Today we are handing over the blog microphone for our first guest post with Steve Miller over at WeBeTripping. I recently ran across Steve this year and have enjoyed his story. His financial journey is similar to mine and it is exciting reading about his experiences post retirement. Wished we were already there!
How I Retired Early
My name is Steve Miller and I retired early, at the age of 50. It all started in 1999 when I was a software engineer. I was working for Perot Systems (owned by Ross Perot and recently sold to Dell) and was managing a group of programmers. I had been in the business for about 14 years and was making pretty good money.
However, we needed to staff up so we found consultants to supplement our staff. As the hiring manager, it was quickly apparent that I was not making as much money as I could because I was hiring engineers for way more money than I was making and they were reporting to me.
So I decided to put my resume out there as a software consultant and within a day, I had a call from Microsoft, and they were offering twice my wage for a consulting job. Two weeks later I was working in Seattle.
After working for Microsoft, my wife and I decided to move to Denver because we couldn’t handle the Seattle rain. In no time, I had another consulting job for an even higher hourly rate. As I worked these consulting jobs, I found similarities. Almost all of these consulting jobs hired people like me to help them better manage their projects that were behind schedule and over budget.
I quickly discovered that with some process and tools, these problems could be fixed in short order and I was able to help many of these teams succeed. The only issue was that the tools needed were expensive and to do the job, you needed several tools (project management, defect tracking and test management).
After a bit of reflection, I called my wife and said “Honey, I want to stop consulting and start my own business. I would like to create a software tool that can do project management, defect tracking and test management so that teams won’t have to buy multiple tools. And instead of selling it outright, I would like to let them rent it for a monthly fee, reducing their upfront costs.”
My wife said “Are you crazy? You have 2 kids and a mortgage! How can you quit a great paying job?” I said “Trust me, it will all work out and if it doesn’t I can always go back to consulting.” After a bit of discussion, she agreed.
Fast forward 10 years later. I built that idea into a multi-million dollar company and I received a call from a venture capital firm from NY asking “Would you ever consider selling your company?”. Yes sir, I would!
Once I convinced my wife to let me start the company, I wrote a business plan. In the business plan, I clearly stated “I would like to sell this company and retire by the time our kids go off to college (that would be 14 years in the future, in 2013)”.
I also stated in my plan how I might accomplish that. I would seek out larger companies that had complimentary products and try to partner with them for a combined solution. At first, there were lots of companies that fit the bill but I did not have enough market share to attract them. So over the years, I grew my market share and built integrations that made our product work nicely with a few others.
The company that was backed by the NY venture firm was one of the products I had spent about a year partnering with and we began selling each other’s products successfully and mutually benefiting from it.
Selling the Company
Once I received the call from the NY venture firm, it only took 5 months to hammer out the agreement. They wanted me to stay on with the company for a couple of years to train the team and to help jumpstart the acquisition.
In September 2009, I sold the company and stayed on with them until my kids graduated high school, retiring in 2013 just as I had stated in my first business plan.
Fears Along the Way
Many people ask me how I could leave such a great paying consulting job to start my own business. Wasn’t I afraid? Sure, but I saw it as risk management. Imagine the worst thing that could happen. For me, it was that the business would go under. If it did, I would simply return to consulting, so it was not a big risk. One of the first blogs I wrote once I retired was “Odds of Becoming a Millionaire” where I talked about this risk.
What Life is like since I Retired
Literally the month after we retired, we saw our boys off to college and began traveling. Starting in Canada, we visited the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edwards Island.
We then made our way to the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and the Bahamas. We saw extraordinary things. We watched a tortoise painstakingly dig a hole for her eggs.
We saw the handiwork of the Incas, appreciating the architecture and incredible surroundings of a civilization that’s now long gone.
And we watched professional divers descend into Dean’s Blue Hole not to come up again for 5 minutes.
The next summer we spent traveling around the western US, visiting the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We saw the huge redwood forests of California, stayed in an old farm house steps away from the shores of Canon Beach, Oregon. Then we made our way up to Seattle to enjoy the weeks leading up to the fourth of July. From there we headed to Vancouver, Canada for 3 weeks, cycling around Stanley Park and hiking Grouse Mountain. We ended that trip with a 2 week cruise to Alaska, watching the glaciers break apart and fall into the ocean at Glacier Bay.
Last summer, we took our youngest son to Europe. We planned the trip around the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona but spent time in Paris, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The Running of the Bulls is something everyone should experience. It’s festive, raw and invigorating. The Italian Riviera is a sight to behold. Beautiful oceans held in by massive cliffs and quaint seaside villages.
We are now finishing up the final days of traveling this summer. We started in Fort Collins, Colorado in April and as I write this (in August) I am sitting in a rented condo in Telluride, Colorado overlooking some of the most awe-inspiring mountains you can imagine. We also visited Glacier National Park in Montana, taking a boat tour atop waters created by glaciers many centuries ago.
Am I glad I retired early while I’m young enough to enjoy it? Absolutely!
After being retired for 3 years, you certainly learn a lot. I recently wrote a blog where I listed the top 5 things I learned:
- Early retirement conjures up unexpected emotions
- Boredom is self-inflicted
- Traveling provides a world of amazement
- You can still fuel your entrepreneurial spirit after retirement
- Volunteering yields a great sense of satisfaction
We are not guaranteed tomorrow so enjoy today. I wanted to retire early so that I could enjoy travels while I am young and nimble. Don’t let your fears get in the way, just do it!
There are lots of people freaking about the stock market correction in August 2015 and some are postponing early retirement because of this. I’m not freaking out and a recent blog article explains why.
About Steve Miller