Never say never, not to working for a spy nor blogging about it online, because I just did. The 20 or so people whom I’ve told this story to all ask me the same question: “So,” with a geeky grin, “What was she like?”
There were a lot of little quirks about. I’ll just tell the story of how we met and what happened, and you decide how she was.
Craigslist post reads: “Seeking Co-Founder, Exciting Start-up on Wall St, blah, etc…”
I send my resume. Get a call back. We set up an informal meet-and-greet at a Barnes & Noble in midtown (which I later found out through an NYTimes article was one of the secret locations for her spy-cell gatherings)
We sit down for coffee. She’s got a book on technology and innovation. She is friendly, but she isn’t laughing at my jokes. Weird Russian man is sitting next to me in the crowded B&N cafe, and he is Russian, but they don’t SEEM to know each other.
I make a bad joke, and Anna and the man she “doesn’t know” exchange a look; he makes a comment, and then, they continue to act like they don’t know each other. I try to engage the heavy-set Russian man with humor, but he doesn’t find me funny… that makes Anna laugh… and boom… we somewhat hit it off from there.
Same day. I get email on my blackberry from Anna: She wants to introduce me to some of the investors and interview me at her office near Wall Street. However, she switches the location at the last moment to a fancy little restaurant called Artisanal in Midtown East. Okay, it’s actually pretty big, literally… especially for an NYC space.
Show up. Meet the investors- they’re mid-50s, maybe they left their cigars at home, and maybe they’re second-gen Italian. Very friendly. They grill me on social media and tech tactics that they were currently being confronted with at a few of their companies. I prayed right before the meet-up, so I kicked ass. Anna just smiled the whole time.
I got an e-mail later with a very modest offer for a two-week trial as provisional “co-founder” and director of SM marketing & tech, after which point a new, and highly competitive salary would be determined, etc. I was excited. the office was small, residential, and beautiful, located in 20 Exchange Place on the 52nd Floor. Here are a couple pics I took from the office on my Blackberry. The one with me on the 19th Floor terrace was complements of my super-assistant, super-missed Parisian friend– we’ll call her Nosehu , because she knows who she is 🙂 And that landing strip on top of the building is pretty cool, huh?
So, two weeks pass, and I’ve worked with the team to develop a new social media strategy. Think: you move to NYC, type where you’re from, answer a few personality questions, and you get a stream of videos from people originally from your hometown giving you advice about where to shop, how to find best deals, where to avoid, best practices in the city, etc… This was to promote the company: NYCRentals.com, a more web 2.0 alternative to a Craigslist. .. And there was a lot more in it for the brokerage biz model.
I continually suggest we move the servers from Russia– Anna and the senior developer want to keep the dedicated servers in Russia where there’s a “genius” back-end guy who only speaks Russian– So, I draw up what needs to be done, and he’ll do it.
In the first week Anna is very serious, and then she breaks, because it’s World Cup. The entire staff starts spending lunches at the local bar for the World Cup series– beers all around…. We actually become more productive… I got good management 101, I guess.
Second week… I waltz into the office in my jeans as usual (which I love, and still do quite often where I am now) and notice movers in Anna’s office. I say: “Anna, what’s with the moving?” She responds with something to the tune of: “I like to switch things up.” The movers clear everything, and then come back with new furniture. She completely transplants her office. Weird.
However, this is the same woman I saw give an Ipad as a gift to another Russian businessman and his Jewish-American lawyer in the private room of the Haru downtown for lunch (calamari sauce shout-out). I’m never touching on any of the specifics of that meeting no matter how much money anyone could ever offer… not even the 3.2 bil Doubleclick got from Google. But think Internet and big bank. That’s as far as I’ll ever go. But the meeting was a hit, and the next thing you know:
I’m having lunch on the office terrace with friends, and Anna’s on the way. But she brings a Wall St. CEO, who will remain nameless. I learn that I’m on the spot, and he’s a potential investor. He looks like a pencil, and he’s sharp… It was like the room went dark, the spotlight hit my eyes, and they said: “Sing, damn it.” And I sung. When I arrived upstairs, Anna was happy. The investor was interested. Home run.
Also, throughout the course of my employment there, I worked with the senior developer, Anna, another outside businesswoman, and a Pakistani Columbia math grad student on a book of innovation, exploring emerging industries in social media, artificial intelligence, and clean energy. The book was going to also be an app and highly interactive. Like most non-fiction should be these days 😉
Anna tells me on a Friday after my first two weeks that I have the position. She tells me to take a break while they adjust payroll, and to come in Tuesday to discuss salary, and Thursday (the 1st of the month) to start as CTO. I’m excited, but Tuesday never comes because Anna is arrested over the weekend for espionage.
On Tuesday, on the way to pick up my check, I get a text from the Sr. Developer:
“Anna’s been arrested. We’ve all lost our jobs.
Stan was very much to-the-point. I use his name because there are a million Stans. And maybe Stan’s not his real name.
So, that was my experience. In all, Anna was a fun lady but there were some quirks. She was very spontaneous on the surface but in reality, I always felt she was highly calculating. And it appears, I might have been right.
Yes, we e-mailed after, when she got back to Russia. She seems to be doing very well. No, I don’t intend to keep contact.
But, I do wish her all the best.
In all, it was a fun experience unknowingly working with the now-famous Russian spy Anna Chapman while it lasted. I really loved my view at the office. I could see all the way to Coney Island, and hanging a third of my body out of the window made me feel like Spider-man in the mornings. Change, though, is good.
I met with a writer at the New York Times offices shortly after it happened, but the story was never published. Which could have saved me much time and this blog explaining to people what happened… Though, all that happens for a reason, don’t ya know?
Oh, yeah, and I got my check in the end. Not going to say how, but I guess we can all pull a little espionage out when necessary.
On that note, De’Shazer out.