MY STORY: NERD ALERT!
Yes, I know that title is a straight up movie title. Seeing the word hobby made me think of The Hobbit an Unexpected Journey lol. That seems convenient since this journey is going to start in a cubicle and continue into New Zealand for a Lord of the Rings Honeymoon. Quite fitting really. **a distant voice yells "NERD ALERT"
Before we begin, don't start correcting my bad sentence structure and lack of proof reading... just know I am speaking through my keyboard like I would be talking to a friend in person all hopped up on cold brew coffee. English is a silly language with silent letters anyway, yeah I said it.
A DECADE OF CRAP: TIME WASTED.
This business journey began with many professions. For reference, I grew up in right outside of Philadelphia in Ridley Park PA. My first job I made hoagies and cheesesteaks at Lee's Hoagies. I chopped onions at Charlie's Hamburgers. I loaded pallets full of food to be transported to supermarkets. I stocked magazine racks at supermarkets. I made eyeglass lenses. I did all of these things before graduating college.
After graduating with a BA in Graphic Design, I went back to the eyeglass lab while applying for jobs in my field for 6 months. WOOHA I landed my first Graphic Design job. That job taught me plenty of skills, like copy paste into a crappy template I was not allowed to redesign and using outdated graphics I was not allowed to update. You know, full freedom to use my talents. (Sarcasm is my only real language) The job became a glorified data entry, copy paste, no creativity hellscape.
Fast forward a few years of that and I begin to convince my bosses of slight changes to designs. I started to really like my job. Fast forward a year later and I start automating the stupid tasks using Apple Automator. I started to program my machine to do my crap work while I stood in the break room drinking coffee. Every... Single... Day... Someone would walk in and say "Not working again I see." to which I replied, "I am working hard actually, my computer is running a program right now, go look." They laugh and walk out. Yes I was the "LAZY" one in the office. Meanwhile, my productivity was leagues better than everyone around me. I found myself managing them all. Teaching them tricks. Completing every assignment on my plate and more.
They started realizing I could learn anything quickly and piled on more jobs. I was the Graphic Designer, Web Developer, Salesman, IT Department, Photographer, Spreadsheet Guru, Drop Ship Website Creator and Trainer, etc, etc. I was still being paid the same of course, because, you know, under appreciated and overworked. It turns out all the real money I helped them make was being pushed upwards to the bosses. Let's not forget the nepotism. Imagine my surprise.
The good news in all of this was my new boss was smart and helpful. We became good friends and he even got me a few raises. After he left my next boss was also great but couldn't get me anymore raises. He tried 3 times. So I marched into the President's office and explained my situation. In case there is any confusion, I was at the company for 5 years at this point.
I told him about my school loan debt and struggles to move forward in my life and career. I told him how I liked my job and was managing the entire department on every task already. I told him how much I enjoyed traveling with the head sales guy and how successful the event was. (That salesman also praised me when we returned) I then asked for more responsibility, to work closer with the sales team, a title change and a pay increase. He said he understands and he will let me know what he decides.
A week later I get called into Human Resources. She tells me I overstepped my own boss, was greedy and was very aggressive towards the president. I explained that I was simply asking for more responsibility, not just more money. I am trying to help the company move forward not hurt it. She explained that is not how he took it and I should lay low for a while. WTF!? (Ego fights with a family owned business, Part 1. Stay tuned for the next episode a little further down.)
The moment I sat down at my desk, I knew that was the final straw. I went on about 20 interviews in 4 months. I received a few 2nd interviews. I received zero of those jobs. I was overqualified for half of them and asking for the minimum amount just to leave. How could they NOT hire me? I started questioning my interview style, my resume, my website, EVERYTHING. I fell into a depressed state and barely did my job at this point. The term "f@%$ this place" came out of my mouth almost daily. Sound familiar? We have all been there. I was at the bar A LOT.
My father and I discussed it and he said something I will never forget. He said "Try job hunting when you are laid off, have 3 kids at home, and are too old for any company to call you back." He was right. He worked at GE for decades and they just moved his entire division without warning. I had to pretend to like my job at least until I got out of there. I felt a bit of a weight lifted from that conversation, although I have never expressed that to him. We don't do that in my family very much.
2,700 MILES AWAY: NEW LIFE.
Then it happened. One of the clients from the Drop Ship program that I was working with at my job was interested in hiring me. Just one problem... they are in San Diego, CA. I have never been to California, I spent my whole life in the Philadelphia area. It was exciting and scary. What do I tell my parents? My girlfriend? My friends? "Later people! I am running away from home!" At least that is how it felt. But I had to take it. I would regret it if I didn't. I have always wanted to visit California and this was a golden opportunity. It came with a pay increase and they even wrote me a check to help with moving expenses. I have to take this. "I can always come back if I fail." That is not a great mindset to have.
I was never an optimist and still work on that every day of my life. I called my brother Scott and my friends Matt and Badir to hear what they had to say. Badir already lived in San Diego so he was a very important call. With their support it made it much easier to tell my girlfriend and my parents. My girlfriend (now wife - spoiler alert) was incredibly supportive. She said "once I get done school in 6 months could I move out there with you?" I said, "Yep, I would love that." My parents took it the way I thought they would, but were still supportive in their own way.
Okay! Phase one complete! Now to pack and drive. I think the decision to road trip across the country with my dad was the right decision. I think any other family member might have made me nuts. Sorry guys lol. We packed up my Ford Ranger #3 and hit the road! We had a very strict schedule and couldn't sight see too much. We ended up getting to San Diego in about 4.5 days.
The fun part of the journey was finding out that every apartment I had looked at from the other side of the country... was pretty horrible. So we stopped in a few nicer places and asked around. One guy pointed us to a place and said the woman downstairs could give me an application. Perfect let's go!
Other than worrying if I could even afford it, the landlord approved me on the spot and just had to clean the carpets. $1,200 a month for a one bedroom (in 2014)... jeez... but it is about a mile to the beach! This was a different life. I was ready for this. We later found that I would never find a property that cheap in this town ever again. So I haven't left and she hasn't raised rent more than once in 8 years. Lucky. My dad flew home confident I would be fine and shared the good news with my mom.
2,700 MILES AWAY: NEW JOB.
Three days later I start my new job. The pay is much better. I feel respected for my talents. I make friends really fast at the office. My bosses love my hard work. I take it all home and bust my butt to prove I belong here. It went that way for about a year. Then my boss quit. I liked my boss. He taught me so much. :-(
What I saw then was an opportunity. I was already doing most of the work without being asked. I learned the new Netsuite system faster than almost anyone. I worked at home because I was so excited to get it done. All was well, so I asked for his job. Without a thought they said, "We weren't going to offer it to anyone else." Wow... am I finally at a job that understands how hard I work and appreciates me? That is a new feeling. It kept me happy for a while.
I started working with the CEO directly, from the manufacturing process, to our packaging, to the 10 websites I managed, to all the marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, to the SEO and marketing. I was learning how to build a company from start to finish. I will never forget the knowledge I gained in that year.
Then I started really seeing how it all operates. Family owned business meant the same thing as last time. To be fair I was getting more respect and pay increases I deserved, but all the rest started to sink in faster and faster. I needed a few distracting members of their family to politely f@%$ off so I could grow THEIR company. I would go to conferences with billion dollar companies and come back with a ton of knowledge, only to be told, "nah that won't work."I am literally trying to make YOU millions of dollars more, which I know I won't see a dime of. Same story. No difference.
It was then that it hit me like lightning. Are these guys even smart or are they just bungling their way through this multi-million dollar business? I don't think that highly of myself at all. I was an average C student, can't pass a single written test, can't get a decent SAT score, but I am a quick learner and I absorb information very quickly if I care about it. Is that enough for me to do something myself?
Phase two complete.
DISPLAY GEEK WAS BORN
I decided to "make a thing" (As Chris Hardwick taught me). It was a hobby. I found a perfect name and got more and more addicted to the toy community. I have always been a collector of action figures, pez, statues, comics, etc. I knew the market. So I started researching "How to start a business."
I found a local lawyer on Yelp with all good reviews and decided to give him a call. He charged $500 to get me setup. Display Geek had been established October 29th, 2015. I contacted a local manufacturer with some measurements and minimum amounts. I opened a business credit card and they gave me a big $2,000 credit line! (sarcasm) I had little to no help figuring all this stuff out. I am grateful for that now.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 ...