At times I feel really selfish. At other times I feel really generous.
For a long time I’ve described MatchBOX as the thing that I wish had existed when I started DelMar. Right out of college I was working out of my spare bedroom and coffee shops. Even though I had been in Lafayette for seven years at that point, my Purdue friends had mostly moved away and I no longer had the natural peers that happen in classes and dorm rooms. So I was pretty isolated. I’m overall a fairly introverted person with just a few close friends, so socially it wasn’t that horrible. But professionally the lack of an entrepreneurial peer network left me lacking more than I realized at the time.
Back then I would have told you the thing I lacked was an office. Mostly a space to meet clients. My home office, with a wife working and just our dog at home (before kids), was great for me for writing code. So I only needed an office at certain times and for certain activities. I also couldn’t afford even the cheapest office space. I looked at some traditional office space but didn’t find anything I liked. I went and talked to folks at the Purdue Research Foundation. There I found folks that could mentor me but to mentor they said I needed to rent office space. I said I needed the mentorship to get to the point where I could afford the office space. Thankfully, DelMar made it and still has an office in the Purdue Research Park.
So when playing my role in designing MatchBOX my ideas for the space mostly came from things I wished I had back in 2004. Fast internet. Conference rooms for meeting a client or two. And what I didn’t know until later I needed, other folks that were starting businesses or working independently or otherwise just not doing the normal corporate ladder climbing I was trying hard to avoid. The ideas I contributed were almost all about me.
I’ve recently started to describe LEV in the same way. A little over three years into LEV and I’m realizing it is what I wish had existed in what I’ve come to call the “cage years” of DelMar. During those years I felt trapped in a cage. It was a cage of my own design and building. But it was still a cage.
DelMar started with me doing everything. Finding clients. Writing code. Managing the project and client expectations. Sending invoices. Collecting invoices. I found I enjoyed it all! But then we got too much work. So slowly over many years we hired more software developers. While they were a great help, I was still doing a little bit of everything and everything to a degree depended on me. And then I started to not do anything well. Projects were behind schedule. People weren’t getting paid even though we had money in the bank. We both had too much work to do currently but also had very few leads on future projects once that work was done. I was ready to be done. But I couldn’t even quit and just go get a job. Because now other people’s families depended on DelMar existing. Clients’ businesses depending on the projects being completed. So I thought about selling the business. But I soon realized no one would buy the business or even take it from me because as soon as I was removed the whole thing would fall apart and be a mess to clean up. So I started coming into work every day determined to work myself out of a job. I stopped writing code. I turned over management of small projects. I turned over management of large projects. Other people started bringing in new clients.
I got to the point where there weren’t a lot of things for me to do to keep DelMar at the place it was currently. I also found that now that I had a business that I could have stepped away from that I no longer wanted to step away from it. Oh the glorious irony! So I started looking for new things to do.
That’s when I got interested in investing. I wanted a better way to work with the startups that are exciting to work with. I also felt like I wanted more control (i.e. ownership) in the more traditional businesses that were the bulk of the DelMar client base. Both of those ambitions driven out of me wanting someone to invest in my startup product ideas and someone to be able to hand my business to when I was done with it. It wasn’t exactly a straight line to get to this point, but that’s basically what Little Engine Ventures started out as. So pretty selfish ideas.
Probably just my own justification, but I don’t think it’s wrong to have selfish ideas. If there’s something that you think would make the world a better place for you, I don’t think that’s wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong if you build the thing you wish you could use in the world but then you build it so that other people can use it. That’s the generous part. I love that MatchBOX has had over 500 members in its 5 year history. I love that LEV has helped multiple small business owners transition into their next adventure. Not sure if we’ll catch the number of MatchBOX members, but we’ve set the goal of at least 100 folks in the LEV Owner Emeritus club.
So be a little more selfish in your ideas. I plan to. But just make sure you’re generous in your actions