This is a guest post by Joshua D. Fischer, the Private Equity Placement Manager for Sunset Capital Group, LLC, a boutique private equity commercial real estate investment firm. You can reach him at Joshua@sunsetcapitalgroupllc.com. He’d love to talk to you.
“Josh, you look awful.”
It was the second time I’d heard that since lunch. I glanced into a pane of glass and saw two bloodshot eyes ringed with deep, purples circles staring vacantly back at me.
Yvonne, the director of the tech incubator out of which I was working, was right – I did look awful.
Of course, this news came as no surprise to me. I had yet to find a place to live that I could afford on my less-than-shoestring budget, and over the past week and a half, I’d slept on four different couches. None of them were comfortable, and I don’t suppose I’d gotten more than three or four consecutive hours of sleep during a given night.
I splashed some water on my face and quickly combed my fingers through my hair before jogging out to my car to make my way to my part-time job. My car was packed with clothes – most clean, some dirty. As I picked a shirt off of the driver’s seat and tossed it onto a pile in the back, I resolved to buy an air mattress on the way back to the office and sleep on the floor that night. Not exactly a dream solution, but it beats calling friends to find a vacant couch and barely remembering where you are or how you got there when you awake.
I didn’t expect my air-mattress-on-the-office floor solution to be a long term one. I chuckle now when I tell the story – a quick fix that I had only planned to last for a day or so became my home for over two months.
“How did you do it?!” people ask incredulously when I tell them the story. “You slept on your office floor for two months?! And you of all people!”
Of course, if you had asked me that day whether I planned on living out of my office and sleeping on an air mattress on the floor for the next sixty-plus nights, I would have responded with as much incredulity as do those who hear my story. I am, after all, a fan of the great indoors, and have always had a penchant for the luxurious. Those who know me well are rightly surprised.
I’d like to be able to take more credit for my Spartan-like existence as an aspiring tech entrepreneur. I wish I could tell you that from the outset I clearly predicted all the late-nights, agonizing decisions, and relative discomfort that founding a company would entail, looked these challenges in the face, and laughed. But truthfully, I can’t.
The truth is, when you’re pressing towards a big, hairy, audacious goal – one that you believe has the capacity to drastically improve the way people do things – questions like “Where am I going to sleep?” become trivial compared to concerns like “I’ve got calls with developers in four different time zones, a serious ethical dilemma with a potential team that I otherwise feel would be a perfect fit, a spec sheet that needs altered, and a monetization strategy that, given more thought, seems less and less viable.” I know that many people face issues like these at work, but they take on an entirely different level of gravity when it’s your company. You own those issues. You must face them or die. At that point, questions about daily routine that would otherwise warrant consideration seem totally inconsequential. Your work and your vision are all that matter.
For the next four months, my life was a whirlwind. I scoured the Internet for weeks to find a suitable developer to turn my vision into a workable prototype, oscillating between less-than-credible developers in foreign countries who claimed they could come in at my budget and teams in silicon valley who scoffed at my price point and offered to do the work for five times higher than I had projected. But after an agonizing search, I finally found a perfect team: They shared my passion for my concept, had the technical chops to pull it off, and the willingness to forgo their full price quote in exchange for a portion of my company when we closed our first round of funding. I converted almost my entire portfolio to cash to get the deal done.
While managing development of the (increasingly complex) project, I was also constantly scrambling between meetings with different potential strategic partners to move to a full-scale build as quickly as possible once our proof of concept build was finished. It was exhausting, but in the best of ways. I was building my dream.
I wish I could tell you that my story of self-sacrifice, sleep deprivation, and good old-fashioned hard work has a happy ending, one where I’m now the head of a burgeoning tech startup that’s disrupting market trends, creating jobs, and is well on it’s way to being snatched up by Google for a bazillion dollars (or that Google already bought us, and I’m writing this story on a beach in Bora Bora). But sadly, I can’t. Only a few short weeks after finishing development on a prototype that came in 80% below comparable cost projections, and performed and looked better than any of our wildest expectations, everything came crashing down on our heads. We learned of two new disruptive developments in the market that knocked us out before the bell had even signaled the beginning of the fight. NavExplore, the dream that I founded with sweat, sleepless nights, and my life savings, was tossed into the graveyard of every other nameless company that failed before it saw the light of day. From a commercial standpoint, my venture was a failure.
Thankfully, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. One of my favorite pieces of advice comes from entrepreneur and business speaker Jim Rohn: “Make it a goal to become a millionaire, not because of the money, but because of the person you’ll have to be become to attain it.” Similarly, I’d say this: “Found a company, not because of the money, fame or glamor (they often don’t come, as demonstrated by my experience), but because of the person you’ll become by founding it.” You see, even though my company never launched, never improved the lives of millions like I had envisioned, I can say with all confidence that I am a vastly better person for having founded it. I have grown as a leader, manager, thinker, communicator, and person in ways that I had never thought possible.
Although my journey didn’t have the ending for which we had all hoped, it has positioned me for success in other ventures by developing my skills, my self confidence, and even my resume by leaps and bounds in a dramatically condensed timeframe that I dare say would have been impossible to achieve in a conventional nine-to-five position. When people see what I was able to create, they immediately recognize that I am a person who gets it done. Even after moving on to another position (I now place capital from institutions and high net worth individuals into off-market private equity commercial real estate deals. Give me a call – our returns are amazing), I have taken the lessons I learned during my time as an entrepreneur, the resilience I developed, and the enthusiasm for value creation that was further enflamed, and I apply them to every endeavor I undertake. I wouldn’t trade my time as an entrepreneur for the world.