Being an entrepreneur, by definition, means foregoing the comforts that come with a salaried job and venturing out into the unknown. On the one hand, it’s empowering. On the other hand, it’s terrifying.
Entrepreneurs all expect to learn some lessons the hard way, but what if your worst fear actually comes to pass? What if you not only fail, but fail big?
Few would guess that Mat Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Cloudability, has a big failure under his belt. From all outside appearances, the company is an overnight success story. It was named one of the most promising cloud companies of 2011, the same year it was founded, and two years later, Mat won OEN’s 2013 Tom Holce Individual Achievement Award. Now set to double its workforce in 2014, Cloudability has been nominated for TAO’s Tech Company of the Year.
At our Entrepreneurial Summit, Mat candidly shared the trials and tribulations that led him to where he is today, including the big failure that nearly brought him to his knees. Here’s Mat:
I formed my first business when I was 15. I got a scholarship to go to a boarding school. That meant I had a lot of free time in the summer when my friends were still in school, and I was at home. So I wrote computer games, and I soon had enough business to form a company.
That led me to fall out with my father. He didn’t like me having that measure of independence. If any of you have got 15-year-old sons, you’ll know just how polite, diplomatic, and not arrogant I was about my newfound power.
So I found myself at 16 with a year of high school to go, and still doing my job. I graduated at seventeen. There’s a great line, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this little cartoon called The Simpsons. There’s a line where he is doing really well and Marge is saying, “Why don’t you save a bit for a rainy day?” and he says, “There ain’t going to be a rainy day Marge.” I thought, “Why go to university?” It was just much more fun that summer to keep writing games and running my business.
Well, inevitably it ended in tears. I remember my mother’s birthday, May 31, 1991, I come to my office and it’s empty. One of my staff had stolen everything in the office. Every last bit. It’s a long story, but the basic fault was mine—an error of judgment. I should have fired him three months sooner.
So it’s the middle of a recession—what you called the depression of 2009, well in the UK we had something very similar in 1991. One in 25 houses had negative equity. We had 17 percent interest rates, it was a real bad situation.
I’m 19 with no education and $300,000 in debt. It took me two years to work my way out of that. It was a very hard time, and I remember having dinner with my girlfriend. We couldn’t live in the same city, and we had to meet each other on weekends in London because we couldn’t afford to live there. And we couldn’t pay the restaurant bill. I thought I had had 20 pounds, the bill was 15, I had 10. She asked, “Do we leave the 10?” I said, “No way! If we’re going to hoof it, we’re going to hoof it.”
Nine months later I had paid everything off, I had a great job, and I went past that restaurant on the way to my apartment. And it gave me a lot of strength in my career—how quickly things can get better. And how much you can face in the worst situation.
For more, watch Mat’s talk from our Entrepreneurial Summit and save the date for our 2014 Summit on June 6!