1983: First Day of a New Business

(This is reposted here from my blog at timberry.bplans.com)

This is a true story. I think it’s worth telling because it’s one real example, one that I lived through, of how plans change and you have to adapt. And it’s also an example of how random businesses are, and how many different ways people get started on their own path.

I’m a business planner by profession, and I find it humorous how differently my own steps in my own business went from what I had planned.

It was a hot day in August of 1983. I sat typing in to a home-built business computer that was bigger than a dorm-room refrigerator, writing a book on spreadsheets, using mostly Wordstar and SuperCalc. I was in my home office at the corner of Mariposa and Miramonte in Palo Alto, CA. My third daughter and fourth child, Cristin, 18 months old, shared the office with me, playing on the floor with a used keyboard. I needed to finish the book to collect the second half of the advance, which was part of my plan.

The plan, however, was not going to work. What I had planned was to make a sufficient living writing computer books. Stuart Brandt had collected a $100,000 advance (or so it was reported) for the Good Earth Catalog. It seemed like publishers were looking for computer books and I was  a computer lover, former journalist, and MBA, well positioned to write them.

I didn’t know then that my plan wasn’t going to work.  The book was on schedule and I had contracts for two others.

I had left Creative Strategies International, a high-tech market research and strategy-consulting firm, two months earlier. When I left I was vice president of the software group, which had the company’s highest margin and highest gross sales, so I was well positioned. But, I had decided that what I wanted to do was the work, not the supervision of other people doing the work. I liked writing and analysis, and I liked market forecasting and market research. What I didn’t like was checking on other people and managing them.  I needed to make money to support my family of six; we had no savings, and debts left over from business school, so it was foolish to give up a good job, but I actually thought, foolishly, that I could make as much, or more, money writing computer books.

The phone rang. It was Hector Saldana, who managed Apple Computer’s Latin America group. I had done several market research jobs for Hector while at Creative Strategies. I had a good background for market research in Latin America, having lived for several years in Mexico City and having experience in consulting and market research, and a good set of degrees.

“Tim, I need you to go to Venezuela for me as soon as possible. I need a market study of Venezuela quickly,” Hector said.

“Hector,” I answered, stupidly, “I’m not with Creative Strategies anymore. I’m on my own now, writing computer books.”

“I know,” Hector answered, “They told me that when I called them. What do I care about that? Why would I want to pay them for your work instead of you? Now seriously, how soon can you get down there? I can pay you well.”

I was on a plane three days later, and three weeks later I delivered a Venezuelan market study along with an invoice for more than the combined advances of three computer books. My career as a business planning consultant had begun.

I went on to 12 years of consulting with Apple Computer. I was never an employee, but I worked for Apple Latin America, Apple Pacific, and Apple Japan regularly until 1994. That phone call changed my book writing into a filler and my consulting into a career. It wasn’t my plan; but that’s the way it happened.

I did eventually finish the books I had contracted, but my focus had changed. I admit that thinking I could actually survive economically and support a family only by writing computer books was really dumb, but at least I had the good sense to jump tracks when the opportunity arose.