A beautiful brown buck, with a giant rack atop his head, gracefully feasts on the downed tree branches left over from the big ice storm a couple of weeks back. The remaining trees sway to and fro, and dim light with a slight touch of pink fills the sky over the distant hills, which I can see even better since the storm cleared some branches out of the view.
I sit here in this soon-to-be-warm moment reflecting on my past, deeply grateful for each experience, including those that did not work out as I had hoped.
In 1998 I wrote an article in Radio Ink, my radio industry trade magazine, predicting that one day consumers would get their radio and TV online. The feedback on the article was negative; in fact, I just about got laughed out of the radio industry. Yet for some reason, I had the ability to see down the road. I was so consumed by this concept that I started a radio industry conference about the future of the Internet and its impact on the industry. Though it was successful because people wanted to know more about these new things called websites, they could not buy my vision that people would listen to radio online.
Lunch With a Soon-to-Be Billionaire
Later that year I had lunch with Mark Cuban at the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas. Mark had started a company called AudioNet, and it was putting ball games online. I told him my vision that music radio would one day be online as well, and he encouraged me to “go for it.”
A Boys Scout Is Always Prepared
After a few weeks of refining my idea, I picked up the phone and called Tom Toy, an old Boy Scout buddy I’d heard was a venture capital guy. I knew nothing about raising money because I’d built my publishing business one sale at a time, with no borrowed money other than a small loan from my dad.
When I told Tom my idea, he said, “Hold for a second. I want to get someone else on the call.” Soon I was pitching my idea to another guy on his team. And then they said, “Can you be here Monday to do a presentation?” So I pulled out my best PowerPoint skills and built my vision for a company I called RadioCentral. My concept was to do thousands of niche radio stations for interest groups, and to do every radio format of music.
I flew to San Francisco and found myself entering a big conference room with about 10 people sitting around the table. I told them that the future of radio and TV was the Internet, and that RadioCentral would be like a newsstand in audio form, with radio stations operated by people for specific interest groups.
To my surprise, they said they had interest but wanted me to define my presentation more. “Come back next week after flushing out the financials,” they said. “Show us how you’re going to make money and create value.”
A Trip a Week for Seven Weeks
I returned the following week, and each Monday for seven weeks. Keep in mind, I was running my business while flying weekly to San Francisco from West Palm Beach.
On the seventh week they announced that they were giving me a million dollars to start, and more would come based on progress.
Our Money, Our Town
When I said I’d get started right away, they insisted I move to the San Francisco area. “Our money, our town,” they said. I argued that I could build it in Florida and have much lower costs, but they knew I needed to be where they could coach me, have me meet with other people who could fund us further, etc.
Without going into exhaustive detail, I launched the company, managed to hire a team of 50 people, and we invented something that was not physically possible. In fact, when I interviewed engineers provided by a search firm, every one of them told me that what I wanted to do couldn’t be done. One guy I interviewed, Rich Sadowsky, said, “It’s not possible to do this — but I’ll find a way.”
I hired him, and months later we had invented a way to do the impossible. In fact, he filed a couple of patents, and we ended up with a system that everyone uses today. The impossible was possible.
Launch Finally Comes
We ended up launching dozens of radio formats, and we were doing radio for some of the biggest brands online at the time; we did branded radio for EarthLink, About.com, and several others. But I was swayed away from my idea of radio broadcasters in niche categories. Of course, years later, Apple launched podcasting, exactly what I had pitched five years earlier, though they had a better way of doing it than I had.
Long story short, we launched, had clients, and even sold some advertising. We raised more money. And then two towers in New York were downed by aircraft, investment dried up, and the company was shut down.
A Lost Decade
I spent years licking my wounds, looking back at what should have been and telling myself, “If only…” “If only I had been one year earlier, we would have gone public and I would have been a billionaire.” “If only” was stuck in my head, and I became risk-averse, depressed, and defeated. Sadly, it took me close to a decade to recover.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Once I had enough time and perspective, I realized I had learned so much, and that I went for it. The mistake I made is that I did not get back on the horse when I got knocked off. I wasted lots of good years whining about what could have been instead of moving on to the next big thing.
When have you been knocked off your horse? Have you picked yourself up or stayed stuck?
Where have you wanted to “go for it” but not taken action? When you went for it and failed, did you try, try again?
Crawling Into a Hole
Bruised egos and painful experiences sometimes make us want to just curl up into a fetal position because things that were supposed to work out did not. I’ve lived it. Thankfully, I eventually went for it again and came up with something that has given me the deepest, most rich life I could imagine.
People With Zero Vision
When I first told my industry and my friends about my plan, they told me all the reasons it was a bad idea. Had I listened, I would not have lived some of the most important lessons of my life, met some of the best people of my life, and developed technology that became a standard being used today.
I did not listen because I believed in my idea. And, though my business failed, I lost a lot of other people’s money (which I felt awful about), and ultimately I did not hit it big financially, decades later I have the satisfaction of knowing I was right, that my vision has come true with things like podcasting, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, Apple Music, and others. I’m not suggesting for a moment I invented those things, but I went to San Francisco to do similar things that no one had yet done.
I was not alone in this vision — others started about the same time, and while some of us did not succeed, others did. I met a young man at a party who had just started this thing called YouTube. Another had started Pandora. Another had started Napster, which revolutionized the world of music. I met dozens of others, including the two founders of a startup called PayPal. I even met two 19-year-old guys who had started a company called Google. They all had revolutionary ideas. They all went for it. Some succeeded, some became the most influential people in the world, while others failed. But everyone learned important lessons.
I was bitter for years, but I’m no longer bitter. Maybe I was just too early, maybe I did not work hard enough or fast enough, maybe nothing I could have done would have changed the outcome. And, in hindsight, I needed to learn some important lessons. Sometimes it’s necessary to get your teeth kicked in. There is no reason to be bitter when lessons are learned. It took me too long to realize that. And because I had failed, I stopped taking big risks and following up on other ideas. That was my biggest mistake.
When are you going to go for it? Live your dream? Follow your vision? Take a chance?
Failure is an important part of the process of going for it. The odds are stacked against you. Go for it anyway. Again and again.
Billionaire John Kluge once told me at lunch that he never made big money until after age 70. Most of his friends had retired to play golf. He kept trying. HIs best advice to me: “Keep pitching.” So if you’re thinking it’s too late, stop thinking that. And if you’re thinking you’re too young, stop thinking that.
There is no time clock. If you’re breathing and can communicate, no matter what age, if there is an unfulfilled dream, you need to go for it. No matter how impractical, no matter how impossible.
It’s better to try and fail than never to have tried at all. And your odds of success increase substantially when you try.
Go for it.
And now, the rest of the story…
The morning of the 9/11 tragedy, my pregnant wife and I sat watching in disbelief, knowing that I was supposed to be in that building that morning. Had I been there, I would have missed watching triplets be born, with 11 people in the OR assisting us. I would have missed so much.
This week Grace, Brady, and Berkeley turned 21. It’s been a tornado of activity, years of band practices and ball games and school meetings, and stress over tests, graduations, COVID, boyfriends and girlfriends, happy times and sad ones. Fears, bullying, tears, laughter, vacations, Christmases, and 21 birthday celebrations.
I was fired from my own company, and my last day of work was the day our first child came home from the hospital. That was God’s perfect timing. I was needed at home, and I’ve worked from home every day since then so I could be there.
I often get asked if they are the same, since they were born triplets. But they’ve revealed their own unique personalities and interests since the day they were born. The past 21 years have been the most special journey any man could ever hope for. I’ve seen more joy in my life than I ever expected, along with more pain than I ever expected. I consider myself deeply and richly blessed to have been here for this 21 years.
These Sunday Coffees were designed to be a diary of thoughts to share with my kids when they are old enough to appreciate it. I hope they someday find it. And my advice to them … go for it. Follow your dreams. Ignore roadblocks.
On another note…
When Laurie got pregnant, she could not stand the smell of paint in the back bedroom where I painted, so I took it outdoors. Had I never been in the Bay Area for that company, I would never have discovered plein air painting, which led me to publishing PleinAir Magazine, which led me to creating conferences, videos, retreats, and so much more for artists. One of those events, PleinAir Live, an online conference about landscape painting outdoors and indoors, is a result of those early days. I’m grateful I can live the dream of helping others discover how to live their dreams. I hope to see you there this coming March.
Never wonder what would have happened if you had taken a left turn instead of a right turn. You are where you are supposed to be, and there are lessons you are supposed to learn. Had I never gone for my dream, the dream I’m living today would never have happened.