After graduating in 2007 from University of Miami School of Business, I was supporting myself as a struggling independent musician. To generate additional income, I started a recording studio out of my apartment, with a homemade sound booth I constructed in the closet of my bedroom. The walls were covered with quilt batting and Styrofoam—hardly a state-of-the-art setup. Putting all my savings into high quality recording equipment, I was still only barely making it by charging musicians by the hour. They didn't have any money either, and making demo recordings of other people's music was keeping the lights on but not helping me advance my own music career.
Frustrated, I knew I had to get a "real" job. I contacted my previous professors and used my limited small business skills to land a consulting job with the University of Miami to help the business department set up a new center for entrepreneurs called The Launch Pad. I was now receiving a regular paycheck, and I enjoyed working with so many innovative people, but I found that I preferred the unstructured creativity of being "self-employed." I committed myself to trying to keep the recording studio open to focus on my own music career, despite working a 9-to-5.
Juggling both the job and the studio was tough. Left only with limited time after work, I would run the recording studio late into the night. In between recording sessions, I was refining a new business plan that I felt would combine my passion for music with the knowledge I was gaining from The Launch Pad. This new concept became my focus, eventually becoming more important than my work at The Launch Pad as well as my recording studio responsibilities. I felt I was ready—or at least getting closer—but a struggling economy made it tough to find investors and the talented team members I knew I needed to launch what had now become my dream—a successful online music business.
Pitching my business plan and tracking down the people I needed to talk to meant that I had to be on call for conferences, meetings and emails while still maintaining my day job. It was difficult being mostly unavailable during businesses hours, but I used sick days and a smartphone to stay in contact with attorneys, web developers and potential board members. I got a lot done on my lunch hour—my prime time for getting back to people. Using technology and creative scheduling, I was able to lay the groundwork for my own business venture over a two-year period.
Dinner, friends and social life were sacrificed for overseas conference calls, emails and Red Bull. I had to schedule everyone and everything as if I were running the Italian trains! From breakfast in the morning to brushing my teeth at night, I had to optimize every moment. My days and nights were spent efficiently but I didn't have much of an existence outside or work. I was successfully juggling all my responsibilities by moon lighting and using technology, but I now knew there was a cost. I was working on building my business every night, all night, and it was clear that this was what it would take for me to be successful.
Rethink or Resign?
The question I was soon facing—both financially and emotionally—was when could I afford to leave my day job and pursue this new business concept full-time. Foregoing a regular income, a savings plan and health insurance for an untested new business is a difficult decision. I questioned whether the startup would generate enough money to sustain itself and provide enough salary to cover my expenses. I also knew that if I was ever going to realize my dreams, now was the time to move, as I had no dependents or debt. I had to act.
Making the leap got a little easier in March 2010. A national competition called WeMedia Pitch It Challenge came to Miami to award one new business—out of hundreds of applicants—$25,000 to get their enterprise off the ground. Although the University of Miami was hosting the competition, employees of the University were excluded from participating. That meant that as long as I continued working at The Launch Pad, I would be unable to compete or test my business plan against the ideas of others. It was the incentive I needed. Resigning my full-time job on March 1, I entered the WeMedia competition that same day.
My decision paid off. I took home the prize to help start Audimated.com, my online music business. The money gave me enough cash to feel more optimistic about my chances to survive on credit cards and savings until the new business could sustain itself. I also felt tremendously validated by a strict set of judges and successful business owners who chose me as the winner. Now I had the cash, time, and investors in place to comfortably pursue entrepreneurship. Little did I know that I still had to face the even greater challenges of being a full-time entrepreneur!
Lucas Sommer is the founder of three successful music business companies which he continues to own and operate profitably. His newest venture is Audimated.com, a game-changing site that is revolutionizing the independent music scene. Currently, Lucas is a full time entrepreneur and won a $25,000 Pitch It contest from WeMedia to apply towards Audimated. His educational background includes specialties in finance and music media and industry.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.