The Toughest Adversity I've Ever Faced

This period began when my successful business (discussed here) failed overnight. After I discovered our accounts were closed, I checked if the dupe method still worked. To my surprise, it did! So I immediately began gathering seed items to rebuild the inventory from square one. I knew it would be a while before we'd earn the profits we needed to cover our monthly expenses, and we only had a couple months worth of savings. We had invested a lot of our savings into equity in our house which was drastically reduced after 2008.

When the business was still going strong, I enjoyed hacking other games in my free time. Every day that we made over $1,000 in profits, I would reward myself with a new video game that I would then hack. During that time, I had discovered a dupe method in the next most popular online game. So, when the business collapsed and I was rebuilding, I started gathering seed items in that game as well.

I tried a couple of new ideas to make some extra income too. I asked the game developers of the most popular mmorpg, where I still had two working dupe methods, if they would be interested in hiring me. I'd divulge the two dupe methods I discovered, and would work to find more bugs before other players could exploit them. I'd spent four years circumventing their detection systems, and could provide them with valuable insight on how to improve. They basically laughed at the request stating that no such bug existed, and even if it did, they'd only offer a virtual pat on the back as a reward for informing them.[1] If I wanted to join their anti-hack team, then I'd have to start with quality assurance and work my way up.

I thought I may have more luck trying to sell the dupe methods to a website that claimed to offer powerful exploits for online games for a subscription fee. I knew my dupe methods would be valuable to that site owner because they were the most coveted exploits that all online game hackers wanted. The response I received was, "I know you're full of shit because I have connections in the elite crowd of the game hacking community. These are the two most popular games right now. My connections tell me it's impossible to duplicate items in either game, but you claim to have a dupe method for both. Don't waste my time by contacting me again."

I was left with trying to rebuild the old business. In my haste, I ignored previous limits I set on item duplication to avoid tripping any flags set up to detect that activity. So, two weeks after I began trying to rebuild, all of my new accounts were closed. This time, the game company did fix one of the dupe methods.

Instead of using the backup dupe method right away, I decided to take a break from trying to rebuild that business. I applied for some jobs, but this was in the middle of 2009, and I quickly found out how bad it really was for job seekers in our area. Everyone who learned of our misfortune declared, with complete certainty, that the reason I allowed our wildly successful business to fail was because I lacked a college degree and the economy was no longer favorable. Nobody cared about the real story. They didn't understand how a successful business could fail overnight, but couldn't be recovered by insurance. When I tried to explain that virtual goods couldn't be insured, they assumed it was never a real business anyway.

My wife knew very well that our business failed because of a factor we couldn't control, but we heard so much criticism that she began to believe it. After hearing all the condescending comments, even I started to doubt myself. The only person who made an effort to truly understand what happened, and still believed in me was my father. He knew my ability wasn't limited by my lack of a degree, but he also knew that I wouldn't be treated fairly because of that.

My wife and I delivered newspapers on 3 routes, and I was lucky to get a temporary job at the Post Office. The income helped to slow the bleeding from our savings. On Christmas Eve that year, I remember working through the night for $10/hr while my wife was alone at home. I was remembering that just six months earlier I was waiting for the next $1,000+ profit day so that I could buy another video game, but that Christmas we couldn't afford to buy each other gifts.

My supervisor at the Post Office wanted to hire me full time, and even extended my temporary position as long as he could, but the Post Office couldn't afford to hire new employees in my area; new workers were strictly temporary. Both my father and my wife had hoped I'd be hired there, but I secretly wished I wouldn't be. I still did the work as well as I could, and they kept me for months after they'd let all the other temporary workers go. I just couldn't imagine myself wasting my life in a 'safe' job with a guaranteed limit to how much value I could produce. Worse than that, I was doing what robots and software should have already taken over.

I continued to apply for better jobs, but was almost never invited to interviews. My father offered to pay for some college classes so that I could finish my degree. I needed about 25 more credits. I explained that the only subjects where I learned more in class than I could teach myself with a textbook were foreign languages. He was fine with that. He knew that simply having a degree was all most employers in our area cared about. So I changed my major to Spanish (I'd already earned a minor) with a minor in German, and began attending a couple classes at the University of Montana.

After the first semester there, my father was diagnosed with lymphoma. I knew he wouldn't be able to continue to pay for my college classes after that. I was just grateful I lived nearby, and could help him out. He asked if I would accompany him to his appointments because he didn't always understand or remember the info and directions his oncologist gave him. I was glad to help, but that meant my schedule wasn't open for full time employment anymore.

I'd begun slowly rebuilding the online game item selling business, but I knew I wouldn't build it up as big as it was previously. I expected that one day it would come crashing down again, so I simply used it for passive income while I worked on other things. Besides, the dupe method that still worked was far less efficient, and item values were lower too.

I learned about, and decided I'd try to earn money building websites for affiliate marketing. I enjoyed building the sites, and I'm very grateful for how much I learned about SEO and other forms of online marketing. Most importantly, I learned that my assumptions are often wrong, and A/B testing provided the insight I needed.

Although I reached profitability, I could never reinvest those profits. Everything I earned went toward paying as many bills as possible while our credit card debt slowly grew. I didn't like affiliate marketing anyway. Many of the products being advertised didn't actually improve lives. Instead, the ads deceived customers into paying for and obeying one weird trick.

After months of chemo, my father was in remission! The biopsy showed there were no traces of the lymphoma left in his bone marrow. It was great news that came right when we received more great, unexpected, and scary news. My wife was pregnant. She was unbelievably scared (so was I) because of our grim financial situation, but I assured her that we'd find a way to make everything work out. I'd never stop trying until I could make something work.

One day I noticed a competition online with a $1,000,000 reward for the best idea and prototype that would harvest energy from coastal tides. I don't know why but I couldn't get that out of my head, and shortly after I had a crazy idea for harvesting solar energy more efficiently. I was so excited that I spent about 8 hours per day for about three weeks straight learning more about and reforming my idea along the way.

When I thought the idea was pretty solid, I just needed to build a prototype to start testing hypotheses. I searched for ways to gain the resources I needed. Almost every outlet, both private and government, wanted to know primarily where I was educated to prove I was an expert in the field, and how many graduate students were working with me on the project. My wife, repeating what society had taught her and she truly believed, assured me that without a degree, nobody would believe I was capable of coming up with such an innovation. I filled out applications for grants and scientific research programs anyway.

My father's cancer returned shortly after, and was more aggressive. I told him about my idea fully expecting him to scoff at it. He wasn't a fierce supporter of renewable energy. He was the type of guy who would joke about global warming on cold days. He always thought the best path for success was to graduate college, get a safe job with benefits, and save for retirement; that any deviation from that course was likely a mistake. So I was shocked when he, without hesitation, said I should go for it, and try to make the solar energy idea happen. He knew I was in debt and still paying some bills with credit cards. He knew my wife and I were about to have our first baby. He knew I'd face a lot more resistance than someone with a PHD. He had faith in me when no one else did; when I had very little left in myself.

My father's condition worsened shortly after that, and I spent nearly every day helping him out. I couldn't bare to see him worry about me, and the future of my family. I promised him that I would become successful again. With medical bills, a newborn, and providing care for my father, we slipped further into debt, and I had so little time to fight our way back. My father, a hero of mine and a great man, passed away at the end of 2012. With my capability doubted by everyone I knew, I was left to rebuild a better life for my wife and six month old son.

I am overwhelmingly grateful that my father left me enough to pay our credit card debt and medical expenses, to catch up on late bills, and to help cover our monthly expenses when our income fell short in 2013. My wife worked part-time at an elementary school, and I stayed at home to care for our infant son. I was earning some money with the item selling business and commissions that were still trickling in from some websites I'd built. As the personal representative of my father's estate, I was also dealing with all the necessary legal tasks, and collaborating with my mother and siblings to agree on important decisions. Then, we got more bad news. Just 5 months after my father had passed away, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. The doctors caught it too late, and they made it clear that it was terminal.

She asked if I would accompany her to her appointments and transfusions just as I had done for my father. Again, I was glad to help. With everything that occupied my time, I had none left to pursue my solar energy idea. I didn't accept that though. By the start of 2014, I had rebuilt the item selling business until profits covered a decent chunk of our monthly expenses without taking all my time. I used the little free time I had gained to continue exploring options to get the resources I needed.

I finally discovered a place where I might be able to build the prototype for my solar energy idea. I read an article about Google[x], and thought it was the perfect place. Its captain, Astro Teller, actually praised those who didn't respect the status quo (This may be common in Silicon Valley, but not where I'm from). I read everything I could find about Google[x], and discovered that they typically hired people with PHDs, or those who were proven experts in some field. I wasn't an expert and didn't have the credentials they said they wanted to see on a resume, but I wasn't about to let that stop me. I hand-wrote a letter and mailed it to Astro Teller at Google in Mountain View. I emailed all the addresses I found related to Google[x] asking to speak with Dr. Teller. I sent messages on social networks. Finally, I received a response from him.

When he finally responded, I was so excited that I sent him a long story (like this one) explaining my life, and gave him a link to a website with some of my ideas. After receiving no response, I realized how selfish I was to think he had time to read all of that. I still had hope though, so I narrated all of it and sent him .mp3 files so he could listen to it while he was jogging or something. After waiting longer and having received no response, I sent him a final email. In it, I apologized for disrespecting his time, and I sincerely thanked him for the inspiration he'd given me through his talks on innovative thinking.

I just wished there were some way (beyond a traditional resume) that I could express how I truly would've been a great employee at Google[x]. My resume wasn't good enough, and I've always despised jumping through the hoops to game the hiring system. In my opinion, being great at getting a job is worthless compared to being great at doing a job. My first (admittedly terrible) iteration of a solution was my attempt to get Dr. Teller to read my life story. It didn't work, but I became driven to find a solution to solve that problem. I imagined how many others may have been amazing employees, but would remain unnoticed because the hiring system is broken.

I began researching startups and how to build a successful one. Surprisingly, I found that I'd already learned quite a bit about startups from my item selling business. While researching, I came across this story about Alexis Ohanian. I was so inspired by him, and amazed by how well I could relate to his story. Through his evangelizing, I discovered Hacker News. I'd bounced around various communities online, but never found one that was just right. Hacker News was exactly what I'd been missing; a group of people like me who were interested in many of the same things. The best part is that it's full of smarter people and better hackers that I can learn from. I'd always been an outsider in my own social bubble. At Hacker News, I finally felt like I belonged. I wondered how I hadn't discovered it sooner. Words cannot express how grateful I am for how much I've already learned from everyone at YCombinator and Hacker News.

I haven't climbed back up to success yet, but I no longer doubt myself. I know exactly what I want to do, and I'm going to go do it. I may face even tougher adversity in the future, but I won't give up.

[1] I did report the last working duplication method to the game company. I thought some people would enjoy reading about how it worked so I asked the anti-hack team to confirm when it had been patched. I'd write about it when it could no longer be exploited. I received the virtual "thanks" as promised, and had regular communication from them while I helped them replicate the bug. Then, just silence as I inquired if it was patched and safe for me to write about the bugs.