By Scott Kucirek Saying goodbye is never easy, and it was especially difficult last December when Juan Mini, the co-founder of zipRealty left the business. It has taken me a few months to get to the point where I could write about this very personal event.
It all started about two years ago, on one of the regular visits Juan's father made to Berkeley from Guatemala, where he runs a very successful family business with a primary focus on commercial real estate. While all three of us were out at dinner, it became evident from the conversation that Juan's dad was ready to ease out of his responsibilities and wanted Juan to return to his homeland and take over the family enterprise. Of course, at that time, we were very focused on building zipRealty and looking for a new CEO, so Juan didn't even consider the offer.
In June, 2001, after the new CEO started, Juan took a couple months off to travel, visit his family, and relax. This was a very strange experience for me, because it was the first time in almost four years that Juan and I weren't talking daily about the business. During those two months, zipRealty kept moving forward at a brisk pace, with the new CEO establishing his agenda for improving the company. It was also an exciting time because his ideas and vision were shaping zipRealty. Yet, despite the excitement, I was saddened that Juan wasn't able to participate in the process and learn from the new CEO.
THE DREADED NEWS. When Juan came back, he was energized and much more relaxed -- but something had changed. Juan was in charge of recruiting new managers for our expanding team of agents and also defining the sales territories for each of the areas the company served. I was working on building the recruiting, training and HR systems to help the business grow its agent force. Instead of talking daily, we were sometimes making contact only once a week.
In 2002, Juan started traveling more as he was acting as the manager for the districts where he was hiring a new manager. This kept Juan away for long stretches of time from headquarters, his wife, and his new son. In addition, his father kept coming to visit every few months, asking Juan to rethink his life plans. After a visit in late August to Guatemala for a family event, the decision was made.
I still remember Juan contacting me in September and arranging to meet at the end of the day. We hadn't seen each other for a least a month, but I knew something big was coming by the tone of his voice. One thing led to another and we ended up talking as Juan was getting in his car to drive to the airport for a flight to Los Angeles. He looked at me square in the eye and said, "I am leaving the company to go back to Guatemala in December." I was stunned. Even though I had expected the news, actually hearing it came as a stunning surprise. Instead of being sad and emotional, however, I ended up being remarkably calm and supportive. I told Juan that I understood and offered whatever help he and his family needed to make the transition.
ALL TOMORROW'S PARTIES. The next couple months flew by fast. Juan's decision was announced to the company, there were daily questions about what his departure would mean, and -- of course -- a series of farewell parties. The final event was in early December, when our CEO was the host. All zipRealty's investors, senior management, and their families were there. At the end of the evening, I was asked to say a few things to thank Juan for everything he had done. It was at that moment, with five years of memories running through my head, that the finality of the situation hit me. I could barely talk and ended up sobbing like a baby. Even though we hadn't been as close in the last few months, Juan was still one of my best friends. Now, it was time to say goodbye to a big part of my life.
Today, with five months of perspective, I can finally write and talk about the event with a much calmer, less emotional, demeanor. Juan remains on zipRealty's board of directors and comes to visit us every two months. He is so happy and relaxed, it is obvious that this move was right for him. In addition, it seems like we are talking more than in the past and continuing to build on our great friendship. Although I wish he were still here, ultimately it is great just to have him as a friend. See you in two weeks. Scott Kucirek is president and co-founder of zipRealty.com, an online real estate brokerage. The company's Internet site and online real estate agents let people complete the entire purchase or sale of a house via the Web. The company's Web site is www.zipRealty.com, and you can E-mail Scott at Scott@zipRealty.com.