CXO

How one entrepreneur went from homeless to $50K a month

Leveraging your talents can get you much farther than you think. Here's how one man converted his struggle to success in eight months.

Alex Grande, San Francisco-based CEO of Recognizeapp.com, started his career journey in 2004 as the classic college graduate struggling to find a job. While many students, especially with tech degrees, are able to quickly find employment, this psychology major from Western Washington University was not.

"'Stanford Student Creates Start Up, Billionaire—' that's the typical story you hear," said Grande. "What you don't hear about are all the people who don't go to Stanford, but have the grit and the determination, and the philosophy of self-continuance in lifelong learning, to achieve those same goals."

Grande bounced around a bit, from working in Korea, to a sales job in Seattle. He couldn't seem to catch a break, admitting that after quitting his sales job, "I was kind of in a bad situation."

SEE: Telephone interview cheat sheet: Web developer (Tech Pro Research)

With no job, no home, and nowhere to go, he was offered a deal. A friend's father offered to trade him a place to stay for construction help on his land. Grande happily took the deal, he said, since the offer of shelter was hard to turn down. Once moving onto his new boss' land, he was shown to his new home: A tent.

"I lived in a forest," said Grande. Helping out on the land and spending nights alone in his tent, Grande was given an opportunity to think. Luckily, he had one other item with him, a cheap laptop. His tent was set up next to a transformer box, which he began using as a desk and would use to connect to a DSL and surf the web, he said.

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Image: Alex Grande

"I would plug in the computer at night and learn." said Grande. "I was inspired by the internet. It's just something that doesn't require much upfront cost; you just need a computer and you need internet access. I loved the idea of being able [to use the internet] to create a business that would cost zero upfront cost, it just requires you and your time."

With web development being one of the top six in-demand digital skills, Grande strategically decided to hop onboard. "I started reading web development books," said Grande. "I kept learning and practicing, building websites.

"I wanted to make myself a portfolio website; something about me that I could present to the world as a way to get a job," Grande added. "So I built a page all about me. I put photographs I had taken; I had a page about photography; I had a page about web development ideas—all custom at the time."

Grande referred to his website trials as "recipes," and his tutorial books as "cook books." He first used the book to learn how to create the websites, then started tailoring them and making them on his own from there, he said.

"About eight months later, I was able to then convince some company in Seattle that I could do the work, even though I really, really couldn't; but I showed them that I could do it through these feed websites, and that's what got me into web development," Grande said.

"I was always dedicated to entrepreneurship, and at some point I started doing more and more projects on the side. I worked at technology companies, getting better and better, perfecting my craft, learning more skills," he added. "I never stopped learning in this world, and eventually I created Recognize."

His original startup, Recognize, has been self-funded and operated now for six years, proving to be a widely successful first endeavor for Grande, racking up nearly $50,000 per month.

Words for the wise

Grande acknowledged that parts of his success story were due to luck, happenstance, and situational circumstances. However, his attitude wasn't. His biggest piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is not to waste time doing something you hate.

"Do the thing that you feel most comfortable doing," said Grande. "If you're struggling and hating it, maybe you're not going to want to do it, because if you're hating it now, you're going to hate it probably later."

The key to determining your game plan in the first place is to think on your own, Grande added. "I didn't have cellular reception, there was no distractions. I think that was kind of a real secret, isolation," he said.

Trying something new, or starting from the ground up, is a terrifying idea, but that is normal, said Grande. "Over 60% of people on Amazon have imposter syndrome, where they don't feel like they qualified for their job. I felt that way in the past. You really need to just pick something, hopefully and build, and build, and build, and not pivot," he said.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/fizkes

About Macy Bayern

Macy Bayern is an Associate Staff Writer for TechRepublic. A recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Macy covers tech news and trends.

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