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How I Started My First Company with No Money (Part One)

by in Entrepreneurship
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Everytime I hear about a friend or business colleaque tell me they are going out on their own, I raise a toast. There is nothing better than being your own boss, setting your own hours, and living (or dying) based on your abilities and wits. 

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen people make is this notion that you need to immediately go out and raise money in order to launch a business. Once you take money, you are right back where you started: working for someone else. 

Of the 5 companies I've started, all of them were started on no money and for only one ( did I make the decision to raise capital in order to grow. So, how do you start a business with no money? 

Here is how: 

Getting started begins with the following two steps: 

  • Build Your Personal Brand
  • Raise your Hand

Building Your Personal Brand

Nothing opens doors faster than building your personal brand. In my case, I built my personal brand by becoming a writer. In the early 90's I was involved in 3D Animation. I was a mere demo jock at the time, showing off the complicated 3D animation software to potential clients. One day I received a notice in the mail asking if I was interested in subscribing to a new magazine called 3D Design Magazine. I called up the editor and said I wasn't interested in subscribing but how about if I wrote for you? The next day they contacted me and told me their technical editor had quit and did I want the job. It was freelance and didn't pay much, but it allowed me to write a weekly column and get my name on the masthead. 

It was about this time that a new 3D technology was being introduced for the Web: VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language). I immediately saw the potential in the new technology and pitched my editor on a new feature: The Genesis Project. I would create an online game using Java and VRML, learning as I go and creating an ongoing tutorial on how to use these new technologies. Miller Freeman, the publisher, sold the idea to some sponsors and we were on our way. 

A few months later I was interviewing Silicon Graphics (SGI), a company that specialized in computers that were used in high end 3D Graphics, and listening to them pitch me on their commitment to VRML. They were opening a new divsion (Cosmo Software) and were hiring a VRML Evangelist. I told them: "I am your evangelist." They agreed and the next thing I knew I was moving my family to Silicon Valley to start my new career as the leading marketing proponent of this new 3D Markup Language. 

While there, I came up with the idea of using this technology for advertising. I pitched AOL on incorporating VRML into their service. I created some of the very first Rich Media banner ads. I toured the country with some other like minded companies such as Intel, Macromedia, and Unicast and promoted a new concept to advertising agencies: Rich Media Advertising. 

Cosmo Software fell on hard times, but it established me as the leading proponent of this new advertising technology. I began writing about Rich Media for publications such as ClickZ. For a while there, I was the only person talking about Rich Media and for any company that wanted to promote a Rich Media advertising technology, I was the guy they wanted to talk to. 

All that remained was for me to "Raise My Hand" in order to launch my second business: The Rich Media Sig. 

In Part 2, I'll tell you exactly what I did that let me quit my job for good and never work for anyone else ever again. 

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Guest Friday, 18 April 2014