Trying To Change The World Changes You
Nigel moved to San Francisco 18 months ago. I lived in the Bay Area between 1994-2003. I asked him what he thought the biggest difference was between San Francisco and New York. He replied, “In New York City, business is about the money. I made these wooden triangles, they cost me $3 dollars, I sell them for $4 bucks -- isn’t that great?” In San Francisco, for many, business “is about changing the world," Nigel said.
In the summer of 2000, working at Snowball.com and living in San Francisco, I awoke from a dream, immediately sat up and said aloud an acronym for an idea that would change the world of advertising. I never went back to sleep that night. I was literally buzzing with electricity, beaming possibilities from my studio apartment on Sacramento Street.
That moment of inception is when an idea is at its purest form, untarnished by any rejection. The rejections I never saw coming showed up that first morning at work. Some on my sales team got it; others didn’t. While one boss said, “That’s fucking brilliant,” another said “That’s ass-backwards.” Finally, another boss would eventually forbid me to use my idea any longer after initial success in the market. I didn’t lose hope; I just figured I would wait this out, and submitted my first patent application.
I didn’t choose this path to change a world. It chose me. I just chose not to ignore it. It’s now been 13 years of me not ignoring something many others have. The scars from the years of pounding rejection obscure the success I've had so far.
There was an initial flash when I earned my first patent in 2006 and soon after, my first licensing deal. I was on my way, I thought. Since then, it’s been years of false starts. Today, I pretty much know before the meeting starts how it’s going to end. I wasn’t always like that. Rejection changes you.
“Why would we do that?” “Who else is doing it?” -- and my favorite, “Why do we have to pay you for that -- can’t we do that without you?” -- are all signs to duck, rejection is coming. Being told by a president of a publishing company to leave the building is also tough to misinterpret. Sure, there have been a couple nice wins along the way, but not on a scale that outweigh the rejections.
Back when I lived in San Francisco, I became friendly with Joel. Joel is an accomplished writer. When I asked him to critique my writing Joel said simply, “Just say what you have to say.”
The rejection is breaking me.
In Seattle last year on a business trip, I came down with back spasms so bad I crawled across the floor in the lobby of a hotel, and then was carried into a cab and driven to a hospital. These spasms are brought on by stress.
I eat extremely healthfully, exercise frequently -- and still, I get a bad cold almost once a quarter. I suffer now from a terrible case of tennis elbow and my back never feels good. I go to the gym almost every day, if just to stretch and roll the stress out of my body for some relief. If I don’t, I ache. My girlfriend tells me my posture is severely hunched and she is helping me bring my shoulders back and engage my core as I walk. My girlfriend literally has my back.
I am burning through my savings.
Money is at a premium in my world. I am making cuts. My girlfriend completely understands. She gives me support I have never known before. I love her for that and for other things. She’s funny. If I am blessed to raise children with her, I wonder what I would teach them? That stubbornness is a virtue or a curse, and you may not live to see which wins. That the feeling of success, when it does arrive, doesn’t stay long. That trying to get a world to change makes it harder to live in that world.
I started to lose hope.
Then last week I met with a prospective client I sensed might get it. Midway through a brief presentation, he asked, “Have you contacted any economists about this?” I thought to myself, yeah sure, I will call Greenspan and Bernanke as soon as I hang up with Apple customer service trying to fix my router. I kept our conversation focused back on him and how this solution uniquely helps solve his problems. His smile never wavered.
He got it.
The positive energy I absorbed in that meeting helped me sit up taller in meetings with other potential clients that have followed, many of whom have expressed significant interest. Things are again looking up, and my excitement is renewed.
There’s the rub. Success is the drug that eases the pain. It’s what keeps me on this road instead of driving off its cliff. Success is just around the bend, I tell myself. What I first saw 13 years ago was not a mirage. I can change this world of advertising for the better -- but man, has trying changed me.