The Birth of a Weekend Entrepreneur

(This is the first article of the “Weekend Entrepreneur” series that will chronicle my journey into Entrepreneurship. I will continue to write about my dreams, plans, musings, execution, success, failures and lessons learnt from time to time. If you find this interesting and would like to read other related articles, please check the “Weekend Entrepreneur” category in the left sidebar.)

I come from a typical “poor dad” background. Growing up, we could manage the basic necessities, but not too many luxuries. My parents are both relatively well educated, but not in a professional field. They taught us that if we excelled in our education and went for professional degrees, we would make a lot of money and be comfortable. And they were right, to a certain extent. Of the three children, one is a gynecologist and two of us are computer engineers. We do relatively well now. We all earn a fairly decent amount of money, (even though none of us really know how to preserve that money or really grow it). I think my parents were quite successful in doing what they thought was the best for us – now it is up to us go beyond and improve further.

Since I am in a mood for telling stories, let me go all the way back to my undergrad days when I first started living on my own. During those days, I really didn’t care much about money. I received a fixed check every month from my parents to fund my food, board and education. I also received a nominal scholarship that took care of part of my tuition. Most of my friends were from similar background as me and all of us had very limited financial resources. We managed to find frugal ways to have fun and the four years were a blast. Fortunately, none of us had credit cards, and so while we didn’t make/save any money, we didn’t get into too much trouble either (at least, not financially :) ).

I worked for a couple of years after that, but no sooner did I make any money, I spent it. The only good thing that came out of that job was that I met the better half. But since this story is about money, let me leave that out for now. During those years, I had very little savings, just enough to eventually buy the ticket to the US to pursue the Masters Degree.

During the first few years in the US, the better half and I didn’t have much of a perception of “financial responsibility”. It was our first experience with “credit” being so easily accessible. We spent way beyond out means and got into a lot of debt. This was in addition to the student loans we had taken to pay for school. When we completed MS, the better half decided to start working and I decided to continue with the Ph.D. It was just around then that the realization of being in debt hit us and we went all out to get it rid of it. (I have written more about it here and here).

At this point we were financially quite responsible. I let the better half worry about our finances and I reverted back to my undergrad-mode. All I cared for was to stay within my means and avoid debt. My whole paycheck was budgeted, so that after paying for my expenses in school, I would pay for a few of other bills for better half, so that he had a bit more leeway to build our nest-egg. I sometimes would squirrel away a little bit for a big purchase by skimping here and there, and when there was enough to make the purchase, I would blow it all off.

Once I started working though, I had a little more money than what is needed to just survive. I still let the better half take care of the nasty aspects of money (like taxes and insurance), and we do plan the big picture and long term goals together. But each of us micro-manages our own finances, and as long as we meet our commitments towards the long term goal, we don’t question what we do with our money in the short term. So, I started looking into options for my short-term savings. It was lucky that I had some time on my hands between my defense and starting work – otherwise, I might have just stuck the additional money in a high yield saving and forgotten all about it.

But like I said, I did have a month or so between my defense and starting work. Since I had just finished my defense my advisor did not ask me to do much work and so I was free to spend most of my time playing computer games or browsing. My first foray into the finance world was when I stumbled into the
Fatwallet Finance forum
. Man, that place is a veritable minefield of financial information. I owe a lot of what I have learnt to the folks out there. I couldn’t believe that I had spent years culling through the “hot deals” forum, but never once bothered to look into what the “finance” forum had to offer!

The next step was to devour the articles on, MSN Money, CNN Money and Unfortunately though, the articles there lack personal touch and are sometimes a little repetitive, so they couldn’t hold my interest for too long. I still keep going back to them for learning basics and for brushing up fundamentals, but overall they have moved a little bit lower on my list of cyber hang outs.

And then something beautiful happened. I stumbled into the personal finance blogosphere. It was mainly just through google searches. Most of the time though, when I landed on the PF blogs, I would spend hours looking through the archives and digging into personal lives of these bloggers. Around the same time a friend of mine in school pointed me to Steve Pavlina’s site as well. Among other things, Steve Pavlina talks a lot about passive income and entrepreneurship. And he has an infectious personality. I don’t relate to a lot of the other things he talks about (intention-manifestation? – gimme a break!), so I am not a very regular visitor. But when it comes to entrepreneurship, that guy knows how to get people all charged up and ready to get off their butt and do something.

Anyway, the personal finance blogosphere and Steve’s blog (and more recently, his forum) made me realize that I had some really skewed preconception about money and “entrepreneurship”. My dad had quit a steady paying job while he was young and had given it up to go into a business of his own. Due to some issues with his partner, the business folded taking down all the money he had, and then some. We were very young at that time, and did not understand why our house was being sold or why our parents fought so much. I don’t think my parents ever recovered from it. My father went from one business to another without seeing much success in any of them. My mother, who has a very enterprising strain in her, would start up different ventures to support the family income, but the pressure from the society was a bit much. (“Women from respectable families don’t go into business”). Anyway, all through our growing years, business and anything that did not involve a steady salary was a taboo. A job that pays a steady salary was the way to go. And our parents built a lot of hope around us and did a very good job of encouraging us to study and get a high-paying job with a steady salary.

As I browsed through the forums and blogs and became more financially aware, I realized while having a steady-paying job is great, it has some limitations

  1. You still work for someone else. That limits your freedom. If I have a brilliant flash of inspiration I could probably work on making my manager see the brilliance. But unless it is very well aligned with the company’s mission and direction in which the industry in general is headed, it is likely that my manager will be not able to do anything about it. And there dies another brilliant idea.

  2. Suppose one of my ideas do make it big. I will likely receive a rave review in my next performance management meeting and possibly see a raise. But the raise will be a percentage of my current pay – not a percentage of the money made because of implementing my idea. Oh, and if some other division in my company doesn’t do very well and overall the company does not post profits, I may not even receive a raise!

  3. The company I work for is big. Very big. It is very hard in such an environment to feel any sense of ownership. And until I started working for a big company, I did not realize how important that sense of ownership was to me! Heck, it is the biggest motivating factor for me. Unless I can relate to something I find it hard to apply myself totally to it. Also, in my company, the management intentionally tries to shield some of the details from the worker bees. And that makes it so much harder for me to jump out of the bed everyday and say “Yeay, another bright day. I can’t wait to get to work!”

  4. Finally, with a salaried job, there is a limit on how much your salary can grow to. It may be a large limit, but it is still a limit nevertheless. No matter how smart or brilliant I am, I cannot be a Chad Hurley or Steve Chen as long as I work for someone else.

So, what next? Throw away what I have worked for all my life? No chance! I really enjoy what I do. I work on the cutting (no, make that bleeding) edge of technology and its great to be in the know about what the world of networks and communications will look like 4 years down the line. And not to forget, it pays well. So, suck it in and accept the shortcomings listed above? Ahem, no. Not that either. So, there, yet another ”weekend entrepreneur” is born. On a weekday, like a million others in the work force, I will rise and shine, grab the mandatory cup of joe, and bustle through the traffic and head to work. But come weekend, I let the creative juices in me flow. Between socializing with friends and catching up on the chores that were put off during the week, I find the time to pore over information on entrepreneurship. I jog my brain for ideas. I plan the execution. I dream of success and glory.

So there, now you know how this particular weekend entrepreneur was born. Stay tuned as I discuss some of my early dreams and plans. I hope it will fuel your drive if you are a weekend entrepreneur as well. And if not, I hope it will motivate you to be one. And please feel free to share with me your stories. If you have blogged about it, please leave a link in the comment. If not, you are welcome to leave your story in the comment below or write a guest post on this blog.

(This is the first article of the “Weekend Entrepreneur” series that will chronicle my journey into Entrepreneurship. I will continue to write about my dreams, plans, musings, execution, success, failures and lessons learnt from time to time. If you find this interesting and would like to read other related articles, please check the “Weekend Entrepreneur” category in the left sidebar.)

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1 Comment:

Wealth Building Lessons said...

very well written post! There's a saying in Hindi, which roughly translated means 'whenever you wake up is morning'.

When that you're awake to finances, you can take good advantage of the info!