(This is a living post. I intend to update it and revise it as you all comment and give me feedback. My goal in writing this post is to share why I am on my own and how I've gotten here with anyone who is interested. If you think you can help me make this post better/more interesting/more informative, please share your thoughts with me).
This post goes out to all of my friends who have had the courage to go off on their own and try their hand at entrepreneurship. In particular, this goes out to my dad, who's been doing this ever since I was 9 years old. I still remember sitting on the floor of his office, constructing his office furniture on the weekends.
All of you inspire me and many of you have pushed me to follow the same dream and I'm really proud of you all. It's partially because of you that I'm pursuing this path now. (Finally.. I know ;) ).
10 Years Ago. That's When I knew.
Do you remember this?
Or maybe this?
The RealPlayer and RealAudio. The predominant media solutions for the web, circa 1998.
And I was there.
During the summer of 1998, I interned at RealNetworks in Seattle, WA. My good friend Dorian had interned there the previous summer and his positive experience, along with the fact that RealNetworks was highly responsible for something that I believed was very important (the emergence of media delivery via the Web), convinced me to join them for the summer.
It was life changing.
Up until that point in my life, I had a pretty set path in mind for myself. As I wrote in This is what Politics in America looks like today, for a long while, I was very focused upon attending law school and then getting into politics. But my obsession with consumer technology products and my latent fascination with business and management was really ignited during my summer at Real.
The seminal moment, though, was one that my good friend Si likes to remind me about. We were at the Summer Intern dinner and Rob Glaser, the Founder and CEO, gave a speech. At the end, he asked for questions and I stood up and shared mine:
"So, streaming's nice and all, but what about MP3s? What's our strategy there?"
With a bit of hemming and hawing, it became obvious that he didn't really have an answer. In fact, at that point in time the company hadn't really thought much about MP3's and in many ways, they've treated the opportunity for downloadable media as an afterthought throughout their entire corporate life. I'm unsurprised that the company that once was one of the biggest Web brands is now more of a running joke in the industry.
I'm also unsurprised that his lack of an answer pissed me off.
- I'm a competitive person.
- I love watching people, in order to better understand them.
- I think about how we all interact and communicate, with each other, with our environments and with our technology.
After that dinner, I realized something: most people don't see the consumer technology landscape the way that I do. In fact, given my frustration that evening, I thought something exceptionally arrogant for a boy of 20:
"I can do his f'ing job. Why doesn't he know about MP3's and have some thoughts on the subject? Streaming's too damned slow for most people, MP3's make a ton of sense."
It would appear that I was right about that. A decade later, the dynamics of Internet bandwidth and streaming costs might be changing, but I fear that it's far too late for RealNetworks to do anything meaningful. They're a company lacking an identity and have been for quite a while, with financial performance that reflects their mediocrity.
(For those who are curious: Closing Price on 6/22/98, about when this dinner happened: $8.57. Yesterday's closing price: $7.60. OUCH!)
Dreams take work. A LOT of hard work, in fact.
That summer was the start of my journey to being here now - self-employed with no current plans to seek out a "boss". That journey has never stalled or been on hold - I've been working towards this reality ever since 1998.
It doesn't matter what you're dreaming about. It could be that girl you keep seeing at the gym. Or the house you want to buy that has the perfect kitchen. Or the company you want to build to change the world.
You can't JUST dream.
You MUST act and when your dreams are ambitious, you have to be patient and consistently work towards them, providing yourself the motivation to keep on course even when you want to quit.
Easier said than done.
In the world that I live in, patience and commitment is increasingly rare. Friends, relatives, romantic partners, bosses all demand of us: NOW NOW NOW. Faster. More immediate gratification. Less self-control. Many actually perceive patience and consistency as signs of weakness, admissions of "can't".
I refuse to believe these people.
It's probably important to make a point about myself here:
I will listen to others, particularly those whom I trust, but I will not abdicate the responsibility for my own goals and actions. They are MINE.
I've long chosen to try and create the path that I'm on.
I believe that you should follow your passions. As I wrote in Graduate to Your Passions, I feel that it's exceptionally important that you discover and then pursue what you're passionate about. It's not just an idealistic view of the world, I really believe in it. Many of my friends like to counter this point of view with what they view as a healthy dose of skepticism, or as they might argue, pragmatism.
They say, "Of course we should do what we love, BUT it's just not that easy."
Of course it's not easy. But isn't it worth the work?
If you care about something
If you're passionate about it
If you want to see a change made in your world.
That summer, I knew that I had to eventually venture out on my own. I started plotting with friends; brainstorming the ideas we wanted to develop, the companies we wanted to build. In the fall, I went to D.C. and worked at C-SPAN, already regretting my decision because I knew that I wasn't going to be heading back to Capitol Hill any time soon. I spent my mostly boring internship days reading up on the stock market, tech companies, business strategy and anything I could get my idle hands on that might help me better understand how to frame my goals and pursue them.
From that point on, I've been driving towards NOW. Interviewing in the fall of '99, I stayed away from all of the dot-coms recruiting on campus and stuck to consulting and I-banking opportunities for one reason: I felt that they could teach me the most in pursuit of my dreams. In each interview, when the softball question of, "What do you want out of this?" came up, I had the same answer each time: "I can learn the most in 2 years here, then I want to go work for a tech company and at some point, I want to start something."
Mind you, I wasn't the only one saying things like that.
When I say that I'm committed to something, I mean it and I try really hard to stick to it. I'm that guy.
From Deutsche Bank to WebEx and finally to Yahoo!, I had one underlying motivation: I wanted to learn as much about business, leadership and technology as I possibly could, in order to become the kind of leader who attracts great people, dreams great dreams and builds great companies.
It took me 10 years to get to a place where I felt that I might be ready for this challenge. 10 years to save, plan and, most importantly, learn how to proactively change myself and my habits. 10 years to truly discover my passions and accumulate the ideas that I am excited about every morning when I wake up. Ideas that keep me energized and unable to sleep every night.
I'm going to need a lot of help along the way to achieve these ideas
This blog has been a place where I've been practicing for the past few years. Now it gets serious.
I intend to share more about my ideas, my plans and what I see happening in this digital world we live in. In the process, I hope that you'll see that I'm focused on building businesses in different ways than most. I aim to be more open, more communicative and more honest than you expect.
I believe that we're at a point in time where it's possible to be a good person and to run a good business. I believe that it's time for more of us to stand up and have the courage to say who we are and what we believe. Most importantly, I believe it's the time for the companies that we do business with to understand that we're their customers and we expect to be communicated with, rather than manipulated and bombarded. As we, the individuals, take further control of the "media" that disseminates information, I believe that we, as a society, will pursue relationships of deeper and more transparent natures. The nuance required to understand one another can be fostered by technology, rather than ignored and rendered unimportant.
I don't know what will come in the next year or so, but I'm certainly looking forward to the failures along the way :-).