Small yet formative events can shape a person’s life in profound ways. This is my story.
I was born into a family of middle-class, immigrant entrepreneurs. My grandfather owned a dry cleaning business. My father owned a pizza shop. Their families came to America on nothing more than a gut feeling that it would work out. They started their businesses on that same gut feeling.
So from a young age, it was ingrained in me that if I wanted to make something of myself, I had to both trust my gut and work hard.
But I also learned that hard work wasn’t always enough. When I was about 14, my father sold his pizza shop after 25 years in business. It’s not that he hadn’t been through hard times before. And it’s not that he couldn’t eventually have found his way back to good times again. But he had a family (not to mention an older version of himself) to take care of. He did what he had to do.
The takeaway was that “success” and “failure” could not be narrowly defined. In fact, they became completely indistinguishable from each other, given broader contexts such as - timing, principles, and values.
At this point, it was around 1999 and the personal computing revolution was in top gear. Meanwhile, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, underwent major surgery, and had to spend the summer bedridden. So I developed a huge interest in web technology. I loved the idea that as a mere teenager in my state, I could channel my creative energy into code & designs that had the potential to reach a large audience.
By the time I graduated high school in 2003, I decided to spend some time working with a cousin of mine who owned a wholesale business. He was a forward-thinker, and he wanted me to build him an ecommerce experience that made sense given all the challenges of wholesale. In 2003, this was a pretty novel idea. Wholesale was a world still dominated by paper price lists and sales reps you could only reach over the phone. To a large extent, it still is.
This is when technology went from “pretty neat” to “lifechanging”, for me. I realized that if I could develop some code in a few weeks that helped my cousin grow his business by disrupting the status quo, I could do it for others as well. I could do this for a living.
Not too long after, I did two things:
- Began going to college for marketing
- Started my very own web development firm
College was alright, but entrepreneurship was better. While I was in student mode, I learned a lot of theoretical information based on outdated models of the world. While I was in entrepreneur mode, I worked firsthand on disruptive projects that colleges wouldn’t be teaching students about for another decade.
After a couple years, business was going very well. I “took a semester off” and that marked the end of my stint in school.
By the time 2007 rolled around, at the age of 22, I met my future wife. We moved in together after 4 months. Call it a gut feeling, but by this point, I was learning I could trust it.
Then, after witnissing years of real trends play out in my business and the tech world at large, I co-founded a service called DistiSuite, which helped make ecommerce a turnkey reality for independent wholesalers. Turns out, consulting was a great way to talk with real customers and identify scalable market opportunities.
A few years later, after building up some nice value in DistiSuite, I exited the business and joined a Philly-based startup called WizeHive as a tech lead. I’m still with the company and spend my time shuffling between tech work and general business vision. I’m very proud of the work we do - creating tools everyday people can use to better manage their businesses. It’s inventive and disruptive; it’s exactly what I’m “supposed” to be doing.
Now, I’ve been married for a few years and have a daughter on the way. Life is good. And yet, it’s much different than it was 10 years ago.
It’s hard to imagine where I might be 10-20 years from now, or how I might view success vs. failure at that time. But there’s one thing I know for sure, based on the formative events in my past - if I trust my gut, stay true to my values, and work really hard, I’ll be able to look myself in the mirror every day and feel successful, however I decide to define it at the time. And my family and I? We’ll be alright.