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Startup Offers to Lay Off Entire Staff in Name of Software Revolution

• Klint Finley via

RJ Owen had a bad feeling about this meeting.

It was a Monday afternoon, a couple weeks ago, and Owen — a product manager and design lead with Denver-based software company Convercent — had been called into a company-wide meeting with co-founder and CEO Patrick Quinlan. Quinlan began by saying that by the end of the meeting, every employee was going to have to make a choice. Owen rolled his eyes. He figured they’d all be asked to step forward and affirm their allegiance to the company mission — maybe even write their names on the wall as way of professing their love for the job at hand. He hated that sort of thing.

Over the next two hours Quinlan — a former U.S. Army Airborne Infantryman — outlined the state of the company and delivered a profanity-laden pep talk that did little dispel Owen’s fears that he was in for a cheesy team-building exercise. But then Quinlan picked up a stack of envelops. “Inside each envelop is a two-month severance check,” he told the room. “If this is not the job you want, if you don’t wake up in the morning to walk into this room to build a better company, go cash it.”

Convercent builds corporate governance and compliance software — applications that help companies make sure their employees follow internal policies and don’t break the law. Among tech startups, compliance software rates pretty low on the sex-appeal scale. But like so many other outfits, Convercent is trying to bring some zazz to an old software market through “consumerization,” spicing things up with Facebook-like interfaces and slick mobile apps. The difference is that the company has a CEO who will bet his entire staff in the name of this software revolution.

When Quinlan pulled out the checks, Owen was surprised, but he was still skeptical. He braced himself for the worst. Maybe everyone would tear up their checks in unison while chanting a slogan. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Quinlan told everyone that the soonest they could give an answer was the next day at noon. Quinlan encouraged everyone to go home, talk it over with their families, and make a decision. They had until the end of the day on Wednesday to make up their minds.

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