Trying To Change The World Changes You

Had drinks at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan last week with my girlfriend Cynthia and her friend Nigel visiting from California. Nigel is well traveled and works in “M&A” for a big-deal company.   This was my first time meeting him, and I struggled getting past how much more hair he has than me. Despite this follicle jackpot, he is impossible not to like.  He says warmly and wryly, “My job is important, but I am not.” 

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 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.

7 comments about "Trying To Change The World Changes You".
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  1. Alison Provost from Touchstorm, LLC, July 18, 2013 at 11:21 a.m.

    Wow, Ari...what a humble, insightful column. Beautifully written and inspiring - thanks for taking the time to pen such bare naked thoughts.When you hit the big one, they'll say you were an overnight success. Only you, a bunch of rock bands, and your fellow entrepreneurs will recognize what that success is actually made of.

  2. Helene Kremer from L'esprit de Vin, July 18, 2013 at 11:40 a.m.

    Thank you, Ari! Thank you for sharing your bittersweet travel for the sake of your dream and the anticipation of its successful purpose. Over the years, your writing continues to give me hope on my journey also. Cheers!

  3. Deekron Krikorian from Motion Traxx, July 18, 2013 at 12:28 p.m.

    Fantastic post my friend! Very few know what entrepreneurs endure. Especially these days, when all the media does is feature overnight successes, and those that have 'raised money'.

    I'm on my own journey (5 years to date) and definitely agree that the rejection changes you. And more passionate and connected you are to your vision, the personal the rejection feels.

    It's our job to find ways to overcome, so we can keep changing the world. The universe is on our side.

  4. Keith Huntoon from LiftEngine, July 18, 2013 at 12:44 p.m.

    Great read. I'm in year 3 of launch and we are getting our fair share of "no's", with a sprinkling of "sounds great, but we don't have the resources to implement on our side." It's comforting to know I/you are not alone.

    As far as changing the world, that's too lofty for pragmatic New Yorkers. My parents taught me to leave the world a better place than how I found it and to make a difference daily in the lives of those I touch. This I can accomplish, despite the "no's".

  5. Zunaid Khan from The Sizwe Collective, July 18, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.

    Great column Ari

  6. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, July 19, 2013 at 5:15 a.m.

    Sorry, but if put your ideas in the public domain by telling people the details, then you can't patent them. Also, most employers have a standard clause in your contract of employment that inventions belong to them. Good post though.

  7. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, July 19, 2013 at 7:20 a.m.

    This column hurt to write and made me feel so much better when it was finished -- writing is a form of therapy so thank you for one, taking the time to read it and two, for taking more time to post your reactions and for the many emails I received that were beyond heart warming. I sensed many others felt as I did and if my column made you feel less alone my goal was met.

    And Pete Austin, thanks for proving my whole point rejection is a standard default button in so many of us and generally the rejector is incorrect -- in this case I already have three patents with more pending and I own the patents outright -- not my former employer.

    Thanks again -- I am honored to be read and will never take that for granted.


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