If I Had To Do It All Over Again

In every one of our interviews I asked the other person, “If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?”  It was interesting to see the responses from people and for the most part they said they’d do it all over the same exact way.  But if I look back on my past and if I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would not have done it the same way.  In fact I know had I done it differently I’d be in a much better position years ago than I even am now.  Even though maybe they said I’d do it the same all over again because their lifestyle is good now, I still find it hard to believe that if they know what they know now, they’d repeat and do the same things over again.  Here’s what I’d do differently and this little bit of wisdom could easily shave off around 4 years of your learning curve, especially if your planning on trying to build a company and create your own product.

If I had to do it all over again I would not have wasted my time trying to build out several different unscalable businesses that would never get to be big over the course of 4 years.  Four years…. I wasted alot of time, had I only known.  

I was watching a presentation from Gurbaksh Chahal [vid1, vid2, vid3], and what really struck me is how he built a company from the age of 16, and sold it in a few years for 40 million.  He’d sign a non-compete agreement for about 3 years, after it finished he’d then do it again and later sell Blue Lithium which was sold for over $300 million.  What was most interesting to me about the whole story was not about his humble beginnings of having nothing and then becoming a successful serial entrepreneur who now in his later twenties is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars, instead what was interesting to me, is “How He Did It,” but even more than that, it was most interested that “How he got the idea to begin with.”  And HOW he got the idea the way he did, resulted in him being positioned in a marketplace with a product that had an exit that could be capitalized with a high probability if then just executed. 

Gurbaksh was 16 and he was trying to make some extra money, he actually applied to work at McDonalds and got denied.  From there he just decided he could make money on his own.  He began researching how to make money and he found a company called DoubleClick.  He thought to himself, “DoubleClick seems to be doing good, maybe I can just do what they do”.  And what a good idea, and a great place to start.  Right there at that momment he was about to build something, that if he excuted would be worth something, right there he positioned himself in a marketplace that had alot more potential.    And he saw that DoubleClick had an ad-serving technology that was performing well and G, which is Gurbaksh’s nickname, decided to make a DoubleClick Ad-Serving Compeitior.  Which he did.  And then he begun programming the thing at the age of 16 and then later sold the thing in several years for over $40 million dollars. That company was ClickAgents.

Now heres the lesson to learn, and learn it well because this can really help you if you plan on building a product and re-selling it.  What G did, and why it became a quicker success is simply because he took an existing model that was already working well and copied it.  His business plan was simple, make an ad-serving technology like DoubleClick, do some things differently or whatever, and build out a technology that “already has a demand for it”  Build a product that already has a market and a high chance of making money if he could just execute.”   And just by having the right idea, and jumping into an already active and lucrative market he was able to position himself to make alot of money if he could execute properly, which he did, $40 million dollars worth of execution before he was even 20……

And then look at me.  I was building an eBay business in high-school re-selling peoples stuff, I started a car audio and installation business during that time, and then trying to build small websites at the time.  Only if I had chosen something a little more scalable like G did when I first got started…  I spent about 2 years doing that, and working a job. Which was great, but it would have been better if I started doing a doubleclick when I was a kid, instead of working a job and trying this ebay thing.

Then leaving high school I thought it would be great to build a craigslist for colleges.  I spent 9 months on that, which we built well, we built culture just like we do with meetup202 now, but later that’d fail.  Why was I wasting time trying to build a craigslist for colleges, to sell textbooks?  

Then I got in to multi-level marketing which honestly was great because I learned so many personal development skills, sales, presentation skills and communication skills, but I spent 6 months on it and that diddn’t materalize.  After the college sites and MLM I now offically spent a year on two businesses that weren’t really scallable. I diddn’t know what I was doing.

I would later quit that try to do real-estate for 3-6 months, then go back to school where I’d then spend 9 months building a local rental site for college campuses.  Then finally my friend introduced me to affiliate marketing, which was a quick way to produce income for myself, and my friends Sean and Noah over at GetClicky created an analytics company GetClicky that was doing well.  I then decided we could do some type of search analytics for affiliate marketers and Tracking202 began.  I only wish I would have jumped into Tracking202, or even just a more scalable sector more early on.

I mean lets compare, here I’am for 4 years trying to develop some cool website and try to develop my own business model around it, and at age 16 G copies DoubleClick, an already succesful enterprise company and jumps into a competitve market, executes then a makes a fortune.  

Do you see the difference?  It’s so simple.  Because he started with a better idea mocking off an existing idea he instantly put himself in a better position for growth.  While here I’m figuring it out, I would have been so much better had I even just picked a product and competed with the other companies in the space.  

Know that competitors in the space qualifies the market because something is there.  And it sometimes sucks being the first in the marketplace with a new product, it is extremely difficult.  You have to pioneer the business model and make everything work. And if you do succeed and finally make it work, you’ve qualified the market and now competitors will jump in.  If you just take an existing product that is already doing well and already sells tons of items, but you can simply do it better you’ve already put yourself ahead of the game than some silly web 2.0 internet entrepreneurs trying to make some crazy widget that has no model or no business model.  

Listen, I wasted so much time, I hope you can find some value off of this.  If I had to do it all over again I would have chosen a product that already had an existing market, I would not be trying to develop some new web 2.0 product that has no real business model or something that I’m trying to invent.   Luckily now we have finally found a product with a real business model, there is plenty of competitors in the space, most of our competitors are VC’d backed and there is a market here.  And we have many different business models we can spin off of Tracking202 and its all now because we are entering a market that other people are already in and we are going to try to do it better than what everyone else is doing.  I still have friends making silly websites that will never become anything.  

Just Keep It Simple:

  • Wes, age of 16, tries ebay, working job, local craigslist, mlm, real-estate, local rental sites, and then finally finds PPC Analytics a finally scalable product and begins. compared to.
  • G, age of 16, said “Ah DoubleClick looks like a good business to get into, bam— does it and sells outs for $40 million”
  • — G would later do it again selling Blue Lithium for $300 million, by again, making an ad-serving technology.

I hope you get the picture. 

Learn from my mistakes, this is one of the things I would do differently had I do it all over again. I wish I woulda have saw a better model to start with and copy, I wasted 4 years of my time experimenting and only now coming to understand the importance of it.  And the funniest thing is I don’t even think G recognized that idea when he got started.  He just saw that seems like a good idea, I thought ebay was a good idea.  I should have programmed an ad serving technology 6 YEARS AGO, but I didn’t know.  

This is just one of the things I would have done if I had to do it all over again. Another short thing to tack on to this, I should have moved to Silicon Valley 4 years ago and dropped out of college or even high-school honestly.  G grew up in the silicon valley when his parents moved as well, so that also helped him.  Your location does affect your startup.  If you don’t agree with me, try moving to alaska and doing a web 2.0 startup.. Location does matter, its about being in the best spot you can be to build your business. For us that is here, and its one of the best business moves we’ve ever made. If your serious about web development, you should really be here.

If you found this interesting, please comment and let me know what you think. -wes

  • So true, I wish I had done so many things different. I’m going to hit 30 this year and it’s dawning on me that I could have basically made enough to live comfortably by now if I had just put all my effort into ONE major channel {of expertise} than various others.

  • Good points, BUT, sometimes you need to have made mistakes, failed, and got back up to try it again, to ever make it to the point of success.

  • This was an inspiring read, but I do have to agree with Ad Hustler. We learn best from our past history and experiences, at least I do anyways.

  • I hope you’re fully aware that I am going to copy your model for Tracking202 now. 😉

  • Great post. I don’t think you should beat yourself up over making mistakes though. They are all part of the learning process. We can’t all be 16 again.
    While I think Gerbaksh Chahal is rich and successful, his wealth doesn’t impress me. After he sold BL to Yahoo, there was no effort made to keep the Toronto office, and a few of my friends/account managers lost their jobs because of it. They also weren’t included in the $300mm payout.
    Ask yourself this: when you become that successful, will you forget everyone who helped you get there? Or will you take the money and run?

  • I love posts like this. Reminds me of all the ideas that I ran with until I stumbled upon Internet Marketing. I got into MLM, IT consulting, eBay/Craigslist, Programming a Poker Bot, now Internet Marketing.

    Anyway, great post Wes.

  • Fail and fail fast right? That’s how we get to be successful. I remember when you showed me your corvallis site and it might have even been after you had moved onto something else, but I was doing something very similar with walamu.com. I think a lot of times it’s our creative side that makes us want to start something new as opposed to go with a proven business model. I can definitely recount the number of unscalable projects I wasted time on as well, but you learn. Anyway, great post Wes, this one def struck a chord with me.

  • DK

    Hindsight is 20/20. Scaling is usually harder than it seems. Timing is everything.

  • Yan

    Great post Wes. Like many others have said we learn from our mistakes. We can’t look back and regret but what we can do is look forward and move on. I’ve made many mistakes and if I can go back in time I’d probably do it differently but the problem is i cant go back in time, LOL. 202 inspires me in many ways and keep up the good work i have faith in you Wes.

  • Dude, you just opened my eyes. Thank you so much, amazing post.

  • Ben

    True and not true. You seem to focus purely on the idea. The idea of serving ad was good, but how many dudes started a company trying to do that? Many. G did not just have the idea and BAM! he was a millionaire. He had to work his ass off for years, hire hundreds of people and manage them well, brainstorm a strategy, execute it well & outsmart everyone else.

  • Thanks for the comments guys:

    @Mike – I don’t believe we’d forget anyone, but more so focusing on the idea of choosing more scalable models to begin with. But that is unfortunate for those who did lose their jobs.

    @Sedrick – Awesome, hope it helps.

    @Ben – I agree with you that the execution was important, that is isn’t just the idea that is important. But having a good idea, and executing. We had, I believe good enough skill set before to do some great things, we just started off with the wrong ideas and could have shortened our learning curve by studying other succesful businesses more than I did.

  • Bob

    When fish men return and throw out the wrong catch, these dead fish look like a waste. But they are not, seagulls enjoyed the meal.

    Nothing is wasted in life. As in everybody’s personal experience.

    If you haven’t had the bad experience, you wouldn’t get wiser.

    Some people were luckier with opportunities and mentors. I guess that’s the case for G.

  • Wonderful post Wes! It always amazes me sometimes that this type of wisdom about business is coming from a really young guy like you. Similar to you, I did a lot in my day that either fell through or lost the passion for. Im going to follow your suggestions in just keeping it simple and at the same time follow a business model that already works. Right now I’m focusing solely on affiliate marketing, because it has worked for many people and I tend to be one of the successful ones too. So thanks Wes for the great post and I look forward to more of your great wisdom.

  • Anonymous

    Wes,

    You’re a very young guy and sometimes I think you’re missing the bigger picture here. Instead of comparing yourself to young millionaires and other successful start ups start focusing more on the product. If you are truly passionate and creative. This doesn’t means just copying what’s already out there…be innovative not a follower!! it’s only a matter of time before you find true success in this competitive market.

    Put the journey before the (getting rich) destination and I bet you’ll have a less frustrating experience.

  • Roland

    Better to realize it now than later. Being at the right place right time right environment man. We really have to maximize each opportunity we have with the demographical and socio-economic cards we have been dealt with. It’s kind of downright impossible for you to start an adserving company in high school when you were in Portland.

    Like in Outliers, did you really have access to things that Bill Joy or Bill Gates had, or even G in this matter to build out a exponentially scalable internet/software company in Portland?

    I think what is truly inspiring and exciting about NOW. is the opportunity to build a successful legitimate multi-million dollar business in the face of the worst financial crisis of a generation.

    what a great story to share for a world desperately in need of them! 🙂

  • Rachelle

    Inspiring post, Wes. You are in the process of creating an amazing and successful business and just think of the lives of the millions of people that will be touched by 202’s story. I don’t see those 4 years as a waste of time. I see it as a four year investment of knowledge and experience that taught you a valuable lesson. And, as a result, your sharing that valuable lesson is a gift to help and inspire others. Priceless.

  • G

    The first will be last and the last will be first.

    I know of millionaires that committed suicide because wealth is hollow and lonely.

    Look on the bright side, the experiences you have gained you can now share for others to learn from! Wes’ experience can be an open source technology! Okay, maybe that’s pretty much impossible to obtain. Either way, I agree with what “Anonymous” said and I believe your success has only just begun.

    To success!

  • G

    Also, don’t regret what you’ve done. If you really did have to do it all over again and make the same decisions again, what would you obtain by changing what you did? You’ve done the right thing, because you made the judgement call to do what you did.

    Besides, would you give up the relationships and experiences you DID have?

    You can’t change it, only learn from it and change the future. Honestly.