Have you ever pursued a Big Dream?
Like… a really Big Dream? And then didn’t achieve it?
And then get all depressed, pissed off, n stuff?
I did, and I learned a painful, yet valuable lesson a few years ago.
The story I am going to tell you, really made an impact on me. It was my first attempt at an internet start-up. And this was before “start-ups” became hip and cool.
After working 17 years in the financial field, I was tired and burned out. I made a success of myself in the financial services field, but something was missing. I had a staggering 2,000+ investment clients but I no longer saw a desirable future in what I was doing. I know, crazy right?
But the path I was on in the financial field was a dead end street. It was approaching its “end life.” It was a great way to learn sales, persuasion, and a positive attitude; but it was not the vehicle to ride all the way to the end.
I wanted freedom. I wanted an empire. I want to dominate. Where I was, wasn’t the vehicle for that.
This “internet thing” was always burning inside of me since I made it a hobby in the early 90’s. It fascinated me. I even named one of my companies ThisOnlineThing.com.
I knew it was the new age. I saw the future coming, and it didn’t favor my current plan.
So I left the financial field and started web design, SEO, and internet marketing companies. I figured it out as I went.
I did really well and was building very successful businesses. Initially, I was able to teach myself the skills I needed (html and css – thanks to Lynda.com) but then I discovered it was better to outsource those skills. I realized it was smarter for me to focus on selling, since that was my area of expertise. After 17 years in the financial field, I was damn good at selling… to survive that long selling financial products, you have to be good!
My Dream Start-Up
For years I had this idea that I never really acted on. In the financial services industry we had these incredible financial plans that we used to do for clients. I always thought it would be awesome to have a website that would auto build financial plans for people. But I never really pursued it. I put it off.
Then one day in early 2008, “the bug” hit me. I realized my idea was within my reach. I discovered I had the ability all this time to build that online financial plan that I thought was the best idea since sliced bread. And sliced bread is a ‘purty dadgum’ good idea.
I could build a free “financial planning” tool that would auto create budgets, find ways for people to save money, automatically offer products such as cheaper insurance, better investment accounts, less expensive credit cards, mortgage refinances, etc. I could over 3rd party products as solutions and be an affiliate on all of it. The consumer would be getting this killer financial plan for free, they would save a boat load of money in the process, and I would get paid commissions for doing it! Greatest idea ever!
So I started efinancialplan.net, because all the good domains were taken, and I didn’t have the money to buy the names I really wanted. I figured I’d get funding later in the project to buy a better domain name.
Off I went. We started building it out. I hired a special team of coders and we went to work. And work is an understatement. We worked hard! I put in 15 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week! When an entrepreneur uses the expression “hard work,” it usually means 100+ hours a week.
Venture Capital = Giving Away Chunks Of Your Company
Being from the financial field, it was inbred in me to be
cheap lean and mean. In financial services I saw a lot of business clients go broke by spending too much money.
I always preached to be
cheap frugal because there’s a bottom to every barrel. I had witnessed friends of mine making $2 Millon a year, blow through it like wild fire. But, you can be too cheap frugal when it comes to building a business.
You need to spend money in the right areas. And in this endeavor, the right areas were hiring high end coders! Not cheap overseas coders that know 23 words of ‘Engrieush’ – yes that’s a politically correct thing to say because it uses too many vowels for bigoteers to pinpoint anything, makes fun of everyone who doesn’t speak English fluently, and doesn’t single out and pick on any single class… 😛 … I digress…
I didn’t seek adventure capital because I didn’t want to give away part of my company. I wanted to build it the right way and not beg for money. So I had a very small team – we were slow and overworked. At the same time, I continued to run my web design, SEO, and internet marketing firms.
I was juggling too many young companies – big
We were trucking along when one day, while doing some research, I discovered Mint.com‘s startup which Aaron Patzer started in 2006. My heart sank! Mint was a very similar concept that was 2 years ahead of us and had a TON of venture capital. I realized we were in trouble. I mean… hell… look at Aaron! When the dude walks, his shoes leave brain patterned footprints in his wake. He wasted himself on Mint, he should have gone into interstellar space travel or something challenging. Have you heard his story? He decided to write an algorithm one night because Quicken didn’t organize his shit just right.
There were other similar startups as well, but they were throwing in the towel and shutting down due to the rapid growth of Mint. Aaron was a brilliant guy with a metric-crap-ton of venture capital. They had a coding dream team as a result.
I’ve never been a quitter, so I kept on building away. In 2009 Mint was so good that it was about to destroy Intuit’s flagship product Quicken.
Acknowledging the threat, Intuit bought Mint.com for $170 million in 2009. I was blown away! What an incredible exit and success Aaron had achieved. I knew then, it was over for my start-up.
Not only was Mint first to market, but their marketing angle was better than ours. We were pitching from a complicated “brain heavy” financial planning angle. Mint was going more for mass appeal.
True financial plans have to be “sold”. You have to convince someone to get a financial plan. Mint made life easier. The product we were developing wouldn’t necessarily make life easier, it would rather expose all your mistakes and attempt to correct them – much harder sell.
If there were no Mint, we would have probably changed course and veered more to the same direction as Mint’s philosophy; but hindsight is 20/20.
What a devastating blow! It felt like all that hard work we did was for nothing. But it was actual one of the most valuable learning experiences you could ever go through.
My thoughts were, I should have jumped on it sooner! I could have been ahead of Aaron and the Mint team. That should have been my $170 Million deal. Of course, you can “I shoulda, coulda” all day long.
At some point you have to take your losses, swallow your pride, lick your wounds, move on… and that’s exactly what I did.
Failing Improves Your Inner Game
This may sound weird, but failing is a great confidence booster. Yes mam! Because it causes you to realize that failing in the digital world, is not fatal. You can’t die from it. You won’t even bleed real blood. Only egos are bruised. Which is nothing but an inner mental game.
I grew a lot from that experience. I’m more excited about the future than ever before.
Since the success of Mint, there have been many other startups that have achieved far greater success. Billion dollar ventures are becoming commonplace.
Today, we face the largest opportunity that’s ever been seen by mankind. One that dwarfs the Industrial Revolution. And we are at the beginning stages of the growth curve. The Digital Revolution is upon us.
Where will you place your mark?
What is your dream?
How tough are you willing to be?
Leave a comment below. I would love to hear about your dreams, passions, and desires.