Hi, I'm Damion.
Your new favorite
And this is what following your dreams looks like
You have a great idea with big plans that you want to share with the world,
all you need is a little capital to get it past a simple prototype mockup and some people
to get behind the idea and make it for you.
Well, I'm here to say that it's not as
easy as it sounds, and those people are humans; not 'things' for you to gamble on your
'Facebook killer'. The road is much longer than you'd expect and full of abrupt
detours & accidents. The only map for your company is the one you create and it's not uncommon to break down in the middle of the desert with zero water.
I've learned that you should only build a business around something you truly believe in–as your product or service will become your life–live and work on it
every minute you're awake, hire people smarter than you who you would enjoy working
with, learn to take rejection the right way and how to calmly persevere.
If you take all of this and add a bit of luck, you have a chance of taking it from that mockup or static page
to startup to an actual profit–earning business.
Let me start from the beginning...
The sixty mile hike
My friend Scott and I had gone on a sixty mile hike back home after he had gotten into an argument with his girlfriend during a camping trip with her family. He asked "You're walking back with me?" I replied with a stern look, "Yeah–what else am I going to do, hang out with your girlfriend and her family? Let's get out of here."
This is a story for another time, the short version is: we walked and talked about all of the dreams we wanted to achieve in our lives for eight miles and a tow truck driver pulled over and asked "Where you boys headed?" luckily, he was taking a load to Sacramento where we lived at the time and we hopped in.
The discussion in the portion we actually did end up walking was a turning point in both of our lives and we came to the conclusion that motorcycles are fun and all, but we didn't want to build with our hands anymore, but our minds. Everything starts with an idea.
The big idea
The concept was a platform where you would be able to trade apps with others: if you had a $20 app you could trade straight across with another person who had an app of the same value, if the person's app was less valuable, you would be credited the difference for future trade. In retrospect, we were planning the Napster for apps without knowing it.
Scott asked me 'How are we going to do this?'.
We didn't have the money to hire a developer to build it for us, neither of us had CS degrees or any friends in the industry to help us. So I replied with the only option we had, 'I can probably make it, I have Dreamweaver on my computer.' How naïve.
I was kind of a computer nerd in my middle school to early high school years when I wasn't on my skateboard; playing Counter-Strike, installing mods & skins into their proper directories and playing around with my MySpace
img tags and hex colors was easy enough, 'I can figure it out' I thought to myself. If you google image search
motorcycle wiring diagram, this was what I was comparing it to at the time; just another thing I had no idea about to learn without a proper teacher.
During this time there wasn't the same programming education there is now and I had a really hard time figuring out what you needed to even build a static page, let alone a trading application.
After spending a year with my face attached to my computer screen, I eventually
learned all of these basic fundamentals to build both Scott and I websites as
well as our dream company website, a creative thinktank we called DNSD Global
Ventures. Under this name housed our army of ideas we talked about during the
course of the year: Map The Move, Tennup, AutoGeni.us, First Date Genius and
Gifts of Treasure to name a few.
We had an ongoing joke, 'wanna drive to Silicon Valley? Right now?' which
we figured was the only solution to get one of these ideas off the ground and
come to fruition (yep, we were one of those guys). We came to an
agreement that if one of us said it again that we would pack our bikes into
the back of the truck and start driving. That day inevitably came not long thereafter.
I planned our trip itinerary from Denver through Salt Lake City, Reno then Sacramento which consisted of:
- 1,279 miles
- one truck
- two motorcycles
- four bags of clothes
- two pairs of sunglasses
- one guitar
- one welder
- not nearly enough money to cover the trip.
Perfect. This is what everyone does, right?
I found the answer to this later when I asked our friend Jake the same question after we rode trash cans down a hill in San Francisco with him. "No," he laughed, "no one does that."
We drove through the night and the trip had begun. I had faith the truck would
make it–it had more balls than the Broncos' locker room, could take a side swipe
from a smart car no problem, had no power steering and a granny four on the floor;
add a little Motörhead at full volume and
you've got yourself a machine built for the road (yes, none of these are deciding
factors when embarking on a trip half way across the country, but I had you going,
We eventually arrived to Salt Lake City where we were invited to stay
at Scott's ex-girlfriend's friend's place. Ironically, this friend would
slowly turn into my girlfriend sometime during the trip. While we were exiting off of
the highway I noticed the truck lost some power, but we decided to fix it the next day and
get some much needed sleep.
After some quick tinkering the next day, we were on our way west again.
We got on the highway and drove approximately thirty miles, then suddenly, smoke
came barreling out of the hood. From a distance it probably looked like a truck on
fire with two motocycles driving it; this couldn't be good. We let the smoke settle
and I tried starting it. Nothing. Turned the key again with a couple taps of the gas.
Nothing. The first thing we noticed after checking the levels was we were dangerously
low on oil and the coolant was nonexistant.
The only oil we had was in one of our
bikes and we had to put it in the truck. We jerry-rigged a 'solution' for the coolant
with two permanent markers blocking the coolant line to the reservoir and to go one direction–into the motor. We decided to try to get back to a little gas station we stopped at ten
miles back to get some oil and find a better fix for the coolant.
After what seemed like hours, the truck still wasn't starting and there was really only one option: Dreamweaver.
Just kidding, there was a small decline behind us and I said, "If we push the truck
down that way, I can jump in and try to start the truck by popping the clutch."
This was a long shot, we would be lucky to get the truck going fifteen miles per hour
down this dinky little downgrade and were going to be in an even worse situation if it
didn't work considering we wouldn't be visible from the highway anymore, but we had to try.
We rolled the truck back, turned it around and looked at each other. We took a
deep breath, gave each other a nod and began pushing the big hunk of metal down the
slope like a pair of amateur bobsledders at their first Olympic Games full of hope. I jumped in and pushed
the clutch in and with my lips tucked into my mouth and brows pushed tight, I snapped
the clutch and slammed the gas–nothing. "SHIT!" I exclaimed, "Keep pushing!" I pushed
the clutch again and spoke with the truck, "C'mon LaFonda, you can do it." We were
almost to the bottom of the downgrade, it was now or never. I popped the clutch and
slammed the gas again and this time the motor roared! Scott jumped in the window and
we yelled with excitement with our fists out the windows, "YEEEAAHHHHHHHH FUCK YEAH!!!!"
In my state of superhuman euphoria, I had a Lieutenant Dan moment and screamed at the
sky while seeing red, "IS THAT ALL YOU'VE GOT?!" We were super hyped and continued
down this windy dirt road hoping that it eventually hooked back to the highway.
It did and we broke down five miles later. Either that wasn't all 'he' had, or
that oil from the bike didn't last very long.
Someone pulled over and towed us to the gas station and while I was somewhat elated
to get off the side of the highway, I had to ask our Salt Lake City hosts for another
night. After getting the OK, we somehow got back to their house and one night turned
into a week and a half and a pissed off roomate–we had to get out of there and
tried to get to Reno four separate times, but the truck was not cooperating.
We later found out that the guy who sold us the truck had the wrong radiator in the
truck, it was meant for a v6, not a v8 and thus, not cooling the motor properly and burning
oil excessively. We decided to sell everything we had and fly to San Jose.
"Desire. The starting point of all achievement. The first step toward riches.
Every person who wins in an undertaking must be willing to burn his ships and cut
all sources of retreat. Only by so doing, can one be sure of maintaining that
state of mind known as a 'burning desire to win', essential to success.
Every human being who reaches the age of understanding of the purpose of money wishes for it.
Wishing will not bring riches.
But desiring riches with a state of mind that becomes an obsession, then planning definite ways and means to acquire riches, and backing those plans with persistence which does not recognize failure, will bring riches."
- Napoleon Hill
Land of Tech
We landed in San Jose and took a shuttle to the CalTran where we ran into a developer
who was visiting a friend. I thought, "This is great, we've been here twenty minutes
and are already running into people to talk to." We later booked a stay at a
'Hacker Mansion' via Airbnb–awesome. We envisioned a house with whiteboards for
walls and ideas bouncing off of these whiteboards, but it ended up being a house
full of twenty-something-year-old kids drooling about how great it was to see Mark Zuckerberg speak at Startup
School and all of the other tech celebrities they saw.
There were some smart minds
in that house, but we realized this wasn't the creative outlet we were looking for
and decided to pay a visit our buddy Jake in San Francisco after submitting our
Y Combinator application. Before writing this (April 8, 2014), I took a look at the
designs we had at the time and laughed. Even if we happened to get in front of an
investor, I'm sure they would've thought "Hopefully these guys are better leaders
than web designers, because this… looks like they made it with Play-Doh."
Let's just say: we didn't get a call back.
Fast-forward another year and a half
Since our Bay Area visit, I've been busy doing actual web work
and a ton of reading. Web design & development has taught me a lot,
and ultimately brought to my realization that I really enjoy the user experience
aspect of web development.
I've freelanced for peanuts, helped turn around a non-profit and joined a health
startup until the sweat equity and eighty hour workweeks started affecting my client
work. I've come to understand the workflow, roles and importance of a team, the
psychology of proper layout, the art of typography, how internet marketing,
social media marketing, and SEO works, how to ship–not perfect, how
open source is changing the way products that may have never been built
and that AJAX is definitely not some guy with cool nickname–who would've known?
It's been difficult without a mentor, yet fun relentlessly learning
everything from front to back end to the things I'm focused on
now: fullstack JS and continuing business research.
The future of JS and the web as a whole is bright. I'm working every
day towards mastery with the meaningful projects with the people I meet.
I'm looking forward to these next couple of years to see where this
road of the internet takes me. With the ships burned and the motivation
to keep learning and build awesome things, I feel this story has just begun.
If you've ever spoken at a conference or created any kind of tool, instructional video, tutorial, blog or podcast teaching or inspiring quality design & development, I thank you and would be honored to shake your hand. Your face is worthy of a spot on a box Wheaties in my book.