Many dream of quitting their day jobs to pursue exciting work more in line with their life goals. They hope for the chance to be in charge of their own destinies. They may not fully understand the uncertainty that comes with entrepreneurship—not just that every month will bring in different profits but that every day will bring different challenges. One year ago, my husband James quit his engineering job to start a mobile software business with two others. Here is his story, from a wife’s perspective.
Know your passion. James had been playing piano for 15 years when I first met him. In college, sans piano, he snuck into practice rooms on campus meant for music majors (he was studying engineering). It was a love that couldn’t be contained by a lack of equipment. When his dad bought him a keyboard for our first house, he spent a lot of free time playing and even composed 3 CDs worth of music. He put his MP3s on iTunes, played on the street in Santa Monica and at our local bookstore. It was a hobby that generated a little income, and I’m sure most musicians will agree that it’s mainly a passion and not really a job that can pay the bills. He soon discovered a new way to incorporate his love of music into a project that actually could.
Follow your skills. James has a degree in aerospace engineering (and was working as an engineer), but also had some experience with computer programming. With iPhone apps becoming all the rage, he decided to learn the marketable skill of programming for iPhones and iPads. He then spent many hours (many! all while I was pregnant and then the first 6 months of Baby J’s life) creating an iPhone app that would allow fans to listen to his music for free and compiled his Twitter feed, bio, show dates and more. The primary purpose of this platform, which he named Anywhere Artist, was to promote his music. It had over 50,000 downloads in the first six months and was generating more purchases of his songs. Upon seeing the success of his James Cahall app, he decided to create a compilation app of fellow new age piano artists (himself included) to publicize both their genre and music. Anywhere Artist was fully customizable and while initially James thought he would charge artists for development, he decided to focus on the more passive income stream of ad revenue.
Network and connect. A friend from high school had recently started a job working for a new children’s cartoon website, and they needed someone to do technical consulting. With his background in engineering, as well as growing knowledge of computer programming and web design, he started to do a little work on the side for Toon Goggles, an online portal for new and international children’s cartoons. Together with two people from the Toon Goggles team, they developed Digital Media Interactive, a company that would focus on developing iPhone/iPad apps, promoting Anywhere Artist, and taking Toon Goggles to screens around the world.
Quit your day job. It was when this work on the side became too time-consuming (and reasonably lucrative) that he considered quitting his day job as an engineer and becoming a full-time entrepreneur. Between programming for game and book apps, web design and technical consulting for Toon Goggles, James now can pay our bills. Of course, we severely reduced our expenses before attempting to live off an uncertain income by short-selling our townhouse and moving to a small apartment.
Don’t expect it all to come up roses.There are many aspects of entrepreneurship he doesn’t particularly like, such as the unease of living without a paycheck and the idea that you are always “on the clock.” (Well, maybe those are the things I don’t like.) The best part of the new arrangement is that he is pretty much in charge of his own destiny. It’s more exciting to develop new projects, far away from stifling bureaucracy and corporate red tape. He has the freedom to be creative, but also the good sense to worry about not doing enough serious, income-based tasks. He’s been traveling a lot as Chief Technology Officer for Toon Goggles, which has been hard on our family life. The little muse that started it all, Anywhere Artist, is still going strong, with nearly 500,000 downloads to date, and they are working on customizing the app for use in tourism and the entertainment industry.
James had a great day job that he loved as much as one can love a corporate career. Still, with the recession looming and aerospace contracts winding down, his job was not as secure as he would have liked. While we both were scared to commit to something we knew might not last, I was always confident that James would find a way both to pay our bills and to be excited to wake up in the morning. And he has.