Day Zero Is Today

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Life took an unexpected turn yesterday when I lost a really good job opportunity that I thought had been a sure thing.

It’s good, it’s bad, it’s good-and-bad. But, in the end, I think the universe was nudging me to the place where I really needed to be, and it’s all going to be good. Much more good than bad.

The Backstory

Almost two years ago now, I left a really solid, very well-paying job as an engineering director at Adobe. It was kind of a big leap for me and my family, and I gave up 70% of my income in order to join the fight against climate change.

At the time, I knew I had two possible paths: 1) directly contribute to battling climate change itself in some technical sense, or 2) fight the GOP’s active obstruction of applying what we already knew about fighting climate change. On both paths, I’d always assumed I’d be starting my own company, like I’d already done once before, with a fair bit of success, back in 2009.

I decided on path #2: fighting the GOP. It didn’t make sense to build technical capability when the deployment of that capability was being so actively hindered in the policy space. And, as luck would have it, I stumbled directly into running engineering at Swing Left. My plan was, I’d fight the good fight there until the election, and then, after our sure victory and the removal of political barriers, I’d then start my own climate startup in November 2020, and dedicate myself to that for the remainder of my career.

The plan worked reasonably well.

Well, at least we won, barely, and we’ve removed Trump from office. The path might not be as clear as I’d like in the policy space, but it’s a heck of a lot clearer than it was before. And I feel like I’ve done my tour of duty there for now, in any case.

So, after the election, it was time to execute Part 2 of the plan: start my own climate startup. I had a great idea, and the expertise to pull it off, and I was ready to go.

Then, a friend/former client of mine called me and asked if I was game to run engineering at his startup. And that caused a bit of a crisis that only resolved itself yesterday.

That Startup

You see, this friend/former client of mine is someone I liked working with A LOT. And another friend/former client of mine was also working at that same startup and I liked working with that person, A LOT. And the company was in a sweet spot and well funded and had hit product-market fit. And what they needed was exactly what I’m very good at. Basically, it was an absolutely, positively, once-in-a-career confluence of all that’s good about my profession. It was extremely tempting. This company was literally the only non-climate company in the world I’d consider pausing my own startup ambitions to join. And they called me of their own volition, out of the blue. The big problem? It had nothing to do with climate.

I lost a lot of sleep over this decision. It was extremely difficult. In the end, for reasons I might describe in another post at some point, I decided to go with the friend’s startup and ditch my own.

Oops, Wrong Choice

My first problem was I thought this was a done deal. We’d even talked numbers and they’d called my references, back in early November. And my friend seemed to have thought this was a done deal, too. But…it wasn’t. I make a religion, in business, of never assuming a deal is done until the ink is dry. But this one felt so done that I forsook that usual tendency and relaxed as if it were, in fact, a done deal.

Narrator: It Wasn’t a Done Deal

There was always one more thing, one more phone call, one more minor hurdle, until it became pretty clear around Christmas that I was irrecoverably screwed. And my poor friend had to call me yesterday to give me the final bad news: they were going to pass on me.

It’s not important why this fell apart, specifically, except that you, dear reader, know that it was mostly them and mostly not me :)

This Is a Blessing

And now, three months later than I’d originally intended, I get to go back to my own idea. It has to do with leveraging what I know about big data from running the big data engineering team for a product at Adobe and what I know about easy-to-use data tools from both Adobe and from Swing Left, and deploying that fairly specialized knowledge to make climate data usable for everyone.

I. Am. So. Excited.

And scared.

And embarrassed.

And that’s ok. In fact, it’s better than ok. The universe gave me a little nudge to say: “You were trying to take that smoother-looking path. I understand, but it’s wrong for you. Your destiny lies here and it’s going to be amazing.”

And the universe is right. Thank you, universe. And stay tuned.

Tim Cull, founder of @pollen_io. Random rants about business and my life, plus some politics around election time. Aggressively moderate.

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