The Wilderness: Fieldnotes from One Entrepreneur’s Journey through Startuplandia

Part 1: The Origin

Almost a decade ago I began “commuting” from Reno, Nevada to Silicon Valley.

This commute included an 8-hour train to San Francisco, where I’d drop of my backpacking pack at a hostel then jump on the Caltrain to Palo Alto to make my night class at Founders Institute. I made this trek weekly from October to January, fueled by youthful vigor and excitement at the prospect of building something that matters and the dream of joining the ilk of successful bay area founders. 

January of 2011 I incorporated Zirtual, a startup born out of my own experience of working with virtual assistants to help manage online businesses.

That summer I was joined by my cofounders Collin and Erik and for the next four years we went through a blur of ups, downs, growth, investment, and ultimately a well-publicized crash landing when we couldn’t pull together more funding. On a Sunday evening that still haunts my nightmares, I sent an email to hundreds of employees telling them not to clock in the next morning. We had just enough money in the bank to cover payroll—and options of selling, or getting more funding seemed doubtful in my emotionally exhausted, anxiety-ridden mind.

Luckily, the company was saved from the startup graveyard at the 11th hour by Startups.com and still lives on as part of their portfolio—but we sold the brand for just enough to cover some outstanding payroll taxes, and then our legal entity when into something called an “assessment for the benefit of creditors”, which basically means neither Zirtual’s founders, nor investors, nor employees, saw a dime from that painful “exit”.

That was the fall of 2015.

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Dumpster Diving

This is Gene.

Gene is a Gemini, and a Freegan.

Gene is currently enjoying the remnants of a Kale Ceasar from SweetGreens.

Gene doesn’t like to be photographed.

Or judged.