Introduction Chapter

Several people have encouraged me to write about my experience doing a startup company.  This is the introduction chapter.  Figured I’d do one of those “en media res” things.  Feedback is welcome.

October 2010
Memphis, TN

“We’re no longer ‘rolling’. Everything’s digital now so we’re just absorbing photons.”, he said as he sipped on a Diet Coke. I was sitting across from him, our chairs slightly angled towards each other so that the cameras could give the impression that we were facing each other directly. The man sitting across from me could sense my tension. After all, he was unknowingly responsible for my entire career. Of course, there was no way for him to really know or understand that. I had tried to explain it but I don’t think it sunk in for him.

The retrofitted air conditioner finally kicked off, which meant that our mics would no longer be filled with the ambient white noise that echoed through the hundred-year old building. We were sitting in an office inside of the Emerge Memphis building. In the mid 2000’s a group of investors bought a disused furniture warehouse in the South Main district of downtown Memphis and converted it into a startup incubator. The building was filled with hipsters crouched over expensive Apple hardware and pounding out code for what they hoped would be the next big dot-com. Exposed ceilings and brick walls enveloped us and made us feel like we were actually part of some cool scene. If you squinted your eyes while sipping on a microbrew, you could almost convince yourself that you were in “The Valley” or Soho.

Of course, we weren’t. There were no venture capitol firms throwing money at us and programmers were still looked upon as subhuman. In this town, biotech and logistics took all of the headlines. Who ever heard of a web company coming out of Memphis, TN? More importantly, who would take us seriously? It was this very attitude that made this interview such a big deal. It was also yet another reason that I was so nervous.

This man was a Very Big Deal in tech circles. He only interviewed people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. His counsel was often sought by people that ran Fortune 500 companies and he had produced a documentary in the mid 90’s that convinced me to go into software development. Earlier in the year he made an announcement on his blog that he would be traveling around the country and meeting with different startup companies in the flyover country. Hoping against hope, I jumped on the chance. My team put together a packet of information and sent it to him and waited for months to learn whether or not we made the cut. Three days ago we got a simple email saying that he was on his way.

I turned and looked at Scott who was leaning in to the cramped office. He gave me a smile which was equal parts comforting and terrifying. He had no idea how scared I was. This entire thing was Scott’s idea. The company, I mean. He was the one with the vision. He was the one that taught me an entire new development language. He was the one that pushed me to succeed. More importantly, he was the one who dragged me from my hobbit hole and into the blinding light of this insane world of tech startup companies. I was just some geek that was along for the ride. The look that he gave me said, “Great job dude! I believe in you! Now don’t fuck this up.” One of the cameramen gave us the count and let us know that he was ready to start the interview. I turned back and faced the man across from me. He put on his game face and started the interview.

“So, what makes you qualified to even do a startup company?”, he asked and sat back, waiting for a response.

I gulped, prayed that I wouldn’t say something stupid, opened my mouth and heard myself say, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.”

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