Broke, Isolated, and Overcoming Failure: How an Obsession is Turning My Life Around

What can I say about running a business?

When the good times are going, there’s not much that can knock you off from that “top of the world” feeling.

Money coming in, customers are happy, and you’ve built something your proud of. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Conversely, it doesn’t get much worse than waking up one day realizing that everything you built is gone; realizing that you could have done something to prevent it.

But this isn’t about regrets and this isn’t about living in the past. A business isn’t built on what worked in the past but on how it innovates for the future. This was a tough lesson for me to learn because for most of my career, I knew nothing but success after success.

Maybe that’s why it took me so long to get a damn clue.

It all started in High School…

Growing up, I wasn’t like most of the kids in my school.

Maybe it was because of my dorky appearance and less-than-average social skills, or maybe it was because by the time I was a senior I sold my first business online for five-figures.

While most of my peers were at school dances, hanging out with friends, or whatever it is kids do in high school, I was usually in my room at my parent’s house teaching myself to code and design websites in between writing blog articles.

When important book reports and power points were due, I was usually scrambling last minute to put something together to turn in because I had been putting all my energy into working for my clients and building my own business.

Even though I never read the required reading or took most of my school projects seriously I knew that if I put my web design skills to good use and at least skimmed through some of the books I could put together something that looked like I put effort into it and understood the topic.

If school was any kind of preparation for the real world (it’s not), I rationalized my half-assery as doing what it takes to get ahead in life.

And it worked, in High School.

Jumping into the Real World

Not even a year out of school I had already built Kolakube into a 5-figure a month business and had an impressive savings account for a 19 year old kid. By the summer of 2012 I had left my home in New Jersey to move across the country to Austin, Texas and get my first apartment; something I had dreamed of having for a long time.

I had a great life growing up in New Jersey and every summer I’d spend a month with my dads side of the family in Jacksonville, Florida. I have zero complaints about my upbringing and couldn’t be more thankful for the environments my parents created for me to thrive.

Having such a comfortable life brought out an adventurous side in me and in the summer of 2013 I traveled to Banff, Canada to attempt a 2,700 mile bike trip to Mexico.

Like most of the things that would follow after this trip, I had no idea what I was doing and was ultimately one of the first real failures I’ve experienced in my life. We gave up about 1,000 miles in and in retrospect, gave up too easily.

During this time, my business was in a decline that I was just too naive to see and I was living off my savings quite comfortably. When I got back I even upgraded my apartment to a larger and much more expensive one on the premise that I’d use a larger rent as motivation to make more money.

That really didn’t happen. Top it all off with getting caught up in a bad relationship, one that was so “good” it became obsessive and destructive, and I had set everything in place for a serious disaster in my young life.

One that I absolutely couldn’t be any more grateful for getting through.

Recovery

Shortly after I turned 21 I had gotten out of the bad relationship, left Texas, and was hopping around from place to place while building a little product I had been working on since I moved to Austin called Marketers Delight.

In the winter of 2014 I had lived back home in New Jersey, Virginia, and eventually ended up in Jacksonville, Florida where I would live in a small hotel room for the next 8 months up until about a few days ago.

I also used this time to reconnect with family I had all but left behind on my pursuits and found a lot of the love I had lost from leaving my bad relationship.

A Strange Realization

I had given the “real world” a shot and here I was, crammed into this little hotel room with nothing but whatever I could fit into a suitcase.

Were there times I felt like a failure? Absolutely, but those feelings were quickly dispelled by this strange sense of confidence brewing in me.

Truth be told, the majority of this time I spent isolated I felt more successful and happier than I had in the past 2 years when I supposedly “had it all.”

No longer was I a slave to an expensive rent, a girlfriend, or other superficial pursuits I created for myself.

I had myself back and I was hungry again. Not hungry for food, though I did have nights where I only had peanut butter for dinner, but the kind of hunger that drives somebody to find the best version of themselves.

Turning My Business Around, Turning My Life Around

They key to whatever it is I wanted to do next with my life was through my business here at Kolakube. I had given everything up to indulge in my obsession of building Marketers Delight, the flagship product behind my successful business before.

I spent many nights in that room daydreaming about MD—what features it would have, what the product would stand for, products I could create for it—I was pretty much dreaming in code.

But before Marketers Delight came a string of products that, while good, didn’t leave the mark on my business I was hoping for. This was unusual to me because everything I released before saw instant success and profit.

See, the reason behind this was due to my decision to cede from another business I had relied on for my success, which I wrote about in a post back in 2014.

I started to doubt myself thinking that I overestimated how good my work actually was and underestimated how much I relied on somebody else’s business to succeed.

But even when things seemed hopeless, I continued building Marketers Delight. I had no other options and getting a regular job was out of the question.

The Big Break

On the afternoon of August 9th, 2015 I was budgeting what little I had in my bank account so I could get a meal at Taco Bell.

Just a week later I had a sudden sales rush that resulted in over $1,000 worth of sales of Marketers Delight, the single biggest streak since releasing MD in April.

It’s my belief that if you can sell even one copy of something you made that you can build a business around it. I had gradually sold a few thousand dollars worth of MD prior to that week, but seeing this sudden rush of sales filled me to the bone with excitement.

Finally, after all the months of struggle I saw a real demand for my product. Ever since that rush, sales have become more and more consistent and I see real opportunity for the growth of Kolakube and Marketers Delight.

What’s next? What have I learned?

A few days ago on September 2nd, 2015 I packed up my truck and headed back west to Austin. Geographically I’ve come full circle, but I simply am not the same person I was just a year ago when I left here a broken person.

It’s true what they say, every year you’ll be thinking completely different. At least, that should be the goal.

I am by no means in a comfortable situation by coming here and I had to force myself out of my safe isolation to reacquaint myself socially and get back out into the world. This is a new challenge I’m eager to overcome.

Maybe being out here will cause me to become a better planner as I can’t really say what’s next for me at the moment outside of the few goals I have in my business, fitness, and socially.

If I had to summarize some of the lessons I’ve learned the past year, it’d go a little something like this:

  1. Work will always be there, the gym will always be there, but family and friendships may not.
  2. As a young man in my 20’s, making money, networking with quality people, and gaining experience/knowledge are my top priorities.
  3. The key to happiness is not in an expensive apartment, but may be found in a dark rundown hotel room.
  4. Changing who you are to make a woman happy only makes everyone miserable.
  5. Most of what’s popular opinion is usually wrong, and society is based on emotions.
  6. Money can buy happiness, just not in superficial ways.
  7. People who don’t think money is important are usually broke and their opinions on it are irrelevant (most people’s opinions on anything are irrelevant).

…I’m sure there are more, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Alongside releasing new versions of Marketers Delight, I’d like to use the Kolakube blog as a place to document lessons I learn as a young man coming up in the world and what I learn from building a business.

With all the talk about having balance in one’s life, the word obsession is usually used in a negative light. Yet, my obsession with MD saved me from making many bad choices and fueled a new sense of confidence within myself I’ve never had before.

Now that you’ve read my story, I want you to think about a time in your life where you became obsessed with something. What was it like? How did it make you feel? Please share your experiences in the comments section below, I’d love to connect with you

36 comments comments closed

  1. Hey Alex,
    WELCOME BACK TO TEXAS ALEX!!!
    THE BEST IS YET TO COME!!!
    LOOK FORWARD TO VISITING WITH YOU SOON!!!!!!!
    Joe

  2. Great story… however we are still sitting on the fence with MD as there is no where to find a demo version of MD to see how it actually works.

    Maybe, setting up a demo version of MD on your sales page will help entice more customers to buy.

  3. Hey Jenny, thank you!

    I do agree about a dedicated demo, for now I’ve been using the Kolakube site as a demo. What you see here is what MD looks like out of the box, with the exception of the custom header I made for the MD page. I also compiled a list of some of my favorite sites using MD here: https://kolakube.com/marketers-delight-43/

    Hope that all gives you an idea!

  4. Hey Jenny! This site in general is a full fledge demo of MD. I love that Alex uses his own product to sell his own product. Quite brilliant.

  5. Thank you Joe! I appreciate your encouragement over the years, still very cool to think back about how we met on the plane to Austin.

  6. Damn dude, I had no idea you were living in a hotel room! Really glad to see you made it through all these challenges though, and I definitely agree that it was a smart move to start building products that exist independently of a framework.

    Glad to see that you’re back in Austin as well! My friend Zach (from Asian Efficiency) just moved there, so I’ve been wanting to visit again. He’d be a good guy too meet too.

  7. Awesome story and great takeaways. Can’t wait to see what’s next – thanks for creating the amazing-ness that is Marketers Delight 🙂

  8. Dude, you time traveled to winter 2015? Badass….

    You are so right about highschool/college. Unlike you, I had totally clueless parents and an incredibly passive father that stuck me through the same cookie cutter routine that every other average Joe and loser would endure.

    A few years later sitting in my corporate cube I fucking snapped and had enough. Walked with no backup job.

    My personal obsession became SEO. Took awhile to really stumble upon it and determine that the advantage of mastering it would be immense, I am now having breakthrough after breakthrough, and just this week achieved a ranking for “[my city] SEO” which is among the most competitive in the country. I outrank fully staffed businesses that sell bullshit and in reality have no idea what they are doing – all through my own hard work.

    That ranking alone could command top $ per hour or even just nice paying consulting gigs.

    I am very interested in using Marketer’s Delight on a few projects I have in the works, but it might be a bit before I pull the trigger. Good story, good stuff.

  9. Hi Alex:

    Intriguing story, and you still have a long way to go until you call it a life, so right on there.

    No matter what you have to be true to yourself. Al types of people: successful or not, end up in spots in their journey where they are deceiving themselves about what they need to do.

    Changing for other people never works. People have to accept you as you are, or it doesn’t work. This also means yourself.

    Congratulations on your renewed success. Keep up the momentum!

  10. Dude, congrats on both getting through the tough period and sharing so boldly lessons learned. Having gone to University (what you’d call College) I’m in a slightly different situation, but can appreciate very strongly where you’re coming from. Best of luck going forward!

  11. Yup, I’ve certainly been keeping to myself over the past year! Felt good to write it all out — I had no idea it would strike a chord with people like this.

    It’s good to be back in Austin! I’m living with Rob right now so definitely let me know if you make your way down. I’d say you’re overdue for a trip. 😀

  12. Hahaha it was still cold around that time. Thanks for pointing that out, it does make more sense to say 2014.

    Between your musical work and SEO (I didn’t know about your SEO work) I’d say you completely flipped your trajectory around and that’s a great accomplishment man.

    Sorry you got stuck going through all that, but I bet that fueled your fire in a big way. I feel like, at least when it comes to college, I’ll always have a curiosity about what it’s really like. I have a little college experience but not enough to say “I tried it, not for me.” I think once things continue going well with my business and I get more of my life in order I’ll go try it out for myself. If I’m going to do it, I’d rather it be when I have some money saved up instead of ending up the typical broke college kid.

    Back to your SEO work, that’s very impressive. Are you going to open yourself up for any consulting gigs? I remember there was a kid online years ago who ranked #1 for “make money online” and he milked the shit out of that fact and got some pretty big name clients because of it. Locally, you’d probably make a killing.

    Appreciate you dropping by!

  13. Thanks for the comment John, I’ve seen your work around before and am glad you stopped by.

    It’s amazing how easy the mind can delude itself into thinking in destructive patterns. It draws similarities to getting over an addiction: trying to drop something you know is bad for you but you just can’t get away from.

    I can’t think of a relationship I’ve been in (even some non-romantic ones) where the other person hasn’t tried to change me. I see now the weakness I have for succumbing to other people and I am definitely going to put a stop to it.

    Thanks again!

  14. Thanks Alex, it’s been great having you around all this time! If you ever want to talk about what’s going on over there feel free to reach out. It’s nice talking to people who have already been there and done that, but I’ve always found a certain peace in talking to people around a similar age *currently* going through it.

    See you around, and nice blog design. 😉

  15. Heh, at first it was out of laziness but using it around here has helped me find some pretty significant bugs before releasing to customers and test *actual* use cases for new features.

  16. Great story Alex, a lot of people don’t realize the difficulties in building a business or working for yourself for that matter. Especially when it comes to working on a computer, people assume your just lazy and should get a “proper job” but the desire to succeed is something that sets people apart.

    All the best!

  17. Fantastic story!

    Without a shadow of a doubt you are on the path to a bountiful and miraculous life.

    I look forward to more exciting updates from you. 😉

    All the best,

    Raleigh

  18. Hey Alex, I resonate with your story quite well.

    Just last month I ended a 4 year toxic relationship that has been holding me back. Over the past month, I’ve seen a big difference and I’m churning out ideas after ideas, I also got 2 big time clients for my video business.

    I’ve learned a lesson which is: never to allow anyone who doesn’t bring value to the table drain you emotionally.

    I’m glad I read your story; it just increased my drive to succeed even more.

    Congrats bro, keep killing it.

  19. Thanks for the share Alex. You’ve seen a tremendous amount of success and some personal and professional setbacks, but obviously it hasn’t stopped you. Congrats on your courage and grit man, it takes a lot to pick yourself up like this and bare it all for the world to see. But I know it’s making you a stronger person with each passing day. The silver lining in all of this is – you’ve come to this enlightened place at such a young age.

    My recent obsession (as you know) is my consulting business. I’ve had one foot in and one foot out of the 9-5 game for about 4 years now. All the while I’ve been offering business development services to online, offline and “no line” businesses.

    Sometimes working when I should be sleeping, and even prioritizing my business over almost everything else.

    I just experienced my moment of clarity last week. Streamlining my focus and creating a clear plan for my business is something I never really did. Taking the time to STOP working long enough to put together a REAL plan, has been a mistake that I’ve been paying for. Fortunately I’ve been able to find successes along the way without any major setbacks. Standing on the shoulders of more like minded entrepreneurs and learning from others has served me extremely well. I’ll continue to grow and do a better job of managing my obsession, and I have no doubt that your evolution will continue to inspire us all.

  20. Good stuff Alex. As a customer of yours I enjoyed reading this post. Definitely feel like I know you and your vision much better!

    Keep it up. You succeeding will help me (and my website/business) succeed as well.

    Best,

    Ryan

  21. Thanks Matt, whether you’re doing computer work as your main business or a side, there’s still plenty of work involved. I laugh at people who put themselves above me calling their manual labor jobs “real work.” They can keep that pride and I’ll take “fake work” all day.

    Keep the tutorials coming man, I’ve been enjoying your PHP articles lately. I haven’t messed with AngularJS or anything like that yet but I read your tutorials anyway to sort of prep myself for when the day comes. 😀

  22. Raleigh thanks so much! It’s a liberating thing to know that you’re in control of your own life, and I mean more than just going through the motions of a typical life path. With this realization comes a lot of responsibility because it turns out getting that life you want requires constant hard work as payment.

    I’ll have to continue writing stories like this, I had no idea this would resonate with so many people! Thanks for dropping by.

  23. Props to you for the strength it took to end your bad relationship as well. Its strange to think you need strength to leave something that is negative on you, but when your identity becomes so attached to somebody else’s it’s hard to go back to a life without that person.

    It seems like the best way to get over something like that is to throw yourself into work, and it sounds like you’re on a solid path yourself! Congrats on landing those clients and for sharing your side of the story.

    See you around Ike, we all have a little to learn from each other.

  24. As draining as building and rebuilding is I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. Getting success the first time around is cool, but I think it speaks a lot about a person if they can get back up from falling down — and that’s the kind of person I want to be.

    That’s a powerful realization, it’s hard to take yourself out of the trenches and just sit and plan. Hard work is great, but if misguided, could go the wrong way.

    Thanks for taking a little time away from your obsession to read this! We’re all playing the same game, there’s a lot of power in supporting and learning from each other. Thank you for your own contribution to my story man.

  25. Thanks Ryan, what you said here was really powerful:

    You succeeding will help me (and my website/business) succeed as well.

    Going through your site, it’s so cool to see that my product has helped you create something so amazing. You have a very cool community and I’m happy to have helped out even in a small way. Thank you for showing me that, sometimes looking at code so much makes my outlook a little cold.

  26. Haha, im glad someone is reading them. I mostly write them for myself and as an exercise of knowledge.

    I find writing to be a great way of reinforcing and testing what you know. Ive been learning JavaScript and AngularJS lately in detail and to a point where I understand it all the same as PHP and in terms of PHP, I learned the Object Orientated way almost from the start. Although I have not written about that.

    Finally as someone from “Working Class” Britain I know all about “real jobs”.

    Persistence pays.

  27. Hey man,

    This resonated almost perfectly with me. You know this. What really stood out to me even from the headline is when you find you obsession you have to keep going to figure out how it will make you money and support a living/lifestyle you desire. For me, it’s always been “oh I like to do it for fun, but I can’t make a living from it.” Why don’t I prove myself wrong?!

    I’m obsessed with user interface design. Time to review.

    Thanks for writing this man! I mess blogging. Back to it! 🙂

  28. Alex,
    U brought tears to my eyes, incredible story, im glad we became friends in that rundown hotel. Im also glad to be out of there, altho my story is different, im not the same person i was a year ago. I have crown and learned many seasons thru my battle. Keep up the good work, im very proud of you
    Always, Monica

  29. Its amazing how similar our journey’s are brother. Your fiery passion ceases to amaze me. Inspired always, I’ll forever be your friend and fan!