My Life is a Series of Failures
People are often afraid to talk about the F word for fear of being judged or laughed at. I've also felt like that many times in the past but there is something beautiful, and almost magical about failing, that I'm about to reveal to you.
When I look back on the past fifteen years of my life, I've had a string of failures, both small and catastrophic.
I've failed at relationships, education, business, health and friendships. I've experienced some some pretty horrific side effects as a result, but I've survived to tell the tales and to let you in on a little secret about failure.
So, without further ado – here's all the things I've screwed up since I was 15.
1. I Failed High School
I was a terrible student, the worst in fact. I wasn't interested in any of the subjects and I have a serious problem with authority; which didn't work well for me in my medieval authoritarian high school full of power hungry
On top of that, I was bullied for over a year and hated even setting foot in the place.
I spent five years daydreaming about becoming a DJ and refusing to listen to anything I was told apart from the few classes where my teachers were down to earth and I had a remote interest in the subject.
During the evenings and weekends, I'd DJ, make music and design things on my computer and write code for fun.
I learnt how to draw on Microsoft Paint when I was 7, and by age 11 I was online and hacking into my friends computers. At age 13 I could build websites in HTML and write software in C/C++.
At this stage, that's all I wanted to do. I had no interest in learning how to speak French or calculate the missing side of a right-angle triangle.
I knew what I was good at and high school failed to help me nourish my talents or provide me with any kind of career guidance.
In saying that, one day my form teacher did actually sit down with me in detention and asked me what I wanted to do with my life, then actually listened to what I had to say.
This is one of my few positive memories of my high school teachers. Hat tip Mrs Thompson
In my 5th year of high school, I started to get into more and more trouble for rebellious behaviour. I made minimal effort with my GCSEs because I didn't see the point in memorising useless information, but somehow managed to scrape a B in English and ICT.
I was much more proud of my X in Art and U in Maths than I was of my two Bs.
After a meeting with my parents and my headmaster at the end of 5th year, I was informed that I wouldn't be returning to school for the final two years. I cried my eyes out and pleaded with the school to take me back.
(OK, that last sentence was a lie).
My parents were horrified. I had failed high school, my GCSEs, and now my life was ruined forever.
I walked out of high school on my final day, with tears literally streaming down my face. I'd never actually shed tears of joy before. It was beautiful.
I felt reborn, like I'd just been reincarnated after spending the last 5 years in the seventh layer of hell.
I then went straight home and destroyed everything to do with high school in what must have looked like a pagan ritual to my neighbours.
2. I Failed College
While my family were horrified about my GCSE results, I knew they really weren't that important. My dad took me to enrolment night at my college (now the NRC in Newtownabbey) to sign up for the "ICT Practitioners" course while my mum cried at home.
They told me I couldn't apply because I didn't have my GCSE Maths, but I blagged my way onto the course and promised that I'd resit my maths if I was given a place.
I did try and resit my Maths GCSE, twice, but it was so boring I couldn't see it through. No real loss, I knew how to ninja any equation with Google + Microsoft Excel.
It turned out that the "ICT Practitioners" course I was studying, actually had nothing to do with design or writing code, so due to a lack of interest in writing binary and creating Access databases, I failed the course and walked away with nothing.
However, it wasn't all bad. I had learnt something from wasting 7 years of education. I knew what I didn't want to do.
At the end of my college course, and for the first time ever – one of my teachers sat down with me and spoke with me at length about what I wanted to do with my life, without any kind of judgement, and tried to help me.
His name was Ivan Hanley, who sadly passed away a few years ago. Ivan was pretty blunt with me in saying that I made no effort in most of my classes, except for design and coding with Visual Basic (how retro).
He told me that he understood I wasn't a bad or lazy student, but I was just misguided and studying the wrong subjects that didn't motivate me. Finally, someone in education gets it!
He told about an alternative course at the college called eMedia, which was a mixture of design, coding and sound engineering. Ivan gave me the opportunity to join the course despite failing my previous qualification and not having the relevant GCSEs.
Two years later I walked out of college with a triple distinction and the highest grade the course had ever seen. The college even awarded me with a trophy for outstanding performance.
(Aside: I didn't turn up to the ceremony because I was absolutely terrified of standing on a stage in front of people).
It only took 9 years for someone in education to give me a chance, provide some guidance and help me find the right path in life that complimented my talent. I always enjoyed design and coding, but I was too young to understand that I could study these subjects in college or even make a career out of it.
Interactive Multimedia Design
As I was finishing college, I found myself doing something that neither I, nor my parents ever thought I would do – applying for University.
A triple distinction and well-written UCAS application, with help from another supportive lecturer at the college (college lecturers are great by the way) had got me through the application process for BSc (Hons) Interactive Multimedia Design at Ulster University.
I received a call from the University one afternoon just before the semester started saying they had my English GCSE certificate but must have misplaced my Maths certificate, and could I please send another copy.
Let's just say that some hard work, a touch of charm and a determined attitude can get you far in life.
I loved University even more than college, I was incredibly grateful to be there given my track record and I worked harder than I've ever worked because I LOVED what I was doing.
Uni came with it's own challenges when my mum fell ill only a few weeks into the first semester (she's fine now) and then I split up with my long-term girlfriend weeks before the end of my final year.
In spite of this, I walked out of University with a First Class Honours Degree. I'm not saying this to brag, but as you've probably gathered – I wasn't exactly a model student in the past. I just want to emphasise that anything is possible when you're doing what you love, you have a good attitude and you work hard.
3. My First Startup Failed
In my final year of university, I launched my first startup – Vizuali – which was a digital scrapbook tool, similar to what Pinterest is now (we both started around the same time).
I won an award for the best student project at the end of the year and even got featured in .net magazine, which drove hundreds of users to my site.
I FREAKED OUT.
I knew how to design and write code, but handling users, marketing, making money – all that business stuff? I hadn't a clue.
Vizuali failed before it ever really got going because I was paralysed with fear. My own lack of self-confidence had prohibited me from taking any action.
However, this failure put me on yet another path (see the pattern here?). Rather than whinge and whine about it, I decided I was going to go back to University to do a Masters in Multidisciplinary Design and use this as a serious confidence-building exercise and opportunity to hone the skills I was lacking.
I clearly wasn't ready for running a business yet, but I was going to make a serious commitment to doing it properly the second time.
4. My Second Startup Failed (Kinda)
In the first week of my Masters, I started my second company, Get Invited with David Turner (who was also in my class). I hadn't a clue what I was doing (I still don't), but we built the product under guidance from our lecturer Chris Murphy; who also drilled some self-confidence into us and sent me on a mission to Stanford University in California to learn from some of the best entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley.
I returned from Stanford a very different person, and with my new found self-confidence, business acumen and a tonne of motivation and hard work, I graduated with a Master of Arts with Distinction and a $1 million tech company which went on to raise $250k from investors just weeks after we graduated.
Like my undergraduate experience, none of this came without challenges. I was stressed out and I started to get very sick. I had horrific stomach pains almost constantly, I was vomiting more than 5 times per day and I could barely eat. I was suffering from severe depression, crippling anxiety and panic attacks. At one point, I was ready to just end it all.
I eventually started to feel better and actually became quiet grateful for the experience; and now my next goal was to turn a million dollar company into a billion dollar company.
We got off to a pretty good start – we had cash in the bank, a swanky new office in Belfast and a great team.
Get Invited HQ @ Talbot Street, Belfast
On the morning when we officially launched in 2015 we were processing over $1500 per minute. We just stood there, huddled around my laptop watching the wee graph going up and up.
Everything kept getting better and better, I was having coffees with multi-millionaires in San Francisco, sipping Margaritas in San Diego and eating lunch at Goldman Sachs in New York.
That was until the time came to raise more investment.
We met with loads of investors and delivered countless pitches for months.
After a few handshakes, we had a round pulled together with a few investors and just hours before we were supposed to go and sign the paperwork, the whole deal fell through. Just like that.
The result of that afternoon meant we had to scale the team down and things started to get really bad.
A few months later, we'd been unknowingly involved in a money laundering scam when Get Invited was used to process stolen credit cards and we had to pay over $5000 out of our own pockets to refund the card holders.
As terrible as things where, we kept grinding it out, sorted out all the problems, cleared all of our debt and built the company back up.
The new Get Invited is now very different from the original vision we had for building a billion dollar company. We're a small team and we're now committed to long-term sustainable growth, rather than trying to join the billion dollar club in the next 3 years.
Was this a huge failure? At the time, it felt like it.
However (and you probably know where I'm going with this by now), I wasn't actually enjoying the process of trying to build a billion dollar company.
I'm a maker and I love products but entrepreneurship had become about making spreadsheets, pitching to investors, managing employees and cold-calling customers. All of which I can assure you, is really not that exciting compared to building products.
I hated most of what I was doing and the continued stress had caused me to lose four of my front teeth through excessive vomiting and eventually put me in hospital with internal bleeding.
If you think working excessively and being stressed out 24/7 is something to be proud of, think again. I certainly wasn't proud of myself when I was laying in hospital.
Failing to raise investment and getting sick actually turned out to be a silver lining. I was forced into a pretty sharp perspective adjustment about what's important in life and I moved onto a new path.
This new path is all about building manageable, sustainable product-centric businesses and helping other businesses to build great products too. I also want to educate and inspire people on how to live a life of freedom doing what makes them happy.
Right now, I'm completely stress-free. I'm working on some awesome products for myself and other people. I have multiple revenue-generating businesses and in 2017 I'm going to travel the world with my laptop. For me, this is a pretty good place to be and I definitely wouldn't be here if it wasn't for all of my previous failures and hardships.
Here's the clinker: if you want to build a big company, you're going to have to sacrifice most of your time, energy and maybe even your health and relationships.
It's much easier and less stressful to build smaller, revenue generating businesses that give you freedom.
Who wants to sit in front of their computer for 18 hours a day when you can build a business that generates automated income and gives you freedom to do whatever you want?
I want to live a stress-free and healthy life with personal freedom. I want to experience as much as I can while I'm on this planet, and I can do that right now with the businesses that I've got. I don't need to build a billion dollar company so I can do these things in 15 years time.
What's the point of all this, Kyle?
Incase you hadn't picked it up already, the moral of the story is that your life with be littered with failures, but you can always learn something from each and if you have the right attitude, each failure is a lesson that will lead you to something better.
If something doesn't work out – it wasn't meant to be. You will always be able to build a better business, make a new friend, get a better education or find a better partner.
Secondly, find your path and don't be afraid to walk it.
It's very easy to get scared and fall into traps. I could very easily be trapped in boring ICT job if I had been afraid to fail college, or perhaps I would have never started Get Invited after my first startup failed.
If I'd listened to the teacher in high school who told my parents I was a "lost cause" maybe I would have aspired to be nothing.
Walking your own path means having the courage to live an unconventional life that many other people may not understand or agree with, but you can't constrain your life to other peoples expectations.
I've walked an unconventional path for most of my life, and it's about to get a hell of a lot more unconventional, but I've always followed my intuition without worrying too much about what other people think I should be doing.
Your intuition will always lead you towards what is best for you, and it will never let you down.
Just do what feels right to you.