Today You Started a Business

A friend of mine left his corporate job yesterday after 23 years of being trapped in the Matrix. I hate it because I’m envious of that moment. The day I left a corporate job to be on my own for the first time. Suddenly you go from managing a cubicle from the hours of 9 to 5 to having to manage ALL OF TIME AND SPACE. The holograph screens that altered the universe around you peel away to show you what the real world looks like. The extra colors and intensity that had been hidden from you behind tinted-black glass windows and fluorescent lights.

I wish I had done it differently. I wish I had known what I know now.

I was working at HBO. I had a cubicle on the 6th Floor of 1100 Sixth Avenue. My boss was down the hall. His boss was in the room next to his. His boss was in the room next to that. And the real boss (the top guy’s secretary) was in front of all of their offices. I had a view of the McDonalds at Sixth Avenue which is now the big Bank of America building.

(I did the website for seasons 1-3 of Sex and the City)

Work in the corporate world is like a hazy drug dream to me now. You could get in at 10am. Everyone took breaks downstairs to smoke. I didn’t smoke so I took licorice with me. Then at noon, LUNCH! And then after lunch, chess in Bryant Park. Then my boss left to catch his train at 4:15. So I would leave at 4:16. Before I had my own business on the side I’d take the subway to Astoria and go to Steinway Billiards. Everyone there was Greek. We’d all sit and play backgammon and chess and drink thick Greek coffee until about two in the morning. Sometimes my friends from HBO would come with me and it would be like a party every night. And I loved all the girls in the place but not a single one ever talked to me or looked at me no matter how many two dollar bills I tipped with.

There were goals and deadlines at work. Except for the summer. There was never anything to do in the summer. And all other times the deadlines were mild. Like if you missed one then it just meant a meeting was rescheduled. Nobody would get fired. The saying was, “if you want to get fired you have to stand on Albie’s desk and pee on him.” That was the boss’s boss’s boss. As part of my job I got to go to San Francisco for the first time, Los Angeles, and sunny Orlando (to make the website for the series “From the Earth to the Moon” which was shot right in Disneyworld.)

And then I quit.

I had to. I was running a business on the side. We had clients, some of whom were even competitors to HBO. We had employees. I had payroll to meet. And I felt myself stagnating at my job. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I stopped enjoying the meager things I was doing. And I thought I could handle the psychology of being on my own. What could be different, I thought. I wanted to spread my wings even though I had no idea how to fly.

I cried twice the first day on my own.

First time, at lunch with one of my partners, Randy. It suddenly hit me that I didn’t have a multi billion media empire as my backstop. I was on my own. I felt alone. Which is another way of saying, if I fucked up I had nobody to blame. Like we all did in corporate America. So over pizza I cried. “Are you ok?” Randy said. Poking at my weakness. “Yeah,” I said.

Then later at dinner with all my ex-employees and friends at HBO. I ordered pasta AND fries. Everyone started to laugh at what I had ordered and I wasn’t sure why. That made me cry again but nobody noticed. I felt like a four year old in a room filled with laughing adults. I had no idea what I was or what I was supposed to be.

I had been anchored close to shore with Time Warner as the dock. Now I was in deep waters. Too deep to anchor. I had to fish now. I had to find food. I had to get water. I had to feed a lot of people. I had to kill or be killed. I learned a lot in the next few months:

A) It was always my fault when things went wrong. If you blame others, you go out of business.  Take responsibility for your problems and fix them or move on.

B) I had to communicate to people. If you hide from customers, they will fire you. If you hide from employees they lose respect for you. If you hide from investors, they sue you.

C) I had to help employees feel good about their jobs. I had to help customers feel their jobs were about to get a lot easier because now I was in their lives. I had to learn to reward people. I wanted everyone around me to feel good about it. To spread the word that I was someone to work with, to be around.

D) Every idea was fair game. We were a web design company but we considered being a tea company, a rap label, a magazine, a TV show, a cable channel, and a social network for dead people. A porn site. A software company. An ad agency. And a dozen other things. We just wanted to make money. We were in the business of business.

E) People steal. I was robbed by customers, by employees, by friends, by partners, and twice by random criminals including one guy who just walked into our office and started unscrewing lightbulbs until he was chased out.

F) I had to educate. You demonstrate credibility when you teach your employees and when you teach your customers. Where do you get your knowledge? You have to get to the destination before everyone else. You have to read everything. You have to have spies. An important side effect of educating people is that you build presence, you build charisma, you exude confidence that is earned.

G) I had to learn when the day ended. The candles are always lit in the modern age. The day never has to end. But if it doesn’t, you lose track of the map and find yourself adrift with no horizon in any direction.

H) I had to forgive myself. When you run things, 50% of your decisions will still be bad. Good opportunities sometimes spring from bad decisions. But you have to forgive yourself first as the first process in learning from your mistakes.

I) I had to make tough decisions. I couldn’t complain to my boss. I had to fire people. Fire customers. Make decisions that might be right or wrong about people. Making decisions is directly correlated to building your idea muscle until you are an idea machine.

J) I had to network. I never had to do that before. I would hire people specifically to help me network because I was so bad at it but I got better. Your value goes up exponentially depending on the number of people in your network. Keith Ferrazzi hits the nail on the head in his book “Never Eat Alone”. You need to not only consciously arrange to meet people but also put yourself in many situations where you are going to randomly collide with people. My most random collisions often made me the most money.

K) I had to sell the company. When web design was being taught in junior high school classes I knew that 3 page websites being built for $75,000 was going to be a thing of the past. Knowing when to sell is just as important as knowing when to start a business. Selling a business gives you the greatest gift of all – freedom to start another business.

(did the website for The Matrix)

Most importantly, I had to build a discipline of every day, every hour, seeking out opportunities. Either opportunities for the business, or even for myself. My own improvement became vital to the improvement of the business, to my customers, and to employees. I cried the first day, and many many days after that. And looking back, I can’t really tell you if it was worth it or not. Who really knows? So many things have worked out and so many things have failed. Maybe I’m mediocre as an entrepreneur, best case.

But I do feel like I’ve escaped the Matrix of corporate slavery that first day. Eventually I realized that there was yet another matrix outside of that matrix. Like Russian nesting dolls, each matrix is a creation of the matrix outside of it. On and on, forever. Each day another escape but only if I’m brave enough.

[If you like this, please follow me on Twitter]


45 Responses to “Today You Started a Business”

  1. Anmol Says:

    Damn, that sucks. Why would they try to hound you out? I’m beginning to think that anything involving a group of people degenerates into ego battles. If you don’t mind answering, which field was it?

    • mikeyhell Says:

      It wasn’t them it was me. I just got sick and tired of the culture of academe which truly does live in an Ivory Tower and spends millions and millions of taxpayer dollars studying worthless shit. I’m sorry but it’s true. It turns out that lots of otherwise smart people get fed up and quit but most of them run and hide under a rock out of shame. And it was biology, if it matters. Some fields are worse than others (Humanities, ugh). You might do just fine provided you have a tough exterior and you have a life outside of campus. I still admire the few—very few—who I thought were able to rise above it all.

      • Anmol Says:

        @mikeyhell:disqus You’re right when you say it was not them. I had the exact same feelings as you about every collective I’ve been in (school (supposedly best in India), college (top Tech school in India, got a double degree), a music club which I headed, sports teams). I thought it was them, but I realized it was me. I thought it was all useless, pointless, irrelevant in some way. I suppose it is a result of human nature. James’ post titled ‘Its your fault’ got me thinking about it, and one after the other my entire life so far started to make sense. Whenever one becomes a part of a collective, our ego associates itself with it – so you become a proud graduate of X university, a proud citizen of Y country, which is what prevents us from rising above it all. James elaborates on this in his post titled ‘What are you?’

        As for wastage of tax dollars.. lets just say that Taxation is dangerously close to robbery. I studied Economics in college and I realized just how out of touch theory is with reality. While Economists’ love flaunting their math skills (which is really a result of physics envy), the basic assumptions underlying the math models are mostly irrelevant. No doubt, they’re really smart people (I’ll admit that they’re far smarter than I could ever be), but their ego gets in the way. They don’t want to admit that they could be wrong. Some things are not meant to be controlled by humans. I stumbled upon Austrian Economics which seemed to explain reality more accurately (not surprisingly, Investors use this and make tons of money), and later found out that it was looked down upon, an alternative heterodox school of Economics. As a result, if you want to study it for a living, you’ll find very few (if any) jobs. I’ve noticed that this is the case with almost every profession. Pursuing the truth is dangerous. People, and Institutions in particular, don’t like change. I guess when they start their careers, they want to ‘make it’ asap, but gradually responsibilities (kids, financial security) take over and they get complacent; all they want to do is preserve their income, put in minimal effort, and they will go to any length to do that (this would probably explain the culture in any institution, or the way regulatory bodies behave – instead of promoting the welfare of society, they end up trying to promote the interests of the entities they are supposed to regulate). I guess you must’ve experienced all of this in the process of securing research funding.

        At 23, I’ve already become so cynical. Most of the things I want to do with my life do not require too much money. They require time. And we all have to do unpleasant things in life. Actually, if you perceive something as unpleasant, it is because you label it beforehand. As James says, one should treat his or her task as meditation – be it washing dishes. So I figured that doing something I perceive as unpleasant isn’t really that bad if I accept the reasons for doing it beforehand, and treat it as meditation.

      • mikeyhell Says:

        Have you followed the debate between Gary North and Walter Block regarding the viability an academic career for budding Austrian economists? If not, it might be worth googling to read what they have to say (North is against bothering with a Ph.D. while Block is in favor but there’s more to it than that). Anyway, I get what you’re saying about being part of a collective. I too am inherently distrustful of large institutions and the like, a tendency that can sometimes cause immense loneliness and withdrawal. Being an individualist has its costs. And btw, I only stumbled upon Austrian Econ because I left the Ivory Tower. The fog of collectivism on campus is otherwise too thick to allow even the ghosts of Mises and Rothbard to pass.

      • Anmol Says:

        @mikeyhell:disqus Your last line was absolutely killer. Hats off. I read it at least 10 times and marveled at its impact.

        I’ll check the debate out. I doubt trying to make Austrian Economics a career is a viable option, especially in India. In the US, you atleast have GMU and Auburn University, and Austrian Econ seems to be thriving there, albeit on the fringes. When I’m in the mood for some solitary intellectual stimulation, I might read some Mises or Rothbard.

        One Indian Economist called BR Shenoy studied under Hayek. In the 1950s he voted against the socialist 5 year plan (which continues to this day). For that vote, he was hounded out of Academia, Government and the policy world…and died in obscurity. Imagine, a Nobel laureate’s student getting that sort of treatment.

        I guess I’ll pick up something mainstream and well paying to make a living, and assuming there’s a decent amount of free time, use it for my intellectual (and other) adventures. I like being a jack of all trades :).

        Regarding the loneliness and withdrawal… I think it was Buddha or Lao Tsu (doesn’t matter) – “You won’t ever be alone if you make friends with yourself”. I’m going to read Kamal Ravikant’s book which James has reviewed. It is titled “Love yourself like your life depends on it”. It probably will help people like us cope with life and the world.

        One super idea would be for us like minded folks who are misfits within the mainstream collective to form our own alternative collective !

  2. Paul Says:

    What has worked for me in the past is putting myself into as many social encounters as possible without an agenda. This lets the serendipity take place.

    For instance, since I quit my corporate job about a year ago, I’ve been living in the sticks and trying to start companies (that’s as hard as it sounds, and no, I don’t recommend it–I am rectifying this in a few weeks, moving into the city). The MOST agonizing thing for me is that, when I was a city-dwelling corporateer, I participated in all kinds of social things from charity groups to church, and made all kinds of amazing connections, but out in the sticks I am isolated and the lack of a network is huge.

    So, to rectify this, I’ve plugged into a bunch of meetup groups in my nearby city of Austin with topics in everything from programming to nature hikes. I even joined one or two entrepreneur-focused groups, though frankly I try to limit these because I find them rather boring and less serendipitous. I’m sure they work awesome for some people, but in my experience everyone is there to sell themselves and their idea or get something from someone, so it makes it a competitive, “what can you do for me” atmosphere that limits the kind of serendipitous encounters I’m after where I can really get to know someone and hopefully build a lasting relationship. I’ve met tons of great folks doing nature hikes that turn out to have all the skills and experience I need, when I wasn’t even trying to “network”.

    Anyway, your mileage may vary and I’m not quite Bill Gates just yet so I can’t tell you this is making me billions, I just want to recommend an easy way to start getting plugged into things and bumping into people (, which I have no affiliation with).

    • mikeyhell Says:

      I’ve been looking at meetups lately too. I need more social connections (although I am leery, as you are, of groups composed of self-promoters).

  3. Paul Says:

    Hang in there, man! Sounds like you’re not doing so bad–hope my relative experience can cheer you up!

    In short, I’ve made every mistake you could possibly make. Check that: I’d be genuinely interested in knowing if anyone else has started a company under as stupid premises as I have:
    – I left my cush corporate job with far too little savings to sustain anywhere near the lifestyle we had. In fact, we had to move into my in-laws spare bedroom–which I am ashamed to admit even as I type this.
    – My first child was born 6 months before I ‘took the leap’ into entrepreneurship.
    – Did I mention that I was starting a tech company (out of a converted garage), but was so far in the sticks you couldn’t even get regular internet service, and when you did it was at dial-up speeds?? In fact, internet out there comes through one of those verizon hotspot cards…and in this area you get about 1 bar of service. (Running a tech company where you can’t get internet–bad idea)
    – I live an hour from the nearest city, making networking a P.I.T.A., to say the least
    – I dumped my cofounders shortly after quitting my job because I lost faith in them, meaning I could not execute the original, exciting idea I’d been planning on all along
    – Because of the above, I had to pick up programming in about 2 weeks; I still suck at it but I can make a decent dynamic website–by 2002 standards
    – I had zero connections to the startup world–I personally knew no other founders, no investors, no rich people that I could scam into giving me money
    – I was/am scared to death of making said connections, because when they see the stupid things I’ve done I think they’ll brand me with a red ‘I’ (for idiot) or something
    – I spent my previous life getting a degree in finance and working as a business strategist, which means almost zero useful skills and subject-matter expertise
    – My first idea is on it’s last legs. In six months we got maybe 250 users and $11 in revenue. If I play my cards right I can celebrate with a Little Caesar’s pizza and maybe–just maybe–a six-pack of Miller Lite. Of course, that would eat up all of our capital.

    So, to recap, I quit a six-figure strategy job to start a failing tech company out of my in-law’s garage who live in the sticks where I can’t get an internet connection with no programming experience and no network because I live in the middle of nowhere, where my wife has been more depressed and anxious than I’ve ever seen her and we are just learning what it means to be parents. Basically I went through the deck and hand-picked a pair of 2’s for myself.

    BUT, here’s the kicker: If given the same choices, I’d do the same thing over again. I’ve learned a ton:

    – Stack the deck in your favor. When I quit, I looked at it as a ‘me against the world’ thing; there were all these obstacles, but I was going to be that one-in-a-million that overcame them. In retrospect, I’d much rather make the odds one-in-a-thousand or even one-in-ten. Why intentionally put yourself into a low-odds situation? There are so many simple things I could’ve done to increase the odds, and I’m happy to say I’m acting on many of them now.

    – Decide and COMMIT. I had a lot of ideas after I dumped my original cofounders. I was scared that by committing to one thing, whether an idea or even a personal path (should I learn programming? Or focus on marketing myself/my ideas and try to convince someone else to do the programming?), I’d miss out on a lot. Now, I firmly believe it is better to commit to a path 100% and be wrong than to choose the right thing with a half-ass commitment. I still struggle with this, because I’m still scared I’ll choose wrong and fail, but now I know what I have to do. This might not be the best thing for everybody, but I’m the type of person that does very well when I go full-bore at something.

    – Ignore the “haters”. I don’t like that word, haters, but something like what you might call a hater actually does exist. When I told people I was leaving the cush job to start a company, it was like they expected me to be a millionaire in 3 months. No joke–when I wasn’t showing even a product, much less revenue, by month 3, some of the people closest to me started jumping ship and wondering, “When is he going to go back to a real job? How long is he going to do this for? Doesn’t he know he has a family to support?” I’ve been tempted to address them or defend myself or try to explain that I’m doing this because I want my family to be better supported–not just financially, but in terms of having a happy and productive father and husband who is not miserable and depressed all the time–and that we have to make sacrifices to get there or I’ll just end up like everybody else in a job that sucks their soul. But I learned that unless they’ve been there, they don’t understand. It’s like explaining water to a fish. But better to ignore them than to cast your pearls before swine.

    – This is the most important thing I’ve learned, bar-none: I can do this. I can put myself in a shitty, stupid, silly amateur situation, and I (and my family) can survive and even enjoy ourselves. I can hustle, get things done, figure things out (even if I make every possible mistake along the way and have absolutely no idea what I’m doing) with the energy of a 20 year old. I did every stupid thing you could possibly do. And I’m alive, my marriage is in tact, my baby girl is thriving. We’ve lived like paupers, sold off gas-guzzling cars to save money, feared stepping on scorpions on our way to the bathroom at night, nearly ripped our hair out when the internet connection zonked out right after we hit “submit” on a bill-paying transaction, but life is still…life. We have the same emotions, the same love, the same fears, the same hope. This whole thing hasn’t killed us, and I’m smarter, leaner, and hungrier than I even was when I was desperately looking for an out from corporate USA. Round 1 against the heavyweight champion of the world is over. Life went for a first-round TKO. I’m cut, but you know what? I took everything Life dished out, I didn’t go down, and I’m ready to answer the bell for rounds 2-12. Ring the bell, baby. I’ll be there.

    Anyway, I hope these words from a stranger will brighten your day a bit. You seem to have done way better than me on your first experiment! And because I will succeed in the end, in spite of all of this, if you keep at it there’s little doubt that you will, too (an iPhone app! Do you know how many people with good ideas would kill for someone who could actually code their idea into an app??).

    I’m a little surprised at my own candor here, but I guess if there’s one thing I take away from James’ blog, it’s that you gotta bleed.

    Good luck–I’ve just started fighting, and plan to be here for a while, so maybe I’ll see you around.

    • the444 Says:

      This actually brightened my day! I was beating myself up all afternoon (actually crying in the car – an embarrassing admission because it seems cliche for a female but I hardly ever do it) and I made a post similar to yours, except much shorter (uncharacteristic of me) to cheer myself up.

    • GottaDream Says:

      Both of these posts were great. Really hit home. I quit my cushy corporate job 6 months ago to launch a venture too. Sometimes I feel like I’ve made a huge mistake but then I remember how meaningless the corp world felt. This was good motivation. I’ve got to keep hustling. Thanks!

  4. Lee Black Says:

    Some day this will be reality for me. Until then, it’s life in the cube…

    • James Altucher Says:

      Lee, it’s ok you haven’t made the jump yet. Maybe every day do a tiny bit of planning that gets you there. Don’t make it a goal, that couldbe too frustrating. But make it a theme of how you will continue in the corporate world over this next year.

  5. the444 Says:

    What?! I read the post title and thought you were talking to me because I had just hit “publish” for a post summarizing the start of my business. I started mine last month, though. Read my blog and see what you think. Only a few people have left nice comments for me out of many, many readers, and today I was beating myself up mentally in a very unhealthful manner (because I could be doing so much better and each mistake is like a tack I sat on that I can never get out of my chair) so I wanted to evaluate and summarize to cheer myself up. I think I’m going to decide every single day if I’m going to keep on doing this (or rather, withhold calling myself a failure every single day) and just take it as it comes.

    • James Altucher Says:

      Well now. I am going to have to check out your post!

    • liberranter Says:

      Only a few people have left nice comments for me out of many, many readers…

      As the poster named Paul described, there are many, many “haters” out there who would love to see you fail. Sadly, many of them are people who have the audacity to call themselves your “friends.”

      Why do these people hate, belittle, discourage, or otherwise undermine your efforts and self-confidence? I think there’s a very simple, one-word answer: jealousy.

      Most people, I’ve come to realize, are lazy and unmotivated. They waste the most valuable and potentially productive years of their lives waiting for the world to come to them, for life to happen to them rather than put forth some effort to make things happen for themselves. When they see others putting forth the effort they lack the motivation to make, it serves as a mirror of their own shortcomings, which wounds their fragile egos and generates resentment.

      As Paul advised, ignore these pathetic creatures and keep moving forward. If they are people who up until that point called themselves your “friends,” cut all ties with them and never speak to them again. REAL friends encourage and energize you; they don’t undermine and belittle you when their friendship is most needed.

      Hang in there and prosper!

  6. Joseph Choi Says:

    5 months ago I left my corporate job. You don’t realize it when you’re going about your day to day but it can take a toll on you. I remember handing in my laptop to HR and and feeling a huge relief. The HR lady even said I looked more relieved than I was just a few days ago. I guess you can’t fake your body language and people notice these things. I handed in my laptop and went to Starbucks and took a walk in Central Park with my coffee. It was a nice sunny spring day. End of an old chapter and I’m currently writing the next one. To be continued…

    • James Altucher Says:

      I remember one time I was at a wedding and this pretty woman came up to me and said, “Hi James!” I said hi back. She said, “don’t you remember me?” And I had to pause until she said her name. I couldn’t believe it. Her looks had improved 1000x since she had been fired from her corporate job six months earlier. It was amazing the change and it showed me the toll that corporate jobs can take on you. I left HBO about four months after that.

  7. Rob Says:

    I used to shoot pool at Steinway Billiards at night all the time between 2004-2006, as I lived close by. It was hard to miss all the guys playing chess up front by the windows as I would walk up to the building. Funny to think one of those guys might have been you! Great post, James!

  8. Maxicat Says:

    From Sex and The City to BIOTECH ????? WOW you are brilliant! Great article and love the A thru K points…..

  9. Susan Emmer Says:

    James, another great article. I too was in the Time Warner matrix in NYC for a decade. I worked with really wonderful and intelligent people, and was convinced I was getting the tools and resources that would prepare me for anything I wanted to do in the future. Boy was I wrong! Once I left the company to start consulting, I was amazed how little I knew about running my own business. I also missed the expense account lunches, travel to the west coast (where I now live), and having the power of a huge media conglomerate as a safety net. Many years later, I can say that I am happy I made the leap. Even though my journey has had its shares of ups and downs, I love the adventure and camaraderie of being an entrepreneur. I’m still trying to find my way and deal with the stress of paying the bills and keeping my dogs in the life they’ve grown accustomed to, but I don’t think I could ever give up the freedom and excitement of what new opportunity could be just around the corner.

    • James Altucher Says:

      I’m glad you made the leap. Time Warner is one of the best companies out there in terms of how they treat their employees. It’s hard to escape out of that very sticky net. Even the cafeteria lunches were better than good restaurant lunches. Congrats.

  10. Kevin Redick Says:

    Started my own consulting business this summer and yes many a day felt like crying. Onward & upward!

  11. ShoukriK Says:

    Thank you James for the great post. Keep em coming

  12. Says:

    Can you do a post only focusing on the moments you felt great when you were on your own? Must be a fun read

  13. James Altucher Says:

    Billy, good luck. I think that’s a fun idea. And you’ll figure out ways to expand it and pivot it when it looks like you are hitting road blocks. Always be open for any direction.

  14. rathernotsay Says:

    Hi James, thanks for the post. If you don’t care to read this entire response, please scroll to the bottom where the questions are. The universe works in amazing ways. I couldn’t agree more with the importance of building the idea muscle. In my own experience, building the idea muscle has opened new doors & new opportunities that I never saw coming.

    My first job out of college was in accounting and after about a year I was over it. I was so over it I would show up to work late, leave early, make every excuse in the book not to come in, take naps in my car during lunch etc. Being a business major and having a strong entrepreneurial spirit at a very young age, I knew I had to get out of the accounting matrix. I knew it wasn’t for me and that I was leaving too much talent on the table. During this time, I thought about what I really wanted to do in life. I thought back to when I was 14 years old and trying to start an internet company with a bunch of other 14 year olds. I remember I had friends parents excited about the idea and already asking for stock options when we took the company public. The plan was to build an SF based chronicle, and put it online. Of course, nothing happened. Maybe we were too young or didn’t have enough resources or just became interested in what other 14 year olds were doing (which was not starting a tech Co).

    All of this lead me to giving the start-up scene another shot. I was in a boring accounting roll and figured my way out would be to build something myself. An elder colleague at the time was in a similar role and we decided to partner up on an idea. It really started with one simple idea (that was already being done), to start building a multitude of ideas to aggregate with the initial plan. After a couple months, I raised $50K in seed funding, found a designer & developer, and had a lot of people excited about the launch. I figured, let’s get a prototype built to show some serious VC investors and at that point I can quit my job. At this point, I spent about 5% of my time working in the corp accounting role & 95% of my time working on my new start-up. This soon lead to myself getting fired from my accounting job which felt like a huge breath of fresh air. I knew I had to raise more money fast because the $50K was being spent on the development, design, legal, servers etc and running out quick. I remember we wanted the site to be perfect before we launched which kept pushing back the launch date and continued to cost more money. Any little thing we wanted tweaked or added to the product was “out of scope” from the initial plan with the dev team. It took about 8 months to launch the site. I had a 60 page business plan that I was sure Angels & VC’s would Love! I set up as many meetings as I possible could to pitch the site and was getting terrible feedback. We eventually ran out of money and after numerous meetings, e-mails, pitching, etc I was unable to raise additional funds. I felt like I failed. I did fail. I felt like I failed the seed investors, the team, myself, everyone, family, friends. It wasn’t a good feeling and it lead to a very dark, depressing 6 months.

    Enough time went by and I started coming up with ideas again. I was completely broke and didn’t know what to do so I started going on interviews again. I can’t tell you how many jobs I got turned down from, and good thing I did! I remember sitting in my bathroom crying because I had gotten called back for a second round 3 times and they ended up going with the other candidate all 3 times. Good thing they did because I ended up getting the job I wanted the most. It was for a company that was the biggest competitor to the first company I worked at and knew everyone would eventually find out (which they did). The good thing is that I was no longer working in accounting but was now an analyst which I found ten times more interesting. My new boss micro-managed me and after about a year I was over this job. I worked hard though and was constantly offering ideas to everyone in the company. I would give idea’s to the VP’s, EVP’s, Presidents etc. Most of them liked my ideas and some of them even implemented them, taking credit for it themselves. I knew I wanted to get close with the important people at the company and had lunch with their assistants 3-4 times a week. I feel like this really helped me get into the meetings that were once a month with all of the big shots. I was the really smart analyst that didn’t talk much but eventually I started talking too much. I pretended like I was the boss at times and they had to do what I said. I offered more ideas and ways in which we could implement new systems & strategies. I eventually got a call from corp asking if they could steal me from the local regional office. I was over my boss and said, sure. The CFO screwed me on my raise but I took it anyway because I would be working in Beverly Hills which was closer to home. I would also get to delegate to my old boss and he no longer had the control he thought he had over me. It felt great. My new boss was my ideal boss. We joked about shit all day but got our work done and met all deadlines as well. After about 6 months, the entire department would send me their requests. I would get requests from the EVP, SVP, VP, and even CFO because they were confident in my work.

    Another couple months went by and I got bored again. I wanted more. I started writing my ideas down in a journal. I would go home after work and right pages and pages of ideas. I finally settled on one and looked to pursue it. Of course, it was another start-up. This time, I knew what I needed not to do based on my previous start-up experience. I started going to local tech meet-ups. I would e-mail developers I found online or that were also going to the meet-ups. I knew the one thing I did not want to do was consult out the design & development part of the site. I needed a dev and was willing to give up equity. I ended up finding a really talented Dev who also had a FT job at the time. We knew the importance of building our Minimum Viable Product and we’re looking to push our initial consumers in the fashion/entertainment space. Both the Dev and I had great FT jobs at this time and we’re not ready to fully commit 100% of our time to the start-up (mainly because we wanted to boot-strap the product and needed the job security for financial stability). During this time, I had gotten someone my previous job so that it left a good taste in the mouth’s of everyone I left. We were about 30% done with the minimum viable product and the next day at work I got an e-mail from one of the EVP’s that I used to work with as an analyst. The e-mail was recommending me to the President of another company. The job paid 6 figures and the role was a C-title. I got excited. When I interviewed for the job all I did was give away ideas. I gave away as many ideas as I could possibly think of. I was the youngest candidate (27 at the time) but that didn’t matter, I ended up getting the job. I figured I would still work on the start-up on the side but the developer ended up backing out. He was too busy with his current role and could not devote enough time to our start-up. I had to focus on a new C-title role anyways and wasn’t that shocked. I ended up filling my previous role and have now gotten 4 people hired with my prior employer. The EVP that recommended me was the same guy I was spilling ideas to as an analyst.

    Now I have a job that doesn’t even seem real. I’ve re-built the financial structure and systems for this company and continue to do things that nobody here as ever seen before. I’m almost 9 months in at this new role and I already have a new idea I want to pursue. It’s almost like I can’t stop coming up with idea’s. Its like a disease at this point, I just can’t help it. I still don’t feel like I’m living my dream job because I’m not working for myself and I have yet to build a successful start-up. That’s what I want to do, but I also don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I don’t want to ruin the reputation I’ve built in this industry by creating something that could potentially be extremely disruptive to my current employer, and their competitors. Do I offer my boss some equity?

    Here are some things that I’ve noticed that the universe responds positively to:
    1.) You can never come up with to many ideas.
    2.) Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with others, especially with co-workers.
    3.) Failing first allows you to come up with better ideas & solutions the next time.
    4.) Someone will never forget if you helped them get a job.
    5.) Idea’s lead to opportunities whether it’s directly correlated to that idea or not.

    My main question(s) for you:
    1.) How do you find talented developers? Meet-ups, cold e-mailing etc?
    2.) Can someone be successful with working on a start-up on the side of a Full-Time Job?

    Thank you!!

    • Daniel Heavlin Says:

      I don’t know if you have found your talented developers yet, but the best way would be to develop at least part of the application yourself. Watch youtube videos about web development and just stick to a column based design with adequate white space and you will be fine.

      Just focus on the content of your project and get it out there yourself, you can even hire the basic design out for a few thousand dollars like James did with StockPickr.

      Your problem is not a coding problem yet, and if it becomes one, you will have hundreds of thousands or millions of customers and you will be able to hire the best coders to work on it. If it is something that doesn’t have that many customers but requires a lot of data manipulation and coding, make sure you have a customers interested before even starting.

      Another idea, if you just can’t code yourself for some reason, is to start becoming friends with people who are programmers and look for qualities and ambitions similar to yours. Your ideal developer is an idea machine and an expert at designing your product. They have strong empathy and can think just like the people who will ultimately use your product. They don’t accuse the user of being stupid for not figuring out how to use the software they work with every single day. They will be able to explain what they are doing to you and you will understand even if you can’t program at all.

      You will only find these developers by meeting them in person and working with them. You might be able to hire people on for small projects and see how it goes. Maybe you can hire out the whole project to elance developers with no equity.

      source: I am a 10th percentile horrible programmer

      For number 2, I don’t think that you can be successful without quitting your job. Working at your job is too comfortable and you will never be willing to actually take the final step of finishing your project and getting it out there to customers. It sounds like you live in California, so you are protected by their moonlighting laws, but in most places in the US, it is likely your employer made you agree to a contract that allows them to keep all of the intellectual property you create while employed.

      I strongly recommend that if your startup involves computers that you learn how to make websites and enough programming and database to get started. It is very simple to make something that doesn’t scale and still looks good, and that is what you need to get your first customers and hire the people that can fix it.

      That is what Twitter, Facebook and others did when they started and look where they went.

  15. Millionare Blogger Says:

    I wanted to make millions ($) by blogging away to glory. By sharing my day to day life. By traveling. And many other such hopeless ideas. 6 months into it, I quit and joined another job. 9 months down, I quit the job and I was back to blogging. Why? Because, I was making a ‘princely’ $20 per month and I had to concentrate on it to increase the earnings!!

    Well, after a couple of years and a bit of ups and downs, now I am back to that $20 per month once again. I work on a few jobs on oDesk and elance that pay my bills and of course, I continue to blog. I have tried to find a logical reason on why I keep going. What makes me do what I do? Till date, I have found none. But still I keep going.

    Call it stupidity, call it passion. But its my way of life, My answer to life. My life.

  16. Mike Says:

    James, Terrific article. Dug what you said about learning from mistakes, to be able to profit from bad decisions, and that every idea is fair game. The instruction is to be alert. I like it. I left a government bureaucracy 6 months ago. I enjoy helping people; trick is, how to make networking profitable. Thank you for your great efforts and insights!

  17. dubld Says:

    Love it. James, you have such a knack for getting to the human element of the things we all struggle with in the professional world.

    As I see it some people are comfortable as slaves and some people need to be masters. Starting a business is not for everyone. Some people are fine submitting to authority for the security and convenience it provides them and their families. Others are never satisfied, and driven to entrepreneurship.

    Like you I am in the latter group. I left corporate America about 18 months ago after 15 years as a corporate scientist. I had a vision for some forward thinking scientific instruments that would be necessary to support advances in clinical science. I was absolutely sure about the promise of the products, but clueless as to how to run a business. I was confident yet scared to death. Nonetheless, the day I left my last job was one of the best 5 days in my life, and perhaps the most liberating.

    What I’ve learned since is that each of your points can be condensed down to the one rule I’ve lived by for a year and a half now:

    Keep moving forward.

    There is never a time where your points present themselves clearly and obviously. Rather they are crystallized by overcoming situations in your day to day advancement towards your goal. I didn’t know how to keep books, but every day I struggled to rectify each transaction into Quickbooks until I became a whiz. I was never a good networker, but in attempting to network, I slowly discovered which efforts worked and which didn’t and am now at least adequate. And so on an so forth. It’s easy to fall in love with an idea, and the vision of its fulfillment through your own brilliance. This is the allure of entrepreneurship. But the reality revealed by each of your points is that it takes continuous work, learning, and trips outside your comfort zone. And you must trudge your way through them to reach your goal, collecting experience and learning hard lessons. I applaud your highlighting this with your normal dose of human perspective.

    Let me just add that this type of hope for hope’s sake is what living is all about. Live and learn, but LIVE first and foremost.

  18. tasmlab Says:

    Great post. I like the comments almost as much.

    I see a lot of people, like me, took the plunge when they were expecting a baby. Some JV psychologist should take a shot at that.

    I left the workforce 8 years ago, not because I had some great idea, but just couldn’t bear to go back and sit at that desk. Abandoned a low six figure salary and started my own business. I have a few employees now, make a lot more money, and am generally happy.

    BUT I’m just closing down my fifth out of six businesses that have failed. Suck!

  19. Isn't Man Says:

    Good experiences, I am the one have resided my office to create my own business. It’s time to go on my own, to make a dream be true.

  20. Florida Evans Says:

    James, you a great man, just like my late husband, also James.

  21. Liri Says:

    Truly inspiring! Gives anyone who feels trapped proof that it’s worth it to take the leap. Thanks for sharing your story.

  22. Abu Morpheus Says:

    Where do I get one of these corporate jobs where I show up at 10 am and leave at 4:16? I have to be seated in front of my computer at 8, and there is pressure to stay later than 5 pm. My boss even told me “most successful people at (insert company name) work more than 40 hours per week (lunch doesn’t count as working time, apparently).

  23. jennifer elizabeth Says:

    yeah, its so true. when you leave the corporate matrix you don’t leave the matrix at all you just fall into another one. and the thing about the corporate matrix is its so much easier to just stay there and let someone else tell you what to do, how to spend your time, give you a bi-weekly check, etc. but the struggles of entrepreneurship are so worth it. i’ll take being master of my universe over corporate slavery any day!

  24. Alex James Says:

    I’m starting a business right now. Crazy how important managing your time and self improvement is becoming for me. Just taking 30 mins a couple times a day to read or write makes my day that much better and efficient.

  25. stratomartin Says:

    Yep. All true, but it’s like Bob Dylan famously sang….”you gotta serve somebody”. There’s always a boss…of one sort or another. smile.

  26. Kenneth Tan Says:

    Damn. $75k for a 3pager. I wondered how you got that $15m you were mentioning in your talk doing web design, because I myself am a designer. Great stuff. I’m still trying to figure out how you got into design though… still looking through your old posts 🙂 But hey keep the ideas rolling. Just followed you on Twitter.

  27. Vern Lovic Says:

    Awesome. My favorite takeaway? “When web design was being taught in junior high school classes I knew that 3 page websites being built for $75,000 was going to be a thing of the past.”

    Yeah, that’s about the right time to sell…

    I just had to comment about Astoria. I lived 50m from the intersection of Astoria Blvd and Steinway. We had a 90 year old Greek neighbor that would knock softly on the door. When we’d open, he’d motion for us to come over, he had something for us to try. Greek almonds, olives, cheeses, were the favorites. We sat there and ate the most amazing food while he chain smoked and told us how bad the Turks were and how good the Greek food was. “Da BEST. Da BEST!” he’d say… well, that was almost 30 yrs ago, so he has surely passed on, but the memory lives. I had the best Greek food ever while living there that year. Then we moved to Manhattan and ate what everyone else eats.

    I had no aspiration of being my own boss those days. I worked as a fashion photog’s assistant and paparrazi photographer. I didn’t enjoy life. I didn’t really enjoy NYC at all, coming from Waikiki. It was another 10 years before I realized I could employ myself and be half-decent at it.

    Wish I had those ten years back.

    Anybody reading this – no matter WHAT situation you’re in presently, just think about for a day or so, what you would do if you were your own boss, doing your own thing. Is there any way you can make it work? Anything at all you can do right now to get moving in that direction?

    It’s probably the greatest life change I’ve made.

    I hope some of you make it too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: