Tom Ortega – The Eventual Entrepreneur


It’s taken me far too long to become an entrepreneur.  How long?  It was 1986 and I was roughly 11.  I walked onto the playground, went straight to my best friends and said, “I’m gonna be a successful businessman when I grow up.”  To which, they said, “Doing what?” I was stumped.  “I don’t know.  I just know it’s going to be successful.”  From that day forward, that was fact to me in my mind.  It wasn’t a “I hope to someday” or a “I wonder if…” it was a matter of inevitability.  So, I did what any rational person would do, I started prepping.

My dad taught me something very important a few years earlier.  He said, “Whatever you want to know, there’s a book on it.  Go find it and read it.  You’ll get all the answers you want.” It made sense to me then, and still makes sense to me now.  I can’t remember what my first business book was or when I read it.  I wish I could though, that’d be sweet.  I can’t really remember because I’ve read a few hundred over my life time.  No, I ain’t bragging.  I’m just laying out the facts, so you can determine my street cred.  The way I saw it was like this:  “If I’m going to be a successful business person someday, I better learn how to do it.” And like pops said, the only way to do that was through books or so I thought.

In 6th grade, another thing happened.  My mom took me shopping at Sears.  She bought me a pimp outfit.  (She still has the picture of me in it, I’ll see if I can dig it up and post it.)  On the drive home, she said, “I can’t really afford to buy you the kind of clothes you want.  If you’re going to want certain clothes, you’ll need to make money and buy them yourself.”  Therefore, I got to work.  I never had an allowance.  I always worked to make my money.  I mowed lawns, babysat, worked at the school snack bar, and even had a stint at Chuck E. Cheese.

I went to college for a year.  It was a private university (UPS in Tacoma, WA).  I was paying over $20K a year for that school.  It didn’t make sense to me.  “Let’s see.  I can pay $20K a year or I can go to work and surely make at least $20K a year.”  So I dropped out and started working for the man in January 1995.

For 13 years, I worked for over 10 different companies.  From the first job to my latest job, I did the same thing.  I analyzed the heck out of each company.  I looked at what they did good and what they did bad.  I watched their mistakes and learned from them.  I pondered on what I’d do differently if I were in charge.  Again, I did all this for the sake of applying to my own business someday.

I’ve dabbled in business (my own businesses) over those same 13 years.  Most of those were not very serious though and never made it past the idea stage.  It wasn’t until October of 2006 that I finally ran with an idea.  John and I, with some help from Ted Patrick, agreed to do an all Flex Conference.  This meant that I was going to be funnelling a lot of money and not wanting to put it all in my personal account, I tell John: “We need to incorporate.” We did and in February of 2007.  360|Conferences was born.

For the first 2 years of it’s life, the conference business took a backseat as my part-time job.  In those two years though, it went from being in the red to being in the black.  (Look for a post from me on how I think this is the way most people should start a biz.)  Times are getting tough economically though and if I’m going to make this business succeed, it’s going to need to not be my PT gig anymore.  Therefore, in early 2009, I’ll be making the move to Queen Creek, Arizona.  360|Conferences will become my primary focus, while side projects will become my PT gig to help pay the bills.

I’m going to do some posts on what I’ve learned in the past two years: the good, the bad and the ugly.  John may or may not do that, you’ll have to read his posts to find out.  After I clear out the closet a bit, I’ll start detailing our little conference business as it enters the toddler years.  I’m sure there’ll be some stumbles along the way, but that’s business (and part of being a toddler).  It’s the downs that make the highs so rewarding..

I hope you’ll join me along the journey.  Thanks for reading.

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