How can I tell if I am really an entrepreneur or just somebody who likes talking about being an entrepreneur?
It was the fall of 2003 and the four of us co-founders were all working from our homes.
TheLadders was a free product with 15,000 subscribers to our weekly newsletters at that point. We’d get together for a weekly meeting on Tuesday nights at my apartment in the East Village. It being a bachelor pad, and my being a bachelor, meant that hospitality was a generous helping of all the Pringles and salami you could eat. Mmmmmmmm-mmm!
We’d talk about all the stuff we were going to do over the next week and divvy up the work. This worked fine at the beginning, but after a few weeks, you just kinda knew that this arrangement wasn’t putting us on the path to prosperity.
If we were going to make it, we needed to be working together, closely, every day.
We needed an office.
So we went looking for office space and found Select Office Suites, a really good-looking and tidy space with 170 offices for rent on an enormous floor at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street here in Manhattan. The office manager Ray showed me around the place, and it had all the characteristics we needed: cheap, cheap and cheap.
The offices were twelve feet by six feet, and you could just barely fit four desks in there. Ray asked if we wanted an interior office without a window for $1,000 / month, or an exterior office with a window for $1,500 / month. It didn’t take more than a couple seconds for us to rationalize to ourselves:
You know, sunlight is for sissies anyway. We’ll take the dark box.
Now Ray is nobody’s fool. He’d seen plenty of start-ups come and go and he filled me in that payment would be 6 months in advance plus one month’s security deposit. Which meant that our new office space was going to cost $7,000 out of pocket.
Out of my pocket.
And this was at a time when I hadn’t gotten a paycheck in 18 months and wasn’t bringing in any dough from this new project either but I sure had dough going out the door the other way.
It was the entrepreneurial moment: I’d hit that point where you kinda need to figure out what you’re going to do. And I remember thinking that this could either end up being the greatest decision ever… or it could end up being the stupidest, most expensive hobby I’d ever had.
So I went over to Ray’s office, pulled out my checkbook and got out my pen:
November 13th, 2003
And then filled in “Payee”:
Select Office Suites, Inc.
Followed by the amount:
Then, because “they” want to rub it in, want you to be entirely aware of what a fool you’re being and all, “they” make you write it out again, this time in long form….
Seven Thousand and 00/100 ——-
Next comes the Memo:
And then… and then you come to The Line: the signature line.
It’s the line that separates the past from the future.
It’s the line that separates who you were from who you will be.
It’s the line that separates the people who want to talk about being entrepreneurs from those who just became one.
It’s the line that separates you from you.
And the most beautiful thing about The Line is that you get to decide.
You’ll be standing there — in an empty office park outside of Dallas, or your in-laws’ garage in East Egg, or in the parking lot of the Jack in the Box in Cupertino, or huffing under a cold icy full moon night in Union Square with Coffee Shop twinkling in front of you…. and The Line will be there, and you will be there, and you’ll be there together, and nothing else will be there.
For just one moment in your life, just one moment… you’ll get to decide who you are.
What a gift! What a moment! What a treasure from the heavens above to have just this one moment in the whole expanse of time and space and the stretch of days from when you began on this earth to the stretch of days when you’ll leave it…
…and the only person who can make that decision is you.
And you may find that on that day, you’ll walk up to the line, and look over to the other side… And look back to where you came from…. And look over again….
And you may find yourself deciding that it is, in fact, a country too far: too cold and too cruel, too careless and too clobbering for who you can be right now. And you’ll decide that you need to stay on this side of the line.
And that’s OK! The world needs people who do big things at big companies — we entrepreneurs love you and cherish you and want to work our asses off around the clock in order to invent your future for you. Please! We are here to create for you!
But for those tiny few of us – for that slice of the population that is too unbalanced and too dreaming and too antic and too fired and too bold and too bored and too much of everything and yet not enough….
…for those of us for whom the line is not a choice, but a need, The Line is a definition.
As for me, I knew what I had to do.
I took my checkbook in hand, and swallowed hard; a comet exploded in my stomach and the hot sweat in my head burst open like I’d been microwaved…
And I signed myself away and beat on, a boat against the current, borne forward ceaselessly into the future.