots of the actual emails.)

Unfortunately, I didn't hear from the company after a few weeks, so I emailed Martha in HR. (Not sure why I didn't email Chaz.) She replied saying that Red Hat has decided against hiring for their MBA Associate Rotational Program. I remember thinking that it was not a good sign that they weren't hiring MBAs - surely they weren't hiring undegrads either. I replied saying that I wasn't an MBA student and that I was interested in the Analyst Rotational program. Sure enough, I got my ding.

(Based on the ~350% increase in share price between then and now, I should have just sunk my life savings in the company and left it at that. But I digress...)

Through a pretty funny set a circumstances that I'll perhaps detail later and (mostly) good luck, I ended up getting a gig working full-time for the Kenan-Flagler IT department as a Computer Consultant. However, I never gave up on my Red Hat ambitions.

After emailing a few folks in Red Hat HR and keeping tabs on their website, I got word of a career fair. I didn't qualify for any of the positions that they were trying to fill, but that didn't matter to me - I had an "in" with my "relationship" with Chaz Felix. So I took a half-day and rode over to Red Hat HQ in Raleigh to make something happen.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the career fair wasn't one of the "show up and work the room" type. They had a gatekeeper that screened your resume and asked you a few questions at the door. If you were legit, you made it in. If you weren't, you made the walk of shame back out the door.

Obviously, this was sub-optimal - my resume was a joke. (It actually listed that I was proficient in MS Office, among numerous other pedestrian software applications.) So I gave it my best shot:
2002 Eric - Hi. I'm Eric.

Red Hat Guy - Hi, Eric. Do you have a copy of your resume?

2002 Eric - (Clears throat.) I'm here to see Chaz Felix.

Red Hat Guy - (Smiles while scanning my resume.) Chaz doesn't work here any more.

2002 Eric - ...

Red Hat Guy - Thanks for your interest.

So that was pretty embarrassing, not to mention a waste of a half-day.

Once I figured out that I would be there for a while, it didn't take long for me to realize that I hated working at Kenan-Flagler. I loved my co-workers, but hated the job and the "state employee" mentality. So, I trolled the career listings daily in search of my escape.

One fateful afternoon in the Spring of 2003, I came upon a "Sales and Marketing Associate" position for BrontoMail, Inc. The hiring manager was none other than Chaz Felix. My email exchange with Chaz:

Eric Emails Chaz

I interviewed with BrontoMail that Friday. I showed up at their "offices" in Meridian Parkway and waited around until "they" showed up - I didn't know what to expect. After I had milled around in the lobby for a few minutes, Joe and Chaz popped out of the elevator - Chaz in shorts and a t-shirt and Joe in his trademark white-button down, jeans, black belt, black socks, and black shoes. (Some things never change...) Chaz says "Hey - there he is!" and away we went.

The interview went down at BrontoMail's "Headquarters", which was actually an over-sized utility closet. Seriously - it was an interior room with no windows and a few small desks. The first thing I remember thinking to myself was "Where am I going to sit?"

I don't remember very much from the interview. I recall trying to focus the conversation around my efforts to start Aerea Consulting, a home/small business technology "consulting" (read: home wireless router installation) company a few friends and I were trying to get off the ground. I quickly realized that extreme "start-up-iness" at BrontoMail, so I figured they would appreciate the experience. Plus, talking my way into after-hours home tech support gigs with Kenan-Flagler faculty and staff comprised the extent of my sales experience, so I had to let it ride.

It seemed to work. Later that day, I had the gig:

Bronto Hires Eric

We met that Monday and I joined the team. A few thoughts/memories:

- I knew I would accept the position when they offered to meet at Pepper's Pizza on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Either we connected subconsciously such that they mysteriously knew that I loved Pepper's or they picked up a hint I must of dropped in the interview. Regardless, any friend of Pepper's was/is a friend of mine.

- They quick turnaround was a mistake on their part. For one, it scared me. "Are they desperate? Do they know what they're doing? Is this a real business? Am I going to get paid?" For two, it gave me a (small) sense of leverage in the "negotiation". Thus, I felt validated asking that they at least match my Kenan-Flagler salary - which they didn't at first, but did by the end of the first slice. Though the difference was only a few grand, it meant a lot to me because Kelly and I were going to married a few months later and had already booked a fairly pricey honeymoon in St. John, U.S.V.I.

- After a single interview, I had an offer to take a position for which I had very little relevant experience. I was lucky because Bronto doesn't hire like this any more. Having made a few (hilariously bad) mistakes with shake and bake hires in the past, Bronto now requires that applicants. interview with at least 3 or 4 people at least 3 times before we will even considering offering them a job.

- Deciding to work at Bronto turned out to be one of the smartest decisions I've ever made.

More about my time at Bronto later this week.