The Best Thing About Falling Is You Can’t Tell Which Way Is Down

mel

Keeping with my recent trend of metaphors, a typical comment you hear from the startup community is “I just took the leap”, meaning someone just left their cushy job and took a huge risk to start a company.

Starting a company can be one of the most exciting times in life, just like the first time you strap a chute on your back and jump from a plane 10,000 feet above the ground.

It can also be one of the scariest.

When you jump to start something new you have no idea how far/close rock bottom actually is and most of the time you are spinning around trying to find equilibrium.  In fact, I used the metaphor almost 2 years ago when I jumped from my job (without a chute nonetheless) and went full time into life as a founder.  And boy has it been a ride worthy of the skydive analogy.  Although I have never jumped from a plane, I can understand what it’s like and why it’s so crazy/awesome/scary.

An interesting phenomenon happens after you jump from your job to a life of entrepreneurship.   You find yourself free falling towards the ground with an awkward, uneasy feeling mixed with both excitement and fright.  Deep down in the pit of your stomach you know it was the right decision but right at the moment your conscious mind is telling you otherwise.

In fact, it’s not telling you.   It’s shouting at you!  Consequently, you don’t actually know which way is down.

This happens for many reasons but mainly because you get so used to the stressful up and down feelings of “falling” it starts to feel like you are floating, just as a skydiver is basically trying to float by balancing an equilibrium in the air.

Your daily routine gets flipped on its head. Your finances start doing weird things and you are wondering if and when the “ground” will actually be hit.  Your personal life is either non-existant or very much challenged.  You find yourself second-guessing your current pursuit for happiness and wondering if you are on the right path.  You find yourself in situations you would have never thought possible, such as talking to investors about millions of dollars and internally saying to yourself “holy crap I have never seen that much money before, what the hell am I thinking!”  It becomes normal to work until 2am and then sleep in, only to have to reschedule the phone calls you were supposed to have in the morning.

AND YET…

You are running your own show.  You can find, recruit and hire anyone you want to join your team.  You determine when and where your meetings will be held, and what time they will start.  You start reading articles with you and your company’s name mentioned in it.  You field emails and calls from multinational companies interested in your product.  You are asked to speak at industry events and local meetups.  You start to see increased interest and engagement with your product, and find yourself quietly saying “it actually works! ” And finally, with an increase in usage comes an increase in revenue so you can start to pay your bills and float your company operations.

Ahhh… the visceral feeling of weightlessness takes over your body.

You now see why the analogy of not knowing which way is down is a damn good one for the startup founder.   The song When You’re Falling by Afro Celt Sound System best sums up “the leap” and is a favorite of mine.

I have always been fascinated with skydiving so it was great to recently connect with Melanie Curtis, founder of HighComms.com, and a professional skydiver.  No doubt, she has a life you wish you had whether you are an extreme athlete or someone who has a passion for life and loves helping the people. She is also an entrepreneur.  I thought it would be great to take a dive with her to get her story, her perspectives on life as a leaper and how she came to entrepreneurship.

Melanie began her career  in NYC and LA working at a major investment bank for 5 years.  She enjoyed it yet found herself spending all her money on skydiving (her first love) so much so that she got good enough to quit the big-time job and go full-time in the sport. As for me, I’m definitely a freedom seeker with my first passion in life being skydiving.  Theres nothing more free than jumping out of an airplane, flying…  yeah, it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s also a true gateway to the good stuff in life, both literally and figuratively.”

Over the subsequent 9 years, she inadvertently made quite a name for herself in the sport, which was something she didn’t even know was possible going in to it.   She has traveled the world going to drop zones, connecting with their local communities and teaching them how to fly well, stay safe, and have as much fun as possible in the sky. She says diving brings joy, fun, and freedom to the world at large through connected and transformative personal experiences.

“All of my skydiving success has been absolutely, positively, 100% rooted in my passion and love for the sport and community. In that gratuitous, authentic love and joy.  I simply lucked out that my parents instilled me with an over-the-top work ethic and ridiculous personality, two things essential for success in skydiving it seems. haha”

Mel-head-down-skydiving-group-pic

After a couple years of introspection knowing that full-time skydiving wouldn’t make her deeply happy forever, she discovered life coaching, went through a very intense and awesome program ipeccoaching.com and began to build her way up to her next major leap.

“Even though I had the best job in skydiving (I got paid a salary to jump with my friends and organize cool events and theme parties), at the end of 2010 I took the second major leap in my professional life, quit that job and went into business for myself, founding Highcomms.com.”

What is Highcomms.com I wondered?  Their Mission Statement states: “We strive to change the world one person at a time through transformative personal relationships that help people identify and authentically live their core values. (ie. Live the dream. LTD. Word.)”

Melanie notes that yes, what’s in parentheses is actually part of the mission statement.  “Highcomms.com is my coaching business.. both skydive coaching and life coaching… it’s me… my approach to life, what I’ve learned finding the path to this completely free, mobile, and balanced lifestyle I now lead, and how I now can help others find and live their version of ‘the dream’ too.”

The name “highcomms” comes from past conversations with one of her best friends back in the day.  Anytime they hadn’t talked for a while they would text each other “comms.” As in communication.  Like, “hey, we haven’t talked in a while, it’s time, let’s do this…”   One day we’re talking and I get all fired up and say something along the lines of this, “I’m not just about comms… I’m about HIGH comms… full-on, meat-and-potatoes conversations, fully putting yourself out there, unabashed authenticity…” and whatever else I said. ”

And so it began.

It’s obvious Melanie excels in the type of conversation that helps people get to important answers, and see them through to actual life change.   She helps people see the pathways to their own leaps, helps them see ways through whatever might be holding them back.  Also, she helps them figure out and uncover what they really want to do with their lives by setting action goals and  holding them accountable to doing it, every single week.

She typically works with one-on-one clients in the US and abroad over the phone and Skype, and this past year they have finally got their website set up to continue to offer online classes/education/webinars to help bring coaching tools to people who may not be able to afford the more expensive 1-on-1 service.

“This has been the natural evolution of my life-coaching business, given all my experience teaching with my skydive coaching for so many years. I even brought on my best friend and educational consultant, Carolyn Chow, as a partner to help me grow this side of the business and ensure the class content is structured in the best possible way for clients/customers.”

As I gathered information a few lessons popped out from the back and forth I had with Melanie.

The impossible is possible.

I know that sounds super cliche, but think about it as someone who’s never jumped out of an airplane before.   We tend to think about doing it, and it seems totally impossible, like we’ll surely die.  And then we do it and not only do we LIVE, but we have the most fun of our lives, enter a community that thrives on that same freedom and fun, and that cracks our mind wide open.  Skydiving teaches you the impossible is possible, something I’ve had internalized inside me from a very young age.

The belief that I really can do anything has given me the courage every time I’ve come to a bigger precipice in life.  It’s the same thing with entrepreneurship.   As soon as I actually had the conscious thought that I could go into business for myself, be my OWN boss, it wasn’t instantaneous by any means, but the idea was all it took.  Here’s an article Melanie wrote on this very thing topic.

We all need help from others.

I most definitely stay fully immersed in my life coaching work, and have a life coach myself.  Just because I’m an “expert” doesn’t mean I’m not human..  I’m such a believer in life coaching as something that truly helps anyone no matter their situation.  I use all the skills I’ve learned in my coaching, experience, education, and I see all of the stuff that I go through as opportunity to learn more, share more, and connect more with my customers and clients.  Here’s another article Melanie wrote that speaks to entrepreneurial stress.

There’s lots of opportunity in helping people

Where I think Highcomms.com can go in the future is expanding into more of the self-help aspects of business. Carolyn and I are working to expand the online education portion of the business, currently recording new classes that will go up for sale ongoing. 

I’m writing my first book as we speak and plan to have it published by the end of this year, with the goal of increased reach, credibility, and presence in the industry. We know we could expand into workshops and stuff like that, but we’re all about keeping our lifestyle free and mobile, we really love the online stuff.  So perhaps maybe one big workshop a year, maybe two, so it’s not a huge time constraint on our lives.

Next time you feel yourself free falling – whether jumping from a plane or off a cliff towards your next venture – just remember anything is possible.  Or better yet… just remember to pull the chute early so you can fully enjoy the ride.

*If you are interested in your story being told here, feel free to reach out to me.

Advertisements

The Year I Learned To Fly

As 2011 comes to a close it seems as good of time as any to step back and reflect on what has been, for better or worse, a most incredible year.  The lesson of this post is a lot can change in a year.

A year ago to this day I was sitting at a different desk, with a different job, different title, in a different life, and in a totally different industry.  Technically speaking my professional title was Exercise Physiologist.  I managed a corporate fitness facility and helped executives and employees make better choices in their health and fitness.  This area of expertise was in fact my college degree and ultimately my profession for the greater part of a decade.

I don’t necessarily like to talk about this because I know others look at me and think “how is this guy a CEO and what the hell does he know about tech if his background is fitness?”  Although I can understand where they are coming from anyone who thinks this way is mistaken.

For those who aren’t familiar with my background, I had been associated with the tech industry for more than 5 years and had been working on a “startup” for the last few.  Things had not been going well and to say it bluntly we were heading straight for the deadpool, mainly for the fact that the entire team was still fully employed at their current job.  Not all was lost as those years allowed me to study the industry, achieve a basic understanding of the web and learn what startup life was all about even if it was from outside of the window looking in.  The most difficult part of it all was feeling like I was sitting on both sides of the fence, not being able to make the leap.  And it was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life.

Until something happened.  I finally gave in to my pain, got tired of all the frustration and I decided to finally pick the right side of the fence and ended up making the leap.  I quit my full time job to pursue entrepreneurship and become a real founder.  This felt great, I finally made the decision…  except I had no idea where I was going and where I would end up.  All I knew was I didn’t want to be where I was currently on that spring day.

The craziest thing about jumping is what happens mid-air.

For those of you who might have been following my path, you’ll know I took to writing this summer and ended up finding a few channels where people could find and read my words.  In an amazing turn of events, suddenly people from around the world were reaching out to me asking for my prospective on technology, social media, the web and inquiring my interest in possible professional partnerships.   I was suddenly the expert!  After considering numerous offers, I ended up connecting with some local guys here in Seattle and accepting an opportunity to form a company.

Today I am CEO of Seconds, an emerging mobile messaging and commerce startup with a pretty damn cool product and promising vision.

Your Future is more important than your past

I love this question…. “So what’s your background?” … especially as I sit across from a veteran investor during a meeting as we are about to review our company and our product.  “Shit… how do I answer this one without totally ruining my credibility?” is what I am actually thinking.

I understand their logic as they inquire about my past.  If someone has a Ivy league past, a Stanford degree, an MBA or previous startup experience with a successful exit it is a qualifier in the mind of an investor.  It is proof positive this person has relevant industry experience and basically they pass the sniff test.  The investor is just mitigated the risk (check).  Yet, a strong argument can be made for some of the best entrepreneurs coming out of nowhere to change the world.

I am here to tell you entrepreneurship is not about where you came from, it’s about where you are going.

It is the most important thing I learned by jumping this year.  You must determine where you are going.  No matter your background you must figure out where you are going, refine it and become crystal clear on what you are building and why.  Who cares about your past…  Most of us are not very proud of what we have done in the past and look forward to where we are going.  If that is the case with you, just focus on where you are going because it’s way more powerful than your resume will ever be.

Never, ever, ever…..ever think you are not capable of doing something.  You just need to set your mind to it and get up everyday determined to chip away at whatever/whomever is holding you back.

As Tom Petty would say I am learning to fly .  Or was it Pink Floyd?  Either one… I am damn glad I jumped!

Sometimes You Just Gotta Jump

Sometimes you just gotta jump ship.

I was sitting with an old college friend the other night catching up with life and I found myself ending the conversation with the saying “sometimes you just gotta jump“.

We were talking about how tough it is to branch off and do your own thing as you become more established with your life.   He is in a different situation as I and finds it more difficult to up and leave his job. Although I agree with his perspective – he is quite established and probably pulling good paycheck – I can’t help but keep coming back to my main point.  “But what happens when you are 45 or 50, are you going to be happy doing what you are doing now, at that age?

It is this question that gets me every time I start thinking maybe I am doing the wrong thing.  I just have to go back and ask myself “which would you regret more when you are older – the decision to jump off now and make it on your own or staying with the same company your entire career, never taking a risk?”

Sometimes you just gotta jump ship.  Start over.  Hit control/Alt/delete and move on.  Most people regret NOT doing something.