Tuesday, March 4, 2014

History Repeats Itself, But Never the Same Way Twice

My little nonprofit, the VISTA Expertise Network, just went through its dark winter. From April last year through now, we have weathered a tough time.

This was not the result of any lawsuit, the way it was with Wizards of the Coast. We are highly respected in the VISTA community, and had just completed phase one of a contract to upgrade the toughest application in VISTA - File Manager - which we did on time, on budget, and with all promised features delivered. We got glowing reviews from our contract officer, and we were riding high, but then all the cards fell wrong for us on the table, so that suddenly no one had any full-size VISTA gigs for us to work on. The sponsors of our VA project all simultaneously left VA, leaving our project without a champion. Multiple sure things fell through. Other projects were a year or more late in actually starting, leaving us with very little income for most of 2013 and the start of 2014.

In November, after we put on our successful VISTA Expo and Symposium in Seattle, we had to lay off most of our staff, because we just did not have the income to pay them. We shrank down to a small core and stayed there for four months, but now things are finally turning back around, and we are beginning the process of bringing everyone back on board.

The parallels with what happened to Wizards did not escape me during that time, nor did the irony of my previous post - that I was celebrating my restart of this blog right as my opportunity to do so was taken from me, and that I quoted Ward Proctor's insight about why simple survival is the key to success, so that we get the chance to execute when the right time comes along.

It took all my concentration to keep our little nonprofit afloat, and the hard work of Sam and Linda, and the sacrifices by those staff members who agreed to go on unemployment, with only our shared faith that this was only an aberration in our economy that when corrected would let everyone come back. It also took the small but vital opportunities given us during that interregnum by our allied organizations in the VISTA community, who found small projects here and there for us to do, which brought in the small stream of revenue we needed to cover the costs of the small core, from which we can now rebuild. That left no time for written reflections on Wizards's history, though we spoke of it often during the past year.

Paradoxically, although this means things are about to get a lot busier for the Network, it means I can go back to normal hours and income, which gives me back the time I need to pick this story back up and carry it further for you all.

In light of the recent untimely death of beloved Wizards alumnus Cliffton Anthony "CJ" Jones - about which more soon - many of us felt it was time to resume telling the Wizards story. Beverly and I are discussing the right sequence for the next series of posts, and in the meantime I have some housekeeping posts to do, to link in other discussions from the past year about Wizards of the Coast and its history.

I hope you will enjoy them.