I was horrified to learn this week that Wellsphere was bought by HealthCentral. My only consolation is the possibility that it was a fire sale and the founders made no money. Rumor has it that Wellsphere was shopping around for funding and couldn't raise capital, so maybe Wellsphere had to sell for cost. Why am I so interested in a little podunk company? Read on. . .
My history with Wellsphere goes way back. I did consulting for them back in the Summer of '06, before they had a Web site. At the time, they seemed like a good company with a good mission and their CEO/co-founder, Ron Gutman, convinced me to leave my job and join Wellsphere full-time. That guy is a real charmer, at least up front.
Upon arriving at Wellsphere, I realized that there were problems much larger than I had gathered from my position as a consultant. Work hours were ridiculous for everyone in the company: 7 days a week and often greater than 12 hours a day. I don't mind working hard, but it seemed like we were working without a clear goal, always brainstorming and changing directions. Then, I realized that we had a pending product launch (with a constantly moving launch date), without any solid requirements, and a small consulting team working half time. I picked up the pieces, started to write requirements, hired more consultants, made a plan, and got things on track. However, Ron kept pushing ridiculous, unreasonable schedules and requirements, and I got more and more frustrated. Even though I was working for a company that touted "wellness" as its foundation, I was overworked, not getting enough sleep, highly stressed, and losing confidence that we'd release a product that I'd be proud of.
I knew that there were some former employees of Wellsphere that had been around while I was consulting. Shortly before I joined, Ron told me that they were fired because they weren't team players. At the end of my first month, I emailed one of the former employees out of desperation to figure out what was really going on. What I learned was quite the opposite story from what I had been told by Wellsphere.
The entire engineering team, consisting of 4 employees, quit about 3 weeks before I joined. In addition to the engineers, there were another dozen employees that had formerly worked for the company and quit. Keep in mind that, when I worked at Wellsphere, there were only 6 full-time employees! This place went through employees like Kleenex during flu season.
After meeting with the group of former employees and hearing their poor treatment, long hours, unrealistic deadlines, blah blah blah, I realized that my experience was not isolated, but rather systematic, unscrupulous behavior by the management team. I've personally met over two dozen former employees and consultants of Wellsphere who want nothing to do with the company or Ron Gutman. It's ironic that a company founded on health and wellness treats its employees so poorly.
So, I made the difficult decision to quit Wellsphere, even though I didn't have another job and I was leaving a company just a few weeks before the Web site launched.
The first iteration of Wellsphere.com launched in January '07 and pretty much flopped. For some classic articles from that period, check out the series at Uncov, the comments in the TechCrunch article, and the creepy video of Ron in the GigaOm article.
Not surprisingly, the acquisition of Wellsphere is turning out people in droves who felt like they they were bamboozled. Basically, Wellsphere has a "network" of bloggers, which they seem to have created by flattering bloggers with long letters, appropriating their content, and not giving the bloggers anything in return (sounds much like my employment experience). To be fair to Wellsphere, it's all documented in their ToS, but the process sounded shady. Given my experience with them, it's par for the course.
I'm going to keep a list of some of the better posts about the situation, and will update this regularly. If you have a gripe, leave it in the comments, Twitter with #wellsphere, or drop me an e-mail.
- Health bloggers bite back as Wellsphere sells on posts provided for free - a good summary post with links to other important blog posts
- How the health blogosphere was scammed - a great post with e-mails from Wellsphere and snippets from their ToS
- All is not Well(sphere) - a personal commentary from a blogger who feels they were scammed
- The Wellsphere blogging controversy - a great explanation of the psychology behind Wellsphere
- My email to Wellsphere and HealthCentral - an open letter to the companies expressing her concern with Wellsphere's program
- Will Health Bloggers Foil the Acquisition of Wellsphere by HealthCentral - an incisive post that suggests that bloggers may scuttle the deal (the comments for this one are very interesting)
- Wellsphere scandal and blog network scam - suggests that people should request a Google penalty at Wellsphere for shady business practices
- New Wellsphere badges - a blogger made some new badges for Wellsphere. I included one in this post.
- Liars go to Hell. I'm talking to you Wellsphere - accuses Wellsphere of stealing her blog's content and demands a public apology
- #wellsphere on Twitter - to follow the latest conversations. It tends to light up like a Christmas Tree. Haha.
Can't wait to hear from people! I'm sure that this company has left a trail of debris in their few years of existence. I can only hope that HealthCentral will realize that they've bought a house of cards built by a few charlatans and will renege on their offer to buy.