Life v2.0

November 6th, 2013 Comments Off

My Story

When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say a firefighter, and later, I’d say an accountant. It turns out I’m not very good with a firehose or with numbers, and so by the time I was in college I changed my mind and decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own company.

Given that, I was very excited when, In my junior year of college, I was invited to visit a local start up (little did I know ‘stop by for a visit’ means ‘come do some interviews’). I arrived and was shown into a small room with a table and a few chairs. As I was sitting there alone, awkwardly twiddling my thumbs wondering what I’d gotten myself into, in walked this tall, somewhat pale guy whose face I recognized but couldn’t quite figure out why. Halfway through the interview I realized it was a student in one of the classes I was teaching. After the interview he asked if I wouldn’t mind grading the latest homework assignment so he didn’t have to walk to campus to turn it in!

And so began my internship and eventually full time work with Invite Media while also in school. I’d schedule my classes to have Fridays off, so I’d spend evenings M-Th at work (5-11 or so) and all day Friday in the office. I remember Tuesday and Thursdays I would have a class that ended at 1PM, but I would run out at 12:59PM because there was a 1:02PM bus to the office that I could just make if I ran.

Somehow though, this never felt exhausting. I loved all of it. I never complained about working too much, or being tired, or hating my job or my boss, or that the work was too hard (and it was hard). It was an unforgettable and highly educational experience. Invite was acquired in May 2010 by Google where I stayed, first as a tech lead at Google/Invite and later as an APM in ads/cloud before finally jumping ship to start a new company, WiFast, in late 2011.

It had not taken all that long, but I was living my dream. Over the next 18 months we raised money from a group of incredible investors, hired 15 of the smartest people ever known from all over the USA and built technology that still makes my head spin. I had an amazing time working with incredible people and loved every minute of it.

And so we come to now. I left WiFast this summer and have had a lot of time to reflect upon having had my ‘dream jobs’. I’d worked for somebody else’s startup, a hugely successful and large tech company, and finally run my own start-up. I didn’t know what to do next, so instead I have basically lived the life of a retired 25 year old gear-head for a few months. I built a new engine from scratch for my 1985 sports car, helped some friends strip down and build a racing 1978 Volkswagen rabbit, raced outdoor go-karts, indoor go-karts, conquered every windy mountain road within 100 miles and spent countless hours just shooting the breeze with professional race car drivers and mechanics. All the while I’d been looking for what I wanted to do next with my life.


Purpose built VW Rabbit Race Car (left).
Me building a new engine for a 1985 Porsche 944 (right)

The future

And so now it comes time to explain why I’m not starting a company in 2014. Even though I had a blast all along the way in my career so far, there is still something missing. The following anecdote may help explain things:

In college I was privileged to be lectured to by Tom Cassel; he told a story that I will always remember of a company he ran and sold. He describes the feeling in the office the day after the sale was completed.

After years and years of dedication, of nearly going bankrupt, of having to sell everything and start over, to the highs of owning multiple properties and employing hundreds if not thousands of people, of having a change in regulations turn their business upside down overnight, he walked into the office and looked at the faces of all of the people that worked there. There were no balloons, no streamers, no loud music, barely any smiles. In fact, the office was quieter, almost to the point of somber.

What he realized is that it wasn’t the dream of selling the company that kept people going. It was enjoying the journey along the way.

“The journey is the reward.” — Tom Cassel

I feel as if starting another company now, after having just been with three american tech companies in various forms would simply be continuing an unconsciously guided journey; simply doing what feels natural. I want to be in control of my journey and spend what time I have enjoying and doing things in a deliberate way.

I have decided to accept an offer to work in China. The job is pretty cool, I’ll be an Entrepreneur in Residence at Tencent, one of China’s largest tech companies. Let’s be clear here though, Tencent is awesome, but the chance to live in China, literally the opposite side of the world from where I grew up both geographically and culturally, and to spend time exploring southeast Asia is REALLY awesome. I do not know exactly how long I’ll be there, but I do know my goal is to have different kinds of goals. To spend time exploring myself, exploring a new world around me, exploring how different cultures work and enjoying every moment of every day.

From Aerosmith’s “Amazing”:

Life’s a journey, not a destination
And I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings

Epilogue

Since this is kind of my farewell-and-thanks-for-all-the-fish-USA letter for a while, I might as well take this time to thank some of the folks who have really made the difference in the past few years. My co-founders at WiFast: Alexey Komissarouk and Scott Kyle, as well as advisers, friends and family: Jack Abraham, Dr. Jonathan Rosenfeld, Omar Koukaz, Jessica (Jecca) Conard and Bruce Goldberg, and my immediate family, the Goldberg’s and Greenbergs.

Cheers,
-Zach