All hunger, no thirst

Note: My story will be partially told through Doomtree lyrics. I discovered them when I started Matched Pattern and they’ve been a consistent source of inspiration, introspection and enthusiasm.

On a random Wednesday in May of 2017, I quit the job I had been working towards my entire career. It was at a very large, publicly traded company. They had every perk I could want and name recognition. It just wasn’t anything I wanted in the end. After interviewing for my fifth manager in a year, I told him I was out. He called the next day to ask if I was serious.

Chomping at the drill bit
Never one to still sit
You can test my metal with a magnet and some tin snips
— Dessa’s Fighting Fish

Matched Pattern was born that day. Within 18 months, we’d amass nine full-time folks on a million dollar payroll and navigate a successful acquisition.

While my knees still flex
While my joints hold steady
Mind sharp, spine straight
Chucks laced ready
I travel by kite, travel light
At touchdown
I swallowed the dice
I make my own luck now
— Dessa’s Fighting Fish

Matched Pattern was my third attempt at getting a successful company off the ground. Each attempt ultimately ended due to issues with a business partnership. Each ended on good terms, but they just never quite worked for various reasons. Within a couple months we landed a huge contract with an internationally-known healthcare provider just as my business partner suddenly left. I was fully overwhelmed and shaking from anxiety by the time we took on more projects a couple weeks later. This anxiety would become a constant albatross around my neck.

My mistake? I was working for my company instead of running it.

Cause I wanna try I wanna risk
And I don’t wanna walk, rather swing and miss
I’m not above apologies but I don’t ask permission
Got a lot of imperfections but I don’t count my ambition in em
— Dessa’s Fighting Fish

When running a consultancy, your single biggest concern should be the sales pipeline. No clients = no money = no business. The most frequent question I get is “How do you find leads?”. It’s basically gold prospecting. You’ve heard there’s gold in those hills and you buy enough gear and get going. You have no guarantee of success. You do make the absolute guarantee of payroll for others. Each employee you hire makes the stakes higher and the need for receivables greater. The secret is that you must get a consistent critical mass of hourly billable engineers.

Lesson: Without consistent work, you are actively drowning. Consultancies are a feast or famine, “Fuck you, pay me” kind of business.

Steady head, heavy guts and a set of balls
— Doomtree’s Team The Best Team

Working for twenty years in a town, and spending half of that helping to lead various professional groups, leads to a deep network with great friends. This can absolutely open doors for you; however, you can’t depend on goodwill to generate sales.

Lesson: Do not bank on goodwill for sales. Goodwill can open doors but it doesn’t sign contracts.

The only way to land sales is to hustle. You have to be out there telling folks, telling them again, then reminding them when they don’t call back. Get used to 1% of your sales time resulting in work for your company (if you’re lucky). It’s truly a grind and you have to keep smiling when you want to cry. All good things take time, and time truly is money.

Time crawls and I’m still here somehow begging
Still fear that I’ll waste my life on the end of your impulse
— Doomtree’s Heavy Rescue

A consultancy exists at the behest of clients. You must sell but not oversell. You must promise but not overpromise. You must compromise at the table and then go sell it to the troops. You must always be selling and scheduling and talking and managing. After you sell you perform the work. Then you wait for 60–75 days to be paid by the client. The whole time you’re covering the related payroll and vacation time. That’s when it works.

When you’re running a business solo, you’re effectively in Space. You’re free to float out there and die if you’d like. There’s no protection from the elements in any respect. A tiny piece of random space junk could rip through you at any time. A random phone call could have major implications. You start to get jumpy and fatigued from always keeping your head on a swivel.

During the down times, no payroll was ever missed. What was lost, though, was the confidence of others. Cracks started to appear and the troops get uneasy. You’re running at 95% already.

Lesson: This specific time is when you will most want to hide and lick your wounds, but it requires you to increase your visibility and enthusiasm.

Get up like I never fucking got up before
And I get it like I never fucking got it before
— Doomtree’s Final Boss

Forcing yourself across the gulf between feelings of defeat and fatigue to enthusiasm and promotion takes pure will. That energy only recharges so quickly and when you want to collapse you can’t. Your actions have consequences for your employees and their families.

Running a consultancy is akin to being a parent. You must give your employees enough rope to hang you and then you must send them into the world. You’ll worry about them and how they’re doing. When they misbehave, you’ll be the one taking care of the consequences. Schools must work with a student after misbehaving; clients will not.

I shored up the down times with any profits we had. Then it was my home equity loan. Then that ran out. Then I received a $50,000 tax bill. In April. Alone.

But, I’m nothing like I used to be…
Elusive and reclusive
Now I’m just both times a hundred…exclusively
Truthfully, I was blind to the deep end
— Doomtree’s Beacon

No man’s an island so it was time to find help. I went to a therapist to wade through my life. The alarm was blinking: “Put your oxygen mask on before helping others.”

Bringing you up to the surface
Dragging you up to the shore
Holding you up to the sun like “Is this yours?”
It’s yours
— Doomtree’s Heavy Rescue

Through the support of other folks in similar shoes, I found a vein of work for Matched Pattern. Without this support, we would have ended in bankruptcy. In order to make ends meet, I jumped back into a full-time development gig.

We’d effectively become subcontractors and this provided an umbrella of sorts and financial runway. The downside was that we were becoming a pass-through for this other business and losing our autonomy. I was again working for the company instead of running it. I finally understood the phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. It means that you must lose something in order to gain something else. You can’t have it both ways.

Within months I was working (or responsible) for five businesses and nine full-time employees. My internal stress was pegged at 100%.

Go get it
Or go without
You going nowhere
Run that shit into the ground
— Doomtree’s Gray Duck

It had to work. I made it work. I dropped ~ 50 pounds because I was too nervous to eat. Each day I’d awaken in a sea of anxiety. As soon as I opened my eyes my heart would race, my brain swirl and my stomach would drop. I stopped eating and started drinking more. Every single day. I had to take care of business, sales, and personnel, and write code. You start to run your life in hourly segments; always on the billable treadmill. Fewer hours means less money. The freedoms of owning your own business are fallacies. I was dying by my own drive. The hits kept coming. I ran forward and jumped on the grenades. That’s what leaders do and it’s brutal.

If you want the reward you must put up the risk. There is no other way to grow, or get ahead, or cash out. You must be willing to stare into the abyss with confidence when you have none left.

Let it all count when you bet it all
— Doomtree’s Team The Best Team

I didn’t know that safe harbor for Matched Pattern was just beyond the horizon.

ScriptDrop first contacted Matched Pattern for consulting services through our website’s “Contact Us” form. No lie. It was a couple months after we launched in late-2017. The CEO reached out and inquired of our rates. I met with their management team soon after. I chased them for months for client work. At one point I gave up chasing. A friend suggested I keep at it.

Been around the block so many times
Can’t find my house
Wanna fit the earth in the palm of my hand but it keeps on bustin’ out
— Doomtree’s Final Boss

Their CEO and I met for drinks and over a couple of hours realized we had much in common. Our backgrounds, ideals and goals were aligned. Over the intervening year, we discussed business and our fears and what we’d do if we “won”. Through these conversations, the idea of merging ScriptDrop and Matched Pattern started to make sense.

And the tortures of the past are like a fortune for the future
— Doomtree’s Bangarang

Remember the end of the movie “Rocky”? He got his ass kicked for 15 rounds and lost the match. But everyone cheers because he made it; he went the distance. He survived. The journey is the story. Scar tissue is the measure of experience. This is the tempering by the fire that you suffer as a leader. It’s something that settles in your bones and can’t forget; like growing up poor. It hardens those that survive. The fire welds those who go through it together.

I didn’t come looking for love
I didn’t come looking for a fight
I come here every night to work
And you can grab an axe, man
Or you can step aside
— Dessa’s Fighting Fish

ScriptDrop acquired Matched Pattern. Eighteen months of blood, sweat and tears won me the position I had been looking for with the team I had longed for. As ScriptDrop, we moved into a 22,000 square foot office space on December 1st. The ScriptDrop and Matched Pattern teams are stronger together and united we will go that much farther.

It’s all coming up roses, closes may come and we know this
No risk, no fun, no way, nobody’s gonna break my stride, no sir
— Doomtree’s Team The Best Team

Epilogue:

Was it worth it? At many points in the journey, I’d have laughed at the question. Ultimately, yes. It was worthwhile, but you get what you give and you must have a strong stomach for daily risk. Running a consultancy with employees is not for the faint of heart. I’m stronger for the experience and have gained a massive respect for the leaders out there who are doing things right. Right is hard. I’m also weaker for the experience. Life on the treadmill is not a sustainable solution. It’ll be a moment before I’m 100% again.

And all I wanted was good and free
And my hands were good enough
Paid up with a couple cuts
Bob and weave
Find a space between and a cut above
— Doomtree’s Heavy Rescue

YouTube links for referenced songs: