I once read somewhere that the happiest people are those who re-invent themselves every 5-7 years. I’m not sure that it’s true, and it was almost certainly said by someone who suffers from the habit, so we have to consider the source when evaluating the comment. Maybe it’s only restless people who re-invent themselves so often, and some restless people are happy, just as some stable people are happy, and so on. Regardless, after reading the comment, I began to look back at my own life.
I once worked in the telecommunications industry, and I clearly remember giving notice right around the five year mark. In an effort to keep me on, my boss offered me a substantial raise as well as a package of additional benefits that basically doubled my salary. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I didn’t. You can probably guess the rest. My desire to leave could only be quieted for so long by the additional money, and after another five years, I again gave my notice.
This time the offer to keep me on was even more substantial, including an equity stake in the company. This time, however, I had the benefit of hindsight and knew that I simply had to leave, so leave I did. It was then that I moved to North Carolina, and soon after that I began teaching.
After five years of teaching I found myself in a bad spot at my school. My principal and I didn’t get along, I was frustrated by the entrenched educational bureaucracy and I was sick of being poor. My 6th year started, but my heart was no longer in it, and soon I began looking for a way out. That was November of 2007, and after a brief an unexpected phone conversation with my dear friend Arthur, I flew to New York to see what opportunities might present themselves.
Arthur had recently entered into a partnership with Tiki Barber to explore business opportunities he might pursue in his post-football career as an entrepreneur and TV personality. On the flight up I read an article about Mo Vaughn’s involvement with affordable housing, and upon arriving in New York I suggested that Tiki might consider doing the same. To my surprise I learned that he already had, partnering with Related Affordable on several ventures.
The following day I also learned that Tiki Barber, former New York Giant, was also Tiki Barber, children’s book author, and that he was having a book signing that day at FAO Schwarz. What happened next was one of those things you can’t really describe, explain, or even understand, but you know you’ll never forget. Sitting in Arthur’s Fifth Avenue office, I found a series of seemingly unconnected pieces of information coalescing in my brain, and before I even knew what I was saying I had given a brief description of a vague idea for a business that Tiki might get involved in. Looking at his watch, Arthur realized that the book signing was going on at that moment. “Let’s go see Tiki,” he said.
Going to see Tiki at a book signing at FAO Schwartz is not really going to see Tiki. It’s going to see Tiki and Ronde from a distance surrounded by fans and kids and security and signing books by the dozen and posing for pictures and so on. I didn’t meet Tiki or speak to Tiki and couldn’t in fact even tell Tiki and Ronde apart. What I did was get called over, admitted behind a barricade and introduced to Tiki’s business manager, at which point Arthur said simply, “You’re on.” So right there in FAO Schwartz I pitched an idea for a business I had just come up with to a man I had just met who manages the affairs of a man I had spent years cheering for when he ran around in blue with a football tucked in his arm. Talk about surreal.
When my pitch, such as it was, ended, I got the standard, “Great idea. Let’s do dinner soon,” that might have been sincere or a polite blow-off, and then we were gone. On the flight back home I couldn’t stop thinking about all the possibilities, and by the time my plane landed I knew my days as a teacher were coming to an end. Maybe it was the chance to do something meaningful, to make a difference and make some money at the same time. Maybe it was the allure of possibly being in business with a celebrity, a man I actually admired. Or maybe it was just the five year itch, but I quit teaching, spent the next month doing research and writing a business plan, and on December 5, 2007, made a formal pitch to Tiki and his business partners. One month later, I moved back to New York to start and run the business.
A year has passed. At times things have been slow enough to make me wonder if I made a mistake, but those slow times have also afforded me the chance to write, which I do enjoy. At other times, like for the past three months, things have been so busy that seventy hour weeks are commonplace, and I barely have the time to eat, much less write. For most of the year, I wasn’t drawing a regular salary, and my credit cards are nearly maxed out, but when you are a passionate person by nature, believe in something, and are willing to see it through, then putting yourself in financial peril to start a business during the worst economic crisis in the past seventy-five years seems like a logical thing to do.
We have now been a business entity for almost twelve months, although we’ve really only been actively doing business for the last six of them. In that time we’ve managed to turn a profit, and at a time when most companies are facing difficulties, we are expanding and hiring new people. Still, for all the good things that have happened, all the momentum we have, and the possibilities for continued growth and success that stand before us, it wasn’t until today that it really hit me. It wasn’t until today that it felt real. Why? Today our web site went live.
It is a function of our digital society that the web is so powerful. In some cases, a business that really isn’t a business at all can use the web to create the illusion of being a business. The other side of that coin is that a business can be doing business, making a profit, having an impact, and somehow it doesn’t quite seem real until you can type in a url and see them “in action.” So it is that today, thanks to the skills of an old friend and former teammate and the hard work of my business partner, we went live. A company founded a year ago based on an idea I had thirteen months ago that has been making money for six months is suddenly real. By now you’re probably fed up with wondering what the hell it is we do. But of course you know how to find out, don’t you?