I watched a YouTube documentary once that explored whether you have to be a d*** to be a successful leader? I didn’t really want to believe that hypothesis to be true but the more I evolved, spent time around other successful people and paid close attention to various business operations, it seemed there was a level of a**hole like behaviour everywhere. Now the question became, is this really how you have to be? Are losing close relationships a price to pay to gain success? What kind of circumstances even drive people to be like this and how can I make sure I don’t become one of those shunned upon, soulless, despised talking topics in a room full of acquaintances? I guess I didn’t see 2018 coming.

I made some of the toughest life decisions I’ve ever made this year – the kind of decisions that drove people away from me, perhaps to a point of resentment but given the circumstances I wonder whether this could all have been avoided?

I hear a lot about this ‘gut feeling’ that entrepreneurs have, an almost sixth sense telling you whether you’re onto something or not. I experienced it for the first time this year and it took over ever facet of my decision making process. It was me vs everybody – an idea that has to prevail no matter what and I knew full well that in order to achieve this, drastic changes would need to take effect.

I’ve learnt that the metric you measure success by is objective. Some measure it by the % of people happy in their organisations and life all round, some measure it purely by the number of 0’s at the end of their bank balance. I’m not sure I have the answer yet, but I went through emotion rollercoaster’s of both these past 360 odd days and although this was the most successful financial year, the greatest milestones in terms of business breakthrough’s and chart topping personal projects, I did become somewhat of a storm: destroying everything in my immediate view to get to the other side.

‘The other side’ is a relative concept I suppose but if I’m to measure it against the milestones achieved this year, it’s a pretty sight but the tax you pay for that view is hard-fought sacrifice, mind mangling days of endless coding and fierce arguments with friends you’ve known since school who see it as detrimental while you invite friction as a component of progress.

I Don’t Need Money, I Need Fulfilment

I like to try everything, especially when it comes to finding fulfilment in my work and home life. I’ve had multiple business partnerships, don’t like those. I’ve freelanced from my Dad’s basement, not sure I’d do that again. I’ve freelanced in my own office – became a maniac workaholic. I setup my own agency and spent over £100,000 on wasted talent, resources and business opportunities only to come to the conclusion that running an agency is mundane, brain-aching and pretty much senseless.

I know I can sell. I know I can get contracts. I’ve proved a whole lot to myself but why do I never feel happy despite how big the contract is? They give me 0 creative fulfilment and that’s the single trait that fuels me. Creative energy is my drug and I discovered this year that I’m willing to sacrifice a whole lot to get that hit.

At the top of this year I was getting ready to launch the BETA version of Feedsauce, an on-demand product photography platform for brands. Feedsauce was just a concept at this stage, had no revenue and no real data to prove it would even work. Flavr was a thriving business, racking in residual deals from giants such as Hilton, Deliveroo and Dell – any businessman in the right senses would know what to keep focussing on.

I noticed my daughter became the measurement of happiness for me where I would rank how happy I am based on the energy, positivity and wittiness I came home with every evening. The happier I was, the more energy I gave to my daughter and my wife and the unhappier I was, the more I caved in and dwelled on my own thoughts until her bedtime came round (even then staring at the ceiling in despair). When I was working on Feedsauce I experienced complete euphoria and the days I spent working on other client work at Flavr, a lifeless Omar dragged his feet around the office hoping another ‘Just one more thing Omar’ phone call didn’t come through from a client.

I made the decision to cut Flavr’s client roster and subsequently income by 70% and use the remaining 30% to fund Feedsauce. I stopped paying myself completely and told the team that I won’t be able to pay them much at all. Oh yeah, and I started ignoring client e-mails.

We’re Running Out of Time and You Don’t Understand Me

You could say the d*** in me started to come alive. I really didn’t want to be featured in the re-make of that documentary if they ever made one but yikes, I could feel the energy switch. My agenda was simple:

We have a business I no longer enjoy running.

It’s not worth keeping alive if the only thing it does is pay bills and sustain current living standards.

I have this new idea that could change everything. It makes 0 money but I like the idea.

We’re going to shift almost all of our focus onto that and I cannot promise that you’ll have any money in your pocket next month.

Are you in?

You can imagine the backlash – more so emotionally than anything else. I spent weeks upon weeks explaining myself and the idea behind Feedsauce, in fact it got to a beautiful point where the team were all in and shared this vision with me. We spent long nights working on the project and I was in my element coding, designing, implementing ideas, listening to ideas. It was complete euphoria.

As the months ticked on and the bank balance slipped off into a light doze, the pressures became greater and the enthusiasm slid out the room with the cash. Everyone’s holding onto this little hope that this crazy idea our friend, mentor, boss has could end up materialising into something great. I sold the dream often – not an unrealistic one either but I guess I’d already been through 10 years of business and ridden it’s extreme terrains to have this perspective, however it’s a difficult one to sell when the people supporting you just want to be able to feed their families.

I stopped trying to understand my peers. I developed an energy plagued by frustration and dying hope in my comrades. The coming months displayed those emotions evidently and ultimately to the demise of those relationships.

Sometimes It’s Too Late, Way Too Late

The official public launch of Feedsauce drew nearer as the summer was drawing to an end. The World Cup frenzy had died down, we’d launched two successful BETA’s and generated revenue, feedback and data that propelled us to giving this a shot in the major leagues.

7 days before launch, one of my closest peers walked away. It had got too much. The pain was too real, the sacrifices reaped no reward and even the visible light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t enough validation to keep faith. I think I pushed too far.

Building a product is not easy and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted. You have to endure extreme levels of pressure, stress, anxiety and sacrifice whilst heading in a direction where there’s no visibility – a complete fog from head to toe, step to step. The only thing that keeps you running like a lunatic is this promise land that you’ve build in your own mind that apparently awaits you beyond the mist.

I didn’t have time to reflect on my emotions during that week though, I mean I’m so close. Hold on, did I just say ‘I’m so close?’ … as in I, as in Me, as in Omar? How could I have blinded myself to a point where the efforts, sacrifices and belief people had put in me became so invisible? During the process of getting to this launch, I’d not only lost touch with some of my closest peers, it seems I’d lost touch with myself.

Facebook’s Down. No, Literally, They’re Down to Meet.

It was a bitter sweet moment when I got the e-mail. I was at my brother in-laws house where my wife and I had gone to stay for a few days.

The day before I thought I’d run some test ads on Instagram to drive more traffic to the site. We’d only been launched 10 days and the feedback was really positive – customers coming from all over the globe, round of applause from the top titans of the tech game. I had every reason to be ecstatic but the thought of how I’d let others down or tainted their perception of me just replayed in mind over and over again. What good is success if you can’t share it with anyone?

The e-mail was brief. One of the senior product engineer’s from Facebook in London had seen the Feedsauce advert and was intrigued by the concept. He asked if we could speak more, perhaps a phone call so I could explain what we do.

I woke my wife up. Waking up a 10 week pregnant woman during a deep sleep to tell her Facebook want to speak isn’t an easy sell, but she was immensely proud.

I e-mailed back immediately like a flustered teenager getting a text from his crush. I heard nothing for two weeks.

Everytime I refreshed my e-mail feed I would close one eye and peek with the other, hoping that they’d responded by the time I’d opened both fully and it wasn’t until one Friday morning that I received the follow up from the gentleman’s P.A. She offered me a variety of dates over the next two weeks and of course I took the earliest one. Tuesday, 10am, Facebook Headquarters.

Sell Me The Dream and I’ll Sell It Back To You

We built a rapport over the coming weeks and months – I almost became a regular at the headquarters, dipping in and out on odd mornings, meeting with various senior members of Facebook, although my closest ally became the security guard Derek who would hand me my laminated pass with a big blue Facebook thumbs up on it every time I walked in. ‘Omar Choudhry, Feedsauce’ it said.

I was eventually given a selection of offers. Yep, a selection. Facebook not only knocked on my doors two weeks after launching this crazy idea I had in my living room, but they gave me a bunch of keys and said pick a door, any door.

I prefer breaking down doors, but ok, what you got for me?

Partnership opportunities, exclusivity deals, resource provision… pick a door Omar! If there was ever a more perfect comparison, let it be Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, except in a tech world where the Ooma Loompa’s are the world’s most intelligent software engineers and the endless fountains of chocolate are the infinite resources available to you.

I had one of the few Golden Tickets in my hand, but I just couldn’t.

I don’t think I’m so far ahead of the game that I have it all sussed out, but I do think I’m smart enough to understand my own capabilities and growth potential. I can also see an unfair deal from a mile off. I haven’t even explored 5% of my overall vision and ideas for Feedsauce at this point, yet I would mould into the vision that Facebook has for me in order to become their puppy?

There’s a bigger picture.

98% of Facebook’s revenue comes from their ad platform. That’s a big chunk for a Fortune 500 company. What if I told you that the one of the biggest bounce rates on Facebook’s ad platform comes from the page where people have to ‘Upload a Creative’. Basically customers leave the site and walk away most often when they have to upload a photo or video to advertise their product.

The product we offer at Feedsauce is effectively the fuel to the engine of Facebook (in theory). By no means do I believe we’re remotely at a stage where they ‘need’ us – of course they could clone us in a day and do what they want but I certainly know the value my ideas have for the future of digital content.

If we manage to scale our model to a point where supply is no issue for demand, millions of customers a day could use Feedsauce via Facebook to have photos and videos created for the product which would ultimately be used to advertise on the social network, thus providing immense revenue opportunity for Facebook where they previously would have seen customers abandon them.

Big talk Omar, I know. Sounds great in theory, I know. But if you can’t dream big, broad and ballsy then what is this all for?

In the words of Dave Chapelle who famously turned down a $50 million deal to continue Chapelle’s Show almost 15 years ago, “I didn’t walk away from the money, I walked away from the circumstances.” Chapelle recently inked a $60 million comedy special deal with Netflix and ended up doing four specials which he filmed, owned and licensed off his own back.

Was It All Worth It?

Despite the pain points expressed in this article, there have been many, many incredible and life changing moments for me in 2018. I’ve got to see my daughter grow into this beautiful, energetic soul that oozes confidence and vibrance. My wife and I are expecting our second child and she too has evolved in character, personality and love which has been a joy to be part of.

I haven’t severed ties with those close to me to the point where we’re unable to speak. I feel that the work environment at those points perhaps wasn’t the healthiest for us and I have great admiration and respect for anyone that’s spent even 60 seconds in aid of helping me. I am indebted to my entire team for their sacrifices and on-going battles they fight with me and I have every intention to develop as a leader and mentor to them.

Hind sight is wonderful but it’s not practical.

Life has to happen for us to be able to evolve and learn – we have to go through extreme circumstances to really discover who we are but the real win is not in the result, outcome or reward, it’s in the self-reflection as a result of those circumstances that ultimately allows you to evolve into a better person.