In part one of My Entrepreneurial Adventures, I reflected on jobs that I held growing up. Some were entrepreneurial, others weren't. The main lesson was that my interest and experience with entrepreneurial adventures was a result of opportunities that my parents sought out for me. In this column I will continue where I left off - college.
After high school I packed up and moved to Ames to study engineering at Iowa State University. In my first semester I enrolled in a required English class. About a week into the English class I realized that somehow I signed up for an Honors poetry class. It was an accident, and it was too late to switch, but it was not a mistake. For starters, the professor reminded me of Robin Williams. We even watched Dead Poets Society in class (featuring Robin Williams...I'm not making this up). But the best thing about this fall of 2005 class was that Mr. Nearly Robin Williams required our class to learn how to make a website (for posting our homework solutions). I read some online tutorials and managed to build an ugly website, and from then on I was hooked on web development.
During the next year I played around more with building websites. I made a replica of the Iowa State University homepage, but I swapped the stories and photos from the real website with funny stories and photos of my friends. When my friends weren't looking, I redirected the home page of their browser to my fake website and then watched as they took the bait. For around 10 seconds my friends believed that they made the front page of the university website. It was awesome. Building websites was fun.
During my sophomore year I discovered that building websites could be fun AND profitable. I was fortuitously paired with a Physics lab partner who was much smarter than I. He was also interested in web development, and he taught me a bunch of his cool programming tricks. Around that time a businessman that I knew wanted to create a social website where people who shared a common niche interest could connect with each other. I told him that my friend and I had the skills to build what he wanted and we could do it in return for cash. He agreed, and my friend and I started spending our nights and weekends building this website. We made a nice basic site, but the project eventually lost steam as the businessman wanted to add more and more features but didn't want to keep paying us. That was OK - we learned a lot about building and selling a website, as well as how to program on a team. All in all it was a great experience.
Over the next couple of years I worked more traditional jobs - as a web developer in Ames, a programmer at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, and a research assistant in the ISU Physics Department. I will tell you more about this research job sometime - we built a system that would levitate small metal spheres, and then we used lasers to melt the spheres AS THEY CONTINUED TO FLOAT. It was crazy science, and we had a lot of fun.
Fast forwarding a bit, I eventually got married (May 2009) and graduated from Iowa State (December 2009). My wife was my sugar mama for those seven wonderful months (i.e. she had a full time job while I was still a student). We lived in magical Story City, IA where rent was cheap and everyone was Norwegian. I will write more on this period of my life another time - I have such fond memories. After I graduated we moved to Champaign, Illinois where Emily worked for the University and I pursued a graduate engineering degree.
During graduate school I worked as a research assistant (more crazy science to discuss sometime). In addition, my wife and I needed to scratch our entrepreneurial itch, so we co-founded a company that offered web development and branding services for small businesses and non-profit organizations. Through this business we occasionally took on small projects to supplement our income. It was another great experience and gave me the chance to learn even more about business, entrepreneurship, and web development. After a year, this side business was put on the back-burner as a very interesting opportunity came along.
Check back next time for the final (and most interesting) part three of My Entrepreneurial Adventures.