Reflections on Building a Successful Startup Consultancy

Eighteen months ago, Ethan Durham and I founded Kasuria Group, a consultancy for startups. We set out to win our personal freedoms; financial freedom, freedom from groupthink of company cultures, freedom of location, freedom of time. As I look back on a journey that has thoroughly changed both of us, I feel obliged to share some of the wisdom that we gleaned along the path.

My hope with this essay is to awaken as many people as possible from the mundanity of a career that does not invigorate or enrich them. Life is too short for ordinary careers, but even more so, ordinary careers make life short. Sitting at a computer for eight to ten hours a day is bad for your health. If the wider world holds a greater purpose for you, then you should go follow it.

These lessons are true for me and they are true for Ethan; consider them for yourself and see if they are true for you as well:

Adventures Begin In Extraordinary Places

Just under two years ago, in the dead of night under a starry California sky, I drove two hours north of San Francisco and arrived at a dock on the Sacramento River. From there, I boarded a small boat, which sailed into the wind towards a flotilla of houseboats further up the river. With music blasting, with hippies, libertarians, anarchists and other weirdos congregating throughout the boats, it was clear that “I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.” (Or Connecticut in my case)

This was Ephemerisle, a gathering that takes place every year in Northern California. The festival highlights the idealistic mission of autonomous sea colonies- entirely new societies founded on structures in the middle of the ocean, where they can live free from the tyranny and bureaucracy of government. The Seasteading Institute was founded by Peter Thiel, and true to character, tends to attract a crew of gritty libertarians, anxious about government overreach, and wide eyed about the promises of tech. Ephemerisle is an eclectic mix of hyper-intellectual speaker series, venture capitalists doing business deals, free love, all-night raves, and much more. Like many things in counter-culture, Ephemerisle is even weirder than it sounds.

I found myself onboard the zany houseboats of Ephemerisle shortly after leaving a job that had burned me out, and was dreaming of starting my own venture. I had burned through three jobs in three years, so maybe I wasn’t cut out for this whole employee thing. For the four days that I was there, I spent time introspecting on what kind of consultancy I could create, and hoped that I might connect with the right techies there. Ephemerisle wasn’t exactly a conventional place to network, but then again, you never know where adventures will take you.

And in this strangest of places, with tattooed physicists and life extension advocates, with sailors and DIYers and nerds in all directions, I ended up making the right connection that brought Kasuria Group our first client. Even more so, this same connection led me to live in a Victorian mansion in San Francisco with fourteen other people (thanks Corey Breier!).

The lesson I draw from this experience is that to truly make new discoveries, you must venture out of your comfort zone and go to new places. Epigenetic research confirms this empirically — we have encoded genes in our DNA that only manifest themselves under certain conditions, and we likely cannot reach our fullest potential unless we seek out radically different experiences — we are defined by our circumstances. The creative process is more so aided by an influx of new and different ideas. And finally, new experiences are essential for serendipity, or rather synchronicity.

You don’t have to go to Ephemerisle to benefit from this as well. To chart the next phase of your life, go somewhere else and try something new.

Learn on the Fly And Re-Invent

I’ll admit — when I began this journey, there was part of me that doubted whether I had any right to consult. I had an image in my mind of a consultant as a seasoned career professional who, after thirty years on the job and taking a company public, passes on his hard-earned wisdom in exchange for hefty fees.

Twenty years ago, that may have been true. But in this day and age, you don’t need decades of experience to start your own consultancy. You simply need to be able to learn quickly and solve problems for your clients, even if you have no experience in a given area. This requires you to forget your resume, forget who you thought you were, learn a new skill, and simply get it done.

Every career presents some element of personal evolution, but when you run your own company, this process is massively sped up. Throughout the last 18 months, we have had dozens of different clients, and we could not possibly have delivered without a constant willingness to go back to the drawing board and learn from scratch.

The professional skills that I take for granted today are things that I never learned in college and was forced to learn in the heat of the moment. I managed to deliver with no prior experience and I’m proud of it.

Even more so than learning on the job is the power of total reinvention. Ethan started learning to code right around the time when we started the company, and today he is a full-stack developer, serving as the Chief Technology Officer for a well-respected startup. His innumerable late nights spent coding led us to the point where we could start to offer technical services as part of our business, and everything accelerated from there. Ethan recognized that he wasn’t limited by his resume, or his degree, or his past experiences, and underwent a transformation that later allowed him to realize his dream of creating software.

As I can now see so clearly, learning is the origin of all wealth. And in general, when you take your learning into your own hands, and eliminate the constraints of a time-sucking job, your concept of what is possible in life radically changes. The whole world opens up to you.

If you’re willing to take your dreams seriously, start before you’re ready. Total re-invention is possible, and perhaps the only authentic path forward.

Trust

“This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a featherbed.” — Terence McKenna

In the first few months of starting the business, I avoided looking at my bank account. When the total dipped below $1000, it was sometimes easier to look away than to confront the possibility of running out of money. And yet the wild thing is that every single time I got close to the brink and might not have been able to pay rent, a new client would come along in the nick of time and save the day. This wasn’t a one time thing — it was more like my on-going reality for the first year of the business.

The world can feel like a hard place. People stay in bad jobs because without the security of a regular income, their life might come crashing down and they’ll run out of money. They won’t survive out in the wild; the security of the tribe (company) is the only route to safety.

I understand that sentiment, and I also directly and repeatedly confronted all of those fears. Experience taught me that they were unfounded. Financial resources always came through, in the right place and time. I could trust that it was safe to continue down my path.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that *forcing never worked*. We never acquired a single client by sending out cold emails, by attending networking events, by doing all of the things they tell you to do when you start a new consulting business. We consistently found clients in random, unpredictable places.

I’m not saying that there aren’t methodical strategies to find new clients, but in my experience, success arrives in strange places, in mysterious ways. As low as my bank account got during the process of starting this consultancy, I would do it all again, because I know that life has a way of working out even during the “riskiest” of times.

As the above quote suggests, the abyss may not be as dangerous as it seems. Throw yourself into the uncertainty of the deep end and realize that the gifts of life await.

The Road Forward

The entrepreneurial journey is a both a blessing and a curse; a blessing in the sense that it provides your life with an ongoing sense of adventure, joy, and meaning, a curse in that it lasts forever. True to form, Ethan and I have embarked on a new business venture, this time with the goal of using software to help water utilities prevent pipeline leakage. Water leakage is a major problem worldwide, and if we want to live on a planet that works for 100% percent of humanity, we are going to have to step up our water conservation efforts. I’ll let you know how it goes.

We’ve also launched a clothing line, WAV Studios, which Ethan designed from scratch, and which we will be marketing to skate shops throughout San Francisco.

We are continuing to consult, so if you’d like to work with Kasuria Group on either software development or growth marketing strategy goals, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Furthermore, if you are thinking about starting a company or chasing a dream, please let me know how I can help you. Our world and society will be a better place when more individuals wake up and realize how that, they too, can become leaders and pioneers.

If you already know what you need to do, stop waiting and start now. Every additional day spent in a mundane job is a day where you could have been fulfilling your individual potential.

All of us are waiting to see what you will create.