I guess I’m reaching a point where “quit my job” is becoming less a part of my identity and the next chapter is what is defining me. But it’s an important part nonetheless. I turned 34 in August and September marked my three year anniversary of leaving my career in Corporate America so it’s time for a social media update:
I left my job to make an app and be a computer programmer, but I realized half-way through that I’d probably just end up going to work for a company building someone else’s dream. And with my app, Climb Connect, I had mistakenly partnered up with a business partner who was more interested in my free labor and selling out than in actually building something together. So we came to a stalemate and Climb Connect was dead in the water. That was my baby. I had worked hard on Climb Connect and in my excitement, I didn’t fully know who I was partnering up with. For a climbing gym that touts “community”, it has been one of the most anti-community experiences I have ever been a part of and I look forward to the day that Climb Connect is behind me. An unfortunate way to end something that I was super proud of. And for the record, that gym is NOT Movement Climbing & Fitness.
So, I had just spent the last year without an income working on Climb Connect and now almost nothing to show for it and a bank account nearing zero. But right around that time, photography was taking off for me. I had done my first paid photoshoot in March of 2017, about six months into leaving my job. It was meant to be spending money while I was working on Climb Connect. My Craigslist ad read “$25 Tinder Photos (or whatever) - Local Denver photographer needs you!”. That price seems crazy to me now but at the time, it was slightly better than driving for Lyft and that was the alternative.
So when Climb Connect started to fall apart in 2018, I put all my energy into photography. I said yes to everything and I found myself meeting and photographing all kinds of interesting people. I started raising my rates. I spent a ton of money for Google Ads to get my name out there and it was paying off. I was spending $2,500/month on ads and booking $10,000/month in shoots. But poor planning for seasonality got me into trouble and when January rolled around, things slowed down significantly. Google was still taking my money and I was lucky if I was even covering my costs. So even when I’m bringing in $75K/year in revenue, I’m spending $30K on ads, $10K on gear (I transitioned to Sony at the time), and another $7K on things like studio rent, travel, insurance, and administrative and website costs. That leaves me at $28K before taxes and I had a credit card balance of $22K. Fuck. I was drowning. This was not sustainable and I knew I had to make big changes to my business quickly.
So in March 2019, I turned off Google Ads completely and prayed to God that I wouldn’t have to go back to Corporate America. I focused on getting smarter about my marketing, rebuilding my website, and cutting back on unnecessary expenses. As April approached and the weather warmed up, business started picking back up again. This time it was repeat customers, referrals, and organic web traffic I didn’t have to pay for. In April, I was flying to LA, San Francisco, Chicago and the East Coast for photoshoots. Between June and July, I did over $30,000 in sales and hadn’t spent a dime on marketing. In August for the first time ever, I hit $100K in annual revenue for the trailing 12 months. So in 2.5 years, I’ve grown $25 Tinder headshots into a six-figure business. And believe it or not, I still do Tinder sessions from time to time.
It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows over here, though. There have been plenty of low points, growing pains, and failures in this three year “journey” and I’m sure there will be many more. I’ve had falling-outs with business partners, friends, girlfriends. I’ve used my house as collateral. I’ve struggled with the stress, anxiety, and loneliness that comes with being a solo entrepreneur. I’ve put everything I can into this. But I’m waking up everyday inspired and stoked on the things I’m doing and what I get to create. It’s been a balance of doing what I love, making mistakes, and learning how to run a business that keeps my fire stoked and is also profitable. I paid off my credit card in August and I’m putting money aside during this busy season so that I can enjoy some time off this winter.
Thank you to my family who has always supported me leaving my job and has supported all the decisions I’ve made. And thank you to my girlfriend Ada who has been loving, understanding, supportive, and has pampered me with some amazing vacations during those lowest of lows. She’s awesome, thoughtful, hilarious, witty, beautiful, and she has her own career that she excels in. She’s helped me through quite a few challenging times and I can’t thank her enough for her support and understanding through it all. I’ve got quite a few vacation photos/blogs to catch you up on once things slow down a bit. And thank you to everyone else that has supported my work and has been following my story.
Leaving my job has been the best decision I’ve ever made. I had the luxury of having some money put aside to allow me to do that. But that only got me so far and after a year, I found myself starting over anyway and this time with nothing. Embrace the challenges. Learn from the mistakes. And trust in yourself that you have what it takes to make things work. Let go of the way you think things should be and give yourself the freedom to let your heart lead the way. I started shooting ten years ago and I gave it up for what I thought I was supposed to do. College degree, corporate job, climbing the corporate ladder, etc. And after seven years of fitting myself into a box, life somehow guided me right back into photography. If you have a talent or a passion you want to turn into a business, I encourage you to pursue it. Get yourself in a good position and leave the job. The timing will never be perfect so quit waiting for something to happen. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. If I had set out with the intention of being where I’m at today, I would never have done it. $25 was my goal. Remember, baby steps still move you forward. And one day you’ll look back and be surprised just how far you’ve come.