Archive for October, 2002

Get Rich Slow

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2002 Michael Barr

By a show of hands, how many of you jumped ship from a stable engineering company to a startup in the late 1990s? I bet if you didn’t, you at least thought about it or had a few offers. I never jumped ship myself, but was straddling two boats at once trying to make a quick extra million on a tight budget of night and weekend hours.

I guess I always knew the air would come out of the bubble at some point. And I sure as heck knew it wouldn’t be good to be on top if that happened. So my partners and I kept our day jobs and focused on long term issues in our business planning. How would we profit from our ideas, in ways other than a quick sale of the company or an IPO? We figured we’d identified a product and a market for it, so needed only develop the code and keep expenses lower than revenues while we tried to increase sales.

Still, though, we crossed our fingers and hoped as much as the next guy that we would time our business just right and make a bundle somehow. We certainly weren’t going to turn down a multi-million dollar purchase offer—and even felt confident enough it was worth that to turn down a bona fide small private funding source and free help from an experienced CEO that would’ve valued the company far less initially.

In the end, unfortunately, the bursting of the dot com bubble took not only the really bad ideas but also many good ones (including ours?) down with it. By the time we had filed our patent application, developed our prototype, and written our business plan, all of the funding sources for search engine enhancements had dried up. I suspect several of the venture capital firms and search engine companies we talked to would’ve jumped at the chance to be involved with our idea just a few months earlier. But the game was up. And two years later—long after we wrote off our personal investments in the company—the venture capital we needed to quit our jobs and work toward profitability still isn’t available. So I have a new plan.

My new plan is to get rich slow. To play the part of the tortoise rather than the hare. Engineering is a good stable profession, and one that generally pays well—especially if you have a specialty as in demand as real-time embedded systems design. It’s really not a bad life, if you can get it.

So rather than try to outwit or outplay, I’ll just try to outlast—and I’ll save every penny I can along the way. Besides, it’s quite a lot easier to stick to your core values and make the world a better place little by little when you’re not busy making an end run. To see how extremely disjoint the two paths can become, witness any of the recent corporate scandals.

Honesty, integrity, and responsibility should be the core values of all practicing engineers. And we should practice them outside of work as well. As fun as both are, there’s more to life than engineering and money. So I’m stopping to smell the roses now more too. It sure is nice to have my nights and weekends back! And that’s worth a lot more than a million dollars to me!