I recently connected with a classmate of mine from Columbia, who I didn’t really have the chance to know when I was still a student. In fact, the only time I remember meeting him was when he came to one of my dorm parties, as a friend of a friend, and excused himself to leave early because he came on a bike and needed to get back to his apartment in the heart of Harlem. (I should’ve known he was a BAMF from that alone.)
For all us non-tech people out there still dreaming the dream. David Xia is a name you might want to jot down. (In fact, you might remember him from such anti-feminist scandals as the leaked Citibank HR memo.) Having majored in theoretical math at Columbia, David told me how he ended up in a somewhat unfulfilling job post-graduation: a small company with an unfortunate big corporation feel.
After a mere 7 months on the job, David decided that it was time for a change. He quit, found himself a co-founder, and decided to start a tech company that provides smarter travel recommendation. At the time, neither he nor his co-founder knew how to code.
And thus began his 6-month odyssey into the world of hacking and building. As I chatted with him about his experience, he kept using the same word to describe the process: “hard.” He talked about his weekly pilgrimage to a friend of a friend’s home to learn coding, one bit at a time. He described how he had scrimped and saved to live on $1400 a month in New York, an amount that most people pay for rent alone. He also talked about being in the trenches, traveling to Vancouver for a travel bloggers’ conference to promote his product only to get caught in the 2011 hockey riots. It’s really hard to get people to use your product, he explained.
Though it’s not what we imagine when we think “tech entrepreneur”, what David experienced makes sense. There is a significant reporting bias in today’s tech startup world – you often only hear about the homeruns and never about the guy who bootstrapped for 6 months with his cofounder and finally decided that he needed to get a paying job. David did have to get a job after a while, but he didn’t have to settle for going back to his old one. He now works as a junior developer at SkillShare. (They’re hiring!) And yes, he still rides his bike everywhere.
When he talks about the risks he took in quitting his 9-to-5, David humbly brushes them off. At this stage of our lives, he says, we have nothing to lose. In a lot of ways, he’s right. David refers to the past 6 months one of the most intense learning experiences he’s ever had – he spent 80 hours a week (banking hours, hollah) learning to code and many more hours learning how to succeed as an entrepreneur.
He is, perhaps, the best representation I know of someone lighting a fire under his ass. I forced my co-founder to learn all the front end stuff, he says with a grin. He’s been thanking me ever since. If you’re lucky enough, he might light one under yours, too.