I wasn’t going to write a year in review post, because holy crap did I got a lot of them straight to my inbox from everyone I follow. But then I thought, maybe there is something to learn from my 2014 that would actually be beneficial to you guys.
So yes, this is my “Year in Review” post, but instead of just telling you everything I did I’m going to try to incorporate a very important lesson in here for you guys.
January 13th, 2014. I went to work in the morning, kissing my pregnant wife who was due the next day on my way out the door at around 7:30AM. I spent most of the morning slaving away at code, I got to work a few hours before anyone else showed up.
Once my coworkers showed up, I began to take sporadic breaks, spending most of them bitching about how bad things had gotten. See, we had spent the past two and a half years together. We built a product that was bringing in $1.2M/year in revenue, at probably something like a 75% profit margin. Seems like heaven, right?
Long story short, we didn’t actually own the product, and we had no stake in it’s success, and no one knew where all the money was going. Yet the three of us ran the entire business. We did marketing, sales, development, tech support, client support, we got booths at conferences, we were everything. Pretty much the only thing we didn’t do was payroll.
We had gotten raises again that finally brought us up to a dollar amount that we didn’t consider a slap-in-the-face, but it didn’t really change anything.
Now I may be blowing this whole thing out of proportion (it was very close to me), but one thing is for certain: I was stressed out.
But that’s not even half the story. The two guys I worked with during the day? We also had our own business complete with office downtown that we ran at night. We thought that it was going to be out ticket out.
Only problem with that? We were doing development work for equity with some people that really weren’t that good at business. The work required was high, and the dollar amounts were low. So after we got off of work at our day-job, we drove downtown and set up shop in our loft.
At this point in time, I was still working on the first version of Kobra. We drank some beer, my partners worked on our client work, and I worked on banging out some more Kobra features. At around 11PM we bundled up and made the blistering cold walk back to our cars.
My 7:30-11 workday was over. That’s a 15 and a half hour workday…and I did that almost every weekday. On Saturday and Sunday we normally did 7:30 to 4.
Did I mention I had a pregnant wife at home? Let’s get back to that.
So that night I get back home, and open the front door just in time to see my wife run to the bathroom. I knock on the door and ask her if everything is alright, and she just says, “I think so.” I ask “Is it time?”
We packed some bags and headed to the hospital. Turns out yes, it was time, but even though her water broke, she wasn’t “ready yet.” So they told us to try to get some sleep. As Sarah Beth was lying on the hospital bed trying to sleep, I was sitting in the recliner…working on Kobra.
I’m not kidding. I was literally working on Kobra in the hospital room while my wife was getting ready to have a baby.
That’s how far gone I was.
Our son was born on the morning of January 14th, and after a few days in the hospital, we got to take him home. I “took two weeks off of work.” And by that I mean I didn’t go to my day job, but I did do some work for our own business. I tried not to work too much though.
Soon after I went back to work, we launched Kobra into the wild, and a few weeks later, we stopped working on it altogether (I’m not going to retell that entire story here).
This is when I lost a lot of my drive, where I knew something had to change. My wife and I both went on a juice fast. For those of you that aren’t familiar with that concept, I literally only drank fresh juice from actually vegetables for 10 days straight. My kitchen looked like this:
I felt GREAT during that juice fast. I felt on top of the world, I felt healthy, I felt in control. Something in me changed during that fast. I still can’t quite put a finger on why, but the juice fast always feels like it’s been the deciding moment of 2014 for me.
That’s when it all changed. I realized that I didn’t have to kill myself everyday by working 15 hour days. I had a work trip coming up in San Diego right after my fast, and when we landed and walked to the beach, I saw how beautiful it was. As we were walking down the path of La Jolla beach, we came across a bridge.
“Think.” One simple word, but everything made sense now. I was still feeling great after my juice fast, I had a beautiful wife and baby, and this was one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever seen in my life.
So after I got home, I thought. I thought about my day-job, I thought about our side-business, I thought about my life, I thought about the other side of the bridge. Couldn’t I make it less stressful? Why was I doing this to myself?
I wanted to be “the next big thing” just like everyone else, but not like this. So the week I got back I decided to back out of our side-business, and so did one of the other partners. It was an extremely difficult decision for me, but I felt like it was the right one. We scrapped together enough money to pay back the clients deposit, closed the bank account, and continued on with our day job.
At this point, I decided that it was also time to start looking for a new day job. There was just too much stress. Everyday I would still come home and complain about something. I just wanted to start over. So I decided to start applying places without even sending them a resume, since after all, I am a college dropout.
I began emailing companies that I thought were cool all over the United States. I lined up six interviews in the San Francisco area (keep in mind, I’m from Milwaukee, WI) and flew out.
I walked over 20 miles in the 4 days that I was there. I interviewed at small “still in the garage” startups, 10 people groups, and even had drinks with one of my favorite companies on the 50+ floor of a hotel:
I felt on top of the world, it seemed like everything was going my way. Every place I interviewed at seemed like they loved me. I met a random guy in a bar after all of my interviews were done, and he took me on a wild whiskey tour throughout Chinatown. But alas, none of the startups hired me, but on the way home I got yet another beautiful sight:
Even though nothing turned up in San Francisco, I looked at the sheer beauty out of the window of the airplane on the way home, and I knew I was going in the right direction.
The (New) Beginning
Soon, a job pretty much fell into my lap. I had a few meetings with the company under the impression that they weren’t hiring for another 5-6 months. Then I received a phone call and offer the next day. “We’d like you to start in two weeks.”
On June 23rd I walked into my day-job and sat at my desk. Was I making the right decision? Did I really want to leave? This product was my baby, I’d created it, I’d made it grow, I loved it and treated it like my child.
I walked outside and called my wife. We talked for a while, and finally I just said “fuck it.” I walked into the bosses office, told her she should grab the other owner, and we sat down.
I began talking about how much I enjoyed the opportunity to be part of this vision and how thankful I was for the chance they took on hiring a college dropout with no former programming experience. And then I broke down in tears.
I have cried very few times in my life, maybe twice that I can remember in the past six years. I could barely talk. I think I just sat there for ten minutes sobbing with them looking at me and no one saying a word. Finally I took a deep breath and muttered the words:
“I think it’s time for me to move on, I’ve accepted another offer and I’m starting in two weeks.”
They spent the next two hours trying to persuade me not to leave, but there was nothing they could do. After the meeting, I told my two partners that I had chosen to leave. I apologized for not telling them before the event, I told them I didn’t want them to sway me to stay. I hope they understood.
I wrote over 130 pages of documentation before I left, cleaned up the codebase, and cleared off my desk. There were several things that happened in those two weeks that made me realize that I had definitely made the right decision, but I tried to leave on the highest note I possibly could.
It was time for a new beginning.
I made a decision this time that I wasn’t going to get overly invested in my new job. That’s not to say I wasn’t going to work hard and give it my all, but I wasn’t going to do to myself what I did at my last job.
I was going to put my mental health first.
My new job was an hour commute (each way) so I started to listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks. Finally I made the decision that I was going to start this blog. I made the first post on July 18th.
Soon afterwards I wrote up the background story about Kobra, and it took off on Hacker News and several other places. I’m still a little addicted to watching my analytics, here’s the highest point I captured:
I was PUMPED. I decided that I was going to relaunch Kobra as a more minimum viable product, and wound up pre-selling $2033 of memberships in just 4 days. Kobra is still going strong with over 900 registered users and 7000 files collaborated on and I couldn’t be happier.
After the blog was gaining a bit of traction, I decided to start a podcast too. This has been one of the funnest mediums for me to work in, and it’s only going to get better throughout 2015!
I’ve taken the past two months “fairly easy.” I’ve spent more time with my wife and son. We’ve discovered that Oakley loves Little People, so I’ve spent a lot of time playing with his farm set lately. There’s something calming about just sitting down and playing with children’s toys with your kid.
I also went and saw “Phantom of the Opera” live with my wife. That was one of the best dates I think we’ve ever had. When the chandelier fell in the first act, both my wife and I were almost brought to tears.
I’m still blogging, I’m still podcasting, I’m still working on Kobra, and I’ve still got a day-job. But I’m making sure that I’m not stressed out anymore. I still do crazy things like write eBooks in a single day (It’s free, you should check it out! It’s called “Building Software Products in a Weekend”).
The book has been received better than I ever could have imagined, it’s over quadrupled my email following (thanks guys!) and has been a great little Christmas present!
I look forward to seeing where 2015 takes me. It’s going to be pretty hard to beat the success of 2014, but I’m sure I will. I had a baby, went on a juice fast, visited some new amazing places, quit my side job, quit my day job, got a new job, started a blog, started a podcast, relaunched Kobra, wrote a book, gave 3 tech talks (I’m available!), and bought a ton of Fisher Price Little People.
So here’s to 2015 everyone! I hope that if you’re stressed out right now you take this as a reminder to slow down and “THINK.” What’s on the other side of the bridge for you? I know I’m much happier now, and I hope the same for all of you.
See you guys around,
Matt Kremer (and Oakley)