To be an entrepreneur, a person must examine his/her life and learn as many lessons as possible from life itself. In my personal opinion, if someone cannot manage their personal life correctly, then they should not attempt to create a startup.
According to the Lean Startup methodology, a startup requires a new entrepreneurship style of management. Entrepreneurs must learn to adapt to life’s uncertainty. To be successful someone must learn from life’s lessons because life itself is difficult to manage. I strongly believe entrepreneurs should examine their life’s lessons and apply them in their startup.
As for me, my personal lessons came after being highly leveraged which pushed me into high risk, and the second is to be prepared for unexpected. These two will require you to set your priorities in the correct sequence.
I was in Iraq from August 2005 to January 2010. During that time, the global recession occurred and the housing market collapsed. During this period I worked and invested, and was doing well. But the universe aligned against me and I lost most of my money.
During my four years working as a contractor in Iraq, I had the potential to make $740,000 before taxes. Looking back on it, I never thought I would lose that amount of money so quickly. But here I am, with a house, condo, and the following story of what happened to show for it. Let me break it down for you.
After maximizing my 401K and IRA I started to invest in stocks, especially, Apple and Research In Motion. As any other person, I started with paper trading, $5000, and bit by bit got sucked in to it. My investment grew to 50K, ten times my original investment. I decided to go further and started to invest on margin accounts, meaning I had invested $50k, then $1 for $1, I was on a credit line of $100K.
Some days, I was making money and some days, I was losing money. I was making a few extra thousand on Apple when it was trading around $176 dollars a share and Research In Motion on $89 a share.
Then I was introduced to an MIT graduate who developed a system (http://www.aestocks.com/) to select stocks to invest in before they announce earnings. You would buy the stock the night before and sell it the next day.
I was not making the return that AEStock indicated, but nevertheless, I was still making and losing money. Then, in September 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed. My Apple and RIM stocks dropped so low that I could not hold on to them, and I had to sell because I was on margin calls. That was a big mistake.
Back in 2005, the real estate market was booming. And as usual, I followed the crowd.
My family and I started to look for a house to buy in Skokie, Illinois, the north side of Chicago. Houses were going for an expensive rate. We were looking to buy a three bedroom, two bathroom split level house. Prices were from $375,000 to $450,000, depending on the location and condition of the house.
During that time, people were remodeling their homes and spending a lot of money. And I was angry about the housing prices because I believed they were inflated.
In social gatherings with our Assyrian community, some people took it personally when I said their homes were not worth that much. It was like insulting their wives. In fact, it would probably be better to insult their wife than to say their house is not worth the asking prices. Going against my intuition, we bought a house for $365k, $36,000 a 10% down payment and remodeling. Some time passed and I refinanced the house with 20% equity.
I went back to Iraq and continued working and making good money. I was making about $10K a month and could afford a $2,600 monthly payment.
Around September 2007, I decided to buy a condo in Skokie, IL for myself. My idea was to buy and remodel the condo and get it ready for when I returned from Iraq. I finally settled on one with an asking price of $165K. With the down payment and closing costs, I ended up putting $50,000 cash on it (or six months worth of wages). Then I ended up spending another $50K in remodeling. I replaced the electrical wiring system, rebuilt the porch, installed an Elfa shelfing system from the Container Store, bought new appliances, painted the condo, etc.
I ended up leaving the condo vacant for about two and a half years while I was worked in Iraq because I was worried someone would destroy it if it were rented out. The cost of leaving it vacant was about $30,000. The dumbest mistake of my life! After family pressure, I decided to rent it out and stop the financial bleeding. And then I went back to Iraq again for a third year.
Startup Internet Business
In Iraq, I had a lot of free time. After being disheartened with the stock market, the Real Estate bleed out, and the pressure of Iraq war, it was time to switch gears into something new.
I wanted to reset my brain, build positive feelings and start something different. I read many books about business and Internet development. I had resources and time, and I was reading about 2 books a week. In those few years, I read almost every single book that made the bestseller list. I was sold on the great lure of lifestyle design and new riches. I wanted to claim my freedom from the default lifestyle of work. I wanted to try an internet business.
And a social network idea was born. But I will speak about the idea and the execution of the startup in a different blog and will answer questions like: Why did I choose www.IAmAssyrian.com? Why did I pull the plug on it? What did I learned? But in the end, this financial endeavor end up costing me more in cash.
Finally, life has taught me new lessons under a new concept. I came to understand the “Black Swan”. Black Swan events phenomena occur as part of life and my blindness with respect to randomness. I call it the Black Swan Strategy. I recommend many entrepreneurs to look into it. I would like to share some learning point: For an Internet startup, give it your best and apply your life’s lessons to your venture.