I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. It’s been a dream of mine to run my own business since I was a kid. I had it all planned out: I would build my business, make millions (if not billions) of dollars, and eventually retire young.
I believed so much that running my own business and making lots of money was the highest priority that I moved to Silicon Valley two and a half years ago to follow my dream of being a tech startup founder. My fiancé (now wife) and I left our friends and family behind and made the 2,000 mile move to Mountain View from Houston.
I networked like crazy upon arriving in the Valley and soon landed a gig at a cool startup. Over the next two and a half years I worked at that little company. I was the 8th employee there and we would eventually grow to 15 people during my tenure. I wrote about the move here.
Working at the startup was fun. I got to work alongside with some very cool people and learned a lot. I made some friends along the way and created lots of great memories. I also grew an incredible amount professionally, learning how to manage handling hundreds of emails and several thousand accounts all at once.
But I wont lie, a startup is incredibly stressful. Not every Silicon Valley startup is making money hand over fist. Quite a few are struggling to survive in spite of their funding, crippled by having expenditures much greater than revenue. It’s easy to read about ‘xyz hot startup’ getting the latest round of venture money and assume all is well. The truth is vc funding isn’t revenue and shouldn’t be taken as a true measure of a startup’s success. [Note: I make those statements not referring to the company I worked for, but about the Valley as a whole to give people outside of the Valley a bit of a reality check].
Did I make the wrong choice?
A few months after arriving in California, a personal family event brought me back to Houston for a few days. My brief trip back in Houston coincided with Fourth of July weekend. We celebrated with my wife’s family and relatives BBQ’ing in their backyard and enjoying some beers. Everyone was having a great time and I remember wondering what was so wrong with living a simple life with friends and family nearby? Had I made the wrong decision? Perhaps making lots of money and running a business doesn’t really matter on the long run. Perhaps what’s really important is the time we spend with the people we care about and the memories with them. I started to re-think my decision to leave all of this behind in the pursuit of making money.
The Pull Towards Home
A year and a half of working at the startup I was let go. Business strategies change fast in that type of environment and my position was no longer needed. I spent three months unsuccessfully looking for work in SF before my wife and I eventually decided to move back home.
Our apartment lease in Mountain View was nearing renewal and for the second straight year our rents were going up. We decided as we got near the end of our lease that being broke in Mountain View was fun for a bit while we were newlyweds, but now it was time to live cheaply again. We had left Houston on good terms and always told ourselves that we’d be more than fine eventually returning home.
Once we got settled back home, I felt a lot more relaxed. Even though we were initially getting by thanks to some help from the State of California, my stress levels were gone and mentally I was in a much better place. I did my own startup with my buddy Rex, a former co-worker, for a few months. We made some good progress but I decided to get a full-time job because we we’re making enough money.
I finally feel a lot more relaxed and am doing more to enjoy every single day and spend more time with friends and family. I eventually got a good job and am happy to spend no more than forty hours per week thinking about work. The rest of the time I can focus on whatever I like.
We love Houston and are more than happy to be back home. Our rent is 1/4 of what we would’ve been paying had we stayed in Mountain View and we’re living in the heart of Houston’s East End.
Just because I’ve taken a break from Silicon Valley and also from trying to do my own startup doesn’t mean I’ve gotten lazy and stopped having the drive to improve myself. I’ve simply changed my philosophy and goals: I’m now spending my free time learning a foreign language, reading lots of books, learning to cook new meals, and improving myself through rigorous exercise… not to mention I now have quality time with friends and family.
I still may end up back in Silicon Valley someplace new like New York or Austin and I still love startups, but sometimes it’s good to get away from the bubble for awhile. I’ve also realized that one doesn’t need to be being rich and retired by thirty; just working and enjoying every day is very satisfying and I don’t need to be wealthy to enjoy the little things.