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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Kevin Spence

Sometimes we think so much about what our parents, teachers, friends, husbands, wives or mentors want us to be, that we don’t stop to ask ourselves what we want be. And when we do stop to think about it for a moment, we listen to the millions of reasons why we could fail, rather than the hundred reasons why we could succeed. So often, we sell ourselves out before we even give ourselves a chance.

This site was founded from a simple belief — that there is absolutely no reason why you can’t spend your life doing something that brings you satisfaction and happiness. If you’re doing something that you hate, or you’re not sure where to start, don’t stop trying. It’s never too late. I believe that with all of my heart, and I hope that this site will help provide you with the inspiration and the tools you need to help you find the one thing that you can uniquely offer the world.

My Story

As a teenager, I had absolutely no direction in my life. A really good friend of mine was killed just before my sophomore year of high school, and it hit me hard. Within a year I was failing classes, getting suspended from school, and getting into trouble with the law. I was screwing up at every possible turn. My cumulative high school GPA was a 1.2. I remember at one point I told my mom that I just wanted to live on the street and wander. I wasn’t trying to push her buttons (even though I did) — that’s just how lost I was at the time.

I remember sitting in my guidance counselor’s office one day after I’d been hit with another round of in-school detention. She was looking through this giant file of my screw ups. I was a sixteen year old kid, and she was telling me that I was hopeless, and that my life was over. When you’re a kid and someone in a position of authority tells you that, it’s hard not to believe it. I thought I was done, and what little motivation I had left went right out the window. I don’t think I brought a single book to school with me the last two years.

Music was about the only thing I cared about at this point. After I graduated (in 1998), I was really struggling to find my place. It was around that time that I started falling in love with Phish. Their music was centered around improvisation, and that meant that sometimes they’d get up on stage and fail. The jam would fall flat and it would be a train wreck. But then they’d push through it, and sometimes their best stuff developed from mistakes. I thought, if their greatest stuff comes from mistakes, maybe mine can too. I just have to keep pushing through and learning from it and not give up.

I thought, I have no idea what my path is going to be, but I’m going to start figuring it out. I enrolled in a community college (Richard Bland College, in Petersburg, VA). Every day, I’d think about that guidance counselor who told me I’d never amount to anything. Every day, I’d think about those times I was driven home in the back of a police car, and how everyone outside of my mom and dad had given up on me completely. I used those things as motivation, and I absolutely killed it. My first semester I had all A’s. I remember how proud my parents were, and how good that felt.

I was still searching though, and I spent months every year following Phish around the country, seeing every show I possibly could, searching for some kind of meaning. I was seeing them 40-50 times a year at this point in time, funding it by saving the money I earned from working in restaurants and selling bottled water in the parking lots. That was my first entrepreneurial experience.

On Phish tour, I also fell in love with a girl (who is now my wife). We spent a couple years following Phish together, before we settled down with our daughter in Charlottesville, VA. I was still broke. I was happy, but I was struggling to pay the bills and still didn’t have any real direction. I was looking for a job, just thumbing through the classifieds in the paper, and I found this really vague job listing posted by a company who said they needed to hire someone who loved music. I thought it sounded scammy, but I gave them a call anyway. I went in for an interview, and it turned out to be a job working for Dave Matthews Band (shipping out merchandise orders made online). I was hired on the spot.

Sometimes, merchandise would get damaged in shipment, or shirts would have small imperfections like the logos being slightly off-center. The band had no use for damaged stuff, so they let me take it home with me. Every day, I’d come home with a big bin full of t-shirts, posters and CDs, and spend my nights putting it up on eBay. I was making an extra $100 a day doing that, and I decided right then that I wanted to learn how to make my own websites and make money on the internet.

This was in 2003. I’d been out of high school for five years at this point, but I finally had an inkling of what I wanted to do with myself. The community college I’d gone to had this agreement with the College of William & Mary, where if you had a good GPA (I think it was a 3.5) and could get a recommendation from the Dean, they’d let you in.

So I went to meet with the Dean to try and get a recommendation. I was nervous, because I’d been out of school for a few years at this point, and I thought that would work against me. I walked in and we talked and she said, ‘I almost never recommend people. It’s really rare, because most people have just been floating around and not really doing and not applying themselves, and for people like that it doesn’t really matter where they go to school or what opportunities they get, it won’t make a difference in their lives. But you did really well here and you’ve been through so much stuff and learned from it and taken chances, that I’m going to recommend you.’ And that was my get out of jail free card. That was the point where I knew that all my screw ups were starting to pay off for me — they were actually working to my advantage. I mean, I almost flunked out of high school, and here I was six years later getting into one of the best colleges in the world. I felt like I’d been given a reset switch.

So I enrolled at William & Mary and took as many computer science courses as I could. I didn’t have any interest in becoming a software engineer or anything like that, but I wanted to learn to program so I could build what I wanted to build on my own. I worked my tail off. I had to balance school, a full time job, and my family. It was hard, but I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2006. My son (second child) was born a couple months later, and I found a job at Media General (a media company based in Richmond, VA).

My job was simple and boring like most entry level jobs are, but I got to meet a lot of really smart people and absorbed everything I could about building websites and getting traffic to them. I started building sites on my own at home in the evenings. After a couple years of practice, I started to get really good at getting traffic to websites. I loved it, and took a job at Snagajob.com where I could do that full time. It felt really good to get a job where I was using skills that I taught myself. I felt like I’d finally found my path.

At Snagajob, they would often interview people who were looking for work so they could better understand what they were going through. I would listen to interview after interview, and people would say, ‘I want to find a cashier job. But I hate being a cashier and wish I never had to do it again, but this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.’ Or something like that. And I just wanted to scream, ‘man, you can do whatever you want. Just take a chance. It might take you 12 years like it took me to even start to figure it out, but you can do it if you just step outside the box you’re in. You don’t have to sell yourself out.’

I liked what I did at Snagajob. I was paid well and I worked with great people, but I wasn’t happy. I learned that I’m just not cut out for the meetings, politics, and everything else that goes along with having a job in an office environment. So in February of 2012 I quit my job and started this site.I thought, I’m a great example of someone who screwed up and was written off by everyone but my family. Maybe I could help other people who are trying to figure it out too.

I don’t mean to imply that I have it all figured out now. I don’t. I still make mistakes all the time. For every thing I do that ends up great, I fail at least fifty times. The difference between now and before, is I accept that good things come from mistakes. Screwing up can lead to really great stuff, if you do something with it.

Why I’m telling you this

What I want you to know is that it’s never too late. I don’t care how old you are or how many times you’ve screwed up in your life, you can find something that will make you fulfilled. I screwed up in my life. When I was sixteen, people were telling me, ‘you’ll never get into college. You’ll never have a decent job. You’ll never amount to anything.’ But I did. I got into a great college. I have an awesome family. I found a set of skills that earned me a lot of money. And now I’m doing what I love the most, working for myself, building websites and helping others.

If you get nothing else out of this site, remember this:

People will tell you you’re too old. They’re wrong.

People will tell you you’re not smart enough. They’re wrong.

People will tell you you’ve made too many mistakes, and you’re too screwed up. They’re wrong.

People will tell you all kinds of things that are designed to discourage you. They’re all wrong unless you let them be right.

I did it while married, with kids, and while digging out from a really big hole. You can do it too. There are no secrets or tricks, you just have work towards it every single day. It’s hard work, and it might take take you fourteen years like it took me to finally figure it out, but you can get there. I hope that this site will give you some of the tools you need to do so.