I generally say I come from a disadvantaged background. To truly share this story, it seems necessary to reveal more about the actual distance I’ve travelled.
At birth, my parents were still in high school. I lived in a trailer in a town with a current per capita income of $18,112, 6.8% of families living below the poverty line, and a crime rate 23% higher than the rest of the state. At my high school, 77% of the student body is economically disadvantaged and 81% minorities, with a graduation rate of only 55%.
Understanding my “support” system, you can imagine the relentless determination, drive and sacrifice it took to earn my bachelor's degree—two, in fact.
After college, I knew two things: I didn't want to go to law school and I wanted to move to San Francisco. I'd done everything I was ever told to become a success, but without law school, I was exactly who I’d sacrificed my entire adolescence not to be—an overly-educated cocktail waitress.
I arrived in SF disenchanted, leaned back for the first time in my life and wandered.
In 1998 I arrived at a “dotcom”: a three bedroom flat stuffed with 14 people. I was anything but impressed, but it became one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. In the early days, it was a fast, meteoric rise. I was given opportunities it would have taken years to earn in a different economic climate. A CEO I worked with was fond of telling me, "I give you something you say you don't know how to do. Two days later you know more about it than I do." They believed in me and I leaned in hard to rise to that level of responsibility.
But what goes up must come down, and on August 15, 2000, we laid off 75% of our staff with no notice. For a time, it was just a co-founder and I clearing carnage while trying to keep a wounded crew marching forward to rebuild. The years that followed were the darkest in my career. I wouldn't want to relive them, but I wouldn't trade them either. I learned more in those six years than most learn in 20.
In early 2006, startups emerged into the light of the newly christened Web 2.0. I worked for two such companies under extraordinary CEOs who couldn’t be more different. One startup flourished, the other struggles. I studied scrupulously. You learn in success, but failure demands answers that force a meticulous, repeated evaluation of every painstaking detail. And therein lies wisdom.
So with successes, failures, and hopefully some wisdom, I’ve now founded my own company. The choice to live off my savings with a mortgage in San Francisco until my company got funded may seem like the riskiest lean in yet. But, in fact, it was the easiest. With the distance travelled to earn my seat at this table, I’m flooring that gas pedal to see just how far I can go.