I’ve had dozens and dozens of different jobs in my life. I’ve suffered through the drudgery of dead-end work. I’ve had bosses who made third-world dictators look fuzzy and cute by comparison. I’ve worked inside, outside, and partly underground. I’ve dug ditches, pumped gas, drafted houseplans, sold Visa cards over the phone. I’ve worked as a legal courier, a stockbroker, an air traffic controller, a short-order cook, a software developer. I spent one long and overly-hot Utah summer on the dumb end of a shovel. I’ve done just about every job I’m technically qualified to do (which isn’t saying a whole lot). I’ve loved most of the work, hated some of it. But through it all, I’ve never enjoyed working as much for someone else as I’ve enjoyed working for myself.
I started my first company when I was 10. During the summer months, each afternoon around five, I’d set a sprinkler to a different patch of lawn in our front yard and let the water run for about an hour. Later, after the sun had set, I’d head out with a bucket and a flashlight to collect the nightcrawlers that had wriggled up to the surface. I needed to collect at least two-dozen a night. Some nights it would take over an hour to gather them all.
The next morning my brother and I would pack up our wagon with the bucket of worms, our tackle boxes, fishing rods, a small metal lunch box of peanut butter sandwiches and Saltine crackers, and walk the half-mile down to the river. Selling the worms was easy. We’d developed a reputation very quickly. The men who fished the river swore by our product. We were twice as expensive as the local bait shop, but our worms were three times as large. All of the big fish caught out of that river were caught with Rich’s Wrigglers.
We made exactly $1 a day. Exactly. We’d sell worms for 30 cents a half-dozen, 50 cents a dozen. And when we’d sold a dollar’s worth of worms, we’d close shop. We’d take our earnings for the day over to the road-side stand and invest every bit of it in candy. After that, we’d spend the rest of the day fishing under the train trestle, gorging ourselves on Now & Laters, Mike and Ikes and Smartees, swimming in the river, and basically enjoying the day to its fullest.
It’s taken a couple of decades for me to realize this, but this same philosophy towards business has imbued every company I’ve started since. When I was 19 and a buddy and I started The Word, a night-club in Salt Lake City, our goal was not to make a killing in the entertainment business. We started the club because we wanted a place to hang out and listen to great bands. All of the other venues in town were solely for the 21 and older crowd. We had to create the business we wanted to frequent. Nobody else was doing it.
The same is true of Loudlever, the business Brad Tayan and I started back in March. We looked around, thought it a shame that most of the businesses revolving around writer/publisher relationships actually neglected the writer, and decided to create the service that we ourselves wanted to use.
Years ago Rich Kiyosaki of “Rich Dad” fame observed that he started his first company because he had to. No one else would hire him. I think this is true of most entrepreneurs, truth be told. We don’t play well with others. We have very strong ideas of how the world should be. And we’re basically curmudgeons until that rare moment when we are able to manifest our vision into reality.
I’ve heard dozens of CEOs around town speak about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Glenn Kelman consistently rails against the “most screwed up industry in America”. Dan Shapiro was flabbergasted he couldn’t get photos off of his phone so he co-founded Ontela (now Photobucket) to fix the problem. Todd Hooper, T.A. McCann, Marcelo Calbucci, and the hundreds of other entrepreneurs who frequent every NWEN, SST or Seattle 2.0 event in town — they all have one thing in common: they have an unwavering belief that some segment of their universe is extremely screwed up and, come hell or high water, they’re going to fight tirelessly to fix it.
When people ask me “Why did you start your company?” I have to chuckle. It’s like asking a parachutist why they decided to pull the rip-cord on the way down. I really had no other choice. This segment of my universe is extremely screwed up and no one else will hire me to fix it.
I really have no other choice.