Mike D'Angelo, Former President and COO of Compliance Science


Justin Abrams: Welcome to another episode of Strictly From Nowhere. I'm Justin Abrams, your host. I'm already crying for this week's guest. Joining me today is Mike D'Angelo, Exited co-founder and former president and CEO of Compliance Science, the first startup that I ever decided to work at. And Mike, you hold a special place in my heart, man, and I really appreciate you for joining us today. And I can't wait to hear the story. I know a lot of the stories, but I can't wait to stitch it all together in the timeline. And as you know, These are stories by founders for founders. And I want to hear about the earliest days of bootstrapping, what turned into be a successful business and a successful venture and lifelong friendships and, uh, Mike, thank you for joining Strictly From Nowhere.

Michael: Thrilled be here and I'm so happy that you are experiencing great success on your journey. It's fun to watch.

Justin Abrams: Thanks Mike. Mike, let's jump right in man. Tell me about yourself. What makes you uniquely you? Tell me a bit about your background, both personal and professional, your hobbies, your human experience and just what makes you dynamite.

Michael: I think it's anxiety. I think honestly it's anxiety. You know, a lot of people have, they suffer from anxiety. They fear people, they fear experiences. I fear, I do have some of that, but I also fear failure. And I feel failing, I fear failing others. You want to know about my background? Started computers when I was really young, like 12 years old, on an old IBM pet that we had in some classroom somewhere. And at that point I was hooked, I loved it. My parents were great, they were very supportive. Toys R Us was around back then, you could buy a Commodore 64. You buy a Commodore 64, you could use it for three years, it could fly, you could hit it with a baseball bat and break it into pieces, you could then return it and then get it for refund or exchange it for another one and just, you know, that was my computer experience when I was younger, so we did that. Old stuff, the VIC-20, the Commodore 64, the Commodore 128. When I was a kid in high school, early high school, I wrote a bulletin board, 56K, sorry, not 56K, a dial-up bulletin board on a 300-bullet modem. And I wrote a little, my first experience with any type of business was I wrote a small program for my mom. She was printing up service forms. Basically, she put the information into a little program and hit a button and it would print out on the form. It saved her from typing it and messing it up and then retyping it. She could just print that as, I made a book of form. When you're 12, 13 years old, it was exciting for that. Went through high school, did well in high school, did okay. SUNY Albany wanted to keep computers as a hobby. So I actually didn't want to get into computers when it came to my so-called higher education. So I started SUNY Albany in 1989, failed out with a 1.99, needed a 2.0. Went to SUNY Farmingdale for a semester, got back into SUNY Albany and then failed out again. And it was after, I think, three and a half years. And so I went to, just outside of Albany, is a small city called Troy. Depressed, depressed little city ever since. They're still upset that they put the highway, that they put 87 through Troy because people used to stop in Troy. They don't stop in Troy anymore. I went to Hudson Valley Community College for HVAC. My cousin married a guy who started his own HVAC business in Manhattan called Prime Mechanical. He came from one of the gigantic. AC business there. It was a small startup. It was five people. So I went and I took classes for HVAC. Relatively easy stuff. Didn't graduate from that school either. So five years of school.

Michael: Five years of school. Did not get a two year degree. Started working for him in 94, somewhere in 94. This is in Manhattan. Just answering the phones at the beginning. After a couple years, you know, managing the service department, because it was a really small company, there's only a few of us. That was the start of the worst period of my life. That was the second worst, maybe. That was, I worked there for five years and it was horrible. While I was there though, I taught myself Microsoft Access, because I hadn't done any computer stuff while I was in college. In fact, I built a company-wide database that they continue to use. Yeah.

Justin Abrams: Do they know access is getting deprecated by chance?

Michael: I have been telling them for 15 years that they have to replace it. He refuses to. He just...

Michael: Anyway, so I taught myself access work in trim, taught myself about how the hardware worked in computers. And back then, it was a lot different. Sound card, modem, video card, printer port cards, not on the motherboard back then, all had little dip switches that you had to set for memory and ROQ setting. So it was tough. So in 1997, I knew I couldn't stay with him. It was horrible. I was throwing up on the way to work every morning. I started a company called Deconfuse. And before we started the company, I remember sitting on the fire escape. My wife and I were dating at the time. We were living in Queens. city and we had a shitty little apartment that would pay an 800 bucks a month for it was two really tiny bedrooms. And I remember sitting on the fire escape and sitting there and talking about what life would be like if I did not start a business and I had to continue to work for Prime Mechanical for like another five years. Having no diploma and a horrible job. does not give you a lot of options. Right? You can't just go out and get another job necessarily with no diploma and you're kind of stuck. So it was no brainer. My wife was incredibly supportive, incredibly supportive. She's like, yes, like this, done. Started a business, what's the worst that happens? You're in the exact same place in a couple of years. So I started that business. In 97, a year and a half later in 1999, while my boss was screaming at me to sign something that I didn't want to sign, and he was a big imposing guy, I quit and I gave him my two weeks. We were not making enough money. Chief Barber had just gotten a job at the Bronx District Attorney's Office as an ADA. He was making like 35 grand a year. Uh, when I left prime and started working, you know, for myself, I think I was making like 20 grand a year. So it was tight, but, um, beacon would do anything, which I think sounds familiar to you. Uh, we would do hardware, we would do software, we do custom applications. We would install networking, whatever the hell it took. And eventually you find. Uh, something that works, right? So whatever people would ask, we would say yes, and we would figure it out later. Fast forward a few years, because I know this is getting long. Beacon's starting to do better. The summer of 2001, I brought my brother off. Chris, you've met him. Chris is great.

Michael: And... So he would do more of the hardware, and I was starting to do more of the software stuff, making websites and other custom software stuff like that. Three months after I hired him, 9-11 happens. Everything stopped. We had nothing. There were no phone calls for like four months. We knew at, you know, so really after 9-11, it was gonna be slow for a while. We didn't know how bad it was gonna be. Excuse me. So decided that I needed to, when the shop is slow, you paint the walls, right? I knew that I needed to learn more about something. And what was kind of up and coming at the time were SaaS websites. They didn't even call it SaaS back then, I don't think. But websites that were database driven, that you could interact with more. At that time, there was one piece of software that Microsoft had called Frontpage. Have you ever used Frontpage?

Michael: But it kinda introduced me to that interaction with between HTML websites and some type of service script and some type of backend like a SQL database. So, the front page was horrible. So I started to get deeper into HTML. and they had something called Classic ASP back then and SQL Server. So I'm trying to figure out, you know, how to use these tools because I know that, or I think that this is gonna be a way to improve what I'm currently building. And so my brother told me about this game that had recently gone down. It was called Acrophobia. Simple game. Um, do you remember the game? I think you're too young to remember it.

Michael: So he told me about this game that was recently killed at a Berkeley studio in California called Acrophobia. The stupid game, three, four, five letters pop up on the screen and you get like ten people playing it and they put in an acronym, you know, what that acronym stands for. They put in the words that acronym is supposed to stand for. And then they all vote, not knowing who wrote what, they all vote on which one is the best one. They had, I don't know, a couple of thousand. So it's like, all right, okay, well, you know, let's make a new version of Aquafob. We've got emails of all these people that have been playing the game. There's a whole community online now because, you know, that shit started to exist. And we were able to, and it was back when people actually put their emails online. So we were able to download a list of a thousand people and their email addresses. And after a few weeks of playing with ASP and SQL and BB6, we created a version of Acro Challenge, the first version of Acro Challenge, which was a playable version of that game that had just canceled. We launched it for free, because it was October 2001, and we couldn't charge anybody for anything.

Michael: But we did sell advertisements on the site, little banner ads. which was a thing at the time, and we took donations. And the community was great. It actually turned out to be, you know, a nice little Christmas bonus every year, you know, a few grand, three, four grand every year. It didn't make much, but it was enough to keep it around. That said, it's going to be 22 years old in October. It is still up.

Michael: There's only maybe 20 or 30 people that still play it, but I kept it up. I killed the donations, you know, 2008. I stopped taking donations, I stopped the advertising because I didn't want to kill the game a year after somebody gave me money for it. Yeah, 12 years later it's still going. That knowledge that I picked up from doing that led into actually taking one of my first beacon customers ideas of an MS access database and putting it online. And that was C-Track, which I'm sure you unfortunately remember. Yeah.

Justin Abrams: There's the origin, for my knowledge at least.

Michael: Yep, that's the origin. C-Trac did okay, kind of languished for a while, didn't do great. But my partner had a previous business that did the SEC compliance software stuff, and he came to me in 2009, I think it was, after his... literally like the day after his five year non-compete ended and said, what do you think about this? And I was ready to call it quits. We had tried between C-Trac and a couple other, between C-Trac and BTCC, the SEC thing, we had tried several other products, none of them worked. My wife was unhappy. She, you know, Barbara, she wanted me, she wanted me out of Comply Sci. And I said, This thing might have legs, let's just give this one last chance. And the rest is history. This shit works.

Justin Abrams: yeah. I definitely think you took a little bit of an atypical route, not only to becoming an engineer but ultimately to becoming a chief member of that organization. I think you held multiple titles from CTO to COO to president. And what I really like wanna distill is really in the spirit of the future founder. And if you look a little bit less conventional route, because I think your route would classify as unconventional. And you try to kind of recap a little bit about, you know, how all of those unconventional things, all those different moments in your life, because they all kind of come back to the first thing that you said, which is the anxiety of failure. I think I relate to that incredibly, because all of those things come down. I know Barbara. I know looking her in the eye and having a conversation about what comes next and the potential of not being able to provide or not being able to succeed or that's enough to kick anybody in the butt. I have the same experience with my wife. And I think it's very obvious that all of those things create a bit of a formula because it's not about if you were going to be successful in some kind of way. Successful is a measurement that we all can make on our own. But I think it was... the ethic, the core characteristics that created you into somebody who is going to pursue. And you could smell failure. You weren't afraid to quit something when it just wasn't for you. But I find it very interesting that the route that you took, took you to a very analytical role. I mean, being an engineer, regardless of the level of skill, regardless of where you fall into the spectrum as an engineer or a technologist, like different type of brain. And I just find it very interesting that all culminated into the other aspects, which are the managerial side, the leadership side, the founder side, the bootstrapper side. So the part for me that I'd really just love to try and distill a little bit is how do you perceive your path in those early days as like a culmination? Cause it's, it seems like it's happenstance. It seems like it came out of nowhere, but it's all the building blocks of your former experiences. And I wonder if you see a formula in your own past.

Michael: Not necessarily a formula. There were different things there. The bootstrapper, the guy who works in his basement, literally works in his basement for years, trying to put some shit together. Very different from what you call management and leadership. I did not, and I think he did this on purpose. That was not my plan. That was never where I... wanted to be the anxiety of failure or the anxiety to fail makes you want to do things right. It doesn't make you want to lead people. It just makes you want to solve problems and get shit right. And hiring people and becoming the owner, the manager, whatever you want to call it is a completely different journey. That was a lot tougher. That was so much harder than any of the programming languages I ever learned. And I have to credit Phil Sikart. I have to credit Phil Sikard, who was... I don't remember how long you worked with him, but it was at least six months, right? Maybe a year?

Justin Abrams: two years.

Michael: Two years, yeah. So

Michael: Phil was one of those guys that was exactly who you needed him to be whenever you needed something. So if you needed a cheerleader, he was your cheerleader. If you needed someone to kick you in the ass... He had no problem kicking you in the ass. And he helped me figure out how to be that manager, because he had been through it. And he was just a really fucking smart guy. And I mean, he unfortunately passed out from cancer in 2013. Just as we were getting funded.

Justin Abrams: I remember it. I remember it very well. It's, it's, uh, it's definitely a thread that ties a lot of us together. You know, and I think it gave me a perspective. Phil wasn't my direct manager. I think back in those days, I might've been like employee number seven of compliance. I don't know who I really reported to. I reported to like whoever could tolerate me at the time. That was, it's,

Michael: We didn't have any of that.

Justin Abrams: and that is literally like my. perspective, like, you know, you think about my brain and like where I acquired my skill and my experience, think about like my, my perspective looking in, I saw the chaos. I knew that it was part of my responsibility to protect our customers for many of that. And it was, I'm on the front line, I'm the face of this business, people are talking to me every single day and it's up to me to really kind of control the narrative, control the perspective. Phil was exactly like that. calm when you needed to be, excited when you needed him to be. He would get on a call with a customer if he had to. His purpose was to fill the position, whatever needed to be done. And I think that it's very interesting that you bring him up because I think about him and you and that original team and my managerial experience, my leadership, my camaraderie, my charisma. That's all rooted in all that origin story. You know, it really is very much so part of my deep personality. And as an operator, where, where did I think all of that was coming from? And it's to me in this conversation is actually quite obvious, you know, and that's the beauty of bootstrapping. That's the beauty of finding your initial team. And what I find interesting about compliance science is it was born in a time when startup culture in general, unless I was missing something commuting every day into New York city was kind of at its infancy, like When we were started at like Sunshine Suites all the way downtown on Astor Place, that was startup culture, a shared workspace. Like it maybe was at the origin of some of the bigger startup businesses that you hear the big unicorns of today. And like, maybe that's when everybody was getting started is in like the late two thousands. And I just remember the scrappy-ness of all of it. I remember the playbook was, was. We're going to work a full day. We're all going to go out for a beer later. We're all going to love each other, but we're all going to protect each other, but from both internal drama, from customers, from it, you, you almost have to build like an initial team, uh, an initial family, but it's not as glamorous as I'm making it sound. It's, it was really hard and it was really uncertain. And I think that you and Phil.

Michael: You know it is, it is as glamorous as you're making it sound

Justin Abrams: Okay, great.

Michael: But it's like a roller coaster as glamorous as is it's also just as fucking difficult You have to you have to go through all of those difficult times in order for The good times the glamorous times to be that glamorous because you know if it wasn't hard Then it wouldn't be so great

Justin Abrams: I think that, you know, I'd love to get your perspective on what was it like, blastering yourself back to build something in such an unchartered way. There was no real playbook. What was it like showing up every day and like building a business in public with employees and stake and things at risk and livelihood at risk. And what was it like to move a business from your zero to market?

Michael: So it was long. It was long to be less verbose about it. When we started C-Track in 2000, I think in 2002, I went to Barbara Keller with the idea of putting C-Track on the web. This was before compliant science was even founded. I said, hey, you've got to, let me back up a little bit. So Barbara Keller was one of Beacon's first customers. She now works, I think for Mizuho maybe. And absolutely loved her. She had this great Microsoft Access database product that was basically just almost like a sales force. It was just capturing data points and then regurgitating them in reports and whatever. But it was geared towards your contractual obligations. So your contracts are 95% standard bullshit and then 5% variations. And she captured those 5% variations in data points. And that was our database. And... It was okay. We could have done a lot more with it, but it was okay. It made enough to keep the other guy around, the other founder. And we had a couple of good customers at the beginning, but it wasn't a big selling product. So that just kind of ran from 2002 to 2008 or nine, and then we did the... the C-Trac product. So you ask about the journey, the journey is have a backup plan, right? I'm doing the C-Trac stuff on one hand, but I still had beacon computers running that full time on the other end, just like I had beacon computers on this hand prior to that with my job working for Prime Mechanical for a year and a half. on the other hand. So yes, you need to try a lot of things, as you know very well, but you need to have bread and butter. And I think the one thing I can say is... Just make sure you have that bread and butter somewhere because if you don't, you're never gonna be able to go after your dreams. And the bread and butter doesn't have to be a lot. That's why they call it bread and butter. It's what we call a food strapping, right? Just enough to get by. It's whatever your needs are at the time while you push for your dream in the other time that you have, the extra time. So.

Justin Abrams: it's our burger menu, you know, the light and fast side that keeps all the cars on the road, but doesn't allow us at least to burn a gas tank. You know, I find all this really interesting, especially the origin stuff, you know, the nature of Strictly From Nowhere in general is to really kind of tell the stories of founders for the new founder, for the founder that is thinking about exactly what you talked about, the hard conversations with their significant others, the what comes next, the, I'm, maybe I'm happy in my career today, but I have so much more potential. I have an idea. I. I need some inspiration. And, you know, this really kind of checks the boxes for me, but I always like to bring things back to something that I'm personally incredibly passionate about. That I've built this brand on the back of, which is mission and cause. And you know me very well. And that's like always something that has been consistently on my mind and at the forefront of my human experience as an individual, and it was something that attracted me so deeply to the growth of compliance science. It initially started for me as a summer job. I, you know, who wants to go to work with their dad? Turned out that was some of the best years of my professional life was working alongside my father. And for me, what kept me coming back to work every day was not because of my relationships. You know, sadly, wasn't just because of you or wasn't because of my other friends that I still maintain today from that job. It was because the role that I played put me in. in a position to have a responsibility to answer the call figuratively and literally. Compliance science to me was a technology that was designed fundamentally to keep people honest. And at the time, I think regulation was really under question. And there were a bunch of different things that were happening in the regulatory environment, financial technology space, the federal landscape. And it played a really unique position. I, what did I know from, from anything in the financial universe? And I came from a family that spoke that language through and through, believe it or not, my father was a career compliance professional and it, it never rubbed off on me. So like the idea that I was in a FinTech startup and really the job did not require me to have any real financial knowledge. The job for me was, was be good at investigating. The job for me was good at listening, at understanding, at empathizing. The job for me was about this mission that maybe I came up with my own mission and my own purpose, but I felt like I had this, this solution behind me that I had to support, but I also had a customer's goal and a customer's moment. And sometimes these moments that people call you for are real and impactful. And sometimes they change the course of business for some of these organizations. And to be at the forefront of such problems and such potential and forming relationships and seeing the retention, the durability of the business back in that day, I was directly involved in that. It became my personal mission to participate in that on a daily basis. I hope people feel that passionately about their job, but as is the nature of the bootstrapper and the entrepreneur. For me personally, I always knew that I was going to end up in an independent entrepreneur. I just didn't know when, I didn't know where, and I figured I'd go to work and acquire some skills, and I'd eventually figure out what was going to make me tick. You know, I think what's interesting is the problem kind of fell in your lap from opportunity, it sounds like. But I wonder if kind of looking back at it, if you take the same... if you take the same mission to heart, if it meant to you as much as it meant to me, like to me, it was a job in my livelihood, but I felt like I was a soldier. And I wonder, I wonder if, if you felt that, if I was delusional, if, if that's what you hoped for, like if I took it too far and like, I'm just interested in like, what did it, did it mean to you? What it meant to me? And that's okay if it didn't, but awesome if it did.

Michael: I think you were more mission driven to help other people more than I was. And I say that because you used to come to work with a backpack. And in that backpack, you had all sorts of first aid stuff. You had, you know, your Leatherman and a bunch of other tools. You even carried around every day wherever you went, one of those CPR masks. in case you had to give something to him. That's you, man. That's you. There are very few people like that. That said, I would not have done something that was immoral or even questionable when it came to a product. I was ecstatic that we were doing something that was for the good, for the greater good. Trying to help prevent insider trading and other ethical issues that arise with our customers. I don't think there are many people like you out there that have the same need or desire to do something that's good. I wish there were.

Justin Abrams: You do know a thing or two about hiring and looking for top talent. And it's not me. You didn't hire me. I don't even know how I got the damn job in the first original days.

Michael: We don't hire, we didn't hire for talent, we simply hire people we could trust and then we could teach. And that was it.

Justin Abrams: I find it interesting because I was there for a really long time. I saw the business evolve and I saw you evolve. It used to be I could walk right up to you and we could have a conversation. I could burn your whole afternoon whether you liked it or not. I watched the business just explode and all of a sudden there's just crazy headcount. We got new office spaces and this business is no longer in a shared space and now we have our own floor all of a sudden. The business evolved. hiring talent and offering compensation plans that are exciting and offering opportunity for growth to employees and offering management structure and elevation of career set and all these things. What is it like? Because I'm not there in my career and I don't think a lot of early founders even take that into consideration. You're building a business. You're not just building a product to like scratch your own itch. I mean, it could be an internal business solution that's going to help accelerate your business, but in the nature of talking to bootstrap founders or the future of those founders, you don't even think about the afterlife of your initial team, your growth potential, what it's going to be like to create an attractive enough organization to try and get people to pick you. You think it's like, oh, I'll just hire from this pool of people. But in reality, they have to pick you as much as you pick them. And I wonder if you could reflect a little bit on what it's like to scale, to grow a team, not just a business based on revenue, but a team based on community and camaraderie and shared struggle and success and all of those things.

Michael: touch on a couple of things you said. I wish we didn't have to. There were circumstances at the time. I did not want to take VC funding. I shouldn't say that. I would have preferred not to take VC funding at the time that we did, but we had to because I needed some controls around, you know, other people in the business that were not always doing the right thing. And I thought that VC funding was going to help with that. I would have preferred to stay where we had been. That was the best period that Comply Sci ever experienced, in my opinion, or at least the best time period that I experienced at Comply Sci was back then, when we had just moved from Lafayette Street up to Park Avenue South, I think it was, that little office with Dave and that was. That was the best time and we were kind of forced into taking VC funding.

Justin Abrams: I look at those times fondly and a lot of my stories are going to be in that, in that period of time before, before the, the walls fricking blew off. And we moved into, I think it was like 34th street and, and we had like the whole floor and I'm, I don't think we had enough staff to fill the whole floor. And it was like cavernous. We'd be playing soccer in an open floor space and I'd be exercising in like vacant, vacant offices on different floors. But. I also remember when it was intimate, when I'm rolling around the office on my computer chair just like being in from desk to desk. I remember what it was like to show up on a Monday morning and to see a new series of faces and I remember what it was like to not have you and have the access to you constantly that we were used to because you were ramping. You were on a new initiative with a new team. You had to train. You had to oversee. You had to go to a meeting, a board meeting, whatever it might have been. And I know, and the second part of that question is, is it's one thing to reflect on the, on the humble story, but it's another thing to have taken that VC funding and put it into scaling a team. And I think that you had a front row seat in scaling the team from like seven to 40, I think it was when I left, it's not nothing.

Michael: So what you do is you take the people that you do trust, you hire more people, we hired George at about that time, our CTO, and you give them the freedom to build their own teams. And that's part of the reason that you kind of lost me was because it's like, okay, Justin, I love you, man, but here you go. Have at it.

Michael: So go build your team. Go build your team. Do it well. You have our trust. And so you hire five people. So you're asking about the journey. You hire five people, they hire five people, they hire five people. All of a sudden you got 125 people working for you.

Michael: There's a lot more paperwork involved, a lot more structure around it, but it's not the hardest part of building a business. Once you get over that initial hump of profitability, and seeing over that horizon, the growth is easy.

Justin Abrams: I want to move a little bit forward.

Michael: Sorry, sorry. Growth is not, managing the growth is easy. Getting to that part of growth is not easy. Managing the growth is easy.

Justin Abrams: I wasn't going to double click on that because, you know, I run into this conversation almost on a daily basis about revenue and profitability and run rate and cash positivity and even cash flow comes into question. If you can imagine some businesses are not cash flow positive or don't think about it and their positivity, you know, I find it interesting that you double click on that because managing the growth has simple scale to it. It sounds like, you know, it's Trust an initial team and allow them to do and execute what you, what you've brought them in for. And hopefully that all kind of take cares, takes care of it themselves.

Michael: Remember what I said here?

Justin Abrams: Which is...

Michael: you hire, you hire people that you can trust and people that you can teach.

Justin Abrams: Right. And I guess the rest kind of falls into place. The part that's questionable for me and always for small businesses about, um, the financial commitment to scale, you know, it's not, it's, uh, it's a burden. You know, you're adding a tremendous amount of, of responsibility and overhead. And, you know, there's other things when you're scaling a business like that, like benefits and, um, you know, other things that you have to pay for and on top of just an initial team and You know, it's hopefully inevitable. I mean, sometimes I think that it's misconstrued a little bit. Scaling a team is not necessarily an indicator of success. It could be a panic button. It could be an experience. There's lots of negative things that could come out of the moment of scale. But I think if possible, if done right, scaling becomes the secret weapon. It becomes the strategy. It becomes... You know, your, your customer attractiveness, your customer acquisition strategy becomes your retention. It becomes your reputation. And I find it very interesting that, you know, when, when done correctly and very simply as you're saying, if you, if you trust and hire the right people at the origin and they're aligned and you give them the freedom to hire a team that's, that's also aligned, you know, great things can happen and. then you're allowed to prioritize the things like profitability and revenue and, you know, customer success at the core of everything, right?

Michael: I will give my former partner credit for that and a lot of credit for that. He was good at recognizing the potential of people and the right people to hire and scaling. And yes, you need somebody to drive that. But with his help, with his guidance, we were able to do that well because he had been in that position before. He had done this type of software before. He had been in a growth stage before. And having someone who's been through that, like yourself, to help guide is incredibly valuable. Incredibly valuable.

Justin Abrams: Well, I want to fast forward just a little bit because I think you, I don't, I don't have access to all of these successful fundraise stories, all of these successful exit stories. You're, you're my exit story, man. So I want to stop here for just a moment. You know, I think every founder, especially the ones that I meet, it's part of my sales process. It's an intake is what is the ultimate goal? What does it look like to exit? because I don't want somebody to just build a solution for today. Even if it's an internal business solution, I want to know what the ultimate goal is. Is it an asset of your business that you aim to sell this business in the next 10 years? Is it a multi-generational business where this is like the next solution to the business problem? Is this an app that's going to change your life and you're looking for, you know, venture funding and a hopeful exit and be worth a hundred million? It, there has to be, whatever someone's goal is there, there has to be some type of dream. at the end of that situation. So I have two questions for you. One is, did you ever think like that? Like, did you ever think about the exit? I know you thought about the entrance and like, where would this start? And it was a long runway. And did you ever think about the exit? And then, if you did think about the exit, I'll hope for that. Is it everything that it was cracked up to be? Like, is it glory? Is it... Is it accomplishment? Does it, does it, does it feel like there's a missing piece? Is there, is that the goal? Like should people be building to exit something? I don't know. For me, I can't even imagine not doing what I'm doing right now. But for me, there isn't an exit strategy. There's grow it. There's it's a growth strategy. And like, I don't even know what exit would look like. Cause what the hell would I do with myself at that point? So. I, in my eyes, as I look at you and I admire you and, and what I think that you have accomplished as an individual and a human and what you have exited and what's that like now? You've been, you've been gone for quite some time now. So is there, is there a formula there? Is there, is there something that you have a recommendation for? Is there something you have a regret on? But all really around that exit experience. I'm interested.

Michael: on the exit. It's like running a race. When you start running a race, you put your head down and you are focused on three feet in front of you and you are running as fast as you can. And if you're lucky, you get to the exit first. But yeah, no, never focused on the exit. You think about it. You think, okay, yeah, this thing could have legs, but you've at this point, as I think you know, you've uh... started more than one business you've gone down six, seven, eight maybe twelve paths and you start to see

Michael: one right you start to see one that uh... okay this uh... i don't want to jinx it i don't want to get excited i just i'm just gonna keep working at it because if i get distracted it might come off the rails so i'm just gonna shut the fuck up i'm not going to jinx myself and i'm gonna keep working in this direction because I think this might be the direction to go. And if you're right and you're lucky and you work your ass off and you have a unique skill, you will get there. So to answer your question, don't focus on the exit. Absolutely not. Never focus on the exit. That will only derail you. That'll crush you, especially when those first... 12, 13 businesses don't work. Right, if you focus on the exit, if you had focused on the exit for those first 12 businesses that failed, you'd be crushed. Like, okay, I don't think this is gonna work, but let's try it anyway.

Justin Abrams: hear it, it's a red flag for me. Um, you know, we talk about it in the sales process. I, um, it's part of my intake. I wouldn't call it the sales process. I don't really have a sales process. I have nothing to sell people. If I'm the right guy to provide you the path to your goal. Fantastic. But I want to know, because when I find somebody that's really a dreamer, they really have dreamt about this pretty much to what the glory looks like at the end. And I think from a, from a dreamer's perspective. You have to be realistic in the fact that like there will be an inevitable end. Does it end in flames for you or does it end in glory? And ultimately, I think, you know, the optimistic side of most people that are going to be entrepreneurial and try to work for something is everybody's hopeful for some type of a glorious end. But I'm not sure that it's the end. You know, I really want to know what the heck you're up to today. I'm sure you can't sit still. You have this entire skill set behind you. You know, you're definitely, I would assume, keeping up with where technology is today. Last time I talked to you, we were talking about Bitcoin mining or something that was totally current. And I'm wondering, like, what do you do today? Like, it's been some time since you had to professionally show up and put a shirt and tie on. Although I don't know if you ever really did that.

Justin Abrams: What's going on today? What does it look like in the afterlife?

Michael: So I don't think I ever told you about this. After I retired. I needed to take a couple years off just to clear my head, just to get out of that anxiety that was complicit. Then I spent a year doing research and I bought a 1988 Land Rover Defender, 35 year old Land Rover Defender that was in absolutely horrid shape, rebuilt it from the ground up, converted it to electric and put it all back together.

Justin Abrams: Is it done?

Michael: Yeah, it's done.

Michael: done. It's not done, but it runs. I get about 50 to 60 miles to a charge, which I'm happy with. It's like seven Tesla batteries. But all of the mechanical engineering, replacing the engine with the battery box and the nine inch rounds motor that goes in place. I wrote the software in Python that runs on a Raspberry Pi. that controls the entire car. Putting the charger in and all the other stuff, it was a great learning experience. And when you say, yes, I can't sit still, that is absolutely correct.

Michael: It's been a great experience. And I'm actually considering, loosely considering turning that into a separate business, converting old vehicles to EVs. There's a bunch of people that do it. Not a lot, but there's a few. It's more of a classic car type thing. But with an old Land Rover, it doesn't go fast. It doesn't go far. It leaks oil, motor oil, not motor oil, but it leaks the transmission oil. It leaks from the differentials. It leaks from the steering units. It is the absolute worst vehicle that I have ever owned. and the absolute best vehicle that I have ever owned.

Justin Abrams: Mike, you know, I'm sure people are going to be interested. If you could tell me just a little bit, if you if you're all right with it, how can people get in touch? And how can people get involved? And, you know, what's your final advice for anybody that's really on this bootstrap journey? And, you know, if you could if you could give a little bit of last words of wisdom and some inspiration to the aspiring founder, I think that's a great way to send us off.

Michael: Make a plan. Make sure you have a – you don't necessarily need a plan for – what you're trying to do. Make sure you have a backup plan that can keep you employed or at least alive while you pursue your dreams. That's the most important thing. If you put all of your eggs into your potential future basket, you're probably going to end up failing because it takes a lot longer than you think to get to where you want to be. So have a plan and take your time and do it right.

Justin Abrams: Well, Mike, this is one of the episodes that I manifested when I thought about doing this podcast and I wanted to do it for our customers and I want to do it for other successful founders that I maybe don't know and want to pull a story out of them and kind of work my way through what I think I'm critical of myself is sometimes a generic interview. I... I have been one of the lucky ones to have sat right next to you and to have built something. And I tell myself every day what I know about building technology and what I know about the evolution of the internet started with you. It started sitting at your desk, watching you pull up a code base and bang on it till it works again. And I just have to tell you that you run right through me every single day. And I appreciate you so much for being on Strictly From Nowhere and your founder story inspires me to be the best one that I can be. Thank you for joining us on Strictly From Nowhere.

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