Why Did I Leave CEO Life To Become A Photographer & Writer?
Updated: Jun 8, 2022
It all started in 2016 when I purchased my first camera, a Leica M6 35mm film camera. I had recently started a spatial computing company named Doghead Simulations to fundamentally improve the way people work and learn through immersive virtual reality classrooms and workspaces. I thought it would be a fun exercise to document the journey of my new high-tech company through a low-tech medium. Little did I know that the experience would change the course of my life forever.
I had just closed a large investment with a group of east coast investors in mid-2016 and flew to Florida to celebrate the win with our entire team. Because our company was entirely remote, we were able to hire the best talent from around the world and flew everyone, all expenses paid, to Florida for a week of well-earned celebrations. That week-long event represented a tremendous amount of work by our entire team and as CEO and founder, I wanted our team to enjoy every last minute of it. There is no question that each and every one of them earned it through their own incredible hard work and personal sacrifice.
During that week, one of our investors - a warm and friendly couple from Florida that had made their money through hard earned entrepreneurship - invited us to dinner at their home. I truly liked this couple, and still do, but my entire world came crashing down the moment my Uber driver dropped me off in front of their home. It was a sprawling, multi-room mansion with a guest house, Olympic size swimming pool and separate garage where the owner's stored their exotic car collection. What was meant to be a kind gesture by a giving couple wanting to host us at their beautiful home, became a watershed moment in my life. I didn't see their life as something to aspire to. I saw it as a gratuitous display of needless excess. Seeing their extremely comfortable life filled with things did not impress me. In fact, it left me with a lingering depression as I took stock of my own life and goals. Now, I don't mean to demean this couple in any way. In fact, I truly like them. They're warm and gracious and very good people. But, their life is just simply not for me. I spent that evening quietly pondering my own life history as I wondered what to do next.
Growing up I was unable to afford college. So I helped start a website development company in 1994. Three-and-a-half years later, when I was 25 years old, our company enjoyed a $63 million IPO. It was because of my risk to become an entrepreneur early in life that I was able to leave that company after a very hard-earned success, travel the world and eventually go back to college (when I could actually afford to pay for it myself). After completing studies in counterintelligence at American Military University, marketing at Rutgers University and finishing in Mergers & Acquisition at Harvard Business School, I went back into entrepreneurship. My original goal was to earn a life exactly like the one being enjoyed by the investor couple whose exquisite home I was sitting in. But, it was in that moment that I knew I had to make a change... I just didn't know what change to make.
So I went about my life for the next 5 years, working 16 hours, 7 days a week to build my award-winning spatial computing company and earning customers across the globe. My company continues to thrive and I still own it to this day. But it was during this time that I photographed my company journey with my Leica M6 and dove headlong into photography. I started my company to fundamentally change how people learn and work, but I was the one who was fundamentally changed forever.
After spending most of my adult life in white collar roles building software companies, I learned that my collar is actually quite blue. Though I projected the very image of success as a technology CEO for many years, I was far from happy. Photography saved my soul.
But it wasn't until the 2020 protests over racial injustice and economic inequality that I made the conscious decision to walk a new path. As the nation boiled in civil unrest, my home city of Seattle, Washington exploded with people taking to the streets to have their voices heard. The city quickly erupted in riots and my condo building was surrounded by the Bellevue Police Department and the U.S. National Guard after being nearly destroyed by looters intent on pillaging the peaceful protests for their own selfish gain. But, instead of seeking a new shelter, I entered the fray with two of my newest cameras, a Leica Q with a fixed 28mm wide angle lens and a Leica SL with a 105mm telephoto lens. I weaved between protestors, police, National Guard troops and rioters, clicking off photos as I moved. With every press of my shutter release I exposed more of myself than I did of the melee raging around me. I had finally found my true calling. As frightened as I was that my home and office were being targeted for destruction, I reminded myself that whatever fear or panic I was feeling paled in comparison to the fear and panic that people like George Floyd must have felt as they slowly suffocated under the knee of an authority figure whose job it was to protect them.
I spent the entire day and night photographing the city's protests and riots and came home with a new purpose. It was on that day that I resolved to pursue my true passions in life - photography and writing - and evolve beyond my life as an entrepreneur.
I've since sold my condo, embraced a simpler way of life, and completed studies in Photojournalism with the New York Institute of Photography. I'm also now a member of the International Association of Press Photographers. I've been fortunate enough to have my photos shown in Leica Fotografie International as Leica Master Shots, distributed and sold by gettyimages, featured on Shotkit.com and displayed at multiple gallery events, selling out every time.
Though I didn't seek out to become a professional photographer & writer, I wouldn't change a thing. Photography feeds my soul and has taken me around the world, meeting and photographing the beautiful, strange and interesting people that inhabit it, and then telling their stories.
My life's been filled with adventures and experiences that I'm sure will send me to hell on a full scholarship. But for now, for me... this is as close as it gets to Heaven.
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