Nothing Without Sacrifice

All good things come with a cost.
Starting a business requires tremendous sacrifice. Ben and Jeremy reflect on the sacrifices made in the days of AIE's founding, both personally and as a company.

Benjamin Wills

Starting AIE as a full-time endeavor came with sacrifice, as does starting any business. 

The career position I had at the time was being unemployed after a lay-off from the consulting firm where I had worked. I was already in a compromised position financially, so the slide to absolute poverty was fairly easy for me. My family made bigger sacrifices than I. Between the financial destitution and the constant moving at that time, there was plenty of stress to go around.

I think the most difficult decisions in the first few years was not to give in and go work for the man again. 

At the time, I had some valuable IT certifications under my belt, and so I was often receiving calls from recruiters to interview for some well-paying positions. It is very hard to say “no, thank you” to 4x your current salary – which was pathetic, trust me.

The benefit I saw was that I could position myself to not be beholden to another single hiring entity.

The feast and famine roller-coaster was getting old. Freedom to do as I want on a day-to-day basis is the benefit I get for starting a business.

I understand there are many hand-cuffs to owning a business, but there are freedoms also that do not come with any other position.

Seeing hard work directly benefit myself is part of that freedom. What I put in is what I get out – good or bad!

Jeremy Wills

I parallel business startups to raising children. 

Not surprisingly, I'm also raising children. The other day, my wife was trying to get our kids out the door for after school activities. One of our daughters was misbehaving, and we had to choose between being on time and correcting the problem. When my wife and I talked about which sacrifices we needed to make, we agreed that the end goal isn’t to get your kids to (pick your after school event) on time. The goal, as the Proverbs says, is to “train up our children in the way they should go, so that when they are old, they won’t depart from it.” And that training, which comes with tremendous sacrifices, will yield unending fruit to come

And, so it is with our startup.

The type and degree of sacrifices has changed over time. Initially, we had to pick an area that would end up being the greatest sacrifice — time, money, or quality. For Ben and me, we selected the dollar. Sure enough, it was a great challenge. We had the time to pour into the business, and we believed we would build a quality service company over time, but we chose to do so knowing that with no customers and no capital at the beginning, we would be building our business under a potentially stressful financial situation. And, while we had many money discussions along the way, with many sacrifices being made with how the money coming in the door was being allocated, I believe it made us stronger in the end.  

There have been great benefits to choosing money as the sacrifice.

First, we knew the level of urgency in getting the cash flow going. While there are plenty of business cases to be made about leveraging venture capital or lines of credit, the risks can often outweigh the upside. And for us, leveraging someone else’s money could have left us feeling falsely secure about the state of our company, causing stagnation or impeding creativity. 

Second, it taught us the habit of only spending money when we have it. I understand there are many who could disagree with our tortoise-like approach to business growth, but my experiences have taught me that one makes smaller mistakes when it’s your own money at risk. The smaller mistakes can become teachable moments as opposed to take-your-business down moments. Like dating before marriage, and marriage before kids, spending money only after it was in hand allowed more time for me and Ben to get to know the business, the industry, and each other before introducing more complex issues that money inevitably invites into the equation.

As an semi-rookiepreneur, I admit I was not aware of all the sacrifices that would be made over the long haul—with surely more to come. 

Much like raising children, some of the sacrifices have taken me by surprise. I have found that business startups take even greater sacrifice than you would anticipate in order to (hopefully) see the fruit of one’s labor realized. 

Yet the goal in business, like raising children, isn’t in trying to eliminate those sacrifices, but to understand that through sacrifice, one can build a business capable of yielding unending fruit to come.