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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

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nick@manicgrant.com

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On Probation

7 min read

This is a story about being on tenterhooks...

Book quote

I'm a living contradiction. I choose security and certainty over the vain hope of hitting the jackpot. If I was given the choice between having a "B" grade, but not having to do any work or suffer any uncertainty, versus the potential to achieve an "A+" then I would take the "B" grade without a moment's hesitation. If you think that's settling for mediocrity, you're wrong - I choose my battles and I achieve "A+" grades all the time... as an accidental consequence of pursuing the things I'm interested in and passionate about.

The other part of my contradictory personality is that I choose to take incredible risks. I jump out of planes. I climb rock faces. I scale high mountains. I ride gigantic waves in gale-force winds. Why the hell would I do that?

There are a lot of risk-reward-cost-benefit calculations that go on inside my head.

I've gathered a lot of data.

The decision to take dangerous highly addictive drugs might seem like one of the most baffling choices that a person would elect to do. For example, taking heroin is seen as an indication of character flaw, but being a BASE jumper is seen as cool, although the latter carries the same risk of premature death.

Let's do a bit more in-depth analysis, shall we?

Cost of being a rock climber:

  • Rock boots: £45
  • Harness: £75
  • Chalk bag & chalk ball: £15
  • Rope £150
  • Helmet £50
  • Belay plate: £20
  • 10 quickdraws: £150

TOTAL: £505

So, for somebody who wants to climb a rock face safely, the minimum amount they're going to have to spend is over £500. Also, you might fall and die. Let's re-iterate that: It's pretty damn obvious that if you climb up a vertical rock face and you lose your grip, you can fall to the ground and be killed on impact.

Cost of being a mountaineer:

  • Crampon-compatible boots: £200
  • Crampons: £120
  • Base layers: £40
  • Mid-layers: £80
  • Shell layer jacket: £250
  • Shell layer salopettes: £180
  • Ice axes: £250
  • Helmet: £50
  • 9mm waterproof rope: £175
  • Ice screws: £120
  • Warthogs: £40
  • Deadman: £40
  • Backpack: £150
  • Survival bag: £20
  • Down sleeping bag: £300
  • Down jacket: £200
  • Tent: £350
  • Sleeping mat: £60

TOTAL: £2,625

So, for somebody who wants to climb a 4,000m+ mountain (Mont Blanc etc) then you're going to have to shell out more than £2,500. In fact, it's going to cost you a lot more, because you're going to need lots of things I didn't list, like spare pairs of socks, spare base layers, and also a stove, cooking utensils, plus all the other expedition gear. You're not going to have much spare change out of £3,500. Did I mention that you're highly likely to be killed by falling rocks, avalanches, falling into a crevasse, or simply plummeting to your death.

I shan't follow the same process for kitesurfing, yacht sailing or skydiving, but the financial cost of putting your life in danger can be staggering, especially when we consider that rugged outdoorsy types are somehow healthy and laudable people of good character and moral fibre; made of the right stuff.

Another group of people who we might consider are the entrepreneurs. Who are these people who reject conventional employment - salaried jobs - and instead choose to make their money by means other than selling their singular body and brain. Are these people risk takers too?

In fact, all the celebrated members of society have one thing in common: they've had the financial means to pursue avenues that are not available to most of the populace, because the need to eat, be housed and be clothed is an insistent demand which is too pressing for all but those who enjoy considerable economic advantages. Do not believe the bullshit - rugged adventurers are not brave souls and entrepreneurs are not gifted geniuses... they're all people who've had the financial backing in order to pursue their expensive dreams. Don't believe any of the "self-made man" bullshit. Behind every "self made" man are a whole bunch of people who've underwritten their risk.

I busted my shoulder up pretty badly - broken bones - on a beach in a remote part of Brasil. My startup co-founder broke his leg very badly indeed in roughly the same part of Brasil. That part of the world is many hours away from a good hospital with a surgeon and operating theatre where complex orthopaedic surgery could be performed. Would we have been so adventurous if we hadn't become somewhat complacent about the bubble we live in?

I'm on probation at the moment. I'm on best behaviour. I'm trying to impress my new girlfriend. I'm trying to prove that I'm a good boyfriend.

But, do I really think that I'm going to fail?

Have I ever been worried that I'm going to fall to my death?

Have I ever been worried that world-class medical establishments and all the many wonders of modern civilisation aren't rapidly available in an emergency? Have I ever been worried that somebody wouldn't patch me up as good as new, if I had an accident?

It's never really crossed my mind that I might not get what I want. Of course, I've had heart-stopping moments when I've suddenly realised how staggeringly exposed I am. I've spent so much of my life living on the edge that I've become desensitised to the worrying fact that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the more times I put my life at risk, the greater the chance that I'm going to be badly injured or killed.

I was worried that I was too fat, old, mentally ill and addicted to drugs and alcohol to ever meet somebody who'd fall in love with me. I was worried that I was too indebted and lacking in any assets - such as a fast car and big house - to be attractive to any object of my affections. I was worried that I was a washed-up loser; a has-been.

Our whole lives are lived under Damocles' sword, somewhat. We could mess up our exams. We could mess up our careers. We could mess up our relationships. There's never a single moment when we can really relax and feel like we're not on probation in some way.

I guess I'm pretty sanguine. I get anxious and I torment myself a very great deal with catastrophic thinking but ultimately, I feel the fear and do what I was always going to do anyway. I'm well aware of the innumerable and virtually unimaginable risks, but if you examine my behaviour - as opposed to what I write - then you'll see that I never choose the low-risk option; you'll see that I continuously pursue the very best that life has to offer, despite stress levels which are almost intolerable.

Tomorrow is an important day, but I already know that I'm going to be OK. My risk is underwritten. What's the worst that can happen? Death? Hospitalisation? Been there. Done that.

 

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Normal Service Has Resumed

7 min read

This is a story about a journey all the way to the bottom and back up...

The Ritz

The year was 2011. I fought with my girlfriend about relocating my startup. The year was 2012. Depression and destruction. The year was 2013. Divorce and drugs. The year was 2014. Suicide attempts and homelessness. The year was 2015. Getting better, but still very severely mentally unwell; quite insane. The year was 2016. Substantially recovered, but not quite; false start. The year was 2017. The worst of all the years.

During the last 7 years, a lot of the cohort from the startup accelerator program I attended in Cambridge, have all gone on to be spectacularly successful both in business and in their personal lives. They've strengthened their relationships, had children, bought houses, yachts and sportscars. They've become much in-demand conference speakers and widely respected captains of industry, with amazing reputations.

I went down.

I went down hard.

I went all the way to the bottom.

I had enjoyed a lot of the material success and achieved a bunch of life goals much earlier than most of my peers, but it didn't take long to undo all that hard work. It doesn't take much effort to give up all the gains you've made. It's a lot easier going downhill, than clawing your way back uphill.

I guess a kind of rock-bottom moment was when I arranged to have high tea at The Ritz with one of my best buddies from the startup accelerator. I stood him up because I was in big trouble. Mental illness, addiction, alcoholism, homelessness, debt, divorce, loss of assets, loss of my startup, loss of all hope conspired to rob me of all my self-esteem. My buddy is not the kind of person who'd make me feel like a failure or invoke any kind of shame and embarrassment in me, but I couldn't let him see me in the state I was in. I was a complete mess. I couldn't even be seen in public.

I slept rough, I lived in a hostel, I went into heaps of debt just staying alive. I wrecked my body and mind with prescription drugs, legal highs, illegal drugs, alcohol, black-market medications and a ludicrously high-risk lifestyle, which had been so punishing that it had hospitalised me multiple times for multiple weeks.

I managed to meet up with my buddy once, just as I was going through divorce in 2013, before things got really bad, but they were still pretty terrible. I saw him again in 2015, when I was having extreme mania and generally suffering with terrible mental health problems brought on by stress, pressure, exhaustion and sleep deprivation. I stood him up in 2016.

Somehow I managed to see my buddy in 2017, when he was celebrating the culmination of 6 years hard work on his startup, at exactly the same time as my life was well and truly beyond any hope of saving; my entire world was imploding. My dream of rebuilding my old life in London completely collapsed and I had nothing but debt and the threat of imminent eviction, which at least forced me to temporarily act with a little bit of self-preservation instinct, but I soon ended up in such a dire situation that I decided my life was over; I tried to kill myself. In summer 2017, the directions the lives of my buddy and I could not have gone in more opposite directions. I had failed. I was a miserable failure.

This year, what had been originally been planned as a holiday with my girlfriend turned into a bromance weekend with my buddy. Things were looking up. I'd been working for almost 7 consecutive months without a major disaster. My life was still pretty wrecked, but at least it was improving. I was in a bad state after a messed-up May, where I'd had a relapse, but thankfully it didn't ruin everything.

I had a bit of a lapse a little over a week ago. The instability which ensued prompted me to spend money. Some of that money got spent on a weekend visit to see my buddy again. Things have continued to substantially improve, although my life is still pretty wrecked, by all reasonable measures. Annoyingly, my buddy has seen me right in the middle of a period of bad mental health, immediately following a relapse. Annoyingly, I'm not seeing my friends when I'm at my best, but instead they're seeing me when I'm destabilised and a bit sick; exhausted and stressed.

It should be noted, however, that there is a significant difference between today and the time I decided to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Today is much more like the optimistic period I had in 2013 where it looked like I was going to get out of a bad relationship and start rebuilding my life. Today is not at all like 2017, which was a total train-wreck; I was a complete mess.

I feel like I must have trashed my brain. I feel like I must have fried my mind. I feel like my mental health is utterly wrecked and people are probably just humouring me, like I was ever one of their peers.

I would love it if I've gotten back to enough of a healthy state that I'm doing OK. I would love it if I'm somewhat getting back to normal, and not too much lasting damage has been done.

I know it's no use wanting to go back in time; wanting to get back to exactly how I was at some point in the past. That's impossible.

My biggest fear is that I'm some sort of washed-up loser; that I'll never recover any quality of life; that I'm irreparably damaged and any spark of brilliance which justified my presence amongst that cohort of 2011, has long since been extinguished. I fear I'm a has-been.

My brain feels sluggish and slow. I feel somehow inferior. Not just to the brilliant people I met in Cambridge, but somehow to almost everybody. I've spectacularly completely and utterly failed at life.

I'm about to board a flight back to the UK. I have a good job and my cashflow is OK. I have a holiday planned. I have a place to live and other life essentials. Things are not that bad but I'm aware that I've barely begun my journey back up from the bottom. It's worse than starting with nothing. What I'm talking about is starting deep in negative territory.

It's ridiculous and unhelpful to compare myself to the man I was in 2011 and imagine what might have been. I am where I am. I should be pleased I'm not destitute; dead.

I should be dead.

But I'm not.

My life has entered a very surreal phase now. I'm living a life which should lead towards health, wealth and happiness. I'm moving very fast in a positive direction, but the journey I've been on has been very extreme in every conceivable way.

Things are seemingly normal, but also not normal at all. Nothing ever was normal in my life. Nothing ever will be. I suppose at least things are abnormal in the right kind of way now, at the moment.

It's hard re-adjusting to the new [old] normal.

 

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A Streak of Arrogance

7 min read

This is a story about hypomania warning signs...

Cambridge Union Society

If I was pressed to justify why I have any self-confidence and why I think I add any value to humanity - anything useful or interesting to say - then I could reference a number of achievements which I'm very proud of, indicating that I'm not completely delusional and grandiose. My sense of self-importance and pomposity is not entirely driven by perturbations of my sick mind. There are a few little things which mean I shouldn't think of myself as a complete waste-of-space, I hope.

Of course there are plenty of people in the world who will shout and scream: "YOU'RE A SHITTY WORTHLESS WASTE OF SPACE WHO SHOULD SHUT UP AND MAKE ROOM FOR ME ME ME AND ONLY ME. GET THE FUCK OFF THE STAGE YOU TALENTLESS FUCKWIT AND LISTEN TO ME ME ME. SHUT YOUR MOUTH AND LISTEN TO THE IMPORTANT STUFF I'VE GOT TO SAY BECAUSE IT'S ALL ABOUT ME ME ME".

I've had to endure plenty of these sharp-elbowed puffed-up pompous idiots, in love with their own reflections; quite convinced that they're brilliant people. I'm not exactly the shy and retiring humble type, but there's got to be some kind of middle ground unless you're happy flipping burgers in a minimum wage McJob and otherwise being trampled by precocious little shits; being shouted down by fucking airheads and their entourage of sycophants who believe the world owes them a stage and an audience.

...and breathe...

I realise that an arrogant streak within me rears its ugly head whenever I'm stressed and exhausted; whenever I'm scared and insecure.

I'm feeling very scared and insecure at the moment.

I know that I'm good at my job and I make a big difference to the teams and organisations that I'm part of, but I can see that a nasty side of my personality emerges when I'm under extreme pressure and stress. I can start to believe my own bullshit and see those around me as dead wood. I can start to become irritable and impatient. I can start to treat people unpleasantly. I become horribly arrogant.

It's a reaction to circumstances.

I'm not comfortable. I'm not secure. I'm not happy.

I'm exhausted.

I'm tired.

I'm scared.

At work, I know that I've proven myself yet again. I know that I've gotten to grips with a huge complicated system and a gigantic organisation in record time, and I'm making myself useful. I'm highly productive. I feel needed and I feel like I'm delivering good value. That feeds my fragile ego. My ego is incredibly battered and bruised because of the rollercoaster ride I've been on during the last few years, and because I don't feel at all secure.

I can point to things from the past which hint at my potential and clearly indicate that I'm not an idiot or a nobody, but how far back do I have to go? The picture above of me doing a Dragon's Den style pitch at Cambridge Union Society is about 7 years old. It feels like my life has been a complete mess since then. I feel like a fraud. I feel like a washed-up has-been.

For all my achievements, I've also repeatedly had problems with hypomania, where I've become impatient and irritable and I've spoken to people really badly. My arrogance has raged out of control at times. There's no justifying that behaviour.

I'm acutely aware that I wrote a very boastful blog post yesterday, and that I'm starting to become quite irritable by the amateurish stuff I have to deal with in my day job. I have to try very hard to avoid being harshly critical of my colleagues' work, which is perfectly mediocre and acceptable in the humdrum corporate world. I have to frequently remind myself that although I'm right it doesn't matter; although I could build a much superior system and do things so much better, I'm just one team member on a big project in a huge organisation. I need to recognise that I'm prone to the cyclical pattern of being smashed to smithereens and ending up destitute, only to get back on my feet and able to become high productive again with unbelievable speed. I need to stop being so dazzled by my own remarkable ability to pull myself up by my own bootstraps, because it's horribly arrogant.

There's a mountain of evidence that proves I can achieve exceptional things, but there's also a mountain of evidence that shows that I can become a right pain in the ass and I can be thoroughly unpleasant to deal with, when I'm consumed by hypomania. I need to remember that it'll be beneficial for me and everybody who I work with if I can rein in my arrogance, keep my lip buttoned, be kind, be patient and be as humble as I can possibly be.

It doesn't help that two people who I very much admired and respected have left my team, leaving me as the de-facto top dog, but I work with smart people and I need to work as part of a team or else I'll burn out. I need to get into the habit of learning to be more tolerant of the mistakes which people have made and the "varying abilities" in a diverse team, which is diplomatic double-speak for learning to put up with dullards. It's an essential skill in the workplace I think, to accept that there are more people who are undoing your good work and generally thwarting your ambitions to build utopian perfection, and to recognise that there are a huge amount of advantages of being a member of a big team of people who really don't care too much about the gigantic heap of useless crap they're very handsomely rewarded for fucking up. Striving for perfection has really messed me up very badly in the past.

So, I need an attitude adjustment. I need to acknowledge that when I've been given carte blanche - a clean slate - I've been lazy and sloppy and cut corners. I need to recognise that even though I have single-handedly built great big complex systems and profitable businesses from nothing, it's always fucked me up and burnt me out. On balance, it's the same net result - the tortoise and the hare.

I want to work really hard. I want hard work to accelerate me forwards. I want there to be a direct relationship between how hard I work and how much money I earn, but there isn't. No matter how brilliant and ingenious I am, I'm basically paid for being bored and keeping my mouth shut. The more dumb and numb I am, the more I get paid and the more people love me at work.

It's a really tricky time, because my mood viciously see-saws between suicidal depression, extreme boredom, insecurity about my value as a human being and a mountain of evidence that I'm very capable and competent at pulling off death-defying stunts and overcoming very difficult challenges, which clearly hints at a kind of troubled brilliance... although I'm not wanting to pat myself on the back too much or otherwise pump up my already excessively over-inflated ego.

If I'm going to make it through the coming weeks and months without disaster, I need to remind myself of past mistakes and attempt to curtail my arrogance; I need to recognise the cyclical pattern of my mental health and remember that it's always disastrous when I start getting impatient, intolerant, irritable and generally full of myself.

I need to keep my arrogance in check.

 

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Nick Grant

6 min read

This is a story about secret identities and alter egos...

Nick Grant's glasses

I'm Nick Grant and these are my glasses, which are my cunning and infallible disguise to protect my real identity. It would be a disaster if anybody found out my real name - Nick Grant - because this blog is pretty unflinchingly honest and contains a lot of very unflattering things about me. I'm pretty damn exposed, hence why I wear my disguise.

Today I'm celebrating 3 years of blogging. I've been writing every day for 3 whole years, with only a few gaps due to sickness and near-catastrophic events in my personal life, which have threatened to see me bankrupt, evicted, homeless, penniless and destitute. To have kept writing regularly throughout all the ups and downs of the past 3 years is a huge achievement.

To date, I've written and published 1,013,091 words in that 3-year period.

The last 36 months could be summarised thus:

  • September 2015: working for HSBC, living in a hotel, dating a BBC journalist. Rent an apartment on the River Thames.
  • October 2015: working for HSBC. Suicidally depressed. Hospitalised. Fly to San Francisco.
  • November 2015: fly back to the UK and deliberately get sacked from HSBC. Dating a PA to one of the directors of a major investment bank. Meet my guardian angel.
  • December 2015: protesting against bombing Syria. Sober for 100 consecutive days. Relapse back into abuse of legal stimulants and benzodiazepines.
  • January 2016: self harm and drug abuse. Start drinking again. Destroy my bed.
  • February 2016: abuse of sleeping pills and tranquillisers
  • March 2016: poly-drug abuse, combining legal highs and medications
  • April 2016: holiday to Southend with my guardian angel. Start dating again
  • May 2016: working for undisclosed major multinational organisation, with 660,000 employees worldwide. Replace destroyed bed.
  • June 2016: working. Suicidal. Bored.
  • July 2016: holiday to Fuerteventura for my birthday with my guardian angel.
  • August 2016: working. Suicidal. Bored.
  • September 2016: project cancelled. Meet love of my life. Minor relapse. Lies. Antidepressants and tranquillisers.
  • October 2016: in love. Mini-break to the New Forest. Weaning myself off tranquillisers.
  • November 2016: in love. Drinking a lot. Writing my first novel.
  • December 2016. in love. Christmas with her family. Eating and drinking a lot.
  • January 2017: DVT and kidney failure. Hospital and dialysis. Working for Lloyds Banking Group. Neuropathic pain from nerve damage. Taking tramadol, codeine, dihydrocodeine and pregabalin for the pain. Abusing large amounts of Valium and Xanax. Lose contract
  • February 2017: fully-blown supercrack relapse. Completely addicted to prescription opiates.
  • March 2017: supercrack. Abusing sleeping pills and tranquillisers. Quitting prescription opiate painkillers. Drinking. Still in love.
  • April 2017: supercrack. Still in love.
  • May 2017: attempting to quit supercrack by staying at girlfriend's and taking dextroamphetamine. Not succeeding
  • June 2017: drug and insomnia-induced mania, paranoia and general insanity. Break up with love of my life. Regret
  • July 2017: run out of money. Get a job in Manchester. Put all my stuff into storage. Leave London. Fling with girl from work.
  • August 2017: working for a startup in Manchester. Dating a different girl. Still physically addicted to painkillers, tranquillisers and sleeping pills.
  • September 2017: breakup. Suicide attempt. Hospitalised. Sectioned. Locked up on psych ward.
  • October 2017: move to Wales.
  • November 2017: writing my second novel.
  • December 2017: working for undisclosed bank in Warsaw and London.
  • January 2018: working for same undisclosed bank in London. Dating a Welsh girl
  • February 2018: bank. London. Girl.
  • March 2018: working for undisclosed government organisation. Rent an apartment in Wales.
  • April 2018: successfully quit all drugs and medications. Job, girlfriend and apartment all in Wales and very close.
  • May 2018: relapse. Breakup.
  • June 2018: government project finished. Mini-break to Faro, Portugal to see old friend.
  • July 2018: working for another undisclosed government organisation. Living in a hotel.
  • August 2018: government. Hotel. Single. Depressed.
  • September 2018: still working for same government organisation. Dating again.

By my calculations, 27 out of 36 months have been relatively OK, but 9 months in the past 3 years I've been a complete and utter train-wreck. The damage that's been done in that quarter of the year where I've been struggling with addiction, has been enough to completely screw up my life the rest of the time, but not quite bad enough to lead to me becoming unemployable, bankrupt and homeless - I always find a way to bounce back.

Somehow I've managed to fit 5 serious girlfriends and 5 major IT projects into the madness of my day-to-day existence, as well as 3 hospitalisations for major medical emergencies, being sectioned, two psych wards, an arrest, two evictions, moving 5 times, 6 cities, 5 countries, 13 powerful prescription medications, 5 street drugs, 121 consecutive days sober, 56 consecutive days sober, 799 blog posts, 1 million words, 14 thousand Twitter followers and a couple of hundred thousand pounds... and all I've got to show for it is this poxy blog.

The story of Nick Grant and his ups and downs might be a bit repetitive, but I'm sure it's not boring. I would argue that it's pretty remarkable that I'm still alive and kicking, and able to string a sentence together. It's remarkable that I'm reasonably mentally stable and I'm working full time on quite an important project. It's remarkable that my colleagues don't suspect a thing. It's remarkable that I haven't made myself unemployable or otherwise ended up excluded from mainstream society. It's remarkable that I'm unmedicated and yet quite functional and productive.

Along the way, I managed to lose my original pair of glasses, but I had a new identical pair delivered today, which I'm wearing now. I had no idea when my replacement glasses would be delivered, because they were being hand made to order, so I find it deliciously wonderful that they were delivered on the day I'm celebrating the 3-year anniversary of starting this blog.

When I think back to my very first blog post 3 years ago - Platform 9.75 - it's amazing to reflect on the journey I've been on and marvel at how effectively my daily writing habit has functioned as a stabilising influence. I very much doubt I'd have been able to recover and continue my journey without the huge amount of help and support it's brought me. I feel really proud of what I've achieved, which gives me some all-important self-esteem in the times when I need it most. I'm sure I'd have killed myself long ago if it wasn't for the people who've engaged with me and what I write, and encouraged me to keep going. I feel loved and cared for even during some very dark and dismal days.

Obviously what I've written is not particularly palatable or compatible with dating and my professional life, but they'll never be able to find me - Nick Grant - because I've been so careful to disguise my identity and make sure that nobody could just Google me and find out all my closely guarded secrets. Nobody will ever be able to make the connection.

My next objective is to get through September 9th - the anniversary of my most serious suicide attempt - without incident. I plan on phoning a couple of the people who managed to get the emergency services to rescue me in the nick of time, to thank them for saving my life.

 

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Trashing Tech

3 min read

This is a story about sabotage...

Macbook damage

This is my laptop I have with me while visiting my friend. It's had that damage since 2010. My nice new laptop is away being repaired.

My Apple watch screen is half-covered with a big black blob. It's pretty much useless now, so I don't even wear it anymore.

I bought a Macbook Air, which got damaged, and I'd spent so much getting it repaired that when it got damaged again, I just sold it for spares and bought my new laptop - the one that's currently being repaired.

What is it about me and damaging expensive technology?

Well, it's not just hardware. I pretty much threw away an entire tech startup company. My friend and co-founder managed to repair it and keep it profitable, but I had pretty much managed to destroy that company.

It's strange. I'm away on a short weekend vacation with my old friend who, 7 years ago, I used to share a house with. We were both doing tech startup companies. We were meeting the same mentors, angel investors and venture capitalists. We were being interviewed by the same journalists. We were with each other 24x7 for a pretty damn intense and important period of our entrepreneurial tech careers.

I don't feel embarassed that I screwed up my startup. I'm pleased that my friend's succeeded.

What I feel embarrassed about is that one of my arms has scars running along its length, and a big scar that I would usually cover up with my Apple Watch. What I feel embarrassed about is that I'm using my old laptop from all those years ago, and the reason is pretty much the same as why I have all those scars and my Apple Watch is irreparably damaged. I'm a damaged person, and I've damaged so much stuff during the on/off period I've been sick, which has been most of the last 7 years.

It's geek status symbol stuff, to have the latest Macbook Pro, Apple Watch and iPhone X, and I'm the guy who threw away his valuable tech startup, so I guess it'd be foolish for me to pretend like I'm something I'm not - to waste valuable cash on status symbols which I can't really afford.

The tough thing though is, I had/have those latest gadgets, but I trashed them in one way or another, and it's the story of how they got trashed that's the difficult thing. I want to be the happy, healthy, energy-filled and motivated guy who I was 7 years ago, but I'm not. I'm this broken damaged guy, with his broken damaged old stuff.

I guess I should just be grateful I'm alive.

 

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What's Missing from this Picture?

4 min read

This is a story about unnecessary packaging...

Holiday essentials

I've had a stressful morning. I had to package my Macbook carefully so that it could be safely sent away to be repaired. I had to locate the original packaging for my Virgin broadband router and box it up so it could be sent back to them, even though it's defective junk. I then had to find a UPS parcel drop-off point and a Collect+ drop off point to drop off the respective parcels. This required a trip to purchase bubble wrap, a suitable sized box and packing tape, as well as two more trips to two different drop-off places.

While I was out dealing with those chores, I also had to purchase a piece of carry-on luggage and some flip-flops. The flip flops were sold to me in a box. I don't know why flip flops need a box - just a simple cardboard clip to keep the left and the right flip-flop together is more than sufficient.

Anyway, I'm home now. I have located my passport. I have located some leftover Euros I had from the last holiday I took... 22 months ago. I opened the box containing my new flip-flops and lo and behold, there was a discrepancy in the number of flip flops present in the box - 50% of the required number of flip-flops were missing.

Do I drive back into town, park my car, walk to the shop and explain the situation in the hope that they admit their mistake and remedy it without quibble? Do I just purchase a second pair of flip-flops and then open and check inside the box before i leave the store? Do I just abandon the whole ill-fated exercise, and buy a pair at the tiny departure airport, where the shops will probably be closed? Do I take time out from the one single whole day I get to spend with my friend, without either of us having to worry about airport arrivals/departures, hotel check ins/out and all the rest of that crap, just to go looking for some suitable summer footwear?

I don't know why this is making me upset, because I don't even know if the nerve damage to my left foot/ankle is so bad that I can even wear a flip-flop on that foot. The last time I tried, I didn't have enough sensation and motor control to keep a flip-flop on my foot.

Also, my flight's delayed - French air traffic controllers on strike or something. My flight barely enters French airspace, but whatever... everyone should have the right to go on strike for better pay and conditions.

My 'holiday' is really just a day spent with a friend who I hardly ever get to see, then we both fly home on Monday. I have another week to go before my current gig comes to an end, so I need to make sure I take the money while it's there on offer.

"Have you got any holidays planned?" asked a person I spoke to on Friday, which is code for "we want you to work solidly until you drop dead". We'll have to see how badly they want me, because I really need a holiday - a proper holiday.

It seems churlish to complain, but I've had a month of hell. Breakup, losing my local job, getting sick, holiday plans pretty much cancelled, the stress of finding a new gig, the prospect of going back to London, the never-ending pressure to generate vast sums of cash to dig myself out of the hole... the hole I can never quite escape from. FML.

What was supposed to be a romantic beach holiday with my [ex]girlfriend has now turned into a very brief weekend meetup of two old friends. It'd have been far easier for us to meet in London, as he was there yesterday. He's travelled London -> Prague -> Lisbon -> Faro -> Lisbon -> Prague, and I'm travelling Wales -> Bristol -> Faro -> Bristol -> Wales. Our carbon footprint is criminal.

Hopefully I'll be in a better mood when I wake up in Faro tomorrow and I can hang out with my old friend for the whole day, free from commitments and responsibilities... I can put up with sweaty feet.

 

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Where Did It All Go Wrong?

4 min read

This is a story about dead ends...

Sinclair A-bike

Sir Clive Sinclair is a very clever man. So also is Hermann Hauser. So is Dr. Robert Sansom. So are the fellow members of my cohort who were lucky enough to be chosen from a very great number of hopeful applicants for an opportunity to fraternise with Cambridge's tech elite. We were destined for greatness.

The pinnacle - the apogee - of an entrepreneurial career in tech would be the moment when you have the undivided attention of a packed auditorium with a total net worth of tens of billions of pounds. Even if only for 5 or 10 minutes, all eyes are on you. It's your 5 minutes of fame, insofar as any geek can ever expect to have in their lifetime.

With offensive dismissiveness, the egotistical front man who would claim credit for the meeting of these minds, said my co-founder "was last seen with twins around his ankles" (he actually has 3 young children) and that I had returned to my former career with my tail between my legs.

Whatever I do, I think I do it with dedication and I achieve results. I obsess over my goals and I work tirelessly to reach them.

However, I feel old, unwell and somewhat burnt-out; spent.

If intellect was a good predictor of wealth, we'd see a much stronger correlation between the top exam grades, first-class degrees, doctorates and those who have been lucky enough to earn their fortunes, such that they have the financial means to retire early. If you think that a high IQ and studying hard at school and university is going to help you get ahead in life, you're sadly mistaken: you'll be a wage-slave in the rat race, just like everybody else.

I thought momentarily that I had found a tolerable compromise: a way to enjoy the lifestyle of the trust-fund endowed sons and daughters who can rely on family wealth to bankroll their carefree existence, while only sacrificing a small amount of my time each week to rather boring, menial, unethical and demeaning labour. I struck a deal with the devil, as it were.

Realising, however, that I was cash rich and time poor, I started work on projects which far predated websites like taskrabbit.com and mybuilder.com. My dot com - getajobdone.com - might not have been a world-class brand, but this was soon enough after the dot com boom [and crash] that I can claim some bragging rights.

I was too young and inexperienced to profit from the dot com boom, but I was at the very forefront of the iPhone app craze.

But where did it all go wrong?

How did I end up back in my old career, as Jon Bradford so astutely [and offensively] observed?

Fuck you. That's why: fuck you.

I make simple plans which seem fairly achievable, like having a nice little apartment with sea views and a yacht in the marina. Simple plans like having a job where I can drive to work in less than 15 minutes and enjoy a 6-figure salary. Then, it all goes to shit, so fuck you. I have it, then I lose it. I get a taste of it, then it's snatched away.

Where did it go wrong? Fucking everywhere, that's where. Everywhere from breakups to losing jobs - through no fault of my own - to the fact that the world is just a crazy competitive dog-eat-dog awful cut-throat world.

I live a charmed existence, by all accounts, but you should never forget the sacrifices I've made. While the rest of you have been creating clones of yourselves and lining the pockets of the banks with your mortgage interest payments, I've been cut loose in a world which views a man with no family ties with suspicion. In fact, having no family ties and no local connection to anywhere puts me at risk of destitution; total abandonment - I'm one of society's unwanted members. No safety net exists for me.

In 25 hours I'm hoping to be reunited with an old friend whose path through life might see him [incorrectly] labeled as an "overnight success" story. What a world apart, the last 6 or 7 years of our lives have been. How could we ever reconcile the differences in our experiences? Him the millionaire and me the pauper.

To divine where it all went wrong is an impossible task.

All I know is that I'm exhausted and I've got nothing to show for my efforts.

I'm not bitter though, I think. I cherish my experiences, no matter how harrowing and traumatic they've been.

 

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Superstars and Comfortable Men

11 min read

This is a story about a life philosophy...

Maunu Kea

Here I am stood taking photographs at the summit of the highest mountain in the Hawaiian Islands - an altitude of 13,796 feet above sea level. Sea level is where I started that morning. Any mountain above 12,000 feet will affect susceptible people with dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness and could even present a life-threatening situation for somebody with pre-existing heart or breathing problems. So, dangerous, but not that dangerous. Nobody gets a pulmonary oedema up here, in this cold thin air, but very few can thrive in this oxygen-depleted environment.

There are ostensibly two ways to get up a mountain: you can walk, or you can use some kind of mechanised assistance (e.g. helicopter, cable car or even drive if somebody has made a road to the summit). I used to scoff at the idea of taking 'the easy way out'. I used to think that using cable cars and funicular railways in the Alps was cheating... you hadn't really conquered the mountain at all. However, after my first summer season in Chamonix valley, I realised there's no point nitpicking over a pile of rocks: most climbers who attempt the North face of The Eiger will use the railway to the summit, which stops halfway to let anybody out who wants to tackle its vertical wall of death. Tourists watch as men and women laden with ropes and other equipment, venture out of a hole that was made to clear the railway tunnel of snow. Are they less brave? Many have lost their lives attempting this 'easy' route up the mountain.

Summit marker

There you are, see. 13,796 feet. You can see this elevation post in the bottom left hand corner of the previous photo. But how did I get up there, more importantly?

In 2008 through to 2011, I was bootstrapping. That is to say, I was building profitable business(es) using my own money and with very little outside help. Then, I got out of my depth and I phoned a friend. I begged him to come on board with my latest venture, which promised to have the most growth potential of anything I'd done before, plus it had an overlap - in the education space - with some of my friend's expertise.

My friend told me he was a mentor on a technology accelerator program, affiliated to TechStars, which was based in Cambridge and was taking place that coming summer. I have to admit, I'd never heard of Y-Combinator, SeedCamp, 500-Startups, TechStars or any of the other myriad accelerators that were springing up. The idea was simple though: take a bunch of promising teams, incubate them and connect them with the best minds in the world of tech, have a demo day and help them to raise angel investment or venture capital (VC).

I was enthused and given a new direction. There was hope and relief that I might no longer suffer the isolation and loneliness of being 'the boss'. I really wanted to be part of this ecosystem.

I applied for TechStars Boulder, in Colorado, USA, as well as the TechStars affiliate program that my friend was going to be a mentor on, in Cambridge, UK. My company was shortlisted for Boulder, so I flew out to Denver, drove to Boulder and met with David Cohen - one of the co-founders of TechStars. My company just missed the cut for Boulder, but was offered a place on the Cambridge program, which I accepted. On demo day, Brad Feld - the other founder of TechStars - watched my pitch and I got to meet him. I was rubbing shoulders with people who had achieved, or were about to achieve, greatness.

For example: you know that robot that's in the new Star Wars movies? The one that's a ball that rolls around and makes bleeping noises a bit like R2-D2? BB-8, it's called. Anyway, the toy version of that is based on the Sphero, and Sphero were one of the teams to go through the TechStars program. I got to meet those guys in Boulder. Now they have one of the best selling children's toys, thanks to a Star Wars brand licensing deal, which was undoubtably in part due to the TechStars program... that's how it works.

BB-8

Once the TechStars program was done, I had two role models to choose between. Both had pregnant girlfriends, but they had very different aspirations and priorities.

David, co-founder of my business, was intent on making life comfortable for him and his family. He'd made a big sacrifice, living away from home while we were doing the accelerator program. He'd made a risky commitment, ploughing money into a company that - at that time - didn't really have any protectable intellectual property or reliable and significant income stream. Although I talked him into the idea of taking our company BIG and getting half a million pounds worth of investment to allow us to grow, I think he really wanted to take things a lot slower and more carefully, and more importantly, get back home to his pregnant girlfriend.

Jakub, who I had been sharing a house with for months along with his co-founder Jan, seemed to be fixated on Silicon Valley and being a BIG success. I hope he wouldn't be angry with me for spilling the beans that he really regretted coming to Cambridge, UK, when their company could easily have gotten onto one of the Silicon Valley based accelerators, which is where, ultimately, he wanted to end up. Jakub had been obsessed by the trials and tribulations of Apple Corporation, and was 100% a Mac man, not a PC. Whether or not he wanted/wants to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs... one only need to look at his professionally taken photograph for his online profile: holding his chin in just the same way as the man who resurrected the struggling Apple Corp, and built it to be the world's biggest company, by market capitalisation.

Schopenhauer thought that the best thing in life would be to not be born at all, and the second best thing was simply to keep suffering to a minimum. Nietzsche realised that without suffering, how can we really experience elation? If you take the helicopter to the top of the mountain, you don't get the same feeling of achievement and success as you do if you walk up there. Nietzsche said that the world needs people like Steve Jobs, who was a millionaire by the age of 23, in 1978, and was worth $19 billion at the time of his death. Nietsche talks about supermen (übermensch) and the last men. Nietsche reviled these "last men" as he called them: men who were comfortable and content with mediocrity; men who would look at the stars and blink, in his words, rather than strive to achieve the very maximum they could in life - becoming superstars themselves.

I'm now in an uncomfortable in-between place. I neither achieved the übermensch nor the life of comfortable mediocrity.

Did I give up, because I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that lay ahead? Did I simply make mistakes, in choosing business partners who weren't as ambitious as me; as gung-ho, committed and fearless? Was the lack of support I received from my now ex-wife, my undoing?

Or, am I - as Nietzsche feared - one of the last men. The ones who are prepared to slave along in miserable existence because I'm not brave enough; bold enough to reach for the stars; to follow in the footsteps of those who've reached the top.

I'm torn, because I believe in socialist & humanist values: I believe in wealth redistribution, state monopolies, free education, free healthcare, free housing and a whole host of other things that would see me labelled as "Marxist", "Stalinist", "Leninist", "Maoist" or some other -ist, meant in the pejorative. Sometimes, I do wonder if people would work as hard, if they didn't want big mansions, swimming pools, helicopters, private jets, superyachts and all the other trimmings of exorbitant wealth. However, I know enough successful people to know that they just wanted to see a dream realised; a goal achieved: they didn't know how to stop working so hard, and they couldn't if they tried.

Strangely, although I've been shown the way and my eyes have been opened to the possibility of achieving great wealth in my lifetime, I've been left with nothing but depression. I'm depressed because I can see that hard work is required in life, whichever path you choose, but I'm also depressed because I opened the Pandora's Box of yachts and supercars and other prized possessions of those who followed their difficult task to completion: they reached the summit of the mountain.

I used to play a psychological trick when climbing mountains, which is to imagine every summit that you see is a false one, and that behind it will be an even higher summit, so your anticipation of your reward never turns into disappointment, which could lead you to giving up and turning back.

Another psychological trick I played in life, was never to dream and aspire to own things that were well out of reach. I bought a house, a yacht, a speedboat and a fast car... but these were all modest items that I was able to save up my wages and purchase. I never dreamt of owning a mansion or a brand-new Ferrari, for example, although the latter was achievable if that was my one dream in life, which it wasn't. I played a psychological trick, of forcing myself to be modest with my aspirations and rein in my ambitions, and to make incremental improvements rather than shoot for the top prize.

Mountain track

Now, I take short-cuts. I cheat. I know how high I can get, but I don't want to make the effort again. It hurt too much to be on the express elevator to the top, and to start to dream about all the wonderful things I could do with that wealth, only to crash to earth and be devastated. I'd like to be comfortable, but even that hurts, because it still requires effort as well as denying that I'd really like to own a nice big yacht, a supercar and a big house.

Do I begrudge my friends their success? Of course not, but it doesn't inspire me. Maybe it does inspire others, but when I look around, most people are fighting to just hang onto what little they've got. Would I tax my friend heavily because I'm a failure and I want to grab a piece of the wealth he created? Would I expect him to be humble and give credit to the society that helped him get to the top, even though we shouldn't try to drag everybody down to an equal level - equally mediocre and comfortable, according to Nietzsche? Yes, in a way I do still stand by my politics: I prefer flat structures to pyramids. I like it when everyone gets rich because of co-operation in society, rather than just a tiny handful who get rich at the expense of everybody else. We must remember that we're playing a zero-sum game - for every billionaire, there are millions of starving mouths and people without clean drinking water.

My friend was 9 years old when communism ended in his home country. He has been deeply affected. I'm not sure what makes me so certain that wealth should be redistributed, and the vulnerable protected, but I'm certainly going to tip-toe around the subject when I see my friend Jakub tomorrow, which will be the first time I will have had to offer face-to-face congratulations on him reaching the summit: he's rich now, by most ordinary people's standards, but I will attest that he build that wealth, with his team: it wasn't gifted to him by inheritance; it wasn't stolen or conned; it wasn't embezzled. He earned it and he deserves congratulating.

I'm still torn up about that question though: is it better to have 7 billion contented, comfortable people, or 100 or so obscenely wealthy ones, and half the world in desperate poverty.

In fact, no, scratch that. I go for comfortable. I go for "the last men" even if Nietzsche so hated them. Fuck him, that pompous German twat.

 

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Rolling Stone: a Picture Story

11 min read

This is a story about quicksand...

Koa Tree Camp

After being discharged from psychiatric hospital, what do you think you'd do next? Well, imagine that for months you have been travelling but you haven't been moving.

Things are not stable for me, no matter what my senses tell me. I go to the same office, looking at the same computer screen, surrounded by the same people, for months if not years on end. According to my senses I'm not moving anywhere.

However, my bank balance would tell a very different story. Just sitting mute in a chair, keeping my head down and being a perfect corporate drone who never rocks the boat, means that I am very rapidly travelling... financially. My body and mind don't really agree though.

My moods tell a very different story again. I don't necessarily notice seasonal effects and depression taking hold. I'm not fully able to tell when I'm getting hyped up and excessively involved in work or other projects. I'm not great at judging when it's time to take a break, either because I'm too down or too up.

It is unhealthy and unnatural that I work in the same place, doing the same thing, and working a job that moves at snail's pace. I just don't have the social life and hobbies at the moment to get any balance, let alone the financial means to travel, socialise and pursue pastimes with the usual gusto that I apply to everything.

What happens is that I become like a champagne cork. The pressure builds and builds, and then I explode with frustration.

My journey began with a two week stay in a psychiatric hospital, because I was so beaten down by the task of getting myself off the streets, back from the brink of bankruptcy, beating addiction, working on a massively important high-pressure project, renting an apartment, moving house for the zillionth time, and then realising that I was in an unsustainable situation: I needed to get rid of a 'friend' who thought he'd live with me rent free and get pocket money: for what reason he thought he deserved that, I'm not even sure. I also needed to quit a horrible contract that just wasn't worth the sleepless nights.

Next thing I knew, I was sleeping in a Mongolian yurt in Devon.

Hitchikers

Then, I was surfing and hitch-hiking in Cornwall. Hitch-hiking is surprisingly hard, it turns out. Hitch-hiking is a bad way to get around if you have to be in a certain place at a certain time. I'd hitch-hiked once before, earlier in the year, in Ireland, but it turns out the Irish are a lot more friendly, helpful and trusting than the British, based on my anecdotal evidence.

Back in London after my Westcountry adventure, I still felt overwhelmed by depression and the feeling that I was trapped by my job. I had a lovely trip, but it had been very short and coming home was very anti-climactic. I knew I needed to quit my job, but I didn't quite have the guts to terminate a very lucrative contract.

I had made a plan a couple of months prior, to shame HSBC by sleeping rough in Canary Wharf, right by their headquarters. I found it deliciously ironic that they had inadvertently helped one of their customers to avoid bankruptcy, escape homelessness and generally improve their financial situation. I had no doubt that if they'd done their due diligence on me, then I would never have been employed to work on their number one project. I was planning on getting my contract terminated for no reason other than I cared about my job and was trying to do the right thing: acting with ethics and integrity.

But, I still had the contract like a millstone around my neck. I was desperately trapped and depressed about it.

I decided to fly to San Francisco and go to the Golden Gate Bridge. I wanted to illustrate how the desperation of my situation had driven me to contemplate suicide. I also wanted to go because I had planned to go 3 years earlier, but my parents had reneged on a promise and generally conspired to pull the rug out from under my feet at a time when I was terribly vulnerable. What they did was an awful thing, and I wanted to take that trip that I never got to make, because of their horrible behaviour.

I booked a flight for approximately 4 hours' time, packed a bag and left immediately. It's the most impulsive thing I've ever done in my life.

London Heathrow

In San Francisco, a friend kindly picked me up and I dumped my bags at her house. I then borrowed a bike and rode to the Golden Gate Bridge. Less than 24 hours had elapsed since deciding to travel 5,351 miles. I stood in a jetlagged and travel weary state, peering over the edge, looking at the perilous drop to the sea below.

Travel, novelty, adventure, excitement, old friends, social contact, good weather... all of these things are the perfect antidote to depression. Who knew that the prospect of being chained to the same damn desk, in the same damn office, doing the same damn work you've done for 19 years, could lead to a tiny twinge of "Fuck My Life".

Obviously, the whole dumping your bags at your friends' place and then going off and killing yourself thing would be poor social etiquette. Plus I'd arranged to see an old schoolfriend while I was in San Francisco. The potential for positive experiences was massive. In the office, I had found myself hoping for a fire drill just because it would be slightly novel.

Grant Avenue

I'm no dumbass. I know it's important to stop and smell the roses. But, there isn't the time, energy or motivation to do so when you're trapped in the rat race.

In San Francisco I took delight in the simplest of things, like taking a selfie of myself by a road sign that matches my surname. I didn't even do any specific sightseeing or look at a map. I took a trolleycar because I saw one passing. I found myself by landmark buildings, just because I stumbled on them. I walked miles and miles.

My AirBnB host invited me out to a Halloween party. I dressed up. We drove to some house near Mountain View, where there were fascinating Silicon Valley tech people to meet from Google and Apple. That kind of shit generally doesn't happen when you're depressed working your desk job.

I got a tattoo to piss my parents off. My sister has several tattoos and my parents are always giving her a hard time about them. I thought that getting a tattoo would be some gesture of solidarity with my sister, and my parents would have to give both of us a hard time for having one. It was also a kind of souvenir from the trip, and a bit of reminder that I was going to try and stay in the land of the living for a little longer.

I caught up with a schoolfriend who I hadn't seen for years and years. He was supposed to be a mentor on a startup accelerator that I did in 2011, but he'd had to move back to California. It was great to see him, in the Mission district of San Francisco, even if we only had the briefest of time to catch up. Precious moments.

Meeting my friends' second child, and hanging out at their house reading stories to their eldest. Going with the kids to the science museum and playing with the interactive exhibits. Still etched in my mind.

Getting a glimpse into family life, valley startup life, California life... special.

Hanging out with some of the people who I have so much respect and love for... priceless.

I tried to provoke HSBC into terminating my contract immediately, by sending truthful emails, saying things that needed to be said, but were blatantly above my pay grade. Sadly, the mark of a corporate drone is somebody who's completely gutless and two-faced. They emailed me to say they just wanted to have a "routine chat" with me when I got back. No matter how hard I pushed, they wouldn't admit that my contract was effectively terminated, which is what I wanted so I could stay in the USA longer.

Bournemouth Pier

I came home. I went into the office and exploited the fact that nobody would be straight with me. I kinda got my goodbyes from everybody, even though they were "great to see you back in the office" but only those who were nice genuine people seemed to be unaware that the long knives were drawn. I loved the look of shock on the faces of those whose incompetence I had exposed.

I shaved my stupid beard and kept my moustache, because it was now November. There's no greater pleasure than having your contract terminated from a 'straight' job, when you're wearing a stupid moustache and you have a tattoo. This was all part of the plan in preparation for the sleeping rough by HSBC headquarters anyway.

Then, I was deflated again.

It'd been a helluva journey. Psychiatric hospital, Devon, Cornwall, Mongolian yurts, surfing, hitch-hiking, sleeping on the floor of New York's JFK airport, cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge, sightseeing in Silicon Valley, old friends, nice work colleagues, miserable office drones, contract termination... relax!

Bonfire night - November 5th - I was still pretty hyped up. For some reason I decided that I wanted to whizz around London giving out brightly coloured cardboard stars. I think I spent 90 minutes from conceiving the idea, to then whizzing round London sticking stickers on stuff, giving out stars, losing my luggage and generally careering out of control somewhat. That was classic hypomania. What gets held down must go up. It was such a relief to be released from my soul-destroying contract that the nervous energy almost demanded to be released by doing something crazy.

I decided I needed to see some neglected UK friends. I zoomed down to Bournemouth and stayed in the Royal Bath Hotel by the pier. I met up with one of my most loyal friends, and met his son, caught up with him and his wife, saw their house. I caught up with another friend. Friends who had offered to take me kitesurfing didn't materialise, but it didn't matter... I'd already had a very action-packed trip.

Sleep Out

Then, finally, the night of the sleep out came. Lots of things got conflated in my mind: "Hacking" humanity, Techfugees, homelessness, bankruptcy, HSBC's unethical behaviour, soul-destroying bullshit jobs and the unbelievably erratic, exhausting, stressful path I had taken to reach that point.

I always knew that keeping moving is the answer to staying alive, but there's so much financial incentive to be trapped into a chair, chained to a desk, not moving anywhere, not doing anything, not talking to anybody.

As I burnt through my money on rent and bills over the winter months, I knew the day would come when I'd have to go back into the rat race, and it depressed the hell out of me. By Christmas Day I was in a pretty shitty state. By New Year's Eve I was cutting my arms with a razor blade.

For the last 4 months, I've sat at my desk, not saying anything. For the last 4 months, I haven't rocked the boat, I haven't tried to improve anything, I haven't tried to do a good job. For the last 4 months, I've kept a low profile. My bosses couldn't be more pleased. My bank balance is much improved. In theory, my mental health should have done something but it doesn't feel like my mood's done anything but sink.

How am I supposed to reconcile the drudgery of the rat race with the excitement of the crazy tale that led me here? When I look back 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, things were very different. Are things better? It doesn't feel like it.

I'm still not moving, I'm not travelling. I still don't have my needs met.

If I want to survive, I need to be moving. It's not sustainable for me to stagnate. I wasn't built to just sit and rot at a desk.

If I stop moving, I sink into the quicksand.

 

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It's a Hard Life Being Rich & Beautiful

7 min read

This is a story about being a whiny little rich kid...

Hawaiian Boy

"Daddy didn't love me enough" I cry, on the psychotherapist's couch. "I blew all the money my parents gave me on an unsuccessful business idea, and now I'm going to have to ask for some more" I wail. "Life is so unfair" I say, with a sour face.

In actual fact, I have never dared to dream. I've been offered a bunch of university places unconditionally, but I've never thought that it would be practical or realistic to spend time studying when it doesn't pay the bills. Of course, I would have loved to stay with my peer group, make new friends, fall in love, party & get drunk, have the joys of freshers week and also complain for the rest of my life about how stressful my finals were and how I stayed awake all night to finish my dissertation.

There are several career paths that are much more suited to my interests and my values than my chosen profession. However, how could I possibly pursue my dreams when life is sheer stressful misery without money? Where am I going to get money? Is it going to be gifted to me by my family? No way. Not a chance.

"Do what you love and money will follow" rich beautiful children are told by their doting parents. For the rest of us, it's just some pipe dream that will end up with us returning to the rat race somewhat humbled and with our life savings having disappeared into somebody else's pockets.

A fool and his money are soon parted, and there are so many people coughing up loads of cash to a lifestyle industry that promises to deliver the job of their dreams... for a price. Loads of people are spunking their hard-earned money from the rat race, on the dream of starting a little business where they can be their own boss and have a flexible lifestyle. Bullshit.

For those who are seriously rich, through their wealthy family and pure dumb luck, they are able to have multiple attempts at finding their dream job or founding a business that's self-sustaining enough to be able to pay a meagre wage. So many 'self-made' successful entrepreneurs do not bear close scrutiny. Upon detailed examination, it appears that most of the 'success stories' started with large interest free loans from their family. Success requires your risk to be underwritten. How can you take the risk of setting yourself up in business if failure is going to leave you destitute?

There's a joke in the startup community about the first round of investment being for "friends, family and fools". However, I'm not some rich kid dreamer. Every company that I've founded (I'm on number 4 now) has been profitable. I've never had a bankruptcy. For some spoiled little rich kids, having a bankruptcy is seen as a rite of passage. I think bankruptcy just shows a complete lack of entrepreneurial ability and a reckless attitude towards business that is detestable.

Of course I'd love it if I came from a wealthy family, and I felt that my risk was underwritten so that I could keep trying multiple business ideas until I found one that worked really well. My businesses are always grounded in the realm of profitability. I've built businesses that have needed very little investment. My businesses have always been cashflow positive. I don't have money behind me and failure has meant destitution.

I'm a bit pissed off that my parents got handouts to buy a house, start a business, and generally had their risk underwritten. Not only did they get a free university eduction, but they also fucked about doing whatever the fuck they wanted, and being reckless idiots, taking drugs and generally doing very little to take some fucking responsibility.

The thing that really pisses me off, is that they were then hypocritical enough to tell me to not dream. They told me that university was unaffordable because they'd spent all the family's money on cigarettes, booze and drugs. They told me that I would have to get the first job I could find, because they had no interest in supporting me and my sister in achieving our fullest possible potential. My parents' objective in life was to bumble along drunk and drugged up, working dead-end jobs that neither paid the bills nor provided them with a pension for the future. Dickheads.

So, if I paint this picture of myself as a rich playboy, it's all a bit of an act. Obviously, when things went wrong for me, I ended up homeless and destitute. Nobody was there for me. Nobody underwrote my risk. No assistance was forthcoming.

Everything I've built, and everything I've done, has come through my own resourcefulness and hard work. I've suffered in the bullshit jobs of the rat race in order to raise enough cash to pursue my dreams. When things haven't worked out, it's been me who's paid the price. Each time I try to escape the rat race, I do so in full knowledge that failure means homelessness and destitution again.

I live with stress and fear, and it's quite real. Nobody's going to take pity on me. Nobody has given me a hand out.

"Where is everybody? Where are the people who claim to care about you?" my flatmate asked once, when I had been into hospital and a couple of social workers were trying to help me out, because I am obviously so very alone. My flatmate was surprised that anybody who seems to be popular enough amongst their friends and successful at work, could find themselves so utterly alone. I guess that's what happens when your parents' priority in life is the getting and taking of drugs.

I was not surprised. I've spent weeks in hospital, with the only visitors being a handful of London friends. My family are as good as dead to me.

In fact, my family have been a hinderance not a help. Drunken and abusive phonecalls in the middle of the night, and being expected to travel hundreds of miles, spending hundreds of pounds on petrol and gifts... and for what? To be abused? To be left to die on my own in a hospital that's only a 45 minute train ride away. What a joke.

And so, I'm neither one of the beautiful people, nor am I blessed with family wealth. Don't believe the hype. All those 'self made' entrepreneurs are backed by loving families who are at least reasonably wealthy.

So, am I upset with my lot in life? Do I think that I deserve the advantages enjoyed by those serial entrepreneurs who go back to their families again and again to get more money to keep their business ambitions alive? Do I think that I should be able to pursue the arts, because my wealthy family are all duty-bound to become patrons? No.

I just want to escape the rat race, because I wasn't born to just pay bills and die. I'm fed up of being a wage slave to the wealthy elite. I'm fed up with the rigged game that means you can never get ahead. There's no escape. There's no peace. There's no real opportunity.

We're told the world is stuffed full of opportunity and the streets are paved with gold. Take another look. Look really hard this time. Yes? You see now? You need money to make money. You need a wealthy family behind you to underwrite your risk. Behind every artist who is loving what they do, is a wealthy patron. Behind every person pursuing their dreams is a whole heap of money.

Don't pursue your dreams. If you pursue your dreams, you are just impoverishing yourself, and making yourself an easy target for those who wish to keep you in economic slavery. Without those precious life savings, you can't escape and you'll have to go back to the rat race with your begging bowl.

That's what's happened to me, and that's why I'm so unhappy about it. Not because I'm a spoiled little rich kid.

 

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Limelight

6 min read

This is a story about star quality...

Cambridge Union

Hey! Is that Nick Grant pitching a Dragons Den panel at Cambridge Union? Isn't that the same podium in Cambridge where UK prime ministers and US presidents have wowed crowds? Isn't that the same podium where the world's best and brightest have stood? Yes. Yes it is.

If you're into astrology, you should know I'm a Leo. Apparently this means that I adore being the centre of attention. However, I've always had somebody yelling louder than me for the spotlight to be directed onto them.

Growing up, my dad had this horse-shit narrative about how cool he was because he took drugs. My childhood achievements were nothing compared to the amount of drugs and alcohol he could consume. Growing up, life was all about worshipping how smart he was for obtaining and taking intoxicating substances. Woo!

My longest relationship, with the girl who my friends affectionately called "the poison dwarf" was dominated by her tantrums if the attention was diverted from her. She completely ruined our joint birthday and engagement party, simply because her unpleasant nature had brought her few friends in life, and the event was mainly my friends, despite my efforts to help her encourage people from her own social circle to attend.

OK, I'm not that humble, but I'm not that arrogant either. If I'm bigging myself up, it's because it's a defence mechanism because I've been dragged down by my own parents, bullies and an abusive ex-wife. I've had a rough fucking ride, so let me have this one, OK?

I haven't lost perspective. I'm well aware that my achievements amount to nothing. I never got so much as a "well done" out of my parents for everything I've ever accomplished. It's tough fucking going, living life with insufferable cunts who just want to see you fail.

Normally, when things are going well, people are supportive and want to help you to continue to achieve your potential in life. Not so, in most of my story to date.

Often times startup founders receive their initial funding from friends and family. My friends contributed generously to my ambitions to build a profitable business, and they were repaid with the dividends from the company. My own parents saw no potential in what I was doing, even though billionaire investors took me under their wing and agreed to help my co-founder and I to build a valuable business. My ex-wife took particularly cruel delight in watching my dreams get shattered.

Yes, I'm subject the fatal flaw of a little too much desire to be loved and liked. When an acting coach suggested that we try my co-founder out to see if he was any better at delivering an investor pitch, I was mortified by the idea that I wouldn't get my moment of fame. For sure, I'm subject to big-headedness and delusions of grandeur as much as the next person, but in a way, I can argue that I deserved my little headlining moment, because I had always been kicked to the sidelines by self-centred parents and partners.

You know what? Give your kids their moment of fame. Let your kids bask in a bit of adoration. Don't hoover it all up for yourselves. You know what your input was? You had sex. Well done. Gold star. But that's nothing that every couple didn't already do for hundreds of millions of years. All you did was do what your fucking body was programmed to do. Now get the fuck out of the spotlight and let your kid enjoy their little moment. Your time is over. It's no longer your chance to shine. It's your moment to tell your kid well done, and that you're proud of them.

Butt the fuck out and acknowledge a good performance when you see one. Congratulate your fucking kid on their hard work and try and pretend like you're pleased, even if you're too fucking drug addled and self centred to even see straight.

You know what else? I'm fucking taking this one. I'm fucking taking this moment to tell myself well done, because nobody in my family is going to. My ex-wife isn't going to. Basically, the people who mattered most to me when some fairly monumental stuff happened to me in my life couldn't have given two shits about anything that wasn't to do with them and their selfish fucking world, so I'm going to relive this little moment and applaud myself.

Well fucking done me.

It ain't fucking easy battling for your moment of fame. It ain't fucking easy getting that chance, and then performing when it matters. It ain't fucking easy at all. And what's it all for if the people who you think care about you couldn't give a toss?

Well, guess what? I had that limelight. Not because I was a drug-taking fucktard like my parents, but because I worked hard to get that opportunity. I had that opportunity, not because I demanded it and stole it from my child, but because I wanted to impress, because I wanted to do something great.

Isn't that awful, that my parents made my entire childhood about them, shoving me into a dark corner so they could harvest all the ill-gotten attention? Isn't that awful, that my longest relationship was dominated by an abusive partner who demanded that the spotlight was always directed on her, and abused me to the point that I lost my confidence and became a withdrawn and shattered version of my former self?

Bygones. Regrets. Yes.

I'm just telling the story because nobody else is going to tell it. If you ask my parents they'll tell you that I was an evil waste of space who never achieved anything, and that's plain wrong.

This is me sticking up for myself. This is me fighting against the complete collapse of my self esteem that will render me hopelessly suicidally depressed. This is my defence mechanism.

I'm sorry if this comes across as arrogant or self-centred. I hope it comes across in the context of my desperately low sense of self-worth, given how I've been treated most of my life. I need a little pride and self confidence to be able to continue.

God damn, I'm so low right now.

 

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Why You Should Never Marry a Partner Who Cheats

6 min read

This is a story about what people do when they think nobody is watching...

Hawaii wedding

Integrity. What does it mean to have integrity? Let's explore a hypothetical example.

The year is 2011. I'm running a profitable tech startup called Hubflow, and we have just been through a 13-week TechStars network technology accelerator program in Cambridge, run by Jon Bradford and Jess Williamson. We have a bunch of investors who are ready to help us raise a seed round. Mike Butcher has written about us in TechCrunch. We are kicking arse.

The sticking point that is stressing me out is that my partner won't support me. My company needs to relocate to London, Cambridge or somewhere on the M4 corridor so that I can hire the talent I need and get to my customers and investors whenever I need to see them. My partner is a teacher. She can literally work anywhere in the country.

***

I financially supported my partner through her retraining to be a teacher. She had a huge income drop, when she left the investment bank where we both worked, but I made sure that she still enjoyed the 5-star luxury lifestyle that she had gotten used to with me.

Even when I quit my salaried job so that I could build my startup, I had substantial savings and profits, to allow us to maintain the same standard of living. I had bankrolled her when she wanted to make a career change, and she'd never had to tighten her belt or compromise.

This was now my turn to shine. I had done it. I had built a profitable company with a good valuation that was ready for investment to take it to the next stage. It was now time to leave the sleepy little seaside town where we lived and move things closer to the action.

My co-founder had left his pregnant partner behind in his home town, to come and live with me in Cambridge for several months, while we built our business together and got ourselves ready for investment. He had made sacrifices and compromises with his growing family. Now it was the turn of my partner to step up and make a small compromise herself.

However, she wouldn't budge an inch.

I could have left her. And perhaps - in hindsight - that's what I should have done. She had never been very kind or supportive. In fact, she was pretty mean spirited and selfish. I don't know why I stayed loyal to her. I'd had opportunities to fool around while I was working away from home, in Boulder, Colorado, in London or in Cambridge, but I stayed faithful. I stayed faithful because I have integrity.

I then got very depressed. She had refused any kind of compromise. I had to leave her, or my business was screwed. There was no way that me and my co-founder could make it work over such a geographical hurdle. We needed to be together, on the ground, raising money and winning more customers. And we were so close. It was heartbreaking.

By the time Christmas rolled around that year, I had gotten so depressed and suicidal that I was hospitalised. My unsupportive mean ex had instructed my parents to come and take me away, and had involved my doctor, all against my wishes. This was an incredible betrayal. Now she wanted me removed from my own home, that I had bought and paid for. This was a horrible act of selfishness.

Before I was literally dragged away by my Dad, I decided to install a keystroke logger on my personal laptop, which was running my personal account & password. This was clearly an act of paranoia, due to the fact that I was extremely mentally unwell, having recently been released from a mental hospital. Clearly I was out of my mind.

I was driven away from my home, my business, my friends, my possessions, to a village where I had never lived since the age of 4, where I have no friends. Miles away from any cities where I had business contacts, investors, customers. I had just been totally fucked over. This was not in my best interests. I didn't even have a doctor or a psychiatrist nearby.

So then, was my partner interested in my wellbeing? Did she call to see how I was? Was she concerned about me getting better?

I thought it rather strange that she wasn't at all involved in trying to 'help' me, now that I was out of the way. In fact, it was rather strange that all the 'help' was simply to tell people to remove me from my own home. Must have been more paranoia though, right? I was mentally ill, remember?

I levelled my accusations about being dumped like this, and dragged away from everything I held dear. My partner and parents conspired to keep me trapped in this shitty village in the middle of nowhere. They even involved the police "for my welfare".

Anyway, after about a week of this shit, I decided to see if anybody had been using my laptop with my username and password. Strangely enough, and totally co-incidentally, they had been.

On examination of the logs, it looked like somebody had used my laptop and username to set themselves up an online dating profile and start messaging men. How strange. How curious.

Surely this could not have been my partner, for if she was using a computer at all, I'm sure it would have been to research the best possible treatment available for me, or to better understand what had happened to me, so that she could be as loving and supportive as possible, no?

My partner continued to treat me like utter shit and told me that any suggestion I made that she was not acting in my best interests, was purely in my imagination and fuelled by mental illness, paranoia.

Finally, I showed my hand, and she back-pedalled rapidly, begging my forgiveness and swearing that it was all a misguided mistake. She suddenly became nice as pie and started treating me with a tiny fraction of the respect and decency that I deserved.

I then had a brief taste of how I should have been treated all along, and it was nice. My stupid mistake was to then marry the evil *****. A leopard never changes its spots.

Be careful if you get mentally ill with a vindictive, selfish, mean-spirited little **** of a partner, because they might just try to chuck you out of your own house and replace you.

 

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My Only Friend

17 min read

This is a story about destructive relationships...

Ritzy

I stood up my most respected and one of my most sorely missed friends for the third time yesterday.

I was supposed to see him and his family just before Xmas, then we were going to have Tea at the Ritz, then we were going to travel to Heathrow, catch up on the train and in in the ample time before his flight.

WHAT'S GOING ON?

Well, I've never not had a girlfriend. I'm too addicted to sex. After the most almighty row at my ex-wife's brother's wedding, we took a break from each other for a few days. While she discussed my faults and possible solutions with her parents, I found a way out of one destructive relationship and into another.

I have written before about our unhealthy co-dependency on sex, and sex on drugs. "NRG-3" had no ingredients listed, but it was the last untried chemical on a legal high & research chemical website where each weekend, my ex and I would fuck on a different drug.

I would spend a bunch of spare time at Cambridge, reading about research chemicals, and then I would order one, ready for when I next saw my ex. I saw us like Alexander and Ann Shulgin, and had read their candid co-biographies about synthesising about 3,500 psychoactive drugs, and testing them all on themselves. The ones that seemed safe and interesting, as an aphrodisiac, Alexander took with Ann and they compared notes in their famous books PIHKAL and TIHKAL, which I read when I was 17/18 years old.

Only "NRG-3" was going in the bin. I did some snooping and found that "NRG-x" was the name for the old stock of unsold 'legal' highs that weren't legal anymore. Most people speculated that it was Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, which Crystal Meth and Crack users were switching to because it was 1/1,000th of the price per dose. Except MDPV had terrible extrapyramidal side effects in people not regularly abusing stimulants: panic attacks, palpitations, tachycardia, hyperthermia and said to be more addictive than the illegal drugs.

John McAfee, the famous billionaire software engineer became addicted to MDPV and started posting videos of himself pointing a loaded gun at his head on YouTube. The more I read, the more convinced I was that I needed to add the pyrovalerones to my 'never try' list (heroin, crack, crystal meth, PCP).

Only, in a suicidal state after the aforementioned temporary separation from my ex-wife, I thought "fuck it, what harm can 15mg do?" 15 milligrams is 10 to 20% of the size of a dose of 'most' stimulants. The line of white powder is more of a short, thin, hyphen. Your eyes can't believe that 15mg is so tiny.

My affair started immediately. I loved this drug. I loved the effects of this drug more than the pleasure I derived from my destructive relationship with my ex-wife. I had a mistress. I was having an affair. I was also free from the fear of losing my co-dependee.

I took 800mg over 4 days when I had intended to only take 15mg, for the duration of it's effects, which could be between 3 and 24 hours. It's not a stable and predictable compound. My behaviour had always been stable and predictable: I would take a single accurately measured dose, orally, and I had never ever broken my rule.

I had tried maybe 50 drugs up to this point, so I wasn't naïve, but I found myself saying and doing things I knew were addict clichés. "I'll just have a little bit more", "that looks underweight/small, I'll just increase the dose slightly", "I'm going to have one last dose then I'm going to stop", "OK, this really is the last one".

I didn't eat, I didn't sleep until the 3rd night. When I woke up I was having a terrible panic attack. Time inched by. My pulse and blood pressure were maxed. I was convinced I was going to die. I wasn't naïve though. I downloaded a computer game called Samorst, and played that for 12 hours. I felt a bit better.

This happened a few weeks after Springboard ended. I knew I had to pitch in London a month after demo day. I remember almost turning back home as I was almost on the train to London, because the thought of leaving my drugs for a few hours was scary. Way scarier than giving a pitch while high and hoping nobody from Springboard noticed I was high, sleep deprived and I had lost weight.

Everyone said that my London pitch was better than my Cambridge one (practice? home town?  drug-induced confidence? Smaller audience?).

Maybe I just didn't care so much. Jason Trost of Smarkets spotted the founder problem I had right away. I picked a startup that would be cashflow-positive, I could code in on my own in no time, and we already had a customer (5 or 6 household names by the time we started Springboard). The problem was this: I'd solved the problem in my head, written it: boring work only now, and I had no founder passion except pride in our startup.

David Hazell should have been the CEO from day one, and it took him well out of his ColdFusion comfort zone, but he can code Java and Objective-C as well as running a well administered business.

So how do you cure an MDPV addiction? Simple. Stop taking it. My ex took it as personal that I got addicted and she thought I wouldn't quit out of stubbornness  and I just needed shouting at and abusing.

I had a 'man cave' (office/lounge/bedroom) built in the summerhouse I built, but she would still walk down the garden path to shout at me there.

Man Cave

As if this wasn't enough, my parents were ordered to come and take me away. Things didn't get off to a flying start when my ex lets my Dad in and he's been primed to start shouting "you're a junkie" too, the moment he got in my front door. I was in the middle of an email about admission to a specialist drug clinic in London, and I should have told the hypocritical c**t to get the fuck out of my house that I paid for, back to his house which was bankrolled by my mum, and the money that came from the profit of the little cottage that my granny bought her.

My parents then insisted that we get some fresh air (it was January and I was not in a good state). Even though I wore dark glassess and a coat with a big collar, it was still mentioned at work that somebody had seen me out on the clifftop while I was off work sick.

My GP kindly gave me 5 weeks so I could attend the 28-day detox program at The Priory, where one of the country's best psychiatrists specialising in dual diagnosis (Bipolar & substance abuse) was based. A few white lies were told to protect my professional reputation and my health insurance would pick up the £12,000 bill.

My ex-wife said if I went into private hospital, she would divorce me. My psychiatrists said dual diagnosis mortality rates are very high, they disagreed that it was lack of willpower that had meant I hadn't quit by means of being shouted at, and professional care was needed, even just to see what was going on with my comorbid Bipolar II.

3 and a half weeks is what I lasted in hospital, before it dawned on me that I was going back to the same life. 3 weeks became a kind of benchmark. I could quit for 3 weeks, but never any longer. Ignorant people will say that proves a lack of willpower. Fuck you ignoramus.

When separation and divorce finally started to happen, my friend Will rescued me back to London, where I managed 2 months abstinence before my lazy ex wife insisted I travel 240 miles to get 3 valuations on a house she lived and worked less than a mile from.

I had just founded a new startup, was in advanced discussions about raising money, had built a working prototype, cycled to TechStars London every day, had a beautiful girlfriend and lived with one of my oldest friends and made new local friends as well as reconnecting with old.

Paying the mortgage on an empty property ate my savings, especially when she rejected a cash buyer who wanted to move in 6 weeks. Instead she chose an agent who didn't know the area or have any clients looking in that area, and accepted an offer from a couple in a chain who didn't even have an approved mortgage. They took 6 months.

When my parents refused to help ease the cashflow burden like they had repeatedly promised they would - not wanting stress to cause a relapse - it took me a hell of a lot of effort & distraction to raise money that I would have prepared in advance, if I knew their offer was just hot air.

I relapsed back in Bournemouth, with the idea of turning the house into a homeless shelter or something else to piss my ex off. Rang the family solicitor after all the other laughed at me, because I had trashed a hotel room in a drug-fuelled rage, and I wanted to prepare them before I handed myself in to the police.

Strangely my friend Tim turned up, got me out of there, then my Dad got me back to Oxford. Turns out the family solicitor had phoned my mum and begged them to help their son. I was very keen my dad contact the hotel and let me settle the matter with them directly. He didn't care. He doesn't have my ethics.

I had told Will (most innocent and naïve man ever) to chuck me out if I ever got any mail from Spain or Germany. Luckily I managed to find MDPV in the USA, but it still feels shitty using drugs in your friends house, even if you're trapped on the first floor with your leg in plaster in agony because the docs won't give you anything stronger than Tramadol (in case you abuse it).

Camden Town is not a good place to be a drunk or a drug addict. I would meet with Frank every day for weeks until he got a paid hostel bed. While I was making notes, to tell his story, I unwittingly took down the addresses and contacts of everywhere I had to go to try and get help from Camden.

Eventually Will did chuck me out, because of lies my Dad told him. Will did it very nicely, but my Dad destroyed the relationship we had. I remember lying in hospital, 2 canulas, torn liver, burnt abdomen, failing kidneys, and not only did Will ask for his keys back, he asked if I had made any other copies.

This is what happens when a drug addict hypocrite c**t like my Dad starts 'helping' instead of helping like he originally falsely offered to do with a modest bridging loan.

(as an aside my parents lied to my sister and said they'd lent me 250% More money than they actually did, and that I was 'emotionally blackmailing them' by being in hospital, even though they're not my next of kin anymore and I would never bother telling them if I was in hospital. No, my mum said it's ok because it's only worth making the coroner's if they need somebody to identify my body)

I survived homelessness and further hospital admissions, so I saved my mum that train fare, but Camden Council kept reneging on their promises. I got a one line email from Camden Council Housing, saying I couldn't even get a hostel bed

"On the basis of the information you have provided I am afraid that you do not meet the residence criteria to be considered for our Hostels Pathway Scheme."

What the fuck? Do you only accept people with money and houses and nice parents?

If you ever want to speak to a psychiatrist in hospital here's a little trick. Ask the the receptionist if you can borrow her phone and then dial the switchboard. Say "can I speak to the bleep holder for psychiatric liaison please?" Make sure you don't let on you're a patient until you absolutely have to. Saying "I'm trying to locate a bed in a psych ward or crisis house in London for a voluntary admission" doesn't actually contain any lies.

In this way, I was able to get 2 whole weeks of accommodation out of the council tax I pay Camden Council. I don't feel bad, because I had a massive wound in my leg and my penis was hanging off.

At the end of the two weeks, Camden Council said "here's a number for you to phone [if you haven't been mugged or stabbed, and still have your phone]  in the morning for us to come check on you". I said I wanted to stay in a a derelict tennis court maintenance shed to stay dry. They said, "we need you to stay where [muggers are and people have pissed]".

So I booked myself into a suite at the Royal Camden Golf & Spa Resort (a 14 bed dorm in a hostel) and proceeded to go into drug withdrawal. The think about London hostel dorms is, there's bunks, and there's a bathroom, and then outside there's the capital city of London, but if somebody is going through drug withdrawal in one of the bunks, fuck London, you should stay and watch them cos there's no privacy. It's like "Trainspotting" as a live play with one of the best actors you'll ever meet.

Fuck rehab at £430 a night... a hostel is a great place to get clean, provided you have a Laurence. Laurence could see that this was a dress rehearsal, and opening night would be never hopefully, and ushered a disappointed crowd of rubberneckers off around the sights of London. 

I'd managed to hang onto enough money to put myself through the cheapest rehab in the country, which is in Bournemouth believe it or not. I told my mum to hang on though (could hae been yet more lies anyway) because I needed to finish my round of golf and I had a massage booked for later [as in, hostels are like cheap rehab anyway].

Before long I had a group of friends. Laurence from the mountains. Rory the Lidl vodka stealer. Jody the poet. Definitely not French Jack. Psychic Laura. "I just want a baby" Priscilla. "Quite Old But You Still Would" Marla, Gorgeous Flavie, My later ex (banned) Antonella. DJ Kristos.... and many many more, including Paolo who had previously been acting tourguide, but with about 8 times as many years in the Big Smoke than him, I accidentally stole that role.

The thing about a hostel is, if you want drugs, everybody else wants to share, and you have to be high in public. Also, there's none of this pious "not a drop of alcohol shall pass my lips bollocks", and it's a lot easier to get clean with a beer in your hand than an herbal tea being told by some ex-junkie "drugs are bad mmmkay".

It took me a month to get clean and another month to get a job (and stay clean) and then I stayed clean until I dumped Antonella for being abusive, and then Laura got all mumpy that I didn't move onto her. Jody, who was in Love with Antonella, also was angry with me. My entire group of friends in London (except Rory) fell apart, and then my contract ended.

  • Abusive relationship = multiple relapses
  • No money + massive stress = relapse
  • No job + no friends = relapse
  • Innocent/naïve middle class person + lies about drug addiction = no friend

So I was nursed back to health by the nicest family in Ireland. The O'Riordan's of Killlavullen, Cork [The Rebel County]. I owe them my life.

Clovoulah

The thing about the O'Riordans is that they're the smartest most hard-working and make do people you'll ever meet. Eddie, Laurence's dad's climbed 8,000m peaks and can sail, as well as repair just about anything. Breda, Laurence's mum is just so full of love & care, without all that œdipus complex bollox that my mum needs to deal with. There's sister Maria the nurse who all the boys in Magners drink in to look at and chat to, but they know they'd get the beating of a lifetime if they touched her. Then there's Danielle, with her scholarship, but she's practically already [unofficial] #2 in a company that's about to IPO. She's got Dublin culture but no arrogance.

Anyway, seeing and staying touch, and not falling out with friends is hard. Imagine if all your money just takes you deeper into debt, and keeping your mind quiet is harder than working any job... and it used to say lots of interesting things, but now it just says one: "MDPV"

Just about anything and anything that could have hurt my self esteem has happened. Showing a nurse your penis hanging off is a good one. How's about the police leading you out of a hotel, handcuffed, just wearing boxing shorts ["I'm sure you deserved it, you devil"].

And I keep having to go back to doing what I have done since the age of 17 to stop myself from going bankrupt, but I hate it and it's so easy I can type and have a conversation at the same time. And then when I've got just enough money, I'll walk into the boardroom and I'll tell the board exactly what I think, and I always get fired, but they're too scared I'm going to whistleblow to not give me a reference, so they just quietly sack whoever needs to actually go.

So, I came up with a couple of lists of things I like doing and don't like doing, and I've come up with a bunch of ideas that bring in money, keep me busy, and doing the things I like not the things I don't.

I'm sending it to Jakub, because he's the only man alive who can judge whether I'm talking pie in the sky bollocks or it might be worth a go (maybe with some discussion with his dad).

I have a practical speculative list too, which I might send to Rory, as he's the only man alive who'd come in on me with some mad scheme to stop both of our minds from driving us mad.

Jakub, it just remains to say, I'm so sorry for standing you up, but I was 6 months clean in San Francisco, but I had to ethically walk away from the HSBC corruption and incompetence. Since then, it's been promises, promises and false starts, but I'm waiting for the day when I either die cos I'm dumb enough to figure out how to get high for 14p a day, or smart enough to do something I can be proud of and it was my destiny.

Like Father Like Son

So cute (9 October 2013)

 

P.S. - Sansa (Happy Birthday!), Lydia, Margaret, Nicola, David, Willian, Will, Jess, Cameron... I'm going as fast as I can. It's like trying to get a 10,000kg ball rolling.

 

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Decelerating from the Accelerator

14 min read

This is a story about doing more faster...

Demo Day

Startup accelerators are a good thing, don't get me wrong. But what's to be done with the wayward founders, the ones who burn out? How does somebody decompress, decelerate from the high demands of an intensive program like an accelerator?

Here's something I wrote on day 28 of the 13-week Springboard program, which is part of the global TechStars network: https://springboardcambridge.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/day-28-guest-post-validated-madness/

My company was shortlisted for TechStars, Boulder, CO, USA. I got the news at 6pm on a Wednesday evening. I needed to be in Boulder for about 10am the next morning. Solution? Get on a plane to Denver that night and drive straight to Boulder in the morning. No problem.

When I arrived at London Heathrow airport and went to check in for my flight, it turned out that the visa waiver program had changed since the last time I was in the USA. I needed an ESTA. This was a problem... the embassy was now closed. However, I managed to apply for my ESTA and get the all-important number in about 15 minutes, standing at the checkin desk, via a US government website.

On the plane, I read a book from cover to cover: Do More Faster by Dave Cohen and Brad Feld, founders of TechStars. It seemed apt, and I had finished the book by the time we landed in Colorado. I then met Dave Cohen later that day, along with Nicole Glaros who was heavily pregnant at the time, but still running the Boulder program.

I guess I shouldn't really associate myself with the TechStars network, given my precarious professional position, and the nature of this blog, but it's impossible to tell my story without somehow including the post-accelerator implosion that I went through. Certainly it's important to state that I always had the support of the network and fellow founders at all times though. Things would probably have ended up a lot worse without that safety net.

Anyway, I didn't really love my startup. I didn't have a lot of passion for the industry sector it was in and the software challenge had already been overcome. We started the program with a cashflow positive business, working software and an established customer and reseller base. I definitely took the wrong startup through the Springboard program. We should have pivoted more aggressively, but you live you learn.

I should have ceded control to my co-founder, David, a lot earlier. The acting coach that Jon got - Annette - to help us with our pitches, suggested that we give David a shot as the CEO. It was good advice. However, ego got in the way. I liked having those three little letters as my job title, even if I wasn't any good at the job and hated all the roles and responsibilities of it.

The problem is, I'm an engineer, and engineers just want to solve problems. In sales meetings, I would be far more concerned about the customer getting the solution that met their needs, than trying to extract a commercially sensible amount of cash from them. It was more important to me that my software was being used, rather than it bringing in sustainable revenues.

Looking back now, it makes much more sense that David and I should have switched roles. He's really good at the whole business administration and driving a hard sales bargain thing. He's really good at making sure that the whole business runs smoothly and is well administered. I only care about the software.

Jon did an interesting thing to try and save us from ourselves (or rather, from me). He got in a bunch of psychologists to come and tell us that we should be consultants, not running a startup. He had tired of nursing us through the growing pains of founder conflict, and joking about our "mutually assured destruction (MAD)" pact, which he wrote on the whiteboard above our heads.

Between Jon, Jess and the other founders we somehow managed to muddle through to the end of the program. There was only one time that I was so offensive that I nearly got my head kicked in. I would have deserved it. I was wrong, David was right, and my beef was with the browser, not him. I was upset that some technical detail wasn't quite measuring up to my preconceived notions, and refusing to try David's suggestion, which wasn't to specification. Of course, it did work, but being a stubborn engineer, I just didn't want it to work like that.

Vail

The weird thing is that David and me didn't have a very startup-y lifestyle. After I had finished with TechStars in Boulder, I jumped in my hire car, drove to Vail and went snowboarding. David used to be a ski instructor and sometimes do programming work in Arinsal, Andorra, inbetween forays onto the piste. We both had a pretty nice life. We didn't really need startup stress, hassle and belt tightening.

Apart from living away from our girlfriends in Cambridge for 3 months, there wasn't a lot of hardship that we really suffered, apart from the sheer workload of Mentor Madness and having to try and run a business at the same time as participate in a startup accelerator. I'm glad we did it though. Those experiences and contacts are very precious to me, even if I've not exactly made the most of them, yet.

Our intake must have been a record one for babies. There were two founders - including my co-founder, David - who had girlfriends who were pregnant. The first Springboard babies were born only months after the program ended. How those guys did it, I have no idea. Hero dads.

Obviously, David wanted to maintain a stable family home near Bristol for his first-born child. The end of the program marked the culmination of the intractable problem of where to locate the business. My ex-wife certainly wasn't giving any ground or prepared to compromise even an inch. I was rather caught inbetween a rock and a hard place. Naturally, I just had a meltdown rather than dealing with things in any sensible way.

The sensible thing to do would have been to ditch the girl who never supported me in any of my endeavours and was simply an ungrateful drain on my time, money and resources. She expected zero impact in our lifestyle, from me choosing an entrepreneurial lifestyle. Funding lavish holidays for her on a startup salary is quite hard to budget for.

Punting on the Cam

But an unstoppable change had been started within me. I found Cambridge life to be exciting, exhilarating, even if it was only by some tenuous association with the University of Cambridge. I loved being around smart people. Startup founders are great to hang out with because they say "yes, and" rather than "no, but".

I really needed to go through a breakup, but I don't really handle failure very well. I knew my startup was going to fail with me at the helm. I had failed as CEO. I had failed to make my relationship work. I wanted to change my entire life, but I felt trapped.

My word is my bond, and I take commitment very seriously. I'm also a completer-finisher. I would rather finish something to a terrible shoddy standard, than leave a job uncompleted. I have lots of finished projects, but most of them are not to a very high standard. I'd prefer something was done, rather than perfect.

So it was, that I came to be trying to meet the screamed selfish demands of a spoiled partner, whilst also unable to bite the bullet and step down from my position as CEO, and also accept that I needed to chuck away and change most pieces of my life. They were challenging times, in the couple of months following Springboard.

During one trip back to Cambridge, in an attempt to secure a seed round of funding, I pretty much told all our potential investors that there was no interesting intellectual property in our business and it was a completely copyable business model. Not a smart move. I could almost see my co-founder facepalm when I told the panel this. Engineer's problem. I cannot speak a lie on technical matters.

Anyway, perhaps I wanted the thing to die, because my life was pretty miserable post-Springboard. Back in my spare-bedroom office, over a hundred miles away from my co-founder, and over a hundred miles away from London, and the wrong side of town to get to Cambridge. It felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, which I was.

Just about the only thing I've done too slowly in my life is to ditch a dead relationship. I tend to pick the wrong partners and allow klingons and coat-tail riders to try and hang on for a free ride. I tolerate fools too gladly. David is certainly no fool, and I feel very privileged to have gotten to work with him. However, he quite rightly stood his ground and didn't compromise on matters that were my responsibility to resolve.

The pressure to provide a luxury lifestyle for an ungrateful and unsupportive partner, and give up on my hopes & dreams was too much to ask of me. I was sinking fast into a depression, as my all-too-brief foray into the liberating world of running a business and being an entrepreneur, plus my time in the company of startup founders, mentors and academics, was looking like it was over forever.

I tried to prop things up, getting a job back in corporate bankerland. Shovelling other people's s**t for a living. It broke my heart. You can have the most lavish lifestyle in the world, but if what you do for 50+ hours a week is basically total bulls**t that you hate, then it won't be any compensation at all.

My ex-wife and my Dad really worked very hard to pull the rug from under my feet, and I'm really upset about it. However, I know it's my fault for not pushing those toxic people out of my life and following my dreams. They've been wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again, but they still can't see that their small-mindedness and lack of vision has caused so many golden opportunities to be wasted. I actually have hard numbers showing that investment ideas of mine that they vetoed have now turned out to be ridiculously profitable. Never mind.

I actually feel as though I've never been allowed to dream. I've always been expected to just shovel shit for everybody else to prop up their dreams. I didn't go to University when all my friends were going, because my Dad made such a big deal about what a waste of money it was. I didn't follow my startup dreams, because I was pretty much forced to provide a luxury lifestyle, and chain myself to a remote seaside town for an ungrateful partner who didn't appreciate a single cent of it.

Anyway, moan moan moan. That kind of negative attitude is not going to get me anywhere. I've watched it all burn down, while my Dad and ex have stuffed their pockets and then distanced themselves from me. It should have been vice-versa. I should have shut those toxic people out of my life a lot sooner.

Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda. That's not going to be my epitaph. There's no sense in living in the past, and I apologise that this blog has been firmly rooted back in time, as I struggle to move forwards with my life.

Blocked by Lava

You probably can't understand why I've left highly paid jobs and contracts, and put myself through all the stress of founding a business. I know I complain about the overhead of business administration sometimes, but I really have few complaints about the entrepreneurial lifestyle. I know that Jon's psychologists told me that I'm not cut out to be an entrepreneur, but it's something that keeps coming back to me... that desire to found and shape businesses, to lead, to create.

You don't see the sacrifice that has enabled me to enter the corporate world on a decent wage. You don't know how much of an isolated lonely existance that a geek had at school, programming their calculator and designing sprites in the back of their exercise books, when they should be having schoolday antics with the group of friends that they didn't have.

The loners, the eccentric introverts, the odd-ones-out are thrust together out of a necessity for safety in numbers, and sure those people become friends, but you're all still prisoners in your own mind to some extent. You might be able to see your friends get bullied too, but when it's your turn, you have to endure it all on your own.

Suddenly, being a techie geek startup guy becomes cool, and you are hot property. You can earn big cash selling your soul to the corporate sector, or you can sell lies to investors and have a super cool office of your own. Fake it until you make it, but you never faked it. You just woke up one day, and you're one of the highest paid people, because of stuff you did because you had a lonely childhood, with your head buried in books, or hunched over a keyboard.

Sprites

Look, there are those sprites I designed in the back of my school exercise book, now on the wall of a global bank's office. You can't see how hard I've worked. You have no idea how much suffering there has been behind the bored looking exterior of the guy asking awkward questions on a conference call, slouched in his chair at his desk.

I can't hark back to 3 or 4 years of my life when I had very little to do except read books and write essays about things I found interesting. I never got to spend my investor's money on cool mosaic decorations on the wall, and bean bags and a table tennis table for my team. My startup life spans pretty much 3 months in a startup accelerator. That was the only time in my life when I really believed in what I was doing. When I was surrounded by smart people who I liked and respected. I was forging my own path through life.

So, what's to be done? Well, I'm running low on cash again, so I guess I will have to do another stint at the coal face. I will have to go on a raiding mission into corporate crazy-land and shovel s**t for some more dollars. I don't really have enough capital to risk chasing my dreams, as usual. As usual, I have been nickel and dimed by the klingons, coat-tail riders and the toxic people in my life, and I'm the one who feels bullied and alone.

I'm kinda used to it. I guess you could call this regression therapy. I've gone back to my childhood, where I had my head in the clouds and I was just writing programs and designing sprites, to distract myself from the crushing loneliness and brutality of the daily bullying.

It looks like there are a lot of open doors to me, but you've got to believe me when I tell you that it's virtually torture to go back into the corporate world, having had a taste of freedom.

I'll do what has to be done, and I'm sure you hate me for acting all spoiled and privileged, but you have to understand just how heartbreaking it is to sell your soul so cheaply.

 

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Advent Calendar (Day Twenty-One)

5 min read

This is a story about making plans...

Chateau Nesetril

On the 21st of December, I was supposed to fly to Prague, Czech Republic and see my friends (pictured) and their not-so-new arrival who I saw crawling last time I checked Facebook. Time flies and kids grow up fast.

I wanted to see their finished house, shown here October 9th 2013. It's always worth travelling to see your friends.

Unfortunately I was really poorly.

It's kinda like the opposite of 2013, where I went to Prague but I was too poorly to go to San Fransciso. Oh and in the first half of 2013 I lived in my spare room or the shed. The second half of this year I've had my own apartment.

2013 was the year I didn't get paid at all. Anything. Not a penny. This year I was paid a lot. I worked a lot, and I was paid a lot.

If you want to be the best, you've got to put the hours in. I've not achieved anything of real note yet, but I try very hard. When I got sick, I had written 100,000 words in less than 3 months. I always knew it was going to be a difficult time as I got close to a couple of subjects I wanted to write about last of all. I felt strong, but experience tells me that I get dangerously depressed and start thinking "what's the point of it all" at random intervals. I remember staggering back from the pub in Cambridge with my co-founder, and thinking "I'm just going to kill myself" despite being mentored by billions of dollars worth of entrepreneurs and investors, despite my software being evaluated by dozens of famous companies, despite being accelerated to warp speed.

I was living with 3 amazing guys, and spending every day in a bunker with over 25 of the best & brightest technology entrepreneurs. These are the captains of industry. We were absorbed into the TechStars network, which gives us access to the right people, and the funding we need to make our ideas happen.

Funding rounds go Seed -> Series A -> Series B -> Series C -> IPO/Floatation. The idea is that you increase your valuation at each stage. You increase your valuation by increasing your turnover (or sometimes just your user acquisition rate). You increase your turnover by advertising & marketing. If somebody just invested a few million in my company, provided I'd load tested it, I'd then just spend a shittonne on advertising. Because a few suckers are going to be taken in by your advertising, you get growth, and you can go for your next funding round.

As your Venture Capitalists have a vested interest in seeing you grow so that they can get a better valuation when you raise money again, or when you float the company, they help you do huge deals. I met one of the founders of Sphero at TechStars in Boulder in 2010. You probably know it as the Star Wars R2D2 type robot that rolls around like a ball. It's always featured in trailers. How did they pull that off? TechStars.

You know what a "Unicorn" is in tech circles? It's a tech company with a valuation of $1bn+. Are these companies worth over a billion? Sure, their products work, but their valuation grew so fast, did their Intellectual Property keep pace? Look at MySpace. Dude in dormitory at Harvard writes a competing product, kills MySpace... that company is called Facebook. Twitter has $15bn of public money, but it's losing 86 cents for every single one of it's $22 shares. That's because it's not a profitable business, but who cares in a world where Unicorns are real.

You wanna know how to get a nice high turnover? Start two companies. Provide services between them. Take company A with £1m seed capital and pay £1m for "screwing nuts onto bolts". Then company B can pay £1m for "unscrewing nuts from bolts". Just do that a bunch of times until the necessary turnover is acquired. Your are now a B2B service provider with a turnover of £100m or however much you want. You can then take your accounts to a venture capitalist and say, I have a company with £100m turnover. We haven't got a monetisation strategy yet, but we've got good turnover. Your valuation means you'll be able to raise loads of money, so let's imagine that you raise £10m this time. Then you can do a bunch of £11m screwing/unscrewing deals. Perhaps you can get your turnover to $1bn now. Not far off Twitter's numbers. Raise some more money. Maybe £100m. Then do some more deals with your trusted trading partner. Get your turnover up to $10bn, why not? Should be a pretty good floatation. People are going to go nuts for the IPO. A company that turns over $10bn is a big deal.

Sounds like a good plan?

I missed not seeing my friends, but I'm pretty sad about stuff, one of which being the bubble that's about to burst because there's too much creative accounting going on. I don't see where I fit in this world where all companies are racing to get more users and higher turnover and raise more and more venture capital.

It's like the curtain was pulled back and the magic was gone.

King of Pain

King of Central Bohemia (October 2013)

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