Updated: Sep 24, 2019
I sent the email announcing our closure very late on a Sunday night, didn’t sleep a wink, and went into Uplift around 4:45 a.m. I certainly couldn’t expect the front desk staff to work shifts when I knew I couldn’t pay them, so I’d planned to spend the next week until our last day manning the desk - which I hadn’t done in many years - and facing the music.
At 11:19 a.m., I got an email:
Danielle & Jacey here, the co-founders of Jane DO, a female empowerment dance-based fitness studio. We just sent you a DM and then saw the message on your website. We would LOVE to see the space. We are available to see the studio as early as this evening or tomorrow anytime after 4pm. Let us know if either of those times work for you. Please feel free to contact Danielle directly at: 201-390-9839 or send us an email.
Jacey & Danielle
I sat there for a solid minute, gazing at the message. The cursor hovered over “Archive”. I had JUST announced our closure. I was in no way ready to deal with this type of thing yet. I hadn’t gotten as far as a proper meal in two days, much less starting the process of getting someone to take over the last two years of my lease.
I don’t exaggerate when I say some invisible hand typed a message to Jacey and Dani, because I sure don’t recall doing it.
“Hi ladies,” I responded. “I have a quick window at 7:30 p.m. this evening. Can you make it in?”
It was, to say the least, an awkward situation for all of us: it was the day I announced publicly that I had to close down the business I’d toiled in, over, and on for almost ten years. They, in turn, really wanted the space to grow theirs, a women-only fitness and female empowerment studio, which in many ways was what Uplift could’ve been.
But as soon as I glimpsed those women, I felt a sense of peace and connection. The three of us even look similar, have the same spirits and energy. For the first time in months or longer, I felt a little bit of the weight lift off my shoulders, and felt hope.
At 8:07 p.m., about fifteen minutes after they left, I received an offer from them on the space.
Two days later, the three of us were sharing both a bottle of Rose and what we each needed and wanted from the deal. We were candid. I was vulnerable and shared the saga of Uplift’s downfall and all of the bills I needed to pay, and they were vulnerable and shared their fears and excitement about scaling into the land of giants in NYC.
We engaged in an open discussion about our objectives. I was there representing Uplift’s (wind-down) interests, and my own, since at that time, they were pretty inextricable. They, of course, were there to obtain the best deal they possibly could.
There was an undercurrent of real fucking support, though: I was ready to dive in and promote and bolster their burgeoning NYC studio even as that dream ended for me, and they were ready to dive in and amplify me in their community as an expert in female empowerment.
I’ve said many times that the universe sent me Jacey and Dani (which it did, because I specifically asked for it to do so. But that’s a story for another post).
There was a lot of magic happening.
But there was a lot of negotiation to be had, too. The day of our first meeting was Monday, June 24th. We didn’t notarize our agreement until Thursday, August 22nd and it went into effect September 1st. Even with all of the aforementioned connection and respect, that means we had to go through two months of negotiations to get to a conclusion and a deal that everyone could get behind.
Emails and phone calls went back and forth:
“When I glanced at this briefly this morning, I got excited because it appeared that we were close to where I needed to get and that we could bridge a perhaps small gap and get this deal done,” I wrote one day. “Unfortunately as it stands upon closer reading, your counter below is a non-starter for me.”
“We were operating with all of the information we had available to us at the time,” Jacey told me, frustrated, during another of our many phone calls.
“I’m prepared to walk away,” I told my attorney, adding, resigned, “I’ll figure out another deal, another company to take over the space and pay the landlord. It will happen.”
“What’s going to happen to you if this doesn’t go through?” Dani asked me at one point, with real concern.
“I’m excited to accept your final offer,” I wrote, with a genuine smile on my face in what felt like the first time in a long time.
I had negotiated two other times surrounding Uplift and each occasion was with the women with whom I’d founded the business (and who became former co-founders officially on January 1, 2016).
Each time wasn’t successful--for me, at least. The first time, I was in a hurry to take over the business from them. I was still insecure about our past interactions. The back and forth continued for ages. I never even got my own personal attorney. So many mistakes on my part. But it ended, in a word, fine.
The second time, in 2018, I tried to negotiate with them for more equity because I was running the business and running myself into the ground with the most minimal of pay for truly no upside--I didn’t even own 51% of said business, and in effect, I was working for the investors (who stood to get first dibs on any money coming out of the business). After another protracted round of negotiations, any hope for a deal fell apart because we were so far apart that I didn’t see any possible way to reach an outcome that was favorable for me. At the time, it didn’t make any sense to me, but I’ve spent the last six months thanking god(dess) for unanswered prayers, because the end of that round of negotiations coincided with the beginning of the end of Uplift.
With all three big negotiations, and the successful outcome of the third versus the earlier two with my former co-founders, the difference was part me and part with whom I was at the table.
With my former business partners, there was a lot of time, emotion, connection, and even resentment framing our relationship. Years of it, in fact, all in the proverbial bank, which obviously impacted the literal one.
Even though we’d always said we weren’t friends who came together and started a business, we were business partners who became friends--the implication being the business always came first--in retrospect, I think we were a little naive. Yes, the business was the primary impetus for us, but personal connections and emotions tend to supersede logic or objectivity...because we’re human beings and that’s just how we’re built.
Plus, for all of our pride in putting it first, we were young and first-time entrepreneurs, and I don’t think the three of us necessarily communicated all that well together as a unit about the business, which is truly the single most important skill co-founders have to develop, as painful as it can be sometimes.
Dani and Jacey call these “Diff Cons” (difficult conversations) and they have a formula for sitting down and getting them done, even when they’re tired, even when it’s the last thing they want to do. I’ve already learned a lot from them as fellow business women.
My co-founders aside, in business, I needed to learn how to have courage to
speak up. To communicate. To have a strong point of view on everything related to the business. To stand up for myself, and to make that point of view heard and respected. I decided that I would never not negotiate anything again.
Luckily for me, and really for all of us, when it came time to negotiate with Jane DO, I’d learned a lot. I didn’t back down.
I had to embrace the fear of what WOULD happen to me if the deal didn’t go through-if I couldn’t pay the landlord at least some of what I owed them, if I couldn’t pay the accountant to do the final tax return, if if if if if…(The answer is that, according to my Mom, “There is always a solution”, and I would’ve found (another) one). I was prepared to do what I had to do.
But I also never felt doubt that it would indeed go through.
I’m so proud of us: Jacey, Dani, and I all conceded. But while we were representing our respective interests, we actually worked together for our common good. Or as my dear friend Heather Buchanan says, “For the best of all involved.”
The higher good.
Through all of this, and my God, there was so much stress, I learned for the one millionth time that like-minded women coming together is a powerful fucking thing.
Or, as Shelley Zalis writes, “There is a special place in heaven for women who support other women,” later adding, “We need to reverse the stereotype that women don’t support other women. There is research that shows that women in particular benefit from collaboration over competition. Study after study shows women who support women are more successful in business.”
Jacey, Dani, and I are living proof. We didn’t compete, we collaborated. We could respect and preserve our own interests while actually building up one another at the very same time--we came together and once again, it showed me that while personal growth is key for empowerment, strength in numbers (i.e. the little community the three of us forged) is key for power, and our negotiations added a bit more of that to the world.