Wednesday, July 18, 2012

You Didn't Build It So They Won't Come

If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
--President Barack Obama

He didn't build that, apparently.

Just a little over seven years ago a small local company came to me and asked me to write them a program. I knew the owners and so they knew that part of my college education had included software development, and since I was in my last year of college with no practical experience and they didn't have a lot of money to spend, it was a good arrangement. We discussed their requirements and then I spent several days banging out my first real software gig. I got paid, they got the software, and everyone was happy.

When I finished my degree, I came out into a job market that wasn't terribly interested in my skill set anymore, at least not unless I chose to move to California, which was not something I was prepared to do. While I was figuring out what I was going to do with my life, the company came back to me to update the software I had written. It was a massive upgrade and took me a number of months compared to the first few days.  I had to spend innumerable hours researching how to do things they didn't teach me in college on the Internet.  I even had to outsource some things to people when I knew it was totally beyond my abilities in the time frame.

The new piece of software ended up a big hit with the company, and more importantly, their customers and their competitors. They began to get requests as to where it could be obtained so the original company suggested I take the software to an industry trade show in Las Vegas to sell. They would even give me a loan to go because they were grateful for the work I’d done and thought I would succeed.

I took the offer. I flew to Las Vegas for the first time in my life with some of my family to help me out in the booth (and so they could have a vacation), and I stood for three days at a convention booth demonstrating my software to people I had never met.

Next thing I knew, I was cashing in some of my bonds to start a small business to do this for a living.

So it's true, the planes I flew on, the roads I drove on, the hotels I stayed in, the debt I incurred from people who wanted to help me out to get me started, the Internet I used to find software examples and coders for hire, and the college I began my education at are all things that contributed to the existence of my business.

But they didn't build my business. My education doesn't spend hours staring at a computer screen, desperately trying to locate a bug that is ruining a customer's day. The Internet doesn't have to make the tough decisions on what tasks get what priority and what features are the best to add. The planes and roads and hotels don't have to figure out what to say or what to showcase to make my product appealing. The investment I got doesn't pick my flights or choose which convention to attend. The bonds don't decide who I should hire or where I should put my office. The government's credit rating isn't affected if the whole thing goes south and I can't pay my bills.

Instead, these things are merely the tools I used to build my business. And I paid for those tools. Every month a bill comes for my education, another for my Internet connection, another for the credit cards that take care of the advertising and the gas and the hotel rooms. Every year the IRS and the State and the Town come to me and say “pay up” so that I can use the roads and the firefighters and the police. In fact, in almost every transaction I make they’re asking me to pay up because it’s tangentially related to a service they ostensibly offer me.

The government didn’t just get together and create the Internet in anticipation I would need it. They didn’t benevolently declare “Cranky T. Rex will need this for his business, let us create it and bestow it upon him.” And the government didn’t magic it into existence with “government research.” Private businesses just like mine were paid by tax dollars from other hardworking people just like me to create the technologies necessary, and then other private businesses built upon those technologies to create what we have today.

I, through my effort, through my sacrifice of my time and money, through my stubborn refusal to take the easy path no matter how difficult things get, built my business. I am the one that works the extra hours when something isn't finished. I am the one who has his financial future on the line. I am the one who makes the difficult decisions as to what work gets focused on and which bill I can afford to pay or who I have to fire because Obamacare drove up the health insurance costs. I am the one who endures the ever present stress of having that business on my mind wherever I go and no matter what I am doing.

Because that is how you make a business happen, and the government doesn’t do any of that for me. I made my business happen with my hard earned money, with my time, with my drive, with my ambition, with my talents, with my sweat, blood, and tears.

So yeah, maybe my business might not exist without the tools I had and the country I grew up in or the government that runs it, but there is only one thing that it definitely would not exist without: me.

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