I was never great with too much structure. I never liked sitting in a cubicle all day, and I always took my job as a programmer seriously, but I just wasn’t cut out to be an employee.
So instead of feeling like the odd one out, I quit my day job. I started building my own business and found that I was so much happier once it was up and running. I named the company Simergence. It was a platform for online gamers to plan activities, create profiles, and initiate voice chat.
Ultimately my first business was more of a software project than a product that solved a clear problem for anyone, and had a clear marketing message to convey it. In typical first time tech founder fashion I spent 8 months of the 12 months I gave myself building the first version. By the time I got it out in the real world for feedback it was really too late to solve all the problems, market and monetize it.
I wanted to learn more about business and customers and what made the whole system tick. So I went back to work, this time at the Chicago Climate Exchange, a small company that was doing something really interesting in environmental derivative markets. This gave me time to think about how to create value for other people while also getting to eat.
Gradually it dawned on me that there was a big difference between just being a programmer and being an entrepreneur. But perhaps the biggest benefit is that CCX was where I met a bunch of great people, especially my current co-founder Kellee James.
After CCX was sold I had three people approach me about building the tech platform for an exchange. I figured that sounded like a business opportunity! I applied to what is now Techstars Chicago and was accepted with my new business Exchangery. Kellee joined me, as I needed a co-founder and her project was on hold. Ultimately a startup serving startups with uncertain revenue wasn’t the best idea after all, and I did not pursue it after the program ended.
After the hustle and bustle of an accelerator, spending the summer in all day meetings, VC pitches and slide decks, I was ready for something different. I always tried to make my hobbies a bigger part of my life, so with Jack Eisenberg, whom I had met at Techstars, we started a company for hobby starter kits. It was probably the most fun I have had at a startup, but physical product with low margins is hard. I certainly made far fewer mistakes than with Simergence or Exchangery, but still more than enough to sink the business.
This brings us to today. Jack and I wound down Hobstr and I sold Exchangery to Kellee for equity in Mercaris, the company she was in the midst of founding. It was a kindred spirit to CCX, but with Organic and non-GMO ag products rather than environmental ones. It was the perfect marriage of a solid business plan with a market that needed it. I got to be part of a startup, without having to do everything related to sales and marketing, luckily for me Kellee is incredible at those things. Eight years in and we are still chugging along.