Constant Worry as a Founder

“Aren’t you worried that…?”

Let me stop you right there.  Before you, my wife, or any other reader goes any further.  The answer is, “Yes”.  I’m absolutely worried.  I’m utterly concerned, and if I hadn’t been on this ride half a dozen times I’d probably be crapping my pants right about now.  But I’ve been on the ride.  I know how this goes. I may win this battle, or lose.  The main thing is just to suck it up and drive on.

Let me disabuse you of the notion that leaving YouTube is not hard.  I’ve put 8 years into content creation and the place I was able to make it pay for my lifestyle was on YouTube.  There were always problems, but I figured as with any growing business they would be worked out.  Deal with the inane crap today because in a year it will all be smoothed over is what you think.  The problem is that YouTube is getting worse.  Every day is another idiocy and there’s the sickening point when you realize that the whole model just doesn’t work.  These are not growing pains, this is the foundation dissolving. If you’re on the 50th floor its not about whether you want to leave the building, rather it’s can you get to the ground before it tips over.

So here I sit in my little efficiency apartment of a business.  Drinking tea, writing blog posts, and with gallows humor placing bets on how many people YouTube will take out when it falls.  Am I worried… of course I’m worried… but I’ve been here before…

I started my tech career in the US Army.  Our government spent a stupid amount of money to train me in one of the longest electronics programs they offered.  I was then shipped off to spend the rest of my time in a highly secure box that would make even geeks who enjoy the server room feel a bit claustrophobic.  I had a wrist injury that prevented me from doing pushups, and after going up the chain in of medical professionals they decided my wrist could not be fixed.  To be clear on my medical profile that had 100 activities that a soldier could or could not do LITERALLY the only thing I was restricted from was pushups.  I’ll admit I was pissed off and not the happiest person at the time, but the thing about military contracts is that you don’t have to be happy to serve, you just have to serve.  Frankly I figured I’d work the irritation out of my system, and realistically probably reup at the end of my time.  The government had spent a stupid amount of money to train me, and I never had to benchpress a soldering iron.  Imagine my surprise when I got a letter with a monetary amount on it, and directions to the door. I was dumbfounded until I was informed that my medical paperwork had happened to be going through at the exact time Congress had decided to get rid of 100,000 troops.  Years of my life that I thought were preplanned in a way that’s almost impossible to have in any other lifestyle were now open as I was shown the door…

When I landed in the corporate world I was doing very well for myself.  In a world of 20 year old snots I came in with military baring.  I not just understood the specific technology, but the military had taught me how to quickly analyze and adapt to new situations. I was able to both fix the problems of executives and secretaries, but also knew the value of asking about their dogs or kids little league games.  Many people at many times told me I was on the 5 year retirement track.  The world was my oyster.

With this in mind I decided to become very serious about my career.  Start tracking for CIO/CTO, put my nose to the grindstone and get it done.  Something itched at the back of my mind though. Many people in my parents generation spoke fondly of there backpacking trips through Europe when they were young. They would go on, and on about what a good soul building experience it was for them.  So I decided I would go and be young for just a couple of months until I came back to be serious… Apparently I flew out right about the time the cracks in the .COM world were starting to open. When I got back after 3 months it seemed like just a bit of a downturn so I decided that instead of stressing I’d just go off to India to ride out the correction.  Long story sort 2 years after jetting off to Europe believing the world was my oyster I ended up in a $300 a month rented room, at a $10 an hour temp file clerk, drinking vodka out of $10 jugs for entertainment…

I ended up in an ass backwards way becoming a consultant. That grew to a business with employees, and a building. The sky seemed the limit.  We were PRINTING money. $150 for a PC tuneup and we were backed up with 20-30 in the que at any one time.  $200 to assemble our basic custom PC which could go up to $1000 for a server or something really special, and this was before any data migration or on site setup! There were billboards, and radio shows.  I had found my calling… right… up… until… the… financial… crisis… Overnight companies that legitimately needed Cisco equipment started sending their managers to Best Buy to pick up $60 Linksys Access Points.  It wasn’t about whether the equipment would work well, or even work.  That’s all they could afford… Business owners that had paid us tens of thousands of dollars all of a sudden started ignoring $1000 invoices. Having a number of full time employees, a building, insurance, etc there wasn’t even the cushion to downsize reasonably…

Then I ended up on YouTube. There were always problems. I just figured they would get better.  It doesn’t matter how many servers YouTube owns, nor how many miles of fiber, at end of the day they need creators to be successful. To create content day in and day out requires a level of stability.  When I had distributors in the past I never expected them to wipe my butt for me, but if there were issues at least they cared if they lost me as a customer.  In “old fashioned” business a buck is a buck.

As we’ve all seen YouTube is definitely not an old fashioned business, and probably at this point more of a financial mechanism than a business at all.  It’s not about whether I want to stay on YouTube or not.  The fact is that I can see my metrics.  I see where they’re going.  Even since giving up on YouTube the platform is only getting worse…

And so I’m here… I’m genuinely excited about Failed Normal.  We got another 10 member signups in the past 24 hours!  I can focus on creating the type of content that I think is valuable for the members, and if the growth continues I’ll end up with a stable financial base for being able to build something. I’m not an idiot though…

I undertand the deep ramifications of having their domain name killed by the registrars.  I fully grasp that though the site is built on an open source platform that if Automattic decides go full #RESIST that “open source” really isn’t what people take it to be.  I know that some 14 year old wannabe hacker can do a shocking amount of damage just to “put me in my place” over some political comment. I also realize you all may just get bored… I just don’t have the mental stamina to compete with the cool kids. Wouldn’t you really prefer to hear about how a 26 year old billionaire spends that much cash..?

So, “am I worried?”… always…  but what can I do?  Sometimes you’re winning, and sometimes you’re losing. Sometimes you’re flush, and sometimes you’re broke.  Sometimes the plan works.  Sometimes it fails.   Every once in a while the failure ends up being the jackpot. The only thing I know to be true at the end of the day is that I won’t find the answer without grinding away.  30 posts and a couple hundred members does not prove anything one way or the other.  When I get to 3000 posts and can see a years worth of acquisition and churn stats then I can make a call…

One of the few “facts” of startup life… If you’re not worried, you’re stupid…




  1. Our grandparents’ generation didn’t go backpacking around Europe, they DESTROYED it. Now that’s an experience. Our parents’ generation were wusses by comparison.

  2. You and John Sonmez both have made a big impact on how I approach both my life and career. I see exactly what you describe regarding YouTube from the perspective of censorship, trolls, and organization run by political trolls.

    YouTube is run by hot heads who probably don’t believe their platform crashing could actually happen. They’re drunk with power and think they’re unstoppable just because of who they’re in bed with.

    There’s always a reason to worry, no matter who you are or what you do. The difference is, most of the worry is outside our realm of control. It’s much easier to just truck along as you say doing what we know needs to get done and what’s best for ourselves.

    Over time I’ve learned to work on addressing worries or concerns that are within my control which combined with personal care and fitness has made my life much happier overall. I still haven’t done as much backpacking or traveling as I like. I’ll be working on that in the coming years as I keep trying to grow myself and move towards means of passive or alternative income.

  3. I worry lots as a developing business owner. About the business, and myself if I’m honest.

    It only occurred to me the other day, during a new client install, how different and relaxed I’d feel, if it wasn’t my business. Also, how I’d feel if employees were doing the installs, rather than me.

    It’s easy to be a control freak and worry about details, when it’s just you. Not sure how I’m gunna feel when other people do it.

    I also feel that, once I crack it open, all the shit and pain leading up (and positive experiences) will become the obvious “path” to success, or failure. Hmm, this thought process isn’t helping me I just realised lol.

    Always interesting and educational hearing other peoples life experiences. For me, it’s a big reason I like watching/listening/reading Eli’s content. It’s real and relate-able, and goes beyond just the content.


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