An inspirational story about a technology product developer named Marty Bodley who forged his own company just weeks after being laid off. The now successful entrepreneur knows exactly what laid-off workers are going through, and he shares his own experience of what it was like to lose his job and start anew. His advice is useful, timely and encouraging.
By Meridith Levinson
Meet Marty Bodley. He runs Revolabs, a manufacturer of wireless audio products that he started in 2005. Today, Revolabs sells its products in 40 countries and boasts 50 Fortune 100 companies as customers. After two consecutive years of 300 percent growth, the privately-held company is holding its own despite the recession.
Unlike many business owners, Bodley is cautiously optimistic that Revolabs will continue to grow this year, even if it’s just by 30 percent, provided the economy doesn’t worsen.
For his part, Bodley, who’s 42, is doing well for himself and for his wife and three kids, ages 12, 9 and 5. He earns a comfortable living, drives a BMW 3 Series (which he bought in 2005), and last month he took his family skiing at Mont Tremblant, where actress Natasha Richardson sustained a fatal head injury. He feels fortunate, secure.
Six years ago, Bodley was in a very different position. He had been laid off from his role as director of new technology for GNNetcom, a headset manufacturer, in March 2003. He immediately started looking for a new corporate job, but he really wanted to start his own company. The layoff, he says, was the “kick in the pants” he needed to pursue the entrepreneurial dream that had long lingered in the back of his mind.
Countless professionals have used a layoff as a catalyst for career change. One high profile example is JibberJobber Founder Jason Alba. They view the job loss, as devastating as it may be, as an opportunity to embark on a more satisfying career or to start the new business they always dreamed of launching but always felt that they couldn’t. (Leaving the golden handcuffs and numbing comfort of their existing job always seemed too risky.)
But when some people get laid off, a switch flips in their mind. The job loss emboldens them. They think, What do I have to lose? This may be my only chance to pursue my dream.
That was certainly the case for Bodley. Part of him had always wanted to strike out on his own, and in 2003, he finally had the opportunity. Here, Bodley shares what it was like to lose his job and explains how he started his own company so that all aspiring entrepreneurs and down-on-their-luck layoff victims can learn from—and be inspired by—his experience.
The irony of Marty Bodley’s story is that he knew there was going to be a series of layoffs where he worked, at GNNetcom’s office in Nashua, N.H. He was part of the management team that was planning the reductions. He just didn’t know that his job was at stake, too.
On the contrary, Bodley thought the company wanted to keep him on board. His boss, based at the company’s headquarters in Copenhagen, had asked him if he wanted to run a product development group in Denmark. Bodley and his wife seriously considered the offer, which involved becoming ex-pats, but ultimately decided such a move was too much for their young, growing family (they had two kids at the time, ages six and three, and one on the way) to undertake.
Since he had survived the first few rounds of layoffs at GNNetcom, Bodley thought he would continue in his business development post, managing GNNetcom’s business relationships with large original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) based in North America, such as Motorola, Nokia and Panasonic.
“I was under the impression that I would continue doing that role, until one day when I was sat down and told that the role was no longer going to be available,” recalls Bodley.
The news that his job was being eliminated was a shock, but the writing may have been on the wall. Bodley says the management team started joining him on meetings with key customers several months before he lost his job, something the management hadn’t done in the past.
“They kept me on until they felt they had developed enough of a relationship with the customers that they could tell the customers that I was leaving and have it not be a problem,” he says.
“I had been working for 15 years in my career and had never been close to being laid off,” adds Bodley. “It was a very sobering experience, very humbling. I can sympathize with everyone who’s getting laid off these days.”
That day, Bodley says his 40-mile drive from his office in Nashua to his home in one of Boston’s western suburbs seemed longer than usual. He called his wife from the road to deliver the bad news.
“That was really tough,” he says. “No matter what people tell you about how it’s not performance-related, somewhere, someone made the decision that you’re not contributing or you were the one who had to go. It’s tough. Especially with a wife and kids and a mortgage.”
Picking Up the Pieces
Bodley left GNNetcom with a small box filled with personal effects and three months worth of severance, which he says provided enough of a financial cushion for his family that he didn’t go into an immediate panic. But since he promised his wife that he’d have an income stream lined up by the time his severance ran out, Bodley immediately got on the task of finding a new job and worked at a frenzied pace.
He set up an office, which he called the command center, in his basement. He “bunkered” himself there from the time he got out of bed at six o’clock in the morning until he returned to bed at 11 or 12 at night. He looked for full-time positions with companies as well as opportunities to start his own business.
Before GNNetcom, Bodley had spent 10 years with Raytheon. He had left the defense contractor on good terms and says he had a standing invitation to return, but he didn’t want to.
“I wasn’t anxious to go back to the defense industry,” says Bodley. “Even though I had one job in the bank and several other opportunities that may have been likely, they weren’t jobs I wanted. I hoped to make something on a new business or startup.”
Six weeks into his job search, Bodley shifted his focus almost exclusively to starting his own company developing wireless headsets. He says he had received enough good feedback from potential customers that he felt confident he’d be able to land a contract and get his venture started.
Excitement and Anxiety
Even though Bodley knew he wanted to start his own company, he didn’t know how to go about it. He took direction from the articles he found on a website about establishing a small business in New England. He also hired a lawyer who specializes in early stage startups and obtained incorporation papers. He worked with a friend in advertising to come up with a name—Maestro—and logo for his firm. He registered domain names on his own and built a website.
“Those were very fun days,” Bodley recalls. “Every day I was doing something new that set the tone for the business. Even stationary and e-mail letterhead. Everything needed to be created.”
He also paid an accounting firm to pay Maestro’s bills, file its taxes and to supervise his book-keeping to ensure that he didn’t make any accounting mistakes. Bodley says hiring an accounting firm wasn’t very expensive, and not having to become a tax expert made hiring professional accountants even more worthwhile.
Bodley estimates that his startup costs totaled about $5,000, which he covered out of pocket.
But the fun soon gave way to the cold, hard reality of needing an income stream.
“I had vowed to my wife that I would get a job with a company were I not able to pay myself at the end of three months,” says Bodley. “There was a real possibility that I wouldn’t land a job in time, and that even though I had a good idea for a company, because of this self-imposed rule about needing income when my severance ran out, I felt like, ‘I gotta make this happen or else I’m not going to get another chance.'”
“It was like high-stakes poker,” he continues. “I was nervous and I’m not a good gambler. I’m the kind of guy who, if they hadn’t done the layoffs, I’d probably still be there [at GNNetcom]. The layoff was a kick in the pants.”
Bodley had good reason to worry. He was having trouble getting potential partners and customers to take him and his startup seriously.
“I had a lot of people say to me, ‘You’re just a guy working out of your basement’,” says Bodley. “People I wanted to partner with would say, ‘I’m a legitimate company. I have people I pay, and I pay rent. You’re just one guy in your basement. I deserve more of the deal that we’re doing because you’re not legitimate.’ “
Potential customers sang a similar tune, even though they knew Bodley well from his GNNetcom days. They asked him, What happens if you get hit by a bus?
“My only defense was that everything is a risk, and I’m offering you a better price,” says Bodley. “I had to do a lot of tap dancing. I told them that my plan was to add resources as soon as possible and that I’d have back up systems so that if I did get hit by a bus, everything would be above board.”
Bodley adds that it’s important to meet with potential customers and business partners in person when you’re trying to start your own company.
“You have to get people to trust you,” he says. “They have to get a sense of your passion. There are going to be times people won’t rally around you unless they see the fire in your eyes. When you’re in those face-to-face meetings, it comes through.”
Expansion and Contraction
Bodley’s tap dance eventually paid off. With a few weeks to spare before his deadline, he landed a major contract with Fellowes to design and develop Bluetooth headsets for the office products manufacturer. Fellowes paid him “an upfront chunk of money” from which he was able to draw a salary and rent office space.
“It was a good win for me and allowed me to keep going,” he says.
Bodley landed a second contract with Motorola at the beginning of 2004 and subsequently hired a total of seven employees.
Just as business began to roll with Maestro, Motorola cancelled its contract with the company. Bodley says he had to scrap his business plan, and employee salaries—including his own—were temporarily suspended.
“We had planned on another 18 to 24 months of business from that one contract,” he says, “and it was cancelled in one phone call.”
The experience of losing the contract, in part, prompted Bodley to spin a new company out of Maestro, which, at its height, generated between $5 million and $10 million a year in revenue. Bodley says he wanted more control over the destiny of his company; he didn’t want to leave so much of it in the hands of customers. Thus, Revolabs was born in July 2005.
No Turning Back
Bodley still feels the sting of having been laid off six years ago. His memory of that day and of the difficult phone call he made to his wife during his long car ride home remains clear in his mind, only now it serves as a reminder of how far he’s come.
Bodley has no regrets about starting his own company and not going to work for someone else. He says he’s much better off today personally, professionally and financially than he was six years ago, and though he doesn’t want to brag, he admits he’s making a lot more money now than he was then.
“Starting my own company is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done professionally,” he says. “It’s a good challenge for me and a good fit for me. It’s been good for my family as well.”