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How Hitting Rock Bottom Became The “Why” Behind My Tech Startup

My Journey from Depression to Happiness

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A couple of years ago, I had two life-changing events that happened to me that fundamentally changed me and the person I wanted to be. The first event had it’s beginnings over 10 years ago when I had an interesting idea for a business in the hospitality industry. For years, I developed the concept and pitched the concept to investors. For nearly a decade, with some breaks in between, I worked on making this dream a reality.

In late 2016, I caught a break. I was connected with a family that owned a successful business that was interested in investing in the very specific niche that my concept was in. How could that possibly be? How could my team and I be so lucky? We didn’t ponder that question for too long. For nearly a year, we went through a rigorous due diligence and negotiation process. Finally, we came to terms on a deal where they would invest most of what we needed to launch the business. However, the investment was contingent on us being able to pre-sell several hundred memberships before the money was actually invested. We were so confident that we could do it, we agreed without a second thought. This commitment gave us the momentum that we needed to raise the rest of the money that we thought we needed at the time. We jumped right into selling memberships. This is what I had been waiting for for 10 years!

However, once we were ready to start selling memberships, we received some bad news. The location for the concept that we thought was a lock was sold suddenly and the new owner was not really interested in taking a risky start up as a tenant. Suddenly, we were scrambling to find a new location. We hit a bit of luck in that we were able to identify one of the premier locations in the city. We engaged in a extended negotiation for the space that lasted over six months, but eventually we made a deal. These long protracted, stressful negotiations were a grind and were taking a toll, but overall things were looking great!

We started the pre-sale process. After selling membership for a few months, a few things became clear to us. People really liked the concept, but because it was new, most people wanted to wait until the concept opened before they committed to membership. Unfortunately, we needed people to buy the memberships so we COULD open the facility. On top of that, we realized that we were going to need a lot more money to open the concept than we originally thought. We had to find an investor that had extensive resources and was willing to commit to the project without any contingency requirement, and we did not have a lot of time to find them. Incredibly, we secured a meeting with an interested CEO of a billion-dollar company in our space. A meeting was set up within a week, and we flew down to Atlanta to meet with him. Within a few days, we had the framework for an acquisition deal in place and signed an LOI or Letter of Intent. Yet again, we went through intense due diligence and negotiation period that lasted over four months. Once again, we were taken on a gut-wrenching emotional roller coaster. At the end of this, the company decided not to move forward with the deal.

There is no way to sugar-coat this: I was crushed. I had worked on this project for nearly a decade, and I had defined myself for so long by this project. I had just endured a roller coaster of emotions for the better part of the last two years. Candidly, I experienced a pretty intense bout of depression during this period. If I’m being honest, for a brief moment, I thought about taking my own life. My life felt like it was in tatters. I just had what I considered the worst failure of my life, I had taken on a fair amount of debt over the last few years as I pursued this passion project, my eating and sleeping habits were terrible, and I wasn’t spending nearly as much time as I should with my family. However, when I looked at my experience, I realized I had learned an incredible amount. At the end of the day, I had sat across the table from the CEO of a billion-dollar company, and he had made an offer on the company that I had built. Even though the deal was never finalized, not many people could make that claim. I made the decision that I was going to turn this “punch in the stomach” I had just taken into a positive experience.

A few months after this failure, I had another life-changing event. Throughout my life, my father and I had been like oil and water. We bumped heads ever since I was very little. The reality was we were so alike: we were stubborn as mules and we always thought we were right. Eventually, our relationship grew so bad that we stopped talking completely. Candidly, we hadn’t spoken in over a decade. My 7-year-old daughter, who is the most caring person in the world, asked me if she could meet my dad. What father could deny their daughter? I certainly could not. So I reached out to my sisters, who had a much better relationship with my father than I, to see if they could schedule a meet up with my dad so I could have him meet my daughter. I heard back from my sister that he did not want to come out and meet. A few months later, I found out that my dad had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and realistically only had about a month left to live. I made flight arrangements for my daughter and me to go out a couple of days after I found out. The next evening I received a call that my father had passed. Even though this happened over a year ago, my eyes are tearing up as I write this. I have many regrets, but my biggest one will always be not fulfilling my daughter’s request to meet my father.

These two life-altering events lead me down a path where I was forced to rethink my life completely. I became introspective and read as much as I could. I had a daily 45 minute or more commute so I became addicted to Audible books and learned as much I could about topics like goal setting and happiness. I realized that the most important goal of all was to be happy. Life was too short. In particular, I wanted to get out of debt, live healthier, and be a better member of my family. My failure to facilitate my daughter’s meeting with my father has made me determined never to let my relationship with my daughter deteriorate to the point that my relationship with my father got to. After setting these goals, I looked at the app store to find an app to help me, and I was sorely disappointed in what I found or didn’t find. All the apps were very similar: they asked for what my goal was, and they would manually ask me to enter my progress. Also, I was looking for specific plans consisting of things I could do to achieve my goals, but it was up to me to identify these tasks and manually enter them into the app myself. I knew myself, and I knew this was never going to happen if it took too long. I’m way too impatient.

Since the app that I wanted didn’t exist, I came up with a plan myself and used about 4 or 5 (probably more) apps to track my progress, schedule tasks, etc. I found all of this extremely frustrating. I first started by breaking down all of the components that comprised what I believed happiness to be for me. I decided that happiness for me was built on maximizing three of my most important assets: my health, my financial assets, and my time. I created goals around these components, and more importantly, I developed a specific plan with actionable tasks to achieve these goals. I’m happy to say that this plan that I created for myself has been very successful, and I can say I’m so much happier and more balanced for it, but I’m definitely still a work in progress. As I thought back through my journey, I started to formulate the idea for a life goal management app, ONTrac, to make the process much easier and simpler for others that are on a similar journey. With ONTrac, I wanted to simplify a few of the key components that I found were crucial in the success of me achieve the goals that I set for myself which were:

  1. Setting SMART goals for myself. In particular, setting a specific, quantitative goal with a target end date really focused me on what I needed to do.
  2. Breaking bigger goals into smaller pieces. Creating “smaller goals” within my bigger goals allowed me to feel the satisfaction of a small win sooner which got me really motivated to continue to achieve these smaller goals.
  3. Have a specific plan of action. Having a goal is only a small piece of the puzzle. The more important part is what are the specific tasks and activities you’re going to perform to achieve that goal. Consistently and successfully executing these were really important in achieving my goals.
  4. Tracking Progress Consistently. Seeing progress toward achieving a goal has been linked in studies to an increase in a person’s well being. The problem often is that progress tracking historically has been a really manual process.

These were the problems that I didn’t see being adequately addressed in existing goal apps, and the ones that I wanted to specifically address with ONTrac. They didn’t offer any specific plan. It was up to the user to identify specific tasks and schedule them. Progress was very manual, and therefore, tough to stick with. Those apps that did address some of these areas only focused on one area. I wanted ONTrac to be the more holistic app that I was looking for so here are the components that I came up with to address those shortcomings:

  1. SMARTracs. SMARTracs are a very unique content medium that we created for ONTrac. There are specific to each specific goal, and they do a number of things: 1. They help the user set a SMART goal 2. They break the larger goal into smaller “milestones”. 3. They automatically schedule out evidenced-based, actionable tasks to help achieve that goal.
  2. Automated Progress Tracking. ONTrac integrates with a number of data sources including but not limited to: dozens of wearables, Bluetooth devices such as Smart Water Bottles, thousands of financial accounts, Location, and Calendar. The goal is to make progress tracking as easy and automated as possible.
  3. Simple Dashboards. I really wanted a simple to read dashboard so I could see my most important stats across my health, personal finance, and time management stats all in one app.

This will be an iterative process to perfect the app, but I feel strongly that this is a good step in the right direction.

Our mission at ONTrac is to help people live happier, more balanced lives by simplifying the process of achieving life goals. What has been amazing is the number of potential strategic partners, potential co-founders, and potential customers that have really connected with that mission statement and have approached me about working with me on this company in some way. That has been extremely meaningful for me. I actually had a call this morning with a potential strategic partner and she said to me at the end of the call, “How cool is it that you turned such a challenging personal situation into such a positive thing!”. You know, I couldn’t agree more. We will be launching the beta version of our app in the App Store in September 2020, and it’s been an extremely fulfilling experience on so many levels.

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