In 1999 I took the “leap of faith” plunge and became an entrepreneur. As it turned out, it was both my best and worst career decision. It was a huge risk for my family. I quit a great job with a six figure income and top-flight employee benefits so that I could launch a complex, hi-tech engineering, manufacturing, and media services company from ground zero up.
The business term “sweat equity” is spot-on to describe entrepreneurial initiatives like mine. Seventy-hour work weeks were the norm for the first two years before easing a bit to a more reasonable palpable fifty-five hour schedule.
The spark for the new business idea popped into my mind as I listened to a couple of fellows talking as I saddled up to the bar for an after work beer at the Hopsfrog Tavern in Burke, Virginia. They were seated around a corner of the bar. The fellow I sat next to was listening attentively as his friend talked excitedly about a recent event. For his 40th birthday, his wife had bought him a seat in a one day class at the Richard Petty Driving Experience racing school at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte. As a lifelong racing fan of stock car, sports car, and open wheel racing, I shared his passion and immediately tuned in as he recounted the day’s event.
He rattled on nonstop for nearly fifteen minutes, reliving the experience in the minutia of details. As he put it, it was the most exciting thing he had ever done. When he finished his excitement was suddenly curtailed and his voice quieted. Glee was replaced by disappointment. He said something that changed the rest of my life. All he had to show for this celebratory life experience was a packet of photos he bought from the school.
His statement hit me like a brick. Sitting behind the wheel or in the passenger seat of a race car is a full multi-sensory experience. The sights, sounds, touch, smell, and impact on the body from rapidly changing gravitational forces is both thrilling and gut wrenching. I describe it as better than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It lasts a whole lot longer. Lingering Adrenalin rushes can be felt for days.
Photos and the poor quality videotapes available at that time did not do the experience justice. My 25-year engineering career immediately kicked into play. I grabbed a stack of bar napkins and started defining the features, capabilities, and system architecture for a multimedia product that would capture and let you relive the experience.
I was totally stoked when I got home and excitedly shared my ideas for a new technology to my wife. In the days that followed I was shocked as I couldn’t find an existing product that I had envisioned. I then spent a couple of dozen hours doing patent searches for my product concept. Again, there was nothing like it. The closet patent matches were a video game and racing simulator. I had uncovered a market niche. I knew it in my gut and decided to launch a company to deliver this first-to-market product offering.
MORE TO COME…
This story will be continued in several blog pieces that are the memoir and screenplay I am writing about this life changing experience. I will tell you this much – It was an all-American dream come true for the next four years.