Green Suits and Fish


It was an alarm, a particularly harsh-sounding alarm to match my pounding headache and the sick feeling in my stomach. I wasn’t hungover, but I felt that way, disturbed in the late morning in this barely familiar apartment with the hot sticky sun burning my arm. I don’t remember which of us shut it off—I don’t really remember it ringing at all, though I am certain it did—before we fell back asleep with our pounding heads in the hot sticky sun.

Earlier that morning I’d been sitting in a lawyer’s office for the first time in my life. He wasn’t at all what I expected—in fact, I learned that I really like lawyers. They think like programmers need to, about every possible path through the rules which they create, every way things could go wrong and how to stop them, or every way to work around the rules someone else made. This particular lawyer was a friend of a friend, an interesting man who I learned to respect a great deal.

Before the lawyer’s office I’d been in a car for 8 hours, hurtling north along the I-29. Before that I was at a concert with my business partner. My new business partner. My first business. We made it to the lawyer’s office but thought we’d catch a quick nap before the accountant. The alarm. We missed the accountant.

I learned that I don’t like accountants. They’re too strict. Lawyers work around strict; I like that. Accountants work in it. When I called to apologise, I… I don’t even remember if I tried to make up an excuse or just told the truth. The receptionist was not impressed. We eventually re-scheduled, and the accountant was nice enough (although he was the first person I’d ever met with fake grey hair, and it bothered me) but he didn’t end up being very useful—that’s another story. (I finally have an accountant I like now, so if you’re reading this and you’re my accountant I think you’re ok.)

Anyway, that was my first business. I was 19, pulling all-nighters after rock concerts.

I met that business partner, Matt, at work. (Work is a great place to meet business partners.) We were both working for the Air Force at the time, building online learning software. All our bosses wore green suits, and for a somewhat complicated reason our little development group had a fish as our logo. We thought it would be fun to start a web development company. We named it after a plush leather chair in our office, at the recommendation of one of the men in green suits who I happen to look up to a lot. We had a lot of trouble explaining what we did at first. Our first contract was for $2000 to fix someone else’s bad code. $2000 was not nearly enough, but we didn’t know that yet so we made it work. Our code ended up being pretty ugly too, but it fixed a real business problem for that client, and they hired us again later.

I learned that writing eloquent code and creating pretty software is secondary to fixing problems for people. I also learned that if the problems also belong to a business, there is usually more money available for solving it. It took me a surprisingly long time to really understand that, and make decisions accordingly.

Anyway, I’m obviously writing about Black Chair. Our new website went up right before the new year. We’re bringing on a third partner. Against all odds, things are looking pretty good :)


Software developer, book writer, beer brewer :)

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