Monday, January 2, 2012

A Little History

Let me start things off by giving you a little history about myself and my situation.  I am the father of 2 beautiful children, and am lucky enough to have the help of my wife Julie to help raise these bundles of joy.  I am currently employed full time as a sales and business development manager for an electronics component manufacturer that is located in Asia.  Although I joined the team as an engineer, I have moved into a strategic new project development and management position for the past few years.  Being that my customers are located in the US and co-workers in Asia, my work hours are usually all over the place.  The job can have long hours, and little down time if any.

While working my day job, I became interested in finding a way I could help build something that would make a positive impact on the world around me.  My wife, Julie, is a first grade teacher.  She had expressed to me several times that parents need a better way to help teach their children how to read using the same strategies that teachers use in the classroom.  This past summer Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced a new idea competition called the Global Education Challenge.  I took the base of Julie's idea and built a vision for a product around it.  The submission was originally called eGuided Reading.  Being from the electronics industry, I have always been required to keep details of new products secretive and cover my ass when it came to legal aspects of sharing secretive info.  Releasing my idea for the world to see, critique, and possibly steal was all new to me.  Opening up my idea for everyone to discuss was the best decision I could have ever done.  I learned a lot of what my product could be, and how to make the idea better.  People were not interested in running off and stealing my billion dollar idea.  They were too busy consuming how brilliant their own billion dollar idea was.  I was able to find out that the problem I was looking to solve was really there, and people were eager to learn more about a solution.

A few months after the voting ended, I received a phone call that would change my life as I know it.  A representative from  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt told me that eGuided Reading was selected as third prize in the competition.  My heart was racing, and my body was overcome with joy and fear.  I was happy to have won, but I was so fearful of what to do next.  I have never been part of a startup team.  Hell, I had never even taken business classes in college.  I was an engineer who happened to fall into the business development side of things in my career.  Prior to going to Washington DC for a press conference to announce the winners, I quickly branded and put together a simplified Reading Glue site.  At the press conference I was completely full of nerves.  Major players within education, ed-tech, and seed / VC investors were present.  Everything I had told myself (listen more than you talk, ask questions, etc) went right out the window. As I walked back to my hotel, I realized I had a lot to learn when it came to building a startup.  The next 3 months would be critical if I wanted to turn this idea into a successful product.

I have quickly tried to immerse myself into the startup culture around the Chicagoland area.  I attend as many Lean Startup Meetup's as possible, and have been trying to network with other local entrepreneurs.  One of the most difficult aspects of my situation is that I have to try and build a startup while looking after my "day job."  At the same time I decided to run with this idea, I was awarded a new project at the "day job"  that happens to be the most challenging I have worked on in my career.  This project has consumed almost all of my time.  So much that it has created a lot of stress in my family life.  It is frustrating that I am putting in so many hours on such a challenging project for someone else while trying to take advantage of the opportunity I have with building Reading Glue.  I feel the past 3 months have been wasted time.  I now completely understand where people are coming from when they say you either go in 100% on a new startup or not at all.  With a family to care for (and low pay scale teachers work for) I am not in a financial situation that will allow me to quit the "day job" and jump into this idea full time.  Maybe something will change in this upcoming year.  Until then, I will have to find ways to increase productivity and carve out time to dedicate to making Reading Glue a success.  It is not ideal, but it is unfortunately the situation I am in right now.

I am going to try and post at least once a week to share with everyone my experiences and lessons learned. I am excited to share this experience with everyone.  I invite you to comment and add any advice or questions as well.
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