My Startup Story
7:00AM, Friday June 1st, 2018
In 1991, I left my job to build my first multimillion-dollar company, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I thought to write my story, about how I came to be here.
I sat in my office savouring my first sip of coffee, it was bitter and sweet, unsurprisingly reminiscent of an entrepreneurs journey.
My “journey” was a progression of growth and learning, which became the building blocks that enabled me to launch many successful start-up businesses, and raise tens of millions of dollars.
This success facilitated my support of startup founders, where I now work with up and coming entrepreneurs across a variety of industries, all with a common undercurrent of enthusiasm, journeying for success and freedom.
I know your motivated or you wouldn’t be here so the next question your probably thinking is “what does it take”? I hear this question all the time, and I believe the answer is entwined within two stereotypical archetypes of entrepreneurs, namely, the transition from one to the other.
So, pour yourself a cup of your favourite brew, and let me take you back to the beginning, where it all began for me as a means to explaining these archetypes.
Peter & Max – The Hero’s Journey for Entrepreneurs
Once Upon A Time…
It was 1991, and I was Mr. Ordinary.
I was employed by a telecommunications company in Melbourne; I had to commute into the city every morning at 5AM (three hour round trip on a good day). Life was ordinarily good, the job was boring but I was a senior manager. I lived in a rented apartment, and I had debt like most people, but not much (although it did seem to always move a little further into the red each month).
I would say I represented a snapshot of an ambitious, but definitely average, middle-class drone in the worker bee colony. I was institutionalized.
Cue the light bulb moment.
I had a rather nasty flu, so I was visiting my local doctor for a quick remedy. Between running through the generic checklist of symptoms, and prescribing a course of useless drugs, he hurled insults and abuse towards his computer, in what I could only imagine was a fit of pent up rage.
As I took my prescription and proceeded to leave, I queried what was wrong with the computer, to which he replied “my medical software sucks, can you help me”? Now, this wasn’t surprising to me, as most software does suck, especially back in the early days of Windows, but the posed question did inspire a new thought process… perhaps there was a market for a new medical software product?
Moreover, the posed question became a driver, a dream, which put into motion a goal.
I was hasty, I hatched a plan: I would build the software, leave my well paid job, and sell my new product!
I nonchalantly anticipated a $40k and 3 month investment for building the software, and thought that thereafter I could rake in sales of over $1m per year.
This was the extent of planning behind my big, audacious plan, ‘build it and they will come’ I thought, which at the time seemed reasonable, but I know now that this was merely wishful thinking. My response to this posed question would later influence my future decisions.
Enter the “Motivating Incident”.
I’m sitting at my desk busily working away (boring drone job), and my manager strolls up to me, leans over my desk and says, “Brad we will be having a meeting to discuss your project with some important people”. “Great when’s the meeting?” “It’s now.”
So I’m thinking, wow some recognition for the staff management software that I had designed built and implemented for this Telco. Awesome Ha!
10 minutes later, I walk into a room full of suits and some dubious looking characters.
I sit down and wait for my manager to step up and announce some kudos for the great job I’m doing.
There’s an extended silence in the room with everyone looking rather serious.
One of the dubious looking guys jumps up and says “Brad, I’m the head of the union and I’m afraid we are unhappy because your staff management system is making people look bad.”
Ah okay, I never even knew we had a union.
Oh, that was a kick in the guts, it knocked the wind out of me. It was a negative slant on something I honestly believed was making peoples lives easier.
Then came the kick to the head…
My manager turns to me and says “Brad, I’m afraid that you won’t be advancing any further, actually not ever.”
I could feel the crushing weight of their condemnation, I had rocked the boat and people had fallen out.
It was a soul destroying moment I didn’t see coming. But when do we ever see bombshells like that coming. Rarely.
I’d been shoved into a cage and the key throw away, no hope of freedom, no hope of success, I felt trapped.
As it dawned on me my career was over, I had that sick in the gut feeling. You know, when you suspect somethings wrong, some undisclosed plan.
That’s when clarity landed like a brick, improving productivity was not their goal, it was mine. And now I was the fall guy, with a target on my back and the trigger being squeezed ever so gently.
Way to go Brad!
But hey, who am I to stand in the way of a truck load of excrement flowing downhill.
So I resigned.
My parents said I was mad to give up a wonderful job. Maybe they were correct, but it was more likely I would have been terminated. I just couldn’t stomach being told to be a drone and I couldn’t stand the sense of impending doom.
So that was my “Motivating Incident”.
Maybe you’ve been there, it’s a tough situation and clarity is rare.
But I had a plan, build some kick-ass medical software, be successful and retire on a beach. I could still have my freedom and success.
I could not have preempted the roller coaster ride I was in for. It began when I resigned from the hamster wheel, and I know now that it is the nonsense, the pain, the trauma and the never ending obstacles that make our journeys important.
Richard Branson said “One thing is certain in business, you and everyone around you will make mistakes”, and I certainly agree.
This is my hero’s journey… Not dissimilar to a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, I too, began a pretty serious metamorphosis.
This short video sums up the hero’s journey:
Now take a look at this infographic I created:
Did you notice that the journey is identical to the lifecycle of a startup?
So imagine me in 1991, freshly unemployed, with stars in my eyes… I was flawed, I was an amateur, and I wasn’t capable of ascending to the summit of the mountain. Whatever success and freedom represented to me, it would always elude me, unless I embraced change, transformed, began my hero’s journey.
I had a choice!
1. I could either remain behaving as I was, expectant and bullish (a choice that would require that I stay fighting the “monsters” in perpetual crisis until I ran out of money or quit),
2. Or I could transform into a very different person.
I chose to transform, and it was that decision that has lead to my success.
Let me tell you, the process itself wasn’t instant, nor was it easy.
It most definitely was not like flicking a light switch.
Sadly, no, it doesn’t work like that.
I had to choose the call of adventure, to go on the journey, and enter the battle.
I had to:
– Take risks.
– Experience trauma.
– Navigate obstacles.
– Slay the “monsters.”
Now is a good time to introduce you to the archetypes, Peter and Max.
Ideological representations of the vast majority of entrepreneurs who go on the journey for success and freedom.
But not everyone who attempts the journey will come out the alternate side transformed.
Many wannabe heroes, most even, are not fully enrolled in the journey, don’t care enough about the change required to transform, so they remain Peter and remain in the battle forever.
The “secret” – the path I had discovered and wanted to share through my story – would guide the Peters of the world to navigate through the battle, the crisis, and emerge on the alternate side as Max.
Peter is likely to represent you at present; if not entirely, certainly a close enough match to make you very uncomfortable as you read this.
Meet Peter (archetype #1)
Peter’s demographics (the outside facing characteristics like age and income and job title, etc.) aren’t important. Demographics are too limiting.
Peter was a 40 year old insurance salesman from Melbourne. But ultimately this simply wasn’t relevant information, because you, as Peter at present, may have demographics that are completely different.
Psychographics, the inside characteristics, like dreams, personality, fears, desires, etc. is what matters:
It was the psychographics that fuelled my dream of a million dollar company in 1991; it wasn’t my age, my relatively petite financial position, or my IT background. All of those categories I fitted into were irrelevant. It was the dream, the desire, to be an entrepreneur.
Remember, on October 23, 1991 (the day I left my job), I was birthed into the world as Peter.
I didn’t know what the hell to do.
Unlike now, gurus were non-existent back then and there was no such thing as a startup. So to learn on the job, I hunted down every offline and online resource I could find. What happened next didn’t take long.
Today this dynamic is even worse, as more and more people flock to startups and online courses to “make it big.”
Before I knew it, I was the recipient of every “shiny-object” offer under the sun. I would receive 10x your revenue, and event offers every day, without fail.
I didn’t know better. I believed in people more than I should have, in the startup and founder wasteland, the Wild West.
And with the small chunk of redundancy cash I had in the bank, I poured it into a build it and they will come spending spree.
It started slowly because software is a bitch to get done, it takes time and money but thankfully I knew technology and software engineering, it was my thing, so I got through, just. I’d spent all my cash on building software and barley feeding myself.
What I had no idea about was everything else. The important stuff like building and growing a business.
Business plan, no idea.
Raising money hadn’t even heard of it, I thought that’s what banks were for.
Customers, they just buy your product because it’s awesome, wrong.
Financials, I thought accountants did that.
I had to find a solution, I needed help, advice, anything I could get my hands on to learn and build my business.
I was sucked in like a drug addict seeking the next fix.
I was helpless.
I would flip-flop from the latest and greatest startup solution to advance my business, with little regard for opportunity cost. I was an “opportunity seeker.”
The shock realisation came next.
There was a lot wrong with operating this way. I had become stuck in the “loop of death” for over a year.
Roughly speaking, the “loop of death” is the process of cycling through points Magic Bullet to Crash.
My insight was the moment I realised that I had become “jack of everything” but master of nothing that mattered.
And that’s when it hit me.
SEO, yes, did that.
Advertising in newspapers, yeah, old school but did that too.
AdWords. New website. AdSense. Yeah, did it all.
Outsourcing to supposed experts, yep there everywhere.
List building in the way the gurus were teaching, yep, did that.
Some things I did, worked, most even – but it was never as advertised.
The results I earned as I cycled from “fix” to “fix” was only ever mediocre at best.
Never any “home runs.”
It like what Trinity said to Neo in the Matrix.
“You know that road. You know exactly where it ends — and I know that’s not where you want to be.”
Let’s move to the archetype I named, Max.
Meet Max (archetype #2)
Max operates entirely differently from Peter.
Max manages his attraction to shiny objects. He’s not addicted.
He can control what he invests in and what he chooses to ignore.
His attention is selective and focused.
He values his time.
Max doesn’t do quick fixes. Max plans and builds assets. The dynamic is completely different.
Max is driven by the need to matter.
To create work he’s proud of, and work that mattered to the people he seeks to serve. Work that makes a difference to his market. Max builds a business. A business that earns him his freedom to do the things he cares about.
This was the realisation that hit me when I opened my eyes and saw things for what they really were.
It was my very own Neo/Morpheus moment:
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more.” – Morpheus (The Matrix)
I was so focused on the EVENT of the home run moment – that I had missed the “truth” of the situation.
That a home run was the culmination of years and years of behind the scenes process. Hard f*cking grinding-it-out work. When taking the helicopter view this is obvious.
But it’s easily forgotten when in the weeds of the daily battle. Peter can’t see this obvious truth. Max can.
Max builds leveraged assets for the long term.
One such asset is trust, which takes time and commitment to earn. Peter doesn’t see the value of going slow, so he seeks shortcuts and hacks.
When looking at the online world through this lens, it allowed me to see everything very differently. Like I was watching a different movie.
Like taking the infrared filter off a camera so that it can display light spectrums that are normally invisible to us.
Like being able to see *through* objects:
Max is successful because he focuses on the PROCESS; the journey (which doesn’t end; an EVENT does).
The process of showing up each day and doing the hard yards.
Not checking email for the latest approach, but prioritising what’s really important. The disciplined pursuit of less, not more.
Max makes a choice to not be all things to all people.
He understands that his job is not to find the BIGGEST possible market, but rather, to find (create) the smallest possible viable market – then serving and delighting them by making them feel like the hero.
Max knows that great founders have empathy; empathy for what’s going through the other persons head, so his decisions are lead with empathy.
Max knows that the Holy Grail of business is to build a happy customer factory, delivering happiness, and earning repeat business and an automatic customer.
Unlike Peter who sees products as commodities, and worst still, sees people as commodities, Max believes it’s his fiduciary responsibility to not wait for money to change hands before starting to add value, contribute, guide, advise, and protect the people he seeks to serve.
When I had made these shifts from thinking and behaving as Peter, to Max, everything changes.
By the end of 1992, I was cruising into No 1 position in my market, breaching a six-figure month as I rolled into 1993. A big difference from a year earlier where I was busting my ass to earn $2K a month regularly.
Peter sees opportunities as events — where results are, at best, a flash in the pan.
Peter is a jack of all trades and master of none. He chases tactics and loopholes and hacks, never going deep. He tries this and that, gets bored, then moves onto the next shiny-object approach.
Each “shiny-object” is the big answer — the reset button — for a new life. But, of course, that’s just an illusion set up by the gurus, and Peter falls for the lie every time.
The gurus know Peter’s modus operandi better than he does.
They’re pros; he’s an amateur.
They’re always one step ahead.
They write copy specifically for Peter. Copy that acts as a Peter “Venus flytrap.”
The outcome is always inevitable and predictable.
Max is different.
Max knows that building a business that mattered, that he’s proud of, is a process and not an event.
Max understands that to build a business for the long-term, he needs to show up every day and do the hard work.
The work may get easier, but the deep work never stops.
Peter seeks the home runs.
Max knows that the road ahead is not easy. It’s not for most people.
It requires pigheaded discipline and determination.
Peter sees the word as opportunities to be exploited.
Max is focused on being the linchpin for a target audience worth serving and leading. Solving interesting problems for them.
Peter sometimes gets lucky and earns a fortune. But because it was built on a foundation of luck (right place at the right time; it happens), it’s not repeatable, and eventually that “business” crashes and burns.
Max knows that luck isn’t a scalable and repeatable business model, so he chooses to take the time to lay deep foundations early on, then builds his little castle.
Over time his moat becomes deeper and wider; a result of earned trust and attention and work that’s impossible to ignore. Work that some people can’t imagine being without.
Peter seeks a unicorn, quick cash, quick wins. He’ll take whatever he can get in the shortest amount of time.
Peter is influenced by his ego.
Max knows that ego is the enemy. Max doesn’t value scaling a business bigger and bigger for bragging rights and basking in the “unicorn glow.”
Max values and prioritises a richer and more fulfilling; a life where he gets to do deep meaningful work he is proud of.
Max seeks to remain intentionally small on staff — which may be a company of 50, or a company of one — because he believes small is a key to serving and mattering in a world of noise and distractions and sameness.
That making his business better instead of bigger is more valuable.
Peter trawls startup events and the web seeking more and more information. He thinks buying how to 10X your business courses is the solution, because at some point, he’ll learn the “big secret.”
“If more information were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with 6 pack abs.” – Derek Sivers
Max knows that execution trumps theory.
He rarely buys new business products, but also values his time. So when he has a specific need to quickly “level up” his knowledge gap, he invests in the finest training on the market. Training from people that have actually done it themselves.
Peter hates reading.
He doesn’t have the time.
He doesn’t see the point.
Max practices a learner’s lifestyle.
He sees a book as an investment. A gift to everyone.
He devours them. He’s never not reading a book. He views books as a necessity:
As Erasmus, the 16th century scholar once put it, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”
Peter chooses not to think for himself. He offloads that responsibility onto others. So he seeks copy-and-paste templates, step-by-step systems, and clear instructions to follow (so long as they’re videos which he can binge on without much intention).
Max chooses an unscripted path.
He chooses to not giving a f*ck about how the status quo, who dump their latest 10X quick fixes all over social media, behave. Max knows an exact map, a perfect fit for him, doesn’t exist. Instead has a strategic flexibility, makes little bets along the way, and focuses on creating his greatest work.
Richard Branson once said “Entrepreneurship is a great leveller, the wonderful thing is that money is not the sole currency when it comes to starting a business; drive, determination, passion and hard work are all free and more valuable than a pot of cash.”
The good news is that you get to choose to operate and think and behave as Peter or Max.
It’s just a decision and it’s all on you.
As Steven Pressfield says in “The War of Art”, “You have a choice. Do it or don’t do it.”
There is no easy way.
It doesn’t exist. If you think there is, you’re wrong.
There’s only a hard way, fraught with trauma and obstacles.
Lean into it, because it’s the only way to breach the membrane shielding Peter from Max.
If you’re a Peter and want to transform to a Max, we can help with that. Or if you’re already a Max, but wanna level-the-f*ck-up, we can help with that, too.
Maybe you just need a nudge in the proper direction. I’m great at nudging.
If I can’t help, I’ll tell you, and point you in the best direction. I don’t have all the answers. And what I have here isn’t for everyone, or even for many.
What I have here is for the dedicated few, who choose to enrol in the journey and do the hard work.
– Bradley Birchall
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