If you were offered an opportunity to do something you love every day even though the odds for success were heavily skewed against you, would you go for it?
I recently had to make this decision and it was one of the toughest i’ve ever made. I had two options: continue a career path that provided amazing long-term opportunities and stability or pursue a unique opportunity as a co-founder at a technology startup that provides no stability, more than doubles the number of working hours, and pays nothing.
Spoiler alert: I went for it.
It all started about eight months ago when I went to Startup Weekend Tampa. Being relatively new to the Tampa Bay area, my expectations were to dip my toe into the startup community and make a few connections. What happened next was completely unexpected…
During the 54 hour event I pitched an idea called EXMO, built a team, iterated on the idea, gathered feedback and spoke to potential customers. When it was all said and done, we gave the final pitch on Sunday evening where we won first place. To make things even crazier, since we won a Startup Weekend event during Global Entrepreneurship Week, we were entered into the Global Startup Battle. We only had 24 hours to create a 90 second video for the contest. We somehow ended up scripting, shooting, and editing the video in 7 hours. While we ultimately lost, it was a great experience. At the time of the weekend, the idea for EXMO was to be better connect people at events (conferences, conventions, seminars, etc.) and keep them aware of what’s going on, all while making the event organizer’s job easier.
Shortly after the event and the contest madness, the team shrunk from six down to two. Over the course of the months that followed we started building the product and were able to get an early version on iOS out the door for a local event. We received great feedback and that’s when we knew we were onto something. For the months that followed that event, we continued to roll out new features, made an android app, and released a completely self-service web app for event organizers. This all culminated into our public beta announcement onstage at the following Startup Weekend Tampa in June. Since then EXMO has powered dozens of events from Florida to California. We’re continuing to test the platform, roll out new features, and spread the word. Currently, we are working towards our big public debut at the end of September and are trying to get some sleep in every now and then. We’ve completely bootstrapped the venture (only $2300 spent to date!) and have already started turning revenue.
So why did I turn down the safe path for a risky one? There are a multitude of reasons, but I believe they ultimately boil down to a few main themes:
Impact – We’re working on building a product from the ground up that could potentially impact millions of people. To me, that is nothing short of fascinating and I want to make that happen.
Passion – Being passionate about something is more than just a phrase. The reality is that passion is a prerequisite. I wake up each morning knowing that this is a problem I want to solve. There are great days and there are terrible days, but it’s my passion that keeps me going.
Experience – In my short time as a startup founder I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is more about the journey then the outcome. I’ve been exposed to challenges and opportunities that have impacted my life, both professionally and personally.
Learning – I’ve always been a big proponent of continuous learning. Running a startup takes everything you have and in return you will learn things that no classroom could ever teach you. I want to learn everything from how to effectively pitch investors to building an amazing user experience. Knowing that the harder I work, the more I learn motivates me.
People – Getting involved in the startup community is a unique experience in itself. Learning, getting feedback, and asking for advice from like-minded people is a powerful thing. The relationships I’ve built are invaluable and I look forward to creating more.
Outcome – I know that at the end of this journey I will come out a wiser, more experienced person. While yes, the potential financial rewards of starting a company are nice, I’m intrinsically motivated to make this venture a success.
It’s worth citing that some of the skills and experiences I gained from my prior employer helped get me to where I am today. I’m a little over a year removed from college, but I’m quite fortunate to have gotten the start that I did at my prior employer. I was in an intense leadership development program at an outstanding organization. The people were great, the culture was fantastic, and the opportunities were plentiful.
But at the end of the day, I still had a drive, no an urge, to do more. While I planned to start a venture sometime after the program, I couldn’t turn down the opportunities in front me. I won Startup Weekend Tampa, built an amazing network in the Tampa Bay area, had great advisors, partnered with an amazing technical co-founder, and found a problem I wanted to solve. I always told myself to wait for the right moment to start a venture, but in life sometimes there isn’t a right moment. Entrepreneurship has been a part of my family for generations and I’ve had the bug since I was a young child. I believe that if you’re confident in your team and their abilities, you can achieve anything. I’m confident in what we’re capable of and know we can make an impact.
While I fully understand the risks of my decision, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was ECSTATIC for what awaits. Taking a leap like I just did requires a person to be completely honest with their self; they must leave any form of an ego at the door. With that said, I’m giving myself one year to either start turning significant revenue or raise funding. Failure is very real and statistically is the most probable outcome (9 out of 10 startups fail). While failures are learning opportunities, I plan to do everything possible to make this venture a success.
I’m 100% vested in this venture and am pursuing my passion. I’ve significantly downsized my lifestyle (no income), turned down the opportunity to live in the heart of NYC in corporate housing for my former employer, and moved into a 3 bedroom house with another tech startup founder. I’m completely committed and am putting myself in an environment that will help provide the catalyst to really get things going with EXMO. Ultimately, this was a huge decision that will have an even larger impact on my life. I consulted dozens of people from family to local entrepreneurs to people I barely know, all to get straightforward advice on whether or not I should take the leap. Surprisingly enough, over 70% of them were supportive of the move. Now I’m on the other side; I’ve made the jump. The best part? I now have 168 hours in a week that I get to decide how I want to spend on building the company. Even after all the sleepless nights, endless hours of testing, sales calls, design mockups, and demos, I love it more and more every day.
EXMO is on a mission to make events easier to organize and more interactive through mobile apps and activity walls.
Throughout my journey, I’ll be using this blog to share my insights as a first time startup founder. You can also keep up with our progress at www.getEXMO.com
Let’s do this!