Black to Orange and Back

Or, how I went from poverty, addiction and dysfunction in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin to Silicon Valley Tech Startup Founder.

That’s me with the Kurt Cobain hair at Batch 7 Demo day. The guy on the left was one of the people who fired me, but I’m not mad at him. The guy on the right sold his company to HubSpot. I raised 600k at this event.

Foreward and Relevance to Silicon Valley

I was fired from the last company I founded. I didn’t do anything to hurt the company, but I scared the board a little bit. I have a mental illness. It was illegal for them to fire me and completely fucked up. The company failed in 2015, one year after firing me. Some of you might think this would make me happy, but it doesn’t. I loved that fucking company. I loved my team. I loved what we were building. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

I’m still angry. People say this means I’m not emotionally mature, and I say to them, “fuck you”. — Me

There’s a quiet hum of contempt and disgust for one particular individual that burns inside me, and it won’t go away. It hasn’t subsided. He gives absolutely zero fucks about firing me and putting me out of the job that allowed me to feed and support my two boys. I was evicted from our home in Tiburon, California because of their ignorance.

Look, asshole. It’s called mental illness, not me being an asshole and having an excuse for it. That’s what you’re doing. I was sick. Don’t get it twisted.

So, I’m going to tell you a story. The real story here is not about the idiots who fired me.

The real story is how I went from living in Smalltown, Wisconsin with a criminal record, a smart but disabled single father, a drug addiction and a GED to living in Tiburon, California.

The real story is how I went from living in Smalltown, Wisconsin with a criminal record, a smart but disabled single father, a drug addiction and a GED to living in Tiburon, California.

How I went from selling marijuana to selling Insurance and SaaS products.

How I went from being told I am the scum of the earth by the people I respect most, to raising money from top tier VC’s, negotiating strategic investments and partnerships with General Motors & Onstar, designing a product, testing it against the market, tweaking it, getting traction, getting into 500 startups, finding and recruiting a rock star team, raising ~$1m from top tier VC’s, and much more.

Yeah, I’m going to fucking brag about it. You don’t see this every day. You’ve probably never heard anything like it. Here we go.

(if you’re still reading this, you’re officially ‘my people’. I’m throwing up whatever colors you fly, from forks to crosses to flags, and I have a huge smile on my face)

RED

The Ordinary (Fucked Up) World

I’m lying in bed. It’s been a week since I’ve done any oxycontin, and I’m having serious withdrawals. It’s the year 2000, and I’m 15.

My father is in the other bedroom in our 3 bedroom home on Tamarack Street in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He’s sleeping, which is all he does these days.

Two of my friends are in the living room watching our TV and smoking the product I’ve been selling.

Or the product I was selling, until the Oxycontin ran out. Two weeks ago we had over 100 pills.

I never sold the synthetic heroin (Oxycontin). I never sold anything but marijuana. The 5 people who sold for me were my friends. That said, I can tell you stories of sitting on bricks of marijuana on my father’s deck like this:

When you’re actually sitting on it and smoking a blunt, it’s not cool. It’s TERRIFYING.

The withdrawal symptoms include nausea, constant hot/cold flashes, runny nose, and debilitating physical pain. I’m so fucking anxious. I’m re-evaluating all my beliefs because I’m realizing I don’t know anything for certain and it scares the shit out of me. I’m seeing all my narcissistic, childish, selfish, destructive behavior and I hate it. I’m so scared. I don’t even think about asking my dad for help because I suspect he’s secretly hiding some of the oxycontin from me.

Oh god, now I’m paranoid too. These are his pills! Not mine. The fucking doctors got him hooked on these, and now they’re cutting him off and calling him an addict. I’m the fucking addict, not him.

The fucking doctors got him hooked on these, and now they’re cutting him off and calling him an addict. I’m the fucking addict, not him.

Prescriptions were always picked up on the date they’re supposed to be. There was no signs what so ever of him being an addict. I know because it was my responsibility to pick up prescriptions and get him to the doctor. I had a lot of responsibilities. Laundry, groceries, making sure my Dad took his other pills for schizophrenia, bipolar, and whatever else the doctor says he has.

School? Yeah, sure. You can see that wasn’t gonna work for me.

Next thing I know I’m in a living room. I don’t recognize the room. I’m shivering in a black atlanta falcons blanket that my grandparents bought for me years ago. I’m wearing a blue nike hoody with a matching bandanna and air force ones. There’s 5 of us sitting around a table. I’m the only white boy in the room. I’m holding a bong that is shaped like a skull. The mouth piece is coming out of it’s forehead.

Shit, what is everyone wearing? Am I wearing the wrong colors? I’m from Atlanta so I can get away with the blanket but the hoody…

I see they’re mostly in black with blue accents. A huge wave of relief washes over me like that time Patrick Bateman realized he had a good table at Dorsia.

Scared, me? Pshh.

How long has it been since I was in my bed slash the seven circles of narcotic withdrawal hell?

The guy next to me, who must be wearing an entire factory of cool water cologne tells me to “puff puff pass, n@#&$”. I hand the bong over without looking. Who the fuck asks someone to puff puff pass a bong? Just ask me to pass it, fuck. This ain’t a joint, player.

I’m angry. But I’m learning to reign it in. I’ve gotten my ass kicked too many times in the last few years. Something has to change. There’s no future here. Once I get Big M the money I owe him, I’m getting out of this shit. I’m not even getting high any more when I smoke.

Now I’m at home again. I have the cordless land line phone to my ear. A girl I slept with is telling me she’s pregnant. I panic.

I hang up, run into my room, curl up into a ball in the corner and rock back and forth. I’m doing this partially because TV tells me that’s what crazy people do to calm themselves. It’s kinda working.

I’m doing this partially because TV tells me that’s what crazy people do to calm themselves. It’s kinda working.

I’m taking inventory of the situation. I just dropped out of school. I owe about 15 grand to some unsavory characters. My dad is basically comatose, and a few months before hand he had a schizophrenic episode and thought people were taking photos of him in the bathroom. If it wasn’t for his social security checks, we’d be fucked. I just got through the worst of oxycontin withdrawal. And now this girl is pregnant.

All I know is I’m gonna be there for him or her. It’s not their fault I’m a piece of shit.

She’s a good girl. Loves her mama. Loves Jesus, and her boyfriend too. I’m a bad boy, cause I don’t even miss her. — Tom Petty “Free Falling”
“I’ve got to formulate a plot, or end up in jail or shot. Success is my only motherfuckin’ option — failures not. [Dad], I love you, but this trailer’s got to go. I cannot grow old in [Steven’s Point]. So here I go it’s my shot, feet: fail me not. This may be the only opportunity that I got.” — Eminem as ‘B Rabbit’ in 8 Mile

I’ve gotta find a way out of this.

To be continued.

Part Two is here.

Songs from and inspired by Black to Orange and Back can be found here.

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