John Wilker – The Impatient Entrepreneur


I’m John, Tom’s business partner in 360|Conferences.

As a kid, I had visions of running my own company. It was a company that made robots; robots of all kinds. I was the CEO, and I had lots of robots. It was an awesome fantasy life I had, started in the 3rd grade, died as I went into college.

Turns out, I’m not very engineeringly inclined, or rather I’m not the Uber genius I fancied myself. I fancied myself a theoretical engineer, turns out you have to do the other stuff before you get to start dreaming up new things. I changed my major during the summer before my freshman year to Computer Science.

The story goes a bit sideways for a few years. I flunked out of UCI’s computer science program, and since they didn’t offer business as an undergrad, I dropped out.

I got a job as a computer tech (Screw Turner), and that was ok. I coulda seen myself doing it for a while, until my boss informed me I’d be taking over as purchasing department. I had never bought anything other than things for myself before, so it was a new experience. I liked it. It was fun, wheeling and dealing with vendors for a better price, riding the edge of what we could charge and what we couldn’t.

That same boss, about a year later came back again, telling me that our hardware business wasn’t really doing as much as he’d like, and I’d be a web developer starting Monday. Turns out, even though I flunked out of school learning to be a programmer, I was pretty good at it in practice.

For the next 10 years, the closest to being an entrepreneur I came was incorporating myself for my consulting business, to help out on my taxes. I never imagined I’d do a startup. I’m not patient, and frankly I thought I didn’t have any ideas to start up with, and I had no funds.

Guess I was wrong.

I’m not a big business book reader. Most are crap written from the perspective of the successful. It’s easy to throw out “I was lucky, I worked hard, this that and the other” when you’re rich,  successful and don’t really have a clear clue how you got there, but someone offered you money to tell your story.

I spent some time reading the Rich Dad books. Same thing, what works for one, doesn’t make it a gold standard to be put into a book, but the business press is funny like that.

One of the few business books that really resonated with me was In the Company of Giants (so much so that Tom and I tried to pitch a sequel, and lame publishers never “got it” despite the success of the first, oh well), mainly because some of them were completely honest, admitting that they were in the right place at the right time. That means a lot to me.

Tom and I met while working for Ameriquest Mortgage. Yeah the one that destroyed the home financing industry. Our first run at a company was a product to make restaurant waits not suck, and work better. He fired me, and our friendship almost came to a complete end.

We salvaged our friendship and went on with life. I moved to Denver, Tom to San Jose.

I was telling him about a conference I had attended and how much it had sucked, we were talking about whether or not to attend another large conference that generally is not very meaty and not much ROI learning wise. Then it occurred to us to have a conference that we would want to attend, one that I could afford as an indie developer, and one that actually had awesome sessions, that weren’t at all aimed at marketing. 360|Flex was born.

Tom tends to be more ‘blue sky’ than me, thinking we should be free, barcamp style. I was able to convince him that free is not a model that works, ever, unless you’re Google. Ted, Tom and I settled on a price, location, etc and off we went.

The first 360|Flex was an outstanding success, and Tom and I realized we liked doing it. We liked the feeling of community, we liked being surrounded by so many cool people.

We formed a company, and kicked Ted out :) It wasn’t personal, Ted rocks, but we knew that we couldn’t ever do a Microsoft or Java Conference with an Adobe evangelist as a partner.

Here’s where the impatience comes in. We’ve been doing 360|Flex for 2 years now, as part time jobs, which were really full time jobs on top of our paying full time jobs. It was exhausting. Tom thinks that’s how company’s should be, I don’t. I’m sure there’ll be posts on this later. I’m firmly of the opinion that you work to your obligations. If you’ve got a mortgage, car payment, etc, you do what you have to do to meet those obligations. If you’ve got a job that meets those, then the other job is just a hobby, and since we haven’t yet drawn a salary: 360|Conferences was a hobby. A very time consuming, and expensive (for me as an indie consultant having to take time off projects and such) hobby.

That’s finally changing! Tom is going indie, and I’ve got a Full time job that endorses my conference company activities. Tom will be working on the conference in a more full time capacity and consulting to fill the gaps. I expect (hope) that sometime in 09 I’ll be joining him, and 360|Conferences will be a full fledged, salary paying company. Tom likes to say we’re in the black. That’s easy if you don’t pay your founders. However we’re now getting to a place where we’ve paid ourselves a little, which ROCKS!

We’re also growing finally, adding another event to our roster, and even contemplating looking at Angel money to get us through the critical mass we need to go full time and really conquer the event space.

Wish us luck.

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