I’ve always been entrepreneurial, even when I was young. While many middle-class kids growing up in the U.S. have lemonade stands as their first business venture, I opted for jobs a bit on the fringe. I collected and sold baseball cards in my early years, then opted for freelance design work (CAD drawings) and physical labor renovation projects at my mother’s rental houses when I got into high school.
So, I took this opportunity of leaving the little design and print shop to refocus my attention on turning my web consulting business, which I had kept alive in an only-do-jobs-that-interest-me kind of way, to a more serious business venture. As luck would have it, just as I was getting back into a full site redesign project for a new client, a fresh idea hit me and my good friend and roommate—let’s call him Murray—and we just couldn’t shake it.
To give you a bit more context, Murray was a savvy network engineer working at Nortel Networks, which was a bit of a troubled company at the time. There seemed to be weekly layoffs, and as you can imagine, these situations tend to breed many innovation-focused start-ups.
Our new venture was exciting for many reasons and had serious potential to scale quickly. Broadband and wireless technology was evolving and offered a large addressable market. Therefore I, along with my network engineering wizard of a roommate, launched and bootstrapped a WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider) business, which we proudly named Air Walk Networks.
You have to remember that back then, Internet connections—especially broadband ones—were beyond expensive for most broke students living off campus. We aimed to change that by focusing on college apartment complexes as our main distribution sites. The complexes would purchase the main hub, and we would spread the bandwidth among the hundred, in some cases thousands, of apartments by leveraging our onsite hardware and strategically-placed amplified antennas. Unfortunately, our “moons”—and by moons, I mean regulations—were not aligned with our vision. This entire market was undergoing changes, and we were certainly not the only WISP start-up affected.
Now, I’m convinced we could have pressed on if we had opted for angel funding, SEO services and beyond. However, at the time, there were other forces at play and, sometimes, you just need to move on. But the experience was exciting and I had no regrets. My first failed start-up—CHECK!
At the time, there were approximately 10,000 employees spread globally. Now, let’s be clear. I had never dreamed of working for a conservative pharmaceutical research organization, but growing up in northern New Jersey (a.k.a., Pharma Land), I had indeed considered it as a possible career option. Life is enriched by a diversity of experiences, so I figured why not?