I recently read an article that said a recession is a great time to start a business because when times are tight, deals can be found on many of the goods and services needed to grow a company. While this might be fundamentally true, I wondered how many entrepreneurs actually felt the same way. Economic realities being what they are, people still need to eat and pay their rent. With the economy in shambles, how many entrepreneurs would take a chance on a start-up knowing it might be nearly impossible to get a job if things didn’t work out? I decided look for an entrepreneur who was actually doing it.
My first challenge was figuring out where to start my search. There was always Starbucks, but living in Los Angeles all I found were struggling screenwriters. I decided to try a co-working space called BlankSpaces. If you’re unfamiliar with co-working spaces, they are apparently the new trend for people who got tired of working alone at home. After chatting with a few of the usual suspects, I met Edward Lujan, a recently homeless entrepreneur, and Firas Bushnaq, millionaire and executive chairman of eEye Digital Security, working together on a new company. At the very least, they were an odd couple so I had to find out how they ended up together.
I often meet "wannabe" entrepreneurs who say things like "If I just had a million dollars then I could start my own business." Obviously these aren’t the kind of people who would start a company in a down economy. Edward was just the opposite. A one-time Wall Street trader with a big paycheck, Edward gave it all up to start something on his own. After an earlier partnership went awry, Edward found himself living in his car. I asked him why he didn’t go back to a job and he said, "I just knew in my heart this was going to work." When he took a part time job to get back on his feet, Edward did something extraordinary. Instead of renting a place to live, he spent his first paycheck on office space at BlankSpaces. Most people, including me, would think this is crazy, but in Edward’s case the decision to rent workspace would result in an amazing turn of fortune.
Firas Bushnaq is a curious man. How else would you explain a millionaire serial entrepreneur who leaves his company to incubate start-ups in a shared office? Someone like Firas was the last person I expected to find in a co-working space, and yet here he was looking for entrepreneurs to help launch – entrepreneurs like Edward Lujan. Because Edward put his start-up dreams even ahead of his own well being, Firas took a chance on him and Setstr.com was born. It’s early, and Setstr still has a long way to go before making money, but Edward Lujan and Firas Bushnaq are doing something most people find terrifying. They’ve started a company during a recession.
When I started my quest for an entrepreneur willing to risk it all in a down economy, I never expected to find one who was so dedicated to his goal that he would pursue it in the face of homelessness. Nor did I expect to find a millionaire incubator willing to give a shot to a guy sleeping in his car. Instead, I found them sharing an office and starting a business together. For Edward, the economy was irrelevant to the pursuit of his dream. For Firas, the trappings of success were no replacement for the thrill of mentoring an eager entrepreneur. Recession or not, it seems true entrepreneurs are willing to put it all on the line and go forward come hell or high water. With no end in sight to our economic woes, I wish Edward and Firas the best of luck. We may need more such visionaries to get us out of the current swoon.