2016 started in Bryce Canyon, Utah. I was on the tail end of a nine day road trip with a girlfriend, winter camping through Moab, Zion, and Bryce. We had been dating for about four months and we left for our trip Christmas day after she met my parents for the first time. We broke up about three quarters of the way through this trip, on New Year’s Eve, driving down a 25 mile dirt road that was bumpy enough to shake the fillings out of your teeth. It rattled out some of our feelings, too. It was an uncomfortable car ride in a lot of ways.
It was a cold trip and about half way through, we were learning that we didn’t work all that well together. Cold weather camping is hard, especially on a new couple that was still getting to know each other. That day, we were driving to Peek-a-Boo Gulch slot canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante region of Utah. Everything just sort of exploded that morning and we spent the next few hours exploring slot canyons and hiking through high-altitude desert, ignoring each other. We got a hotel room near Bryce Canyon National Park because lows were in the negatives and camping would have been dangerous. We spent that night, New Years Eve, eating cheese and crackers from the gas station and drinking low-ABV craft beer (we were in Utah). We’d have to spend the next two nights together before getting back home. Happy New Year.
I had just gotten back from Costa Rica when we met. I was dreaming of a different life, a life that was free from Corporate America. She fit the Boulder stereotype. Vegan, made her own toothpaste, and drove a late 90’s Subaru Outback. We were different, but she had just quit her job to be a little more of a free-spirit, to travel, rock climb, and get away from a job that didn’t serve her anymore. She had some money tucked away, but not a fortune, and this was the first time I had seen someone actually take the leap without a solid plan. I admired that and I learned from her that I should be living a little more simply.
We actually got back together about a week after returning home from the trip, but things ended for good two months later. She ended it, again. But in those two months, I had decided I was going to start living life a little more intentionally. I wanted to get out of Corporate America. I was on a path I didn’t want to be on anymore. I took a pretty honest assessment of myself to figure out what my strengths were. What areas of my corporate job did I really thrive in? What didn’t I like? Could I pay off my debt? Would I be able to survive without an income? For how long?
I had a career as a financial analyst at a Fortune 500 company. About 20-30% of my time was spent building complex financial models and charts in Excel and Tableau, and I loved it. But it wasn’t enough. I hated the other things. I would have to present the monthly financial results and explain why revenue was down that month. Most of the time, it was because accounting screwed up, or our billing system wasn’t integrated properly, or sales didn’t do their job. That’s about 50% of your job if you work in Corporate America, having to explain why all these other moving parts didn’t do what they’re supposed to. It’s hard to be passionate about that.
I’ve wanted to learn to code since middle school. I would spend summers in Arizona coding games on my TI-83 calculator, and I LOVED IT. But for some reason, I pursued business instead of software. I decided 2016 was the year I was going to learn, and now newly single, I had the time and motivation to stick with it. I worked hard, getting up at 5am to code for two hours before heading to work. Spending weekends coding while my friends were outdoors. Coding turned out to be a pretty good outlet for me. Climbing was another one. Most of my free time was either spent coding or climbing. So I thought, “How can I combine these two things?” Oh, duh. A climbing app for climbing gyms.
I really had nothing to lose. Before I wrote a single line of code for this app. I reached out to climbing gyms to see if there was any interest. I heard back from one and one was all I needed. They told me if I built it, they’d use it, and if they liked it, they’d keep using it. So I spent the next four months building a working prototype of the app and had my first in-person meeting with the gym after months of back-and-forth emails. They started using it the following Monday. I had a user! And a user that wasn’t a friend or relative. Now I had to make sure they kept using it. I worked obsessively on it, making changes, updates, and adding new features based on the feedback they were giving me. I loved it. I loved the problem solving but I also loved that it was mine. I was responsible for the success of it. Not accounting. Not sales. Not some giant corporate machine.
One Monday, I walked into my bosses office and told him I was seriously thinking about leaving. It wasn’t another offer. It wasn’t for more money. I found something I loved doing and if I was serious about it, I needed to spend more than just mornings and weekends doing it. I told him I needed time to think about it and he gave me the rest of the week off. I came back that next Monday and gave him two-months notice that I would be leaving the company.
I was nervous. It’s not easy making a decision like that. But two weeks later, the gym owners came to me and said, “We love the app, we want to partner up, and we want to sell it to every climbing gym in the country.” What!? My first app. It was a sign that I made the right decision. So we formed Climb Connect LLC.
That brings us to now. I’ve been working like crazy for the past several months. We soft-launched in December, with a few other local gyms using it and providing feedback. As I write this, my business partner, Lee, is on the road, in other parts of the country, visiting gyms and building interest and getting our initial users set up. He’s also climbing. Probably more climbing than selling, but thats okay. In this industry, climbing with the right people is how you sell.
2017 will be another crazy year. I left my job four months ago. I’ve been on two road trips. One to the Tetons in Jackson Hole, WY and one to my cousin Ben’s wedding in Arizona, stopping in Telluride, The Grand Canyon, and Moab along the way. I met Kristen. We went on our own Moab trip together. I’ve been to Florida to learn to scuba dive with my Dad and I just visited my sister in D.C. a few weeks ago where I had nerf gun fights with my niece and nephew. Kristen and I spent Christmas with my family and we rung in the New Year together, in Denver. She’s amazing, but I’ll save that for another post. Things are solid.
People ask me how I’m making money. I’m not. I gave up an $80K a year salary, benefits, and stability to do this. But, I paid off my debt prior to leaving my job. I own my house and I rent three of my bedrooms to roommates that pay my mortgage. I took out a home equity line of credit as a cushion to get me through. I spend most of my time coding in coffee shops throughout Denver and I don’t get outside nearly as much as my Instagram account would suggest.
It’s funny how people come in and out of your life. That girlfriend changed my life in a big way. And her leaving changed it even more. Telling my boss I was leaving was a huge leap of faith. I didn’t have a plan other than to learn to code full-time, but two weeks later, I was approached by the right people I needed to help me turn my first project into a business. Kristen came into my life with a different perspective. She lost her dad who had worked his entire life without a vacation only to pass shortly after retiring. Tomorrow is not promised.
Some of you might feel trapped in your job, relationship, or whatever it may be. Some of you might be coasting through life because it’s comfortable, the pay check is good, and change is hard. Starting over is hard. You might be putting off that thing you’ve always wanted to do because of the time it will take to get to where you want to be. Do it! The time will pass anyway. It’s hard to make a jump, especially when everybody else is playing safely within the lines. Let 2017 be the year you start making things happen. Cheers!