A New Way to Work

Note: this blog post is for Elance’s A New Way to Work competition, as seen on Vator.tv.

There just isn’t any doubt about it. Things are changing, and Udemy, a startup I’m co-founding, is as good example as any to embody that change. Folks like me don’t just quit their job, take out a loan and start a company anymore. Instead, we spend every free hour – every waking moment – working towards our dream. Success doesn’t just come with the 9-5 anymore (although some can definitely make it work). As Gary Vaynerchuck of winelibrary.tv once said to a packed room at the Web 2.0 conference, if you want to pursue your passion, there are no excuses. You work 9-5 to support your family and yourself? No problem – “7 to 2 in the morning is plenty of time to do damage.” And here’s a little tidbit from the co-founders at Udemy: if you make a decent wage on your day job, pay someone else to work 9-5 on your dream.

I’m writing this from United Airlines flight 255 – service from Chicago to San Francisco. I do this every week. Red-eye on Sunday night to Chicago, then to Roanoke, VA. Thursday night is the way back – every week, 15 hours on a plane; 8 hours at an airport. My full-time job as a consultant keeps me busy; it’s not 9-5, more like 8a-10p. Some people would go crazy having this job alone. But instead, I was stupid enough to sign up for another one (I write part-time for TechCrunch’s mobile site, MobileCrunch), and to decide to start my own company on the side.

Let me be clear about one thing – we don’t let our full-time jobs slack. I actually enjoy being a consultant and desperately crave the approval of my bosses. Instead, I look at 10p – 1a as work time. So is all day Saturday and Sunday. This won’t last forever – but for now, I’m on a mission to penetrate Silicon Valley. I want to be a small part of what’s going on over there; it’s just too amazing not to want to be in on it.

It’s the same for my other two co-founders. All of us have full-time jobs – all of us continue to build the business in our free time and just forgo sleep and partying. We don’t forget our personal obligations; we still take the girlfriend out to dinner every Friday and hang out with the family every Sunday. We just work during all our personal time. Sound horrible? It isn’t. I love it. My juices are flowing just thinking about how much productive I’ve been over the last few months and how much more I have to go.

That’s the ethos that flows through the founding team of Udemy. We have a dream and we won’t let anything get in our way. But honestly, my story is nothing compared to the story of my two co-founders. About a year and a half ago, two guys in Turkey decided that they were too amazing of programmers to stay in Turkey and write code. They could build a company, and they needed to build it in Silicon Valley (or at least in the US). Wait a sec. These are two Turkish dudes who, to this day, can barely communicate in English due to their heavy accent. They are in a foreign country with no visa nor any family or friends in the US. It’s like the little kid in the movies from rural Indiana who looks up at the sky and wants to become an astronaut.

But they did it. Slowly, but surely, they, too, penetrated Silicon Valley. They started on Elance and Odesk. Doing jobs for Valley companies at night and working on Udemy by day. They worked hard and over-delivered on pretty much every job. Soon, the Valley companies they were working for were referring them to other companies. Eventually, they found one that wanted them – full-time, in the US. Our CEO, Eren, came over first. He got a job with a Silicon Valley startup and has seen the company from launch to 5 million active users. Next, he brought his co-founder over with the same company. Both of them went from contract workers in Turkey to Silicon Valley engineers in one year. Talk about a story.

Turkey to US 2

That’s not all. If Eren and his co-founder were doing contract work during the night, and only had 8 hours a day for Udemy, how did they build a website with 30,000 lines of code? They took the money they made from the contract work and used it to hire other contractors. During their year in Turkey, they used Elance and their personal network to pay 3 other full-time employees in Turkey. They were making money in American dollars and paying in Turkish Liras, so it worked out nicely. And that’s how they built Udemy. The website hasn’t launched yet – we’ve still got another month or two to go, but the story inspires me every day. To see these guys and what they accomplished already makes me realize that we’re going to continue to kill it.

I could go on and on, but 1 page for a blog post is already over-kill. You get the point. We’re on the path. We’re working our tails off and won’t stop until we succeed. My co-founders came from 30,000 miles away and are launching a legitimate Silicon Valley startup. They didn’t do it with full-time jobs and cushy salaries. They hustled; they did contract work and hired other contractors. If you had told me I’d be lucky enough to work alongside guys like this 6 months ago, I would’ve laughed in your face and poured you another drink. But here we are. Udemy – coming soon to a laptop near you.