This question originally appeared on Quora: What does it feel like to quit your job, start a company, and fail?
It's brutal (initially), but like all experiences in life, it shapes you.
I quit my first ever job as a professional accountant (not quite a CPA or CA at this stage). I was 22 at the time and really did not feel that an accounting career or working in a professional accounting firm at 22 was for me.
I got to a stage where I felt I was a 40 year old in the body of a 20 year old. There was no sense of adventure or change and, being only a graduate accountant at the time, I performed all the lower level jobs of bank reconciliation, data entry, preparing draft taxation returns etc. I fell asleep at my desk at 3pm nearly every working day.
Contrast to this position, my close friend at high school was always quite entrepreneurial. By the time he was 22, he had already failed in two (2) businesses. He calls me (probably fate) at a time I was going through my 'early life' crisis and mentioned that he was part of a startup film company on the Gold Coast of Queensland. He said that they needed an accountant (in hindsight, they needed a financial controller (with experiencence)) to get this new venture off and rolling.
This opportunity really excited me and I could not sleep at night. Having met with the CEO and seen the studio (which was the old Billabong Factory at Burleigh Heads, Queensland) my 'gut feel radar' was going haywire. After that, I gave this opportunity the 'sleep test' (i.e., if you wake up the next morning still excited, go for it (the same applies in reverse)). I committed wholeheartedly to the new venture and quit my accounting job. I remember the partner who accepted my resignation saying "we seem to have trouble holding on to young men in this profession" (fast forward the clock 15 years, that same partner is now a referrer of business to my new accounting firm).
The mantra of the new studio we were setting up was to create quality 'Edutainment' (short for Educational Entertainment) for children. The founders, having had a background in major film production, knew of the pitfalls of mainstream film production and the culture that can be generated in front of and behind the camera. They didn't want to replicate that kind of culture in this new venture. The production was to be purely for the benefit of children. We felt warm and fuzzy knowing it was for the benefit of the kids.
We raised money from a number of sources to produce a pilot (some monies we suspected had come from bikie gangs looking to do some good with their 'earnings'). My buy-in was to cover some of the production costs for the pilot (some $10,000).
What happened over the next three (3) months?
- We ran out of cash
- Investment funding ceased
- Bad culture was created (mistrust and jealously creating a toxic environment)
- There were a number of affairs between married crew members
- Management had delusions of grandeur
- We produced no independent income
- The success of the pilot (i.e., simply completing the pilot) got to our heads a little
- We had the 'attacks of the grey hairs' meaning people who were in their 50′s advising us (who had grey hair), but in reality they were finding creative ways to take what precious monies we had for their own benefit.
- The whole business imploded
What this meant was--I was 22 with no source of income, working for a company with no cash.
My relationship with my girlfriend at the time ended. I was living in communal housing. I also managed to find a friend's garage to live in and set up some form of comfortable living with the furniture I had from my now broken relationship.
Life was tough at the time. Still, there was a real resistance to going back to the accounting profession and an even stronger resistance to joining the Federal Government's unemployment entitlements (also known as 'the dole').
So after many weeks of deliberation and garage living (during a cold winter), I developed the courage to join my father's business in Sydney and got back into my first trade craft: Hospitality. Effectively, I hit the 'reset button' of my life.
I spent the next two to three years working for dad regaining my financial situation (the $10,000 I originally invested came from credit cards, so that needed to be paid off) and managed to save up enough money to backpack through Europe.
I often wonder what would happen if I could go back in time with skills and experience I have now and what kind of result could have transpired. But then I realise that those experiences shaped my thinking, shaped who I am today, and exposed me to much of the reality of business.
Whilst a terrible and traumatic experience to go through, those experiences make me a better adviser to business owners today. I am blessed to have gone through such an adventure (certainly makes for a good dinner party story).
"Tragedy, plus time, equals comedy" (Carol Burnett)
Life now? Fast forward the clock 15 years, I am a partner of a national accounting practice that specialises in Insolvency and Business Reconstruction, who are building their Brisbane operations here in sunny Queensland. The experience outlined above helped guide my curiosity as to how businesses could be saved with the right help. I am soon to be married to a beautiful woman, and we have two glorious kids (yes, they fight like cats and dogs and love each other just as equally). Life goes on.
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