Everything was going beautifully by traditional standards and then I quit…
Getting to Google
I still remember the anti-climactic moment at the University of South Carolina library when I submitted my application to the Google internship. With one final click, my application joined the thousands of others in HR purgatory. With no connections and no references, I patiently awaited the inevitable rejection letter. But much to my surprise, that rejection never came and after two rounds of interviews, an offer letter, and a semester of celebration, my tenure at Google began.
I started as most undergraduate interns do — bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and in total shock that Google would hire me. Surely they could find someone more qualified, I thought. I can only speculate as to why I was invited to join the program. If pushed, I’ll usually point to a cliché mix of hard work, luck, and a willingness to fail. The keyword there being luck.
Enter the “Moonshot Factory”
Fast-forward three years and I had landed a role as an early-stage business associate in my dream organization — Alphabet’s infamous research division boldly titled X, the moonshot factory. I had the privilege of working with some of the most well-respected technologists in Silicon Valley on reality-changing technologies during my time at X. Self-driving cars, autonomous drones, applied artificial intelligence, next-generation robotics — you name it.
The scene inside the Palo Alto headquarters was straight out of a science fiction film (or HBO satire). Unkempt technology executives wiz around the building on unconventional modes of personal transportation, all working at a feverish pace trying to build technology that will shape our future. The X employees went about their day-to-day tasks, completely normalized to the fact they are surrounded by fragments of what the future may look like.
I spent most of my time at X with the early-stage research projects. You know, the really mind-bending, grandiose, and occasionally crazy stuff. Working alongside accomplished scientists, engineers, and executives, I was pretty much always the least qualified person at the table. It was my job to help these teams develop investment pitches, go-to-market plans, monetization strategies, along with other MBA buzzwords. I can say without hesitation that this mix of business, strategy, and technology was the closest I’ve ever come to my dream job. All this prompts the question…
My decision to leave came down to three things: (1) I wanted to have more impact as an individual, (2) I wanted to own what I was building, and (3) the realization that the longer I waited, the more I would need to sacrifice in order to build something on my own.
(1) The desire to have more impact
Inside a massive organization like Alphabet, it’s hard to feel like you’re having a material impact as an individual. Large organizations are designed to survive without you, so by design, you are replaceable. I knew that in order to have the impact I wanted, I would need to build something on my own.
(2) The desire for true ownership
Having spent my early career working alongside entrepreneurs, for better or worse, I had caught “the bug.” I wanted to bring the ideas in my head to life just like they did. Being in proximity to innovation is so invigorating, even from the passenger seat. I quickly began to need more. I needed to leave the safety and security of my comfortable tech job to feel the fear, pain, risk, and reward of true ownership. X was an incredible training ground for me, but in order to continue to grow, I could no longer be insulated from the consequences of my decisions.
(3) The realization that comfort gets harder to give up
Starting a company inevitably requires sacrifices, and the size of those sacrifices tends to increase as we get older. I am twenty-six years old, and I have no children, no mortgage, healthy parents, and a reasonable amount of savings. The things I am responsible for outside of myself are very minimal, but this will most likely change over the next decade. As we grow up time becomes more and more precious. Starting a family. Owning a home. Taking care of elderly loved ones. These are all parts of growing up that require us to invest emotionally and financially.
To start a company in your mid-twenties, you may need to eat more ramen noodles, go on fewer dates, and give up your ski hobby — but compared to the sacrifices required later in life, these sacrifices are nothing.
That’s why on October 1st, I handed in my Google badge and founded Passbase alongside my two incredibly talented co-founders. Our team has come together in the hopes of creating a more secure and privacy-focused future and give people back control of their data. I don’t expect this journey to be an easy one but with an inspiring mission, an incredible team, and enough ramen noodles to last us for the next year, I believe we have the raw materials to build something awesome.