My 83 year old Aunt and Mom who’s a decade her junior have been telling me ” “You never know tomorrow…” their entire lives.
Almost 20 years ago, I envisioned a significant need for the many who perish daily. I say “perish” because to their surprise, they weren’t expecting to leave on that fateful day. Perhaps it was what my beautiful aunt or my amazing mom constantly saying to me that motivated me to work on this, but regardless, the tragedy on 9/11 in 2001 would cement those thoughts we REALLY needed WhenILeave.com.
Initially, I wondered what those 2977 victims would have wanted instead of simply leaving our world to their demise. I pondered if we could store messages…let’s say emails or even have letters be whipped up in our old fashioned printers so they could read some of our horrible handwriting. I knew that the new “online tools,” — whatever they would be — would eventually help us make the impossible possible.
It wasn’t just me. Writer Jin Han with Director Jeong-Kuk Lee created “Pyeonji” (which means “letter” in Korean) and showed us you didn’t even need technology to make this happen. Han and Lee may be the reason why I felt this was important and that some day I would build this.
In 2001, I was still working for DoubleClick, a New York based dot com founded by Kevin O’ Connor. Fortunately for my future family, I asked for a transfer back home to Seattle — the year before the historic disaster. Frankly, I had pictures standing on the top of the World Trade Center with some in-laws who had stayed with us the year before. It was incredibly surreal when we saw photos of the planes being photoshopped with very similar views we had experienced — literally a handful of months before. While I was passionate about “starting something on my own,” I knew it wasn’t the right time.
Fast forward a few years, I hear a story about a father who’s son unfortunately loses his life serving our country. The father had hoped the email provider (Yahoo) would release the account as a result of being so close in relationship, but the Internet giant (at the time) claimed privacy laws didn’t allow the Silicon Valley company to release the email account. I felt this was another problem I had to fix with WhenILeave.com
I can’t remember what year it was after that, but I had golfed with a new “friend” who I was introduced to by my best friend. I think the Korean American guy’s name was “John”; he seemed like a really nice guy. A year after that fateful outing, however, I surprisingly get invited to his funeral because of a mysterious ailment that took his life in a matter of a few days or less. During the eulogy, his wife shared a video he had recorded before he passed. He was paranoid about dying (for what would become justified) and sometimes he would tape the videos to share with his baby son. In the video we saw, he wished his newborn “the best future” and told him he loved him, if for some reason he would unfortunately find his demise too early. To everyone’s surprise, his premonition did come true in his mid-30s. This was one of many experiences that continued to tell me I should build this. However, it was still not the right time.
There were many of these stories I had learned or experienced first hand. Simultaneously, I saw many ideas similar to mine pop up here and there like a service called MyLastEmail.com and others very much like it. However, it still didn’t feel like the right time — even though I could see the need grow constantly. I even had MANY conversations with friends and co-workers about it and most of them, if not all of them encouraged me to do it!
As some of you know, I’ve had a somewhat challenging couple of decades where I had to move back and forth across the Pacific. Don’t get me wrong, some of these years were the most wonderful times and frankly, I truly met the best people I could ever cross paths with. These 2 decades+ were the best in many ways.
Conversely, however, they also impacted my career and my ability to garner traction despite my entrepreneurial capabilities and my ability to emulate some of my parents’ most amazing hard work ethic. Many friends and even worse, some family would question my dedication and ability to stay committed. They never understood the many complications that resulted in this “back and forth”. They only saw what was obvious to them.
Very few would stand by me regardless of the decisions and circumstances that did take place. It took my parents almost 45+ years to finally realize their son actually was very talented and capable. These days, we spend quite a bit of time together and I am glad to say we’re finally at peace with one another. My mom literally said the other day when we were talking about the Corona virus hitting our area, she was not worried anymore about my future. She said “You’re so much more than I had ever wished. I am so proud of you. I know you’re going to be successful.”
With that said, I’ve been INCREDIBLY fortunate to have wonderful friends like Derek, Crystal, Sungil, Mai and Terry encourage me here in the states. Jareb, Tim, and Jiyun support me from abroad and a plethora of others would periodically chime in to remind me that I was a success and I had a ton to look forward to. Most recently, Derek encouraged me almost daily to pursue WhenILeave (WIL). Terry, soon thereafter encouraged me to follow my dreams after he sweat blood & tears for 15+ years to finally get where he is today. And shortly before that, I had the most profound Randy Pausch-Paul Kalanithi-Seneca “awakening” moment in my life in December where I realized I can no longer waste any more time and must finally start WIL.
On 1/17/2020, WIL was finally born (a second time frankly after a short attempt by my good friend Chewon and I in late 2018/early 2019). I’m lucky to have Che join the team again this second time around along with some incredible other friends. Today, there are actually many more products and services that have been created. Many of them have died (not to use a pun) like MyLastEmail, while others remain. The need is definitely greater than ever and my suspicion that the world could use this service was confirmed — and only continues to grow larger. In Honor of my friend Heather, who’s twin sister lost her life way too early, my cousin Shanna who took her life in her 20s, my ex-wife’s cousin who also took his life in his early 20s, I start this project/startup/paradigm shift for you all and for the many who will hopefully benefit from having these tools available moving forward.
p.s. For the doubters, take note:
- I’ve started two successful businesses all by myself and created more than six figures of net income within one year of starting both of them
- One of them continues to live and still dominates the 2 hardest search terms to for experts in the search marketing field locally (STILL after ~10 years)
- I currently manage the organic online visibility for the 4th largest automotive group in the US (and quite possibly in the world) with a handful of other top dealer groups throughout the U.S.
- I lead as the 2nd in command a Korean company in Busan where we grew the business from a few academies to 16, just a handful of teachers to over 140+, and a few hundred students to close to 7000 in 3 short years; btw, I stepped down from the position shortly before vesting $100k in stock options because I felt ethics were more important than the financial rewards of staying there for 2 more weeks
- I reigned as a star instructor when I was in Shanghai where not only did I teach the most hours regularly, but also built a middle school ESL program, a debate system leading to World champions and SSAT results that were in the top 1%. I did this with subjects I knew NOTHING about prior to starting. I also co-wrote two books for the program.
- I then helped two more academies leverage my debate and SSAT skills to produce more 99% percentiles and championships and awards; the same education prowess also helped one of them reach break even with the smallest budget for marketing and no other support in Hong Kong – one of the largest single city economies in the world.
- Today, regularly show up for the most selective searches for boarding school with my side project SSATMaster.com
- Lastly, I’ve produced quite a following on both Quora and Pinterest along with my 3 Twitter accounts and many other footprints online.
Frankly, there’s more, but honestly, none of this matters. Why? It’s because I’m more passionate about helping people than ever and that’s enough to justify waiting for so long and finally providing everyone the benefits of #WhenILeave
I hope you can join me in sharing this great new service and eventual platform to truly control your own #destiny.