This is the third installment of the series I call, “12 Tips To Leading Your Best Life”. It’s a talk I give each semester to Ed Baker’s GSU class, and after delivering it to the class last semester, I decided to create a series out of it.
But first: More backstory on Purpose Group
Tip #3 to living your best life: Be all in on your dreams.
Now to the matter at hand. This third tip on how to live your best life begins in Queenstown, NZ. But before we jump into it, make sure you saw my first two tips:
Once upon a time, in a land not-so-faraway, Raj Choudhury and I started a little web design business in the dorm room at UNC-Charlotte. We then moved “the business” into my mother’s basement in Atlanta and
tricked blackmailed convinced Danny Davis to join us.
Nine months into building Spunlogic (at that point it was still called NBN Designs), Raj was in New Zealand living his best 22-year-old life thanks to a round-the-world-trip that his parents gave him for graduating college (I joke with him that his parents made that deal with him because they never thought he’d actually graduate).
While Raj was galavanting — I looked it up, that’s the best word for what Raj was doing — around the world, he’d typically work on websites late at night or early in the morning, doing his galavanting the other times of the day. I was coaching tennis during the day at a local country club and building websites at night and on weekends, and Danny (who by this time had moved into our office, aka my mom’s basement, to save money) was waiting tables at a restaurant at nights, working on websites during the day. We were a ragtag group of misfits if there ever was one.
Sometime in the summer of 1999, I received an email from Raj telling me to get ready to answer the phone because a guy he’d been talking to in Queenstown, NZ, was interested in us building a website for him. Two things on this. First, the largest (and only) paying client we had up until that point was my aunt in Chicago, who paid us $250 to build her company’s website. And second, I didn’t even know where the phone was in the basement, because no one had ever called us nor had we called anyone. But we were paying for a separate phone line for our business, so I knew it was around there somewhere.
I found the phone and practiced answering. I think I landed on, “Thank you for calling NBN Designs, this is Jeff, how may I help you?” Classy. Sure enough, it rings and the guy on the other asks what is my favorite question of all time, “Is this the US headquarters for NBN Designs?”
I looked around at the unfinished basement, Danny sitting on his dust-covered mattress, wires strung all over the place, and empty Mountain Dew bottles as far as the eye could see, and confidently said, “Yes, you’ve reached NBN Designs US headquarters, how can I help you?”
45 minutes later the guy offers to fly me to Queenstown so that Raj and I can “consult” with him on this new website idea, assuming, he says, that I can clear my schedule. (Uh, yeah, I think I can reschedule the tennis lessons I have the next week for a free trip to New Zealand.)
So I fly to Queenstown, Raj and I meet with the guy (I keep calling him “the guy” because I can’t remember his name, or maybe I blocked it out of my mind because of what happens next…let’s call him Fred for the rest of the story), and I heda back to the States after a week with a signed contract to build eQueenstown.com for $65,000.
Remember back when I said the largest (and only) website we had been paid to build netted us $250? That’s a 260X increase from that first paying project.
Needless to say, the three of us thought we were now, officially, and unequivocally, rich.
Danny and I quit our jobs. Raj canceled the rest of his trip and moved to Atlanta. We moved out of the basement and signed a one-year lease for office space (in the back of a fitness center in Snellville, GA), and we hired our first employee.
Perhaps some of you are doing the quick math in your head at this point — $65,000 to support four team members and an office, that doesn’t sound like enough…
And you’d be right. What can I say, none of us were finance majors.
January 2000 comes around and we were knee-deep in building eQueenstown.com. While the rest of the team was building the website, I was “managing” the account (in the agency world this is called being an account manager, but we’d never worked in the agency world, so we didn’t know what anything was called). Essentially, I was working with Fred on a day-to-day basis on what the team should be building.
Then in mid-February, Fred started to respond less than normal. By early March, he stopped responding altogether. And then in mid-March, we received The Letter.
The Letter, from Fred, said something to the effect of:
To the NBN Designs team,
I regret to inform you that my business has gone bankrupt and I have to cancel the eQueenstown.com website project.
Distraught leads to determination
Bummer, right? It gets worse.
Remember when I said earlier that we’d never worked in the agency world before? Well, we’d also never worked in the “business” world before, so we did not know that oftentimes when starting a large project like this, you ask for some payment upfront. Or at the very least you get paid in monthly installments or some other pre-determined time period.
We thought you got paid only when the entire project was completed. So after several months of working on eQueenstown.com, we had received exactly zero percent of the Sixty. Five. Thousand. Dollars.
Perhaps, once again, some of you are doing the quick math in your head at this point — $0 to support four team members and an office, that doesn’t sound like enough…
To say we were devastated would be an understatement.
But then a funny thing happened.
Without realizing it, we had forced ourselves to be “all in” on our business. We had quit our jobs (and round-the-world vacations), signed a one-year lease for office space, hired an employee (that we sadly had to lay off)…all our chips were on the table.
We had to make this work.
And we did. It was a brutal couple of years, scrapping and clawing to get ourselves to profitability (during which a LOT of credit cards were used, and this I would call anti-advice, please don’t do it to fund your business!). And around year five we figured out how to actually grow the business (which I’ll talk more about in future posts).
By year ten we had grown to 75 people and successfully sold the business to Halyard Capital. Huzzah.
In my heart of hearts, I don’t think we would have built our business (and I might not have stayed an entrepreneur) had we not won, and subsequently lost, the eQueenstown.com website project.
What we were trying to do — build a business — is extremely hard. The odds are stacked against anyone trying to start a business. By not being “all in”, we were making those near-impossible odds even more impossibler.
It wasn’t until we had to make it work that we really took it seriously. We had to overcome the obstacles that came our way and find a path to success.
If you’re going to chase your dream, and please tell me you are, then you need to find ways to make it so important in your life that you will yourself to achieve it. Half-assing this is not going to cut it; you’ve got to whole-ass your dreams, my friend.
I hope you’re happy.