Wow. It’s Friday again and I haven’t posted all week. I’m in crunch time leading up to the launch of my new company in a few weeks. I’ll talk more about that when the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. In the meantime, another heartwarming tale of bucking the system and inventing reality.
I started my first business with a guy named Tony Westbrook. Somehow we had both washed up on the shores of Santa Maria, California, an agricultural suburb of nowhere. I had dropped out of school to wander as aimlessly as I could, and after winding up on a sailboat in the Red Sea, I got hungry again to learn. I came home to find my parents had retired to Santa Maria, and I slept in my dad’s home office while taking classes to get back into school. Tony had just abandoned his life as a promising Mormon missionary. He’d had an epiphany at breakfast, and was gone by lunch, with nothing to fall back on and no one to rely on. He found a job at a donut shop on the swing shift, followed an ad to a room for rent, and signed up for the same college class that had grabbed my attention: "Death and Dying".
Tony and I were instant friends. We were 20, ambitious, fearless, and totally unplugged from the traditional grid. Tony was the first to start a business, cleaning houses. He filled his car up with cleaning supplies and just went out and made it happen. There were a few setbacks, like the time he brought a garden hose into a filthy kitchen and hosed the whole place out. But he won loyal customers and built a channel with real estate agents and housing managers, prepping houses and apartments for transfer. After I went away to school, I’d come back on breaks and help out from time to time, and watched as he expanded into painting, and adding staff.
When I finished school, I came back and got my first job as a journalist with the Santa Maria Times. Tony’s business was cranking, but we both had much larger ambitions. We started looking for role models, reading Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey, and more esoteric stuff like Richard Bandler and Erik Erikson. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that all the popular gurus promising to unlock the doors to success were just hacks. But rich hacks. We knew we could do better. We started researching all the various frameworks of motivational psychology, and came up with a plan for a series of software tools that would help users consistently develop and track effective behaviors including goal-setting, problem-solving and decision-making.
Our three-year launch of Scribe Software didn’t end well. It’s hard enough to launch a software company with a simple product, but add a complex curriculum requiring lots of R&D, and an industry in the first early throes of the Internet revolution, and even seasoned executives would have a challenge on their hands. We went our separate ways, and didn’t talk for years.
When I caught up with Tony a few years ago, he had moved to New Hampshire, and in typical Tony fashion, he found a niche and built a business. This time, he had gotten into the real estate boom as a title searcher and abstractor, a crusty line of business in desperate need of new energy. Tony and his wife brought new technology, customer service, and an unflagging willingess to canvass the state every day on their abstracting routes, to what quickly became a lucrative business. He bought an old colonial farmhouse in a picturesque village and settled in with his wife and daughter.
What makes this a "Speed-of-Life" story is what Tony’s doing now. He could have dumped his money into a Ferarri–like the one he had a poster of on his wall when we first started Scribe–and just enjoyed his success. But he invested his time and money in something else. Cameras. Some really nice cameras to photograph the areas where he liked to walk. What started as an interest became a passion, and now, in typical Tony fashion, a business. Somehow skirting the odds that weigh against anyone trying to enter the commodity business of photography, Tony’s creating his own reality: his images are selling, and he’s making a business out of what he loves to do. You can check out his work at TonyWestbrook.com, it’s well worth it–and a lot to show for working so hard to go your own way.
As Tony always tells me: Keep smiling.
I always admire people who are able to build businesses out of their personal passions. These photographs are wonderful! Thanks for sharing.