Penny Kim: red flags after being scammed by a startup

Penny Kim recently shared her story about how she was scammed by a Silicon Valley startup, so that others might learn from her experience. Her story began in May when she applied for a Marketing Director position with a startup in the Bay Area. After a phone screening, Kim was asked to fly out to meet the CEO and CTO for an interview in Santa Clara. In this meeting, she asked if hired employees were given a probationary period. Her first red flag was when the CTO responded, “No, because I hire fast and fire fast.”

Red flag #1: “When someone says they “hire fast and fire fast” believe them and walk away.”

After employment contract negotiations, Kim was given a job offer. This included, “a $10,000 sign on bonus (relocation assistance), a $135,000 salary, equity, and a 3 month severance package if I were to leave for good reason and without cause.” After signing, Kim took a pre-planned trip to Japan for two weeks.

Red flag #2: “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.”

While on her Japan trip, Kim’s new CEO called and asked her to put together a user acquisition strategy. Though he knew she was on vacation, Kim wanted to put a good foot forward, and chose to work on the project even with her limited knowledge and lack of a computer.

Red flag #3: “Give some people an inch and they’ll take a mile. They’ll constantly test boundaries and see what they can ask of you or get away with.”

Kim moved to Santa Clara and began her new job on July 5th. Then, there were 17 employees; 9 of which that had been hired between June and July. Before she arrived, the company had hired a social media manager who would directly report to Kim. Strangely, the company never communicated this to Kim.

Red flag #4: “If you’re a manager and your direct report is hired before you without your engagement, they may not be a good fit and compete for your job.”

During Kim’s first week, she became friends with one of the 3 new hires for the business development team. He explained to Kim that the CEO had poached their team from a startup across the hallway because he wanted to hire a group of friends.

Red flag #5: “When your leader hires people for reasons other than their professional experience or qualifications, you may have a bad leader.”

Over the next few months, more problems arose, especially around the company’s finances. Paychecks were all late, and some employees had even given money to the CEO. One in fact, gave the CEO $50K of his life savings. Then the situation worsened when two investors bailed, and wire transfers of paychecks were forged.

Kim thankfully decided to walk away, and move back to Dallas.

Now, Kim is back in her old apartment and working at the Dallas Travel Hub. A huge welcome back to Texas; and thank you for sharing your story!

If you’d like to read all Kim’s story and more red flags, please click here.

Sophie Hatch