I knew that I would be writing a post like this, I just didn’t quite know when, but sometimes life works in amazing and mysterious ways. I have been incredibly fortunate over the last few years, I think this is one part luck, one part hard work, and two parts do or die passion. After nine incredible years at Sonos I will be leaving in October as Daina and I embark on a new adventure building our own startup, Fashion Metric.
For those who have been reading my blog since 2007 you know that I like to share just about everything here on this blog. So I thought it was only right to share how my life has evolved over the last five years, and where it’s trending for the next five. Let’s start with Sonos.
I started at Sonos back in 2004 after I graduated with a degree in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from CMU. While I had some great job offers out of school, they were all for software development positions. This made sense of course considering I just finished an intensive Masters in computer engineering and software development was my forte. However something inside me told me that this wasn’t the right path, I was great with people and wanted to see these skills put to good use. I had also been a huge music fanatic since I can remember so wanted to find a way to merge music and tech, but how?
Back in the summer of 2004 I met a guy named Graham who worked for a new company in Santa Barbara called Sonos. I had dinner at his house and a few days later he said there might be an opening for me at Sonos. I told him this was great but I wasn’t looking for another opportunity in software development, I wanted to do something on the business side of an organization. He told me the position was actually in Channel Sales, I had never heard of Channel Sales but it sounded pretty far from development so I was interested.
I drove to Santa Barbara for the interview arriving at a plain office building with no discernable front. I managed to find a side door facing some cubicles, the sign on the door read “RinconNetworks” – I must be in the wrong place. I knocked on the door anyways and someone emerged from a nearby cube, “Is this Sonos?” I asked, “Yes it is.” And so it began.
I initially interviewed with a few people in Santa Barbara including one of the Sonos founders. They thought that I could be a good fit but there was a catch, the job wasn’t in Santa Barbara, it was in Boston. I flew to Boston a few days later to meet Kostas, the Director of Sales who would be my manager if he thought I was a good fit.
Kostas and I had coffee and Boston and clicked immediately. A week later I had moved to Boston and was living in a hotel on memorial drive. Coming right out of engineering school I really didn’t know the first thing about business, this didn’t faze Kostas, he saw my potential and took me under his wing. Before Sonos Kostas had run a successful company in Boston, he knew business and sales well, and was an incredible teacher.
I helped Kostas build the North American sales channel for Sonos. It was intense but incredibly rewarding. I was traveling all week every week visiting with high end audio dealers across the country. Soon we had a real sales channel and thanks to the brilliant people that made Sonos, the product was wowing people all over the US.
After two great years working on our US business the time had come for me to get a promotion and pick a new direction. I told the company that I had always dreamed of doing International business. Once again, the company went out on a limb and gave me a shot. It all started with a trip to Asia with one of the founders, Tom Cullen.
Tom had a very different teaching style than Kostas, but like Kostas, believed in me and took me under his wing showing me the ropes of doing business in Asia. While he was hard on me, it was because he cared, and I learned a lot, including how to get a bit thicker skin and take harsh criticism without taking it personally.
We went to Hong Kong and Singapore together and it honestly changed the way I saw business, people, and the world. You might think that the biggest lesson I learned in Asia was how to do business in Asia. While I did learn a lot about the business culture in Asia, Tom taught me a lot about myself and about working with people. I can still remember us going back to our hotel room one night, before going to our rooms Tom said to me, “Sometimes you talk too much about yourself, spend more time listening to people.”
I can still remember going to sleep last night thinking that Tom was a total jerk. Fast forward to a few months later and I realized that he was 100% right and to this day I am still working on this. People are amazing and if you take the time to learn more about them it can really enrich your experiences and relationships. Thank you for this lesson Tom, and I’m sorry it took a few months to set in, and no, I haven’t come close to perfecting it yet, but I hope I’m getting better every day.
What followed was an incredible experience working my butt off and helping Sonos build their international business in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. The company really believed in me and I felt it was my duty to prove to them that I had what it takes. I worked 16 hour days, worked weekends, did whatever it took to get the job done, and never looked back.
In 2007 I came into a bit more money than I knew what to do with and started Linton Investments. Originally this was going to be a property development business, I wanted to buy land in Maine and build my vacation dreamland. Lucky for me my real estate agent told me that the market was about to crash and this would be a big mistake. So what the heck was I going to do with the money?
I was searching online for real estate and decided for some reason to look at virtual real estate. I stumbled upon Sahar’s blog, Conceptualist.com and was immediately intrigued, people were making money with domain names?
I took my entire nest egg and put it all into domains. My goals were simple, I just wanted to make an additional $500-$1,000/month and learn a new investment strategy. This is the part that you, my readers, know a lot more about.
About half of the money I spent was wasted on really crappy domains. I was really upset, what the heck had I done? I had started a web development company in High School so knew enough HTML to be dangerous and decided to start building out my domains. Soon I had a domain I spent $5 on making thousands a month with a simple five-page website, I was onto something.
Of course Sonos was and has always been priority number one, but I spent nights and weekends in my own personal MBA. I started an LLC, hired a few people and started building out more domains. Fast forward to two years later and I was making over $5,000/month with my domains plus a few thousand in domain sales here and there.
Two years ago I really kicked it into high gear and turned Linton Investments into a six-figure business. Since Sonos took up 8-12 hours/day I had to hire more people to do more things since my time was incredibly limited. I really enjoyed finding and motivating great people and soon I found myself with a team of ten. I was working a few hours a day while they did the bulk of the work, they were happy and I was happy.
In October of 2010 I was officially making more money with Linton Investments than with Sonos. When I told this to a few people they all said the same thing, “Why are you still working at Sonos?” My answer was simple, “I love Sonos, amazing product, great people, and I really enjoy what I do.” I never understood why you would want to leave something that you love, so I didn’t.
2011 was an amazing year as Linton Investments reached new heights, we had over 200 active websites and over 1,000 domains. I was making more money than I had every dreamed I would make, but I also learned something about myself, I was more interested in startups than I was Domaining. Domain Investing had been a great way to build a solid income stream and a good business, but what I really wanted was to run a real startup. I started talking to Daina about this, who was knee deep in her PhD at this point.
We attended Eric Ries’s conference, Startup Lessons Learned in San Francisco and this was where we first got the bug, we wanted to build a startup of our own. Of course to do this I didn’t want to live off of Ramen in a $500/month apartment, I wanted to live comfortably and not have to worry about where my next paycheck was coming from. So I set a goal, Linton Investments had to make not just more than what I made at Sonos, but more than double so that leaving would mean still making more than enough money for us to live and fund our company.
In 2012 I achieve that goal, in fact in the first six months of the year Linton Investments made more than both Sonos and Linton Investments did combined last year. The timing was right, but we still didn’t have an idea.
Then Daina pitched a very innovative idea she had at a startup competition called Lean Startup Machine. At the end of the weekend they won the competition. I joined the team the following week and we went to AngelHack in Silicon Valley the next weekend.
Both of these were great experiences that helped us make some amazing connections in the startup world. We ended-up being finalists in AngelHack which meant that we went back up to Silicon Valley two weeks later. While we didn’t officially win AngelHack, it was a major win for us, we had what we needed to get our business started.
A few weeks later I called Kostas and told him the news, I would be leaving Sonos to start Fashion Metric with Daina. I have always been a true believe in Sonos so it was important to me to be able to still be involved with the company and if I wasn’t going to do it as an employee, I wanted to be an investor. So I bought a nice chunk of stock, I think the company is going to continue to grow like a rocket ship and I want to still come along for the ride!
Linton Investments provides us with enough income to pay all our bills, fund Fashion Metric, continue to build up savings, and continue to grow Linton Investments itself. Most importantly Daina and I will be able to pursue the #1 dream we have both have pretty much since the day we met, spend every day together.
I’ve spent enough time traveling around the world alone or spending nights and weekends glued to my computer screen. It is time for us to start the next phase of our lives together, we love spending every minute with each other and that’s exactly what we will do now and forever.
We have found a real problem, one that nobody has solved yet. Will this be an easy path to take? Absolutely not. We are in this for the long haul and we will make Fashion Metric he company we have dreamed of building.
Just about five years ago I started this blog to follow my latest adventure. I am excited to say that another new adventure is starting, and as usual, you are all coming along for the ride. There will be ups and downs but something tells me we’re going to love every minute of it. Here’s to taking the plunge!
Before ending this post I would like to personally thank Tom Cullen, John MacFarlane, Craig Shelburne, Patrick Murray, and Kostas Reissis. You all believed in me and in turn I put my heart and soul into everything I did every minute I have been at Sonos. It has been a life changing experience and I know that the company will continue to do incredible things. I will take much of what I have learned with me onto my next adventure and can’t wait to cross paths again in the future. For now it’s onwards and upwards for both of us!