I was born in 1972 to a poverty-level family in suburban Chicago. During the first few years of my life, I shared a 600 sq ft, 1 bedroom cottage with my parents, older sister and dog. As a kid, I grew up helping my dad kill roaches and trap rats in his one-man pest control business.
Inspired by my architect grandfather who dabbled in the stock market, I started playing the market when I was 15 years old. In 1994 at age 21, I graduated Magna Cum Laude & Dean's List from Babson College, an undergraduate business college outside of Boston. Shortly thereafter, I moved to San Francisco to find the stark reality of an uninterested job market. After a period of trivial and unsuccessful undertakings, I took to the streets out of desperation to "make something happen." My thought at the time was: "if my resume falls on the floor, nobody will bother to pick it up".
It was September 1995. I had been in San Francisco just over a year and had nothing to show for it. I remember walking around the streets of San Francisco and seeing two individuals who made a profound impression on me. One was a panhandler who simply sat on a corner and directly asked for money. The other was a man standing on a milk crate wearing a sandwich board that said "Repent! The end of the world is coming." I was in a state of mind where I was open to anything. The things that struck me were that the first man had gotten to a point where his ego had been worn away and he was willing to simply and directly ask for what he wanted without beating around the bush. The second man believed so strongly in his convictions that he was willing to physically wear his message and present it to the world. By the end of the week, I had created a sandwich board expelling the virtues of my skills. One morning, I put on my best thrift store suit and boarded the 5am bus to the financial district with my sandwich board under my arm. I stood outside the Bank of America world headquarters, put the two-sided sign over my head and began passing out resumes. I was there for 12 hours. I passed out resumes as people rolled into work, when they went out for lunch and as they left for home. This was one of the most humbling moments of my life. I stood out, exposed, bluntly asking for help and displaying my convictions. The response was amazing and really helped renew my faith in people. In the back of my head, I think I was expecting people to throw tomatoes at me (which my friend in New York said would have happened on Wall Street). Instead, many people took my resume and talked to me. A news crew even came.
In the end, this seemingly crazy idea lead to me getting a job as an associate equity analyst covering high-tech companies in downtown San Francisco. In my job, I was able to use my stock experience and education, but it did not take long to realize that I did not like analyzing companies. What I really wanted was to be involved with starting one.
In October of 1996 at age 24, I left my job in order to write a business plan for an idea I had relating to the relatively new phenomenon known as the commercial Internet. The idea revolved around creating a platform for pooling individual investor dollars to provide angel funding for fledgling companies and create a secondary trading market for these shares.
Time passed and Mark had yet to start his new company, and I was flat broke. I went to him yet again and asked for help. He simply picked up the phone and called a Venture Capitalist friend of his. The next day I was at breakfast with a VC. Two days later I was working at Netscape Communications (one of the companies responsible for the commercial Internet taking off) doing business analysis and portal deal modeling.
It was there that I honed my skills relating to understanding business models and became an expert in the Internet itself. I also proved my worth to the Netscape executives and built a reputation for myself there.
In 1999, America Online purchased Netscape and many executives left the company. One in particular was the Vice President of Business Development. He had decided to go to a very small company that was looking for venture funding so it could afford to try and build a company out of some very good technology it had developed. The company had been incorporated by two Computer Science Ph.D. candidates at Stanford University a few months prior. It only had the two founders and a few engineers working there. The Netscape VP joined the start-up in March of 1999 as employee 12 and hired me to help him build the business. In May of 1999, I joined the founding business team as lucky number 13. That company got its first and only round of Venture Capital, $25 million, a month or two later. The company was a Search Engine company that had only a few hundred thousand searches performed on it per day by at most a million users per month, mostly academics. The company had no revenue at the time. That company, now widely recognized as Google is the world leader in search technology, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue per quarter by aiding many millions of users all over the world find information on a daily basis.
During my career there, I negotiated our first $100k and $1million deals; was on the design team for the original ad program; ran a cross-functional external technology evaluation team; negotiated 3rd party technology licenses; was an all around go-to guy to just about every department that needed business help...and I founded and ran the Google Wine Club :-)
I could not have imagined a better job for myself. I was not constrained by any specific job description and was free to to add value wherever it was needed. I truly got to be a Business Development Renaissance man.
When Google went public in 2004, it was one of the most successful IPOs in history. For me, that was a defining moment. I felt that I had made my impact, left my personal mark and accomplished everything I had set out to do there. I left shortly after IPO to pursue other interests.
My confidence and follow-through, along with the chances awarded me by individuals who saw something in me and believed enough to give me a "shot", took me from poor kid to successful businessman "retired" by 32 years old. At no point did I ever compromise my integrity. I do things that I can be proud of. My colleagues and I lived by the motto of "don't be evil". It’s not a gimmick. It’s a philosophy of doing what's right and letting the money follow.
Having reached a level of financial success that awards me the freedom and flexibility that it has, I am now looking to share some of my knowledge and experience to benefit the next wave of those who aspire to do as I did.
...and that is my story.