People have asked me why I left a fairly long, lucrative career at Microsoft to pursue a “risky” endeavor of launching DashBrew and KegMetrics. I will try to explain it best I can but honestly if you don’t have a desire to do something similar you may not fully understand.
It all started with the start of my career in video games. In early 1996 I started looking for Sound Design salaried positions in the video game industry. I had just graduated with a BS in Music Engineering technology concentrating in Software Development. I’ve always been drawn to small companies as a great way to build many different skills rapidly. So that’s what I did. I managed to find a job at an independent small video game developer in Los Angeles. I was living in Cupertino at the time so I had to pack up and move in a weekends notice.
The developer employed about 30 people and I learned a ton, but as it goes with small developers I found myself in an unstable company and I wanted a little more security (plus Los Angeles wasn’t really working for me personally). So I looked around for a similar position. I didn’t have a lot of money but I was willing to move anywhere. I really wanted to test moving overseas but that opportunity didn’t work out I did find found a great position as a Sound Designer and Video Editor at a well-respected video game developer in the bay area. I moved back to my old stomping ground!
This new developer was a bit larger and employed around 150 people. It had multiple offices in the bay area (including San Francisco) and in London (overseas). This developer didn’t put forth a ton of budgets for projects but they treated their employees really well and during the downturn of the dot com crash in early 2000’s they held up well.
At this developer I learned a little about my career path. I saw differences in the super small developer and the mid-tier developer. I was also exposed to extremely large companies (like Microsoft), and I saw what happened with “fast and loose” companies (even those with VC or Angel money). I learned then and there that I needed to gain experience at each “tier” of company size. From there I could make an educated decision about which type of company made me happy.
I left that company after several years to go work for one of the greats (Microsoft) in the fall of 2002. My friends in the bay area had said I was crazy and had a lot of courage. At the time Microsoft had the market share of OS and software installed on desktop and laptop computers. However, they were struggling with the first Xbox. They were having trouble getting customers, in fact rumors were suggesting that they wouldn’t stay in the video business for long. They did have success with Halo (launched 11/15/2001) but many wondered if that was enough.
The truth is I left my stable position in the bay area for a “riskier” position (which it wasn’t, my friends just didn’t have the right perspective) because every once and a while we have to take a risk. A calculated risk. If you stay safe your entire life you aren’t living and enjoying the “full spectrum”. I left my role in the bay area company because I believed Microsoft would NOT fail with the Xbox. They had proven over time they had tenacity and once they got into something they usually succeeded after the third iteration. I also believed if they did succeed I would be in the early group of employees who would get to enjoy that victory. Believe it or not I was rooting for the underdog. Microsoft was the underdog.
Then there was also the fact that Microsoft was a very large corporation and I knew I wanted 3-5 years of big corporation experience. I wanted the full spectrum of employer size on my resume. So I packed up my things and moved yet again to Redmond, WA.
Turns out those 3-4 years ended up being more like 13 years and we did succeed at crafting an awesome customer experience with the original Xbox the Xbox 360 and yes now the Xbox One. I believe in the vision Microsoft has going forward and in full disclosure I still have a substantial amount of MSFT stock. (Sorry if you thought this was going to be a hater write up).
Microsoft was great to work for. I learned more than I could have imagined. I learned about managing projects with massive budges as well as how to constrain project costs for skunk works projects. I learned how to present to the management as well as to the public. I learned how to sell ideas and the value of networking. I was lucky enough to start a franchise with some of the most talented people in the gaming industry. I learned about leadership, starting from nothing, taking risks and so much more perhaps more write ups are in order.
Now when you work at Microsoft you are busy. You are constantly moving from one challenge to another while also trying to plan and just get your work done. If you craved being the best, this environment was designed to always keep you going and challenged. There was no lack of work. I mean this in a good way. However, as an employee you would be so busy that you could become isolated in the world of Microsoft. If this happened, you may not see the outside world evolving.
We called this the Microsoft Bubble and while it doesn’t happen to everyone, it happened to me. I was able to realize this when I went back to school to get my MBA. Microsoft had a great program to help me do this and my management at the time was critical in this being a success. My wife was really what made it possible but I’ll save that write up for another day. The MBA program at Babson College allowed me to build up my skills (among all the other skills an MBA program teaches you) to the point where after I had graduated I knew it was time for me to get to the other side of the bubble.
I discovered in my school that I could lead others in a common vision, and that I didn’t always need approval from management to execute on my vision. I learned new ways to collaborate with others. I got used to using new tools. I got used to learning to solve my own problems. I got used to bootstraping projects first and then testing ideas with consumers. I learned a lot through the Babson MBA program.
It turns out though that I had become addicted to the comfortable lifestyle Microsoft had allowed for me (great pay), and having two young boys didn’t make it easy. So I looked for positions within the organization that I could transition to and apply my new found business skills.
Finding a new position that interested me and was a good fit was not easy. I had a few opportunities, but then it looked like I would just be in the bubble still. I also knew I wanted to start my own business so I tried to find an “intrapreneur” role within Microsoft. That did not surface at all for me.
I knew it was time to leave and start my own company. I didn’t know what business or how to make the transition though. I also knew that my ability to start my own business was eroding because as my boys grew older the challenge to live a low cost life and build a business that helps others and brings value to an industry would only get harder. I had wrapped up the projects I mentally was committed to and I felt a burning desire to take action. The projects I worked on at Microsoft usually took 2 years to work on so being at a point where my commitments were light was an amazing miracle by itself.
At that point my wife and I decided to move to Nicaragua for a summer. We actually were testing out living there for longer. We had wanted to provide the opportunity for our kids to experience different cultures as we firmly believe the world is getting smaller and multi-cultural experience is critical to their success in life. So we packed up and spent a great deal of time down there. We enjoyed it and I was impressed by the community. They are the nicest people I have ever met. They welcomed us into their community and we made great friends. The people of Nicaragua and especially the expat community down there has an amazing entrepreneurial spirit. The whole country is about you making it work for you. If there’s a problem, then solve it. If your power goes out get a generator. If you can’t speak Spanish, then learn it. If you need money, then open a business. I love that spirit!!
We ended up choosing to not move to Nicaragua longer term right now because we discovered that the move costs would have been more than we originally expected and that would shorten our time down there before needing to move back to work. Instead we came back closer as a family and decided to stay in the Bellevue area. I was inspired enough to join the online community “The Foundation” which is a group of 1200+ global entrepreneurs. They run a program on building and running your business. This kept me challenged in a way I was not getting elsewhere. Going through the course I learned I was doing a few things wrong and I needed to let go of what I wanted and investigate what problems needed to be solved. So this is what I did.
I began to network with breweries (being a home brewer I was interested in that community) in my free time and discuss with them what problems they were experiencing. I began to see patterns, learn of companies that support the brewing industry and eventually create solutions to those problems. I delivered solutions and advice for free because adding value is something that is critical in any industry. After several months and identifying a specific problem I felt I could solve on an industry level I began to see I was on a collision course with my time and my current position within Microsoft.
I was working 18 hour days but splitting my time across two main functions and I hadn’t even built anything yet. I wasn’t getting ahead in either of them. I also had little time left over for my family. Late one night after running the numbers from savings and talking with my wife I knew I could not go on that way any longer. Something had to give. I either needed to wait another year and ship the product I was working on at MSFT (and not work on my business) or leave Microsoft and jump into the world of entrepreneurship with both feet. The problem was I began to fall in love with the current project I was working on. I had to choose.
I chose to leave Microsoft and start what is now known as DashBrew. Then I began working to develop KegMetrics. I made this choice because I believe I could make a real difference to the industry. I saw massive amounts of waste in the brewing industry and many opportunities to alleviate pain and add value. It doesn’t hurt either that I currently learn more each and every day than I ever did in each week at Microsoft (and I learned a ton at Microsoft). Reducing costs to breweries while becoming self-sufficient in my employment is my “why”. This is ultimately why I left my job.
I now enjoy the strains of running my own business. It’s not painful and yet it is a challenge. This challenge is beautiful though. It is the full-spectrum type of living I mentioned previously. If you’d like to support DashBrew please feel free to subscribe to our list or purchase one of products, or even just reach out with an email.
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