I was invited to participate in the Entrepreneur Story 100 Profiles over at The Hundred Dollar Business, so here goes. I’m going to take the easy route and just answer the suggested questions.
1. What happened to make you start a business? It was a combination of experiences I had growing up and while in college. When I was five my dad gave me a financial ledger to track my earnings and expenses which taught me the basics of acquiring and managing money. In fourth grade a friend and I created a rudimentary business plan for a surfwear company we called Aqua Mount. In high school I would buy candy wholesale at Costco and sell it at school, turning a tidy profit. I also started a small retail business in high school selling skateboard goods. By the time I reached my second year of college I had decided to major in business, and while working at an Internet startup in 1999 I decided I had the ability to start a business, so I did, and here in 2007 I’m still running that same business.
2. What kind of business did you create? My company is a typical web development shop. We design websites, build content management systems, develop custom web applications, and more recently we’ve gotten into search engine optimization which is becoming more and more our primary focus.
3. How much capital did it take to start? I’ve actually started my company twice. The first time we raised $41K, the second time I raised around $300K. The funny thing is that having more money didn’t make much of a difference.
4. Have you had a nausea-inducing crisis or mistake that you’d tell us about? I have at least one every two weeks and it’s called “making payroll.”
5. Did you have a mentor or mentors? I wouldn’t say I’ve had anyone who I’ve spent a lot of time with, but I’ve had a lot of people who give me bits of advice here and there. The most valuable advice I got was from John Pestana at Omniture who said “You don’t want to run a web development firm, trust me.” I ignored his advice for seven years, but now I see the point he was making and am making some changes to my business.
6. How long did it take to become profitable? Profitability is a tricky term in my industry. Some months we’re profitable, some months we aren’t. Some years we’re profitable, some years we’re not. It’s pretty volatile.
7. What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? The illusion of control and freedom, and the reality of responsibility. Even if I’m more of a slave than a free man, I still feel like I’m in control and can do whatever I want, and that feels good. And while I can blame little things on circumstances or other people, if the business doesn’t succeed as a whole I can only blame myself. That’s worth something to me.
8. What would you do differently now? I’d start a different type of business, and that happens to be what I’m right in the middle of doing. However, I can only say that having gone through what I went through. What I went through provided invaluable experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
9. What is the hardest part about being an entrepreneur? For me, the most difficult situations are those where I’ve made a commitment to a person and I am unable to keep it despite my best intentions. I think of myself as an honest person and try my best, but sometimes situations occur where I’m stuck robbing Paul to pay Peter and I don’t see any way the situation could have been prevented without being able to see into the future, so I just have to make the best of it.
I always keep my commitments in the long term, but sometimes I make debt payments late, sometimes I over commit my staff, and sometimes I promise things and am unable to deliver. It’s a tough balancing act, because the only way I can see to avoid breaking commitments is to never make any. If anyone differs in their opinion then my opinion is that they haven’t experienced true entrepreneurship.
10. Can you think of one sentence of advice you’d offer someone who’s got an idea and wants to start a business? Welcome to the real world.