I fucking lost. A huge failure in my startup dreams. I graduated in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech last May, 2011. I was a pretty good student, GPA = 3.5. But I did not want to go work for the man. I was in love with business strategy, big picture thinking, making your own future, as oppose to working a 9-5 job where you anxiously look for 5pm and spend the rest of your days counting till when you can cash in your 401K.
Not me. I got really lucky in the “Ovarian Lottery.” My parents have provided me with opportunities that have opened many doors for me (bringing me back to U.S. against all odds, paying my gianormous Georgia Tech out-of-state tuition, and supporting me whenever I screwed up (well most of the time they didn’t know :)
After graduation, I
asked my parents & brothers to support my expenses for 6 months so I can get my startup, up and running. During that summer, we tried, pivoted, and bounced from idea to idea, throwing S#!T at the wall hoping something would stick. Every time we learned something new.
But we didn’t have enough money to survive so we started renting out our rooms to all the travelers that were visiting Atlanta. We hosted close to 35 people from 10-15 different countries around the world and all kinds of personalities, backgrounds, etc. We have a lot of crazy stories :).
Couple of times, I didn’t see my bed for 2 months in a row. There were also times that Davide & I had our girlfriends over, but since we didn’t have our rooms, we all had to sleep in the middle of the leaving room (get your dirty thoughts out! ;)
But by November, 2011, we had ran out of money. My cofounder, Davide, who moved to US to purse his startup dreams with me, his visa was ending too. We had failed. It was time to say goodbye. Not knowing when would be the next time we see each other and get to follow our startup journey.
I had told my parents that I would go get a “real job” if I don’t make money by December. So it was time to go work for the man.
I applied to 70 or 80 jobs, had three interviews, and got three job offers. One worse than the other. If one of them had given me a 5K more salary, right now I would have probably been working for a company in Birmingham, Alabama. (I know!) I tried negotiating with the person, but he got pissed off and took his offer back.
So I accepted the job offer that had the most Benjamins so I can work on my startup on the side: a mindless 9-5 where you would do a repetitive task day in – day out, and pretending that you are actually using your brain at work. There were people around me who were doing the same thing for 30 years. Thinking about that fact, made me sick to my stomach. I had to get the hell out of there. FAST.
So I focusing less and less on my “work” and more and more on my startup. I felt like the movie Shawshank Redemption, where the guy, with a spoon, every day was curving out a little piece of the wall to make a tunnel out of his prison cell.
A week before 500 startups demo day, no no no…Let’s back track.
Back in November 2011, the last 10 days before Davide’s visa ran out, we decided to go to Silicon Valley to see if “this silicon valley thing”was really true that people were talking about. For 10 days in a row, every day we looked up events on Eventbrite, Meetup, and Plancast. We crashed two to three events a day, some of them were completely private, and some had ticket prices of $1K+. We found out that this 500 Startups thing is a pretty big deal. So we started crashing at their office space and made some friends.
So fast forward, a week before 500 startups demo day in Jan, 2012, I decided to just fly out to SF to crash their companies’ demo day (“startup graduation day, where the companies pitch to investors”) and meet some people. I told my boss that my aunt got into a car accident and had to fly out to Chicago to take care of her kids. So he let me go and counted the days as sick days.
met many peeps at 500’s demo day. Even though the room was full of investors and influential people, I was too scared of talking with new people, being afraid that I would get kicked out. So I just said hi to couple of people that I had met previously in November.
But I also noticed this guy at the demo day. He looked like someone important so I looked him up quickly on LinkedIn and noticed that DAMN, not only he is an investor, but he is a mentor at 500 Startups, he is into Photography and Imaging, and there’s also something about ITALY in his profile!
HOLY SHIT! What an opportunity! I had to go talk to him and tell him about my startup (as I learned later, in Silicon Valley they call this “pitching”). He could be the ship to Success-land!
Anyways, let’s just say it would be an under-statement to say he was SEVERELY UNIMPRESSED. We started debating and I felt punches were getting thrown at me from all different directions. At that point we didn’t have traction (a silicon valley word, meaning, a lot of customers or revenue) to prove him wrong. So I felt like a dude on wheelchair getting into the ring with Rocky! [read an update about this at the end of this post]
With lots of hope, I flew back to Atlanta at the end of that weekend and had to go back to work.
But I had already scheduled another trip to the Valley in 3 weeks (Feb 2012). The plan was to go to LA Bachata Festival and then fly directly to SF to plant more roots in the Valley and seriously investigating what it takes to move there.
I had already told my boss about my trip to LA & SF a long time ago so he could take it out as my vacation days.
But the exact day of my flight to LA, that morning, I made a big fuck-up at work, and costed the company $20,000 by ordering some un-sellable material for inventory (I was working in purchasing department). I tried calling the seller company, and they wouldn’t take it back. I tried sweet talking the lady, but she practically said go to hell.
Given that and my other screw ups, “emergency situations”, and the fact that I was planning to take 9 out of my 10 days of annual vacation (+3 sick days) within the first 90 days of my job, my boss called me into his office, and fired the
innocent righ-out-of-college young ambitious person.
I felt really bad for him. He was one of those really hard working, nice and quite guys who was just trying to do his job. He was very uncomfortable with the situation. He was feeling so bad for me and I was feeling so bad for him. But after signing the severity package, as he was escorting me out of the building, I shook his hand looked in his eyes and said “hey man, don’t worry about me. I will be OK. I have fired people [one of my best friends] before, and I know how it feels, uncomfortable as fuck!” He said “really?” I said “yeah bro, don’t worry about me! All the best.” He smiled and said goodbye.
I still felt like crap for getting fired. I got dumped. Whereas I wanted to be the one who dumps them
Earlier that day, I was worrying about not having enough time to leave work, pick up my girl friend, and catch the flight to LA, but now I had extra hours to kill before my flight. My girl-friend later told me as soon as I texted her that “hey don’t worry, I have plenty of time to come pick you up,” she knew that I had gotten fired or quit the job.
The only thing that really pissed me off that day is that, had I not gotten fired that day, I could have earned an extra two weeks worth of salary for being on vacation :)!
I flew to LA for the Bachata Fest, and knew that soon I have to move from Atlanta to Silicon Valley. But I was really hurting inside. I had built a great and wonderful family in Atlanta and now I was gonna leave them to pursue my dreams. My team, dance family, my instructor, my girl friend, my close college friends were the closest people I ever made an emotional connection to. We had been spending countless hours of dance practice, performance, travels to dance festivals, and parties together. It was all over. I miss them.
While in LA, I performed my very last Bachata performance with my team, and afterwards broke the news to them, my mission and purpose would only be accomplished by moving to SF.
Atlanta was comfort zone, and I HAD to get out!
After that visit to LA & then SF, I came back to ATL to empty my apartment, and prepare moving to SF. I had a very supportive girl friend at the time who let me stay at live at her place for 2 weeks before moving to SF.
I really wanted to be in the heart of the startup-land so I can have the most opportunities, so I had to be in Palo Alto. As you knew everything in Palo Alto costs an arm and a leg plus 3 livers. Luckily for me, I had an old middle-school friend who had recently gotten into Stanford and was leaving in a studio in a Stanford dorm. He kindly let me live on his 3-feet love-seat for 2 weeks. [he is one of the nicest guys on the planet! Thank you!]
I remember the first time I went to a grocery store to buy some food. I just looked at the prices and had senior citizen moment: “What the fuck am I doing here.”
I only had couple of Benjamin’s in my bank and definitely not enough for any sort of real transportation. So I borrowed some dough from my older bankrupted brother, to be able to buy a bicycle. I researched and found a good bike on sale at Sports Authority in East Palo Alto. The only problem was that there was no public transportation
from stanford from anywhere to East Palo Alto. So I decided to walk there. Luckily, it started to rain. But I was determined. & who cares, I had my iPhone and earphones with me to listen to an audiobook while walking there. My iPhone died 10 minutes through. 2.5 hours later, I was happily there.
I found a tiny room in a Palo Alto house owned by the founders of a very nice startup. $735 a month and moved there beginning of April.
At the end of March I managed to gather up couple of Benjamns and buy two sponsored posts for Wedding Snap. We
got so many sign ups: Two sign ups.
Luckily I had been able to secure a deal with the Wedding Channel’s Deal website (kinda like Groupon for weddings). The deal was going off on April 11ish and would last for a week.
Wedding Snap sold $15,000 worth of products, “More than any other product since I’ve been working here” said Alyssa, the director of the deals section of Wedding Channel. They were so happy with our deal that they actually decided to extend the deal for another week.
After the deal, purchases on our website also went up. Up until that time, Davide was working remotely with me from Italy. So now we had money and it was time for him to move back.
There was a lot of stuff to do, so I hired
couple of interns TEN interns for that summer. [We tried hiring two interns a year before for my old startup. Both of them quit after two weeks, I wonder why!]
A lot of changes have happened in the following months and lots of weird scary and funny stories happened. But this post is getting too long and I have to make another post later.
I wrote all of this story to say this: Every night is thanksgiving, christmas, & my birthday for me. Let me reiterate, EVERY NIGHT when I climb up to my bed and look around in the room that I am, the house that I’m living in, the people that are around me, all my life conditions, and I cannot help but to think and feel I am the most fortunate, luckiest, motherfucker in the world. I actually have a warm bed that I can sleep on at night. I have an amazing team who work really hard to make shit happen. I work on something that I’m really passionate about. Our startup has reached a revenue and profit level that most companies reach (or don’t reach) after many years. My co-founder is the best co-founder in the world, who deals with me very patiently when I get crazy. So lucky to get into 500 startups. (Thank you Dave & thank you Christine for inviting us to the 500 family. #500STRONG)
So lucky to have parents that opened doors for me, So lucky to have brothers who lent me money when they didn’t have any themselves. So lucky for things that happened in my life and especially things that did not happen in my life despite me wanting them so bad [I really wanted to be a consultant my junior year in college, but couldn’t get an offer, and now, so glad that I didn’t!]
I just wish I had more balls to verbally appreciate the people around me more: My Team Snap, my family, my friends, and all the people around me who plant life-changing seeds in my life. Thank You! I wouldn’t be here without you.
Happy New Year!
p.s. “this guy”, Evan, is now one of our big advocates and one of the smartest people I know. He has mentored me in many different things including, fundraising, business partnerships, etc. Thank you!