My first year of entrepreneurship: from surviving to thriving

It had been less than a year since I first started my company, and I was running out of money.

It was 2009, and the economy was in a scary place. And, all of my client work completely dried up.

For more than three months I didn’t see any revenue. I knew I had to do something drastic. So I radically curbed my spending.

I lived on a dollar a day outside of rent and my gas for my car. I didn’t go out, eat out, or do anything fun. I had to survive. And, I was living in a three hundred square foot apartment in my landlord’s backyard and drove a used car.

I only ate discounted hoagie sandwiches from HyVee. I think they were cheaper because they were a couple of days old and stale. And for some variety, I bought cheese and crackers from Trader Joe’s. I made a sandwich and block of cheese stretch for days.

I was living in San Diego at the time. I moved at the beginning of the year from New York City to see if a relationship had any potential.

Since I was heading toward bankruptcy, I wasn’t the best boyfriend. I couldn’t afford to go out on dates. In the summer, she told me that it was time for me to find a real job.

I always thought that what I was doing was real. It was significant to me. But, her words struck a nerve and affected me more than I realized at the time.

I was scared, and the uncertainty was killing me. The fact of the matter was that it looked more certain that I was going to fail.

Fear gripped me so much that I started to look for a “real job.” I emailed my former colleagues in banking to see if they knew of any job openings. Many replied and said there were none. Some didn’t even respond.

In 2009, banks weren’t exactly on a hiring spree. So, I also started applying for various job openings online, even entry-level positions. No one responded.

My fear became terror. I had no other options and was forced to stay the course. And, the course was looking worse every day.

After exhausting my network, there wasn’t much for me to do. All I could do was beg God for help and watch John Stewart’s The Daily Show on Hulu (back when it was free). And, I waited, hoping for a miracle.

After a while, I got pretty good at waiting. I spent most days in my apartment on a sleeper couch that doubled as my bed, watching the Daily Show.

Weeks passed, and I was still on a diet of hoagies and cheese and crackers. Then, I saw something that looked like a possible miracle.

My first client emailed me saying that there was a large non-profit in New York that needed help redesigning their website. He told me that they would be emailing me a request for proposal. I was afraid to hope, but I did.

I was amazed at the timing. At my most desperate time, hope appeared. A week or so later, the RFP popped up in my inbox. My palms instantly started to sweat.

The next couple of days, I plunged myself into writing the best proposal I knew how. But, what I produced was far from impressive.

I hadn’t formed a company for my website development business yet. So, I turned in the proposal on a word document with my name and date on the top left corner of the first page. It looked like one of my high school papers.

Every minute that passed felt like needles poking my mind and heart. No amount of John Stewart was able to distract me. My destiny was teetering on the edge of their decision.

After a week, I couldn’t bear it anymore and reached out to the non-profit. They told me that they needed more time to make a decision. I tried to play it cool, but I was shaking inside with desperation.

Another week passed, and I got a call from a New York City number. It had to be from the non-profit. I picked up the call and tried not to sound like a fool.

It was the client, and they asked me to meet with them that week. They didn’t indicate if I had won the project, but I told them, “I’ll be there.”

I bought an overpriced plane ticket and was in NYC a couple of days later. The city was buzzing with life and adventure as I walked closer to my destiny.

After finding the non-profit’s building, I stepped in donning a suit. Smiling faces greeted me, and I was guided into a boardroom. They had ten people from their organization in the room, none of them wearing a suit. And, then there was me in formal wear.

They opened with telling me that my first client was a good friend to the nonprofit, and he highly recommended me. They said I won the project based on that, and they wanted to go with my highest pricing package. Then, they asked, “What do we do now?”

I laid out some next steps, and they said that it sounded like a plan. I left their building a different man. At that moment, my life changed.

In less than twenty-four hours, I went from living off of a dollar a day and staring bankruptcy and failure in the eyes to having a viable business with real revenue.

After the meeting, I walked out of their building, did a few fist pumps and almost yelled at the top of my lungs. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Then, I jumped on a train toward one of my favorite restaurants and splurged on an incredible meal, savoring every morsel, as I looked forward to the days to come with hope in my eyes.

I was no longer surviving. I was thriving.

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