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July 27, 2005

The end of a company, blogged

Stephen Baker

Here's a macabre new twist to customer relations: Blogging the end of your company. I just checked out Paul Purdue's blog and discovered that today's two posts deal with the apparent demise of his order fulfillment company, ifulfill.com. I was looking at Purdue as a model for a blogging entrepreneur, and instead I find he's using the blog to communicate with angry customers, who fear that the products they've sent or await through iFulfill will never arrive.

Purdue writes:

Some have suggested in the comments on this blog that I'm out to screw everybody, that you'll never see your stuff again, and that somehow I'm profiting from this situation. That couldn't be further from the truth. I spent six long years building this company from nothing, working 14 hour days, and watching it grow. Now I've lost the company I built, and am starting over on a personal level.

A drawing Purdue posted of his warehouse

Some customers are disturbed. Here's one:

My husband and I visited your facility in October and there was no indication that anything was amiss. Just the opposite. You had grown so much and had appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine. I told my husband that I should have gotten into fulfillment instead of gourmet food. Little did I know that the Titanic was going down and you were rearranging the deck chairs.

One lesson here is that while you start a blog with one goal in mind, you may end up using it for something entirely different.

Brian Clark notes that in recent week's Purdue had been blogging on the dangers of overinvesting in infrastructure. He had built one storage facility measuring 2.5 million sq. feet. Attentive blog readers might have seen what was coming. By the way, I put in a call to Purdue. His voicemailbox is not accepting any more messages. The way to reach him, clearly, is to comment on his blog. UPDATE: Good string on this from B.L. Ochman, who advised Purdue on blogging.

01:24 PM

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? All Blogged Out, The Demise Of iFulfill from Nancy P Redford's Practical Marketing Tips

Just what is going on at iFulfill.com?This is a third party processing company that takes care of your order fulfillment needs. From storing your goods on site, packaging, shipping, invoicing - all you need, without having to hire your own staff and yo... [Read More]

Tracked on August 23, 2005 02:12 AM

Paul's mailbox is now clear if you want to call him again. I just spoke to him.

BL

Posted by: B.L. Ochman at July 27, 2005 03:44 PM

There must be a lot more to this story than meets the eye... the phrasing of "the company I built" suggests a very distorted view of what a successful business should be about, and hints at why it may have foundered. Is the rest of the senior management team blogging as well?

-- Jack Krupansky

Posted by: Jack Krupansky at July 28, 2005 02:46 PM

There was no senior management at iFulFill. The warehouse manager was someone's wife who had no experience, the packing staff were $8/hour temps who weren't given instructions or directed in anyway...

There's a ton of great posts by merchants at: http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/ifulfillmerchants/ . Paul's been allowing the warehouse to be ransacked while he's out on family outings. Unlabelled inventory has been loaded onto wrong trucks. People are flying in from as far away as Thailand to rescue their stuff.

Only about 50 merchants have been evacuated so far, and almost all of them have had to pay 3rd parties to do so because Paul fired almost everyone, rather than keeping them on to organize outgoing shipments. It makes me sick!

Posted by: iFulFillClient at July 29, 2005 04:10 PM

Yes, the story is much more convoluted and bizarre than told here. His pre-closing blog was a pretty good veneer on a horribly mismanaged company. The veneer continues in his post-closing blog entries which go from real chutzpah in reporting that everything at the warehouse is going smoothly -- especially when the team I sent to recover our inventory found complete chaos -- to outright lies in saying that he still has people on his payroll to help out.

If you're interested in more of the story, I would suggest going to

http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/ifulfillmerchants/

(a newsgroup sent up by one of the merchants to help others share information on what to do after Monday?? shutdown)

Also, I don't believe there was any senior management other than Perdue. For some reason Ignatius Reilly in The Confederacy of Dunces comes to mind. . .

Posted by: Steve De Long at August 2, 2005 04:38 PM

There also are disgruntled former iFulfill employees and competitors thickening the plot with anonymous comments.

Anyone who doesn't have the balls to use their own name to sign a comment has zero credibility in my book.

When I've written about iFulfill on my blog, What's Next Blog, I've refused to run anonymous comments, positive or negative.

I think you also should refuse comments that do not have a valid email address that you can confirm.

Posted by: B.L. Ochman at August 2, 2005 08:49 PM

I was one of ifulfill's first customers. I was among the last. Although he started off on the right foot, Paul got lost somewhere along the way. He built the business properly; it's a shame that he ended it so poorly. Everyone understands a business failing. Nobody understands how someone can spend 6 years building trust only to blow it all to bits with one e-mail. This is more than the end of a fulfillment business. If you look carefully, you can make out the deconstruction of the man himself. I'm sure that Paul is a man in great pain right now. Unlike his ex-customers, his pain is not only financial, but personal -- the kind from which some neever recover.

Posted by: Rob Frankel at August 2, 2005 10:19 PM

iFulfill took care of fulfilling my orders for four years. I'd have to say the first couple of years I had no significant problems, the third year maybe the occasional problem and since the beginning of the 2004 Christmas rush a lot of problems, culminating in the now infamous (among us merchants and IFF employees) Black Monday email of this past June 25th. In my opinion iFulfill grew way too big too fast and Paul Purdue's skills weren't suited to managing the company he founded. I warned him myself on more than one occasion that his business was getting away from him when the product really began to suffer, although I did not imagine things had gotten this bad. He poorly managed iFulfill's growth and kept taking on more and more clients even when he couldn't handle what he already had. And from what I've learned in the last week he didn't hire any real bean counters to manage the financial end of his business but let a bunch of amateurs deal with it. Ultimately it all blew up in his face, and ours.

The landscape is strewn with businesses over the years that have folded for these same reasons, but where he really blew it was how he handled going under. He showed an utter lack of respect and consideration for us, and exhibited a total absence of character by trying to rationalize his way out of responsibility on his blog and not providing us any useful information to try and minimize our damage. He royally screwed us merchants, gave us no notice and totally whacked our legs out from under us. It's been brutal to try and transition to another fulfillment service under these conditions and I have no doubt that some of the companies affected will fold unnecessarily because of it. There has been speculation that he handled it so poorly because he might be up to his neck in financial misdeeds; of that I have no idea but it would sure explain a lot regarding his behavior. Or maybe he just refused to acknowledge what he had to have known was coming until UPS pulled the plug and ended it for him.

I personally liked Paul and once had a lot of respect for him but that was eroding over the last 8 months or so, and apparently his true character has emerged in the wake of this debacle. How people handle adversity shows a lot about who they really are, and in my opinion this past week Paul Purdue showed all of us what a self absorbed, self aggrandizing individual he really is. Had he handled the demise of iFulfill with some class and not screwed us over I'm sure most of us would have felt for the guy, but at this point I'm reserving my sympathy for my fellow merchants who are suffering greatly because of Paul's actions.

Posted by: Dan Farago at August 2, 2005 11:59 PM

Please look at the comments here if you want to read what merchants and former employees have to say. http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/ifulfillmerchants/

My name is clearly here BL. I am sure you don't remember meeting me on your trip to iFulfill about six months ago. I saw Paul posing for pictures two days ago for this magazine like he was a celebrity. Give me a break!

Posted by: Katie Wrightington at August 3, 2005 06:43 AM

Hey, BusinessWeek: It's time to quit paying attention to BL Ochman. Look at what she did to iFulfill: Talk about a failed consultant! Imagine: There's BLO, looking for clients like all of us, and in walks ...Paul Purdue, owner of iFulfill singing madly about his genius and overall human greatness, as is his habit. He wants to position himself as the be-all, end-all knowledgeable manager, expert at balancing work/family etc. "Wow!" thinks BL Ochman. "I can make a s--load of money on this jerk!" And she sells him this, she sells him that...I wonder if it was her idea to put him in the funny clothes and the bunny suit, thinking that this would enhance his credibility before his market. Note that she praised on her own website blog Paul's 'mouse-over' photo of himself that enabled us to joyfully regale ourselves with the sight of Mr. Purdue wearing his striped long underwear. This is consulting? A kinder (and smarter) consultant would have patted the obviously overweening Mr. Purdue and sent him on his way, saving him from himself. Instead she took the jerk for all he was worth. BusinessWeek - and the rest of us - should have nothing more to do with blogging consultant BL Ochman.

ED NOTE: Because of the criticism in this comment toward another commenter, I held it back until confirming that the email address (ifulfillvictim@yahoo.com)was valid. SB

Posted by: iFulfill victim at August 3, 2005 04:06 PM


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