The Girl who said ‘yes’ and started
it all and the Million Dollar Napkin

I launched my very first website from my freshmen college dorm room in 1999.

The first dot.com boom was in full swing, and as a resident of one of the many on-campus dorms at The University of Texas, I had something most kids my age could only dream of: high-speed internet in my room.

As a 19-year old college student, I hadn’t ever thought much about entrepreneurship, and had never considered building multiple companies or starting my career.

But then something happened . . . I met a girl.

I was invited to a futuristic-themed party so naturally chose to go as Millennium Man, a little known superhero poised to change the post Y2K world.

That night, I somehow managed
to introduce myself to Emily, the
girl in the pink shirt. I realized
pretty quickly that she was the woman
who I was going to marry. That started with buying her a ring.
Now that may not seem like a huge feat, but for a struggling college
student, this was daunting.

So I started a simple eCommerce site selling e-books and made my first sale in November of 1999. By the time I graduated in 2003, I had only earned enough for that ring, but I was doing really well. I had several eCommerce websites, each earning a good amount of money each month and each growing rapidly.

By 23-years-old I was a business mogul with a growing company. External forces and the naïveté of managing a business at such a young age quickly set in and I found myself with a mortgage, a wife, a newborn and a quarter of a million dollars in debt.

In 2006 in a bar in Dallas, TX. I contemplated my debt, my history, and my family situation. A couple of glasses of bourbon in, I had an epiphany. I picked up a napkin on my table and contemplated it. It was large enough to provide space for an idea, but small enough to force simplicity. I held the napkin for a few minutes and it hit me that I had mega overcomplicated every aspect of my business. What should have been simple and concise had gotten bogged down in overstated processes. I scribbled down my answer to the question that
I believe is the basis for all business growth: How will we go about acquiring customers profitably and predictably?

And in that moment in that bar when my only option seemed to be to give up, I made a decision to take that simple answer and run with it. That was the first year my business generated $1M in revenue. It was also the first time that I saw true, honest growth that was tenable.

About Ryan Deiss