Simple question. I want to get a sense for whether people are really starting from a position of destitution or if they already secured something before they start (or if they have a cushion)
Note: the last few options (starting with "Side project+: You have an existing job and are continuing either full time or part time while you start the business") were added between 10 minutes and an hour after the poll started ("Live on social welfare programs (social security, unemployment checks)" was added after more than 300 votes were cast) , so some of the results will be skewed
Family provided an explicit cushion (e.g. trust frund)
Family didn't give an explicit cushion but could provide one (e.g. extra mortgage to give you 10-25K if you really desperately needed it)
Family can't give you funds but can let you live in basement if the startup blows up and you need to find the next thing
You personally saved up a small runway and minimized costs during the time (forbearance on loans etc) so that, even if things blew over you could survive a few months.
You have enough saved up so that even if things blew up you could last a year or more
You have friends you could lean on for support
Nothing. No one could help me out, and I would be forced to declare bankruptcy or go into prostitution if I didn't make money in a month.
Side project+: You have an existing job and are continuing either full time or part time while you start the business
Earning Spouse: Someone else in your direct household earning enough money
Live on social welfare programs (social security, unemployment checks)
Personal Asset Sale (added 3 hours later): Selling your home or any other asset that would give you at least six months runway
I live in London and have no family I can turn to, no friends who could bail me out. I also take care of my girl (she's doing her PhD and has no income whilst she focuses on finishing it... matter of weeks now). We have very little savings (few hundreds, not thousands).
The way I did it was to cut all costs, everything. 2 people living in London on barely £1,000 per month covering everything. We didn't cut to a comfortable level, we cut as if our lives depended on it.
Then we individually reserve 1 day per week to figuring out how to hustle cash to stay alive... this week I've made and sold cycling caps. Last week my girl gave some English lessons to Japanese people (which looks like a recurring source of money so she's doing that next week too).
Our approach has simply been to reduce our living costs so far that the amount falls within a hustle-able amount.
And if it fails... we continue to hustle until I get a job.
Sometimes you just have to go hungry and work hard, and it seems that the early days of a startup are those times. I don't think anyone should fear it though, being brassic isn't the end of the world, it's what enables you to work on what you believe in.
Edit: I should also point out that some of this spirit has gone into the startup. That most of our computers have been given to us for free, that we have possibly the cheapest office space in London, that we get a hell of a lot done with very little cost. Our burn-rate is almost unbelievable given what we have and how we work... actually most people just don't believe it.
Yes, of course. I even considered the USA and SF in particular (health insurance, immigration and rental costs all deterred me), Chile (distance and isolation from my customers deterred me), elsewhere in the EU (language deterred me, but I did think that Greece would be a very good option at the moment) and finally elsewhere in the UK.
On that last one, a lot of the ability to survive on barely sufficient income is in making it go a long way. The majority of my users are London based and supporting the startup and keeping me personally just the right side of the line when it comes to money related things (they don't give me cash, but they help out in other ways). I've been helped out with feedback, customers, the friends investment round (where friends = very dedicated users who have become friends), coffee, cheese, washing powder (damn that stuff is expensive when you're only spending £40 per week on groceries for two), and then there's more than one dinner that has been cooked in different parts of London.
I knew all along, that if I were not somewhere the costs were dramatically in my favour, or that the opportunity is dramatically the wind in my sails, that I should stay where the support is greatest. And the support in London is extensive, not just from my users but also from a very intense and growing startup ecosystem (one of the computers in use in the office came from the one of the users of the freenode IRC room ##LDNstartups ).
So yes, considered it... weighed options, stayed put.
Reading isnt that much better. The whole of the south east is pretty much insanely expensive. Even so, moving is a double edged sword, since London and the South East is where the money is to make. So if you move out, you lessen your chances to make money. Which is exactly why its so expensive to live there.
Family can't give you funds but can let you live in basement if the startup blows up and you need to find the next thing
I selected this option, but really it's only the first part which is true: I started Tarsnap as a recent university graduate living in my parents' basement.
I still had some costs, mind you -- food, car, medical (type 1 diabetes is not cheap, and the Canadian health care system doesn't cover drugs) -- and I covered those from a combination of savings (I graduated with money in the bank and no debts, thanks to good scholarships) and consulting; but taking rent out of the equation cut my cost of living by about 70%.
The greatest asset a young entrepreneur can possibly have is tolerant parents.
>The lack of a safety net is a powerful motivator.
Yea, a powerful motivator to make you stop this craziness and get a "real" job before you starve to death. If you look back at the great insights in history they were usually from people who didn't have to worry about earning a living.
My experience on this has been a little different. Within my circle of friends/ acquaintances a lot of the people who have taken big risks, including startups or other personal ventures have been people who have only been able to do it knowing that they have the 'basement' option if it all blows up.
These aren't the particularly wealthy ones, most of whom have followed quite conservative paths, but the ones who were confident they wouldn't get a "well it's your problem, you should have got a real job" response.
Pretty much what happened to me. I had very tolerant parents when I started out, and yet, had i had the fear of not being able to make rent and so on, it would have made me execute very differently. It can be both an advantage and dis-advantage simultaneously.
"More than 90 percent of the entrepreneurs came from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds and were well-educated: 95.1 percent of those surveyed had earned bachelor's degrees, and 47 percent had more advanced degrees."
"Nothing. No savings to speak of, but self-funding through my salary at a $DAYJOB or consulting."
That's pretty much where we are at Fogbeam Labs. The plus side is, we have a nearly infinite amount of runway, as long as the co-founders have jobs. The downside is, we're stuck working the $DAYJOBS 40 hours as week, and have to make time for the startup by night + weekend.
I can't speak for anybody else, but I slaved away on this for a year or more before a co-founder came onboard. How much longer it would have gone if that hadn't happened, is hard to say. I'm pretty persistent though.
You need to be careful when mixing business ventures with safety net programs. Once you start making any kind of money, you need to get out of medicaid asap -- if the County figures out that you have assets, they will want to "recapture" the benefit value that was provided to you.
Just make sure you know the rules before going this route.
I voted “Side project+”, but in reality I do freelance contract work on one hand and have my start-up on the other, spending time on the latter as my varying contract workload allows. The same is true of the other person most involved with the start-up.
The downside to this is that it’s taken significantly longer to get near launching than it would have done if we had been working full-time, multiple years in our case where perhaps we could have done the main development work inside a year. Naturally that can be frustrating.
The upside is that we’ve been able to manage our finances sustainably until we are nearly ready. The nature of what we’re doing means some aspects of our timetable are always going to be partly outside of our control, depending on for example how quickly we can co-ordinate other parties who are contributing or how fast various new technologies evolve and reach a useful level of adoption. Sometimes we just have to wait for things on the critical path, so I doubt we would ever have made it this far if we’d dumped the paying work and relied on some form of limited runway to switch completely.
STRONGLY considering going on unemployment to start my next startup. I have about 10k saved, live the simplest life you've ever seen, and live in a city with amazing standard of living. I also have a good job, I'm just fed up not building something, and I want to try to build something amazing.
I've thought a lot about it, and my instinct is to feel guilty. I'm from a middle class family, have a great degree, and have great earning potential. I could get a job any time I wanted, and that's not what unemployment is for. However, trying to build a startup for 3 months that I believe could create hundreds if not thousands of jobs feels like its a good idea. The alternative for me is to start a company that is NOT a startup, one where I'm reasonably (50%) certain we can be profitable, but one that will not and could not scale (a service business).
The state of Oregon at least has programs specifically targeted at you. Basically, you get unemployment money while devoting yourself full-time to building your business. You don't have to apply for outside jobs. It's the "Self Employment Assistance Program."
If you can do it on the side, I strongly urge you to take that route. Quit only when you are already seeing traction at your startup and requires your attention. Even at that point, see if you can take a short break at your current workplace.
Take extreme measures only when situation demands it. Do not force yourself into extreme situations especially if you don't have a backup.
It is good to have confidence. But don't let that blindside you.
I feel like I should be clear here: my lifestyle is extremely simple. With my savings, even $600 a month would cut it for close to 9 months, 6 months without ANY decrease in lifestyle. Upon needing a job, I could get a restaurant job and continue to support my lifestyle or get a job in my field within a month at most.
I technically got laid off from the previous job before I started Mozio, my startup. I qualified for unemployment, but declined it. I graduated debt free from UC berkeley and was born into a well off family and my unemployment was on purpose in the search to make myself much more wealthy, and it didn't seem right to take public money to do that. I understand that te prevailing sentiment on this thread is that entrepreneurs would add more value than an employee and so therefore are entitled to the benefits just as much, but for me it was personal: I looked at myself and my family situation and thought that it would be greedy and bad karma, and not how I wanted to launch my career. I had already been given so many advantages in life that I didn't think it was necessary to be unscrupulous and repurpose a government program like that.
Context on me: I started a startup that is well thought of that "failed" to become profitable in time to be sustained (because of unwillingness to change regulations in VA) given our extremely limited funding (<$20k) and all the shit we'd been through (http://tommy.authpad.com/the-one-year-anniversary-of-sleepin...) and so I got a coding job.
I have a lot of domain expertise organizing large people-based systems, built a profitable event planning business in High School, and am technical.
Morally: you've paid into unemployment while you worked and you're cutting short the safety net you'll get if the startup bombs and you have to look for another job later. You're probably internalizing enough of the downside that you can take unemployment with a clear conscience.
One more thought on this: no one on unemployment is obligated to take the first job they can find. Part of the reason for unemployment insurance is to give people time to find a job that's a good fit. In the broader sense, that's pretty much what you say you'd like to do by trying the startup.
In California you're not allowed to be starting your own business while on unemployment. They ask you multiple times if you understand such clause from your unemployment handbook. It's a social security seen to get you back to employment as soon as possible instead of being a subsidy to your entrepreneur lifestyle.
That said, I hear all kinds of stories about people on unemployment. Ranging from someone that's managed to be on it for over a year and a half, traveled to Thailand for eight months.
It's a lenient system and you're the one that has to sleep at night so you make the call.
Same restrictions on normal unemployment apply in Oregon. The SEAP is unemployment, and requires that you be on regular unemployment first. The differences are that you're specifically allowed to work full time on your company. The company has to be vetted to make sure it's not completely ridiculous, but all profits you make are yours. It's a fantastic lifeline and without it Urban Airship would definitely not exist. It's also a federal program (as well as federally funded), though the states run it - in other words, California could implement it. They just haven't.
J. K. Rowling said she wrote Harry Potter while on unemployment. The UK system doesn't sound like it's meant to be subsidizing entrepreneurship either, rather it's social welfare.
But Rowling classified her unemployment checks as the best investment the country's ever done given how she's earned billions of taxable income.
Though for every Harry Potter there are millions of not so successful attempts. Others may find it infuriating you're spending their, and obviously yours and your employer's, tax money on hair-brained Kickstarter panhandling ideas.
As I said elsewhere, most of the big discoveries we've had throughout history came from people who didn't have to spend most of their time providing for their survival. Some people, indeed may be infuriated about "their" money being used on ideas they don't believe in. But I consider this a vindictive view (i.e. "I have to work at a job I hate, so everyone else should suffer too!") and not worth spending a lot of time worrying about.
Why can't you work on this start up in your off hours? I don't see unemployment as a good option. It's not very much money. If you really wanted to do that, since you "great earning potential," why don't you save up for a few months and then try it? Although, I think the first option makes more sense in many cases.
I also am working on it in my "off hours" (after an 8-5 job, supporting other entrepreneurs in my community, and exercising every day how much time is that?) but I don't believe there's much evidence that's how great companies are built. How many great companies were "spare time" companies built by someone who wasn't in college (college is nothing but free time, whatever any student tries to tell you). Great companies are built on talent, process, and RELENTLESS EXECUTION.
I'm not saying unemployment is the right thing, but this is a MORAL not practical decision. Unemployment + my savings would be more than enough for my to relentlessly execute for 6 months to a year, which would be enough time to either validate or show I wasn't going to validate enough to get investment.
I read that you said you saved up. And I think the "relentless execution" stuff is great. Good stuff. But, you're talking about unemployment, so even though you have saved, if you can make all this money, couldn't you work just a little more save more than you'd get on unemployment. You realize that is not manna from heaven money It "ain't that much" in other words.
I get that it is potentially a "moral" and not a "practical" decision but it could a practical or legal issue if you are committing fraud to get the money, just a thought. But if you think that's the best choice for you; go for it, I guess.
Founding my startup, I took out an extra student loan I didn't need and put it into Apple stock, which gained about 30%. After I ate through that I cashed out my 401K, and then I started taking out cash advances on credit cards. I was very happy when we got funding.
I was 20-something, quit my very first engineering job and started consulting here and there while developing a product. I had a pile of credit cards that I used heavily at times but never maxed or missed a payment. Worst case would've been personal bankruptcy but one product led to another over time. Your customers will tell you what they will buy.
The hardest things are avoiding distraction and starting in the first place. Don't be paralyzed trying to find perfection before you're willing start or you never will. Also, don't get drawn into "auditioning" for investors, just blaze your own trail, making sure that whatever you produce is something that people will pay for.
I think the consulting route is generally a good one. If you establish yourself as an expert in the right area, you can charge good money. Just pick your clients carefully, and you can work part-time consulting, and the rest of the time on your project.
Looks like I'm in the majority on this one; there's no way I would've been able to save up a significant amount without then thinking "hey, if I saved up that much..." so I went with what I had. Fortunately not being a financial idiot goes a long way, even when that just means not living on debt.
While a side project might technically be a startup, for purposes like this poll, it hardly seems relevant; that doesn't carry nearly the risk -- real or perceived -- of actually working on something new full-time.
On my first one, I had about 5k I gathered on small jobs during college years. Lost it all (and then some more), had to sleep in a client's floor for a week+ before I could afford a (windowless) roof again, but didn't give in for almost 2 years.
On my second, had enough to pay my bills from side-projects. Didn't make any money, but didn't get to sleep on the streets (which was sort of bittersweet - among the "survivors" from this period are companies such as Rovio, Gameloft and Kiloo)
On my third, had enough money not to have to work for a year or two. Got to sell the business in a good moment, for a reasonable amount.
From first to last, my actual anxiety about losing what I've amassed was exponentially higher on each try. I guess having more to lose plays a VERY important factor in determining how much effort/faith you put in a project (and how much pain can you endure before giving up)...
At least for a technology person, if you're good enough to launch a successful startup you're probably good enough to get a high-paying development job.
A good development job will pay something like twice the median salary in lots of places. Live a median lifestyle and save the other half. Each year you do this buys six months of runway (and more if you can invest wisely in the mean time).
Bootstrapping with day job. Will clear six months of runway by June, maybe sooner but would like to be throwing off at least enough cash to pay all of my non-rent expenses (which total less than my rent).
Once I get to six months and leave the day job, I'm contemplating taking on at least part-time client work to extend the runway a bit but I'm concerned about distractibility from the business. Really would like to go full bore on what I'm working on for six months. Plus I wouldn't know where to start with the client work, as I don't have any existing search marketing clients and I don't know how long it would take me to build up enough cache to bring in semi-regular consulting work. Ugh.
Coming out of graduate school I had made 22K a year and lived pretty comfortably, with savings. I had an NSF grant that paid 30K a year, which allowed me to save even more.
You can support 4 people pretty easily on 3K a month even in Silicon Valley. (As long as you shop at costco, don't eat out, and are willing to have someone sleep in the dining room of your small townhouse ;-)
This was a long time ago. I funded my first startup doing consulting work writing IVR software for an "audiotex" company (I told my friends I was a phone sex repair man). While it was a colorful client, they were the best consulting customer I ever had. Paid well, and paid on time every time. Also got to travel to interesting locales such as Guyana, Nicaragua, Italy, etc. (And yes the people staffing the phones were not attractive, and more than a few were men).
I guess I am in the majority - five years ago, I was just coming out of graduate school and gave myself three months to become 'ramen profitable'. To my amazement (and especially the amazement of folks around me) it worked out, just barely, which gave me license to keep going.
Founded a gaming company, very ambitious goals which in hindsight were highly unrealistic for the team size. Spent loads of savings and family money, got into a startup accelerator program with small funding. 3 Years later the product was released but nowhere near profitable.
Had 6 employees, now down to 2 doing consulting in web development and still paying back the debt.
I moved from Germany to Australia in 2007 where I was able to save some money from my day job. Then moved across the ditch to Wellington, NZ about 6 months later with ~$10k cash in the bank. I started running out of money after 9 months which was exactly the time our little domain registrar iwantmyname could afford a small salary. Most exciting time of my life (in a good way) with moving countries and starting a company!
You are either doing contract work to extend your existing runway -- you saved up 6 months expenses, and the contract work is what allows you to let the business build for a few extra months (in which case you have a runway and the fourth option applies) -- or doing it to survive the next few months (in which case the last option applies)
Even though I disagree that it's a separate category, I added " You have an existing job and are continuing either full time or part time while you start the business"
My startup journey consisted of incremental stages in terms of my financial growth. I started with some student loan money designated for books and learned some affiliate marketing arbitrage. The first day I spent $50 and made about $50 profit. I consistently doubled down my earnings for a few months until I had a pretty solid reserve. After about 2 years, I had decent amount of savings (in the low to mid six figures) and hadn't changed my lifestyle much at all. At this point I met my cofounders, who were in similar situations as myself, and we pooled most of our savings together to start our company.
Along the way I made several risky bets -- doubling down my money on more than one occasion -- but I was never really in that risky of a situation because I had so little to start with. I was just a relatively broke student with some student loan money.
Had an implicit cushion of parents who supported me and eventually lent me 10k. However, also minimized rent by moving into our closet/study for 500 bucks a month (which in sf is unheard of) and now I've moved into the living room and pay 150 a month, have a free parking space in my house and free office space provided by Wilson sonsini. So essentially I can get by on very little and sill lead a fairly comfortable life. I also found odd ways to make money, from 400 dollar an hour usability testing to airbnbing my room during the outside lands festival and sleeping on my roommates floor.
I was in the "You have enough saved up so that even if things blew up you could last a year or more" bucket myself, and luckily things worked out and we got (small) salaries just before that year was up.
I would be interested to hear folks' stories on transitioning states. How did you make the decision to go from "have money saved" to "living on welfare"? What state was your company in to convince you that you just had to hold on a little longer?
Nothing, at all. No car. No job. Not even unemployment or government benefits. Started doing software consulting. Grew it to a good size. Then started doing business development consulting. That is still growing. Started a couple micro businesses, all of which are profitable. Developing Nuuton, and another micro.
Oh, that's easy. I simply advertise myself as such. Say, a post on HN or Craigslist (SF, Austin, NY, Denver) stating that I am available for hire. I put my rates in the ad to make sure that people who contact me can pay my rates (which are not really high, I don't charge that much), and sit back. Really simple. If you really want to hack it, just start blogging about the specific type of programming you want to do, and have your contact details in a place where people can see it. I did that for a short while, but I'm to busy to blog these days.
I also make sure to treat people as such, and not as walking dollar bills.
Try it out, it works.
Here is a template for an ad you can use.
$language_name developer/engineer/programmer available for hire.
$language_name developer/engineer/programmer available for hire. Rates are $rate. Mature and responsible. Focused on working with serious people.
That's it. Dont give out too much information, because you are only pre-qualifying leads (people who respond to it are very likely to be able to afford your rates and meet your requirements). Then just work out the deal through email/phone/whatever.
Well, you negotiate the conditions of the contract, write the code, and make sure everything runs correctly. Nothing to it, really.
I actually teach people like you how to do this properly. Course costs $299. It is taught live, and it prepares you to point where you can consult confidently. Shoot me an email if you are interested. Too expensive? You will make 10 times that amount on the first month.
I started web design as freelancer in my country haven't worked in web design industry at all. Every now and then I blew up financially and get bailed out by parents, like some 400$ or so every 6 or 8 months.
I don't know how to build a complete dynamic product at that time. Now things are looking good.
I will start one. I will do it the way mantaining a job. I do the design and schematics and the code will it's done by other on free time. When we reach the finished product we will launch it, see if it works with a little savings money for marketing and see if goes well to start getting seeding money.
Savings, Selling (thing I own) and Freelance kept us alive for a long time until we first raised some money. Lots of occasions where the lights actually went out, but as old friends it was much easier for us to brush it off and keep finding ways to press on.
When I put this together, I thought of some common situations that I saw amongst my friends (and based on what i've heard others do) but I probably should have explicitly given that option. I would consider this as "nothing".
You reached the max nesting with your last comment so I'll continue here - I'm not playing any games. If anything, I would say you are by not specifically saying "FU money" or something equivalent (i.e, being rich) in your poll and then claiming that being able to last a year qualifies. What does "blowing it up" means? it can mean a hundred different things. You obviously had something in mind when you wrote it, I read something completely different.
Anyway, I digress, this argument is getting nowhere. I got from your post and examples that you believe most founders do not put anything on the line when they're starting up. That's your prerogative. Lets just agree to disagree on that and move on.
The examples you gave (Dorsey, Zuckerburg) pointed much more in the direction of the latter. Putting it the context of the original argument, I indeed put it all on the line by stopping to work completely and living a very barebone life. That's completely different from VCs who really have FU money and are not affected (or marginally affected) financially when their investments don't pan out.
Back to the poll, the option of FU money (enough so you wouldn't be affected by not working for a year or several) - is not there.
- Dorsey was putting it all on the line with Square -- at that point he had his personal wealth secure thanks to twitter (already raised quite a bit of VC money and already paid himself).
- Bill Gates had family money in the form of a trust before microsoft was conceived.
- Mark Zuckerberg's parents were in the position to kick in money to Facebook (and in some accounts, they actually did, though I know neither of them and everything on the topic is hearsay)
- Bill Nguyen was already an accomplished entrepreneur by the time he started Color
In half the examples, the money was self-made, and in the other half there was familial support.
"That's completely different from VCs who really have FU money and are not affected (or marginally affected) financially when their investments don't pan out."
You are playing games here. Many VCs (especially some of the newer ones) don't have a track record and work hard to establish one by researching, picking whom they think are winners, and providing support. It's obvious today that investing in Facebook or Twitter at the pre-1B stage would be profitable, but it wasn't quite as obvious back then. And if a new VC has a string of losers, you can bet your bottom dollar they'll have a very hard time drumming up the next vintage.
Back to the poll, given the context (which I thought was self-explanatory) the option "You have enough saved up so that even if things blew up you could last a year or more" -- 169 votes at the time of this comment -- is the one that unites the aforementioned examples.
You don't have an option for "less than nothing". Long story, but my parents split and left me with their debt and my brother to raise. By the time we started the company I was £200k in the hole, at the age of 22.
Nothing like having a fire up ones' backside to make one work...
If its not too much to ask, could you go into more detail? I wasn't aware that type of thing happened in England (guessing based on the pound). In the US at least, no debt is transferred (except for possibly mortgage debt if children opt to keep the home)
Yeah, as I said, long story. It's true that the debt isn't legally transferrable, but I was left in a situation where I had no choice but to take it on.
Long and the short - kid brother at expensive private boarding school - taking him out wasn't an option, as at the time I was about to go to university, and having a dependent child in my student halls was a non-starter. Therefore, had to keep him at the school - managed to get a bursary (reduction in fees) and amenable credit terms from them, and this little side of things racked up some £60k of debt over the four years I paid for. I also ended up paying for my last two years, as it turned out my parents hadn't, and the school (same school!) kindly decided to sic the bailiffs on me for that, as I was their only traceable contact. In the interests of not having my bro expelled for my delinquency, I stumped up the cash. So far, so good, £80k in the hole.
Some years before this shit all went down, my dad bought a house from my great aunt at a below-market price, which was above the ludicrously below-market price offer they were about to accept from equity-release pirates, so they could continue living there. He dropped this like a hot rock, failed to pay the mortgage, and that entire side of my family came crashing down on me with their ire for not stepping up to the plate to help said elderly great aunt. Sucker here offered to buy the house out from his dad, on the proviso that said aunt would pay a peppercorn rent to help me cover the mortgage, and the ensuing scenario was that I got gouged by my old man to the tune of 3x what he paid for the place not 4 years previously (asshole kicked off a bidding war with a property developer for me, kindly), and the great aunt reneged on her agreement to pay rent, leaving me with a £100k property I didn't want and a nice cash drain in the form of property taxes, maintenance, and all the rest... oh, and a sitting tenant. Who's still there, and still tells her kith and kin that she owns the place. Waiting the old bird out at this point, but at least I've paid off the mortgage these days.
Next up came supporting my mother, who after vanishing for six months resurfaced needing cash in order to not lose her house. Idiot here paid for the remainder of the mortgage on her house, by extending the mortgage on the above house, giving her somewhere to live.
At this point, I'm 18, at university, £200k in the hole, and everything's peachy. Add student debt to that, and by the time I graduated, I had about £250k of debt to my name, not counting all the other shit that my parents dropped which the debt collectors had started chasing me for.
Started the company at 22, while still heavily in debt, but at least making some headway, and "only" about £200k in the hole. Spent another 18 months dodging bailiffs after my parents until I could start going "Statute of limitations" and hanging up on them, and, as of last year, I finally have a net worth > £0.
So, yeah, there's the dismal ditty, which I largely brought upon myself, but, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and I got two major positives out of the whole experience:
1) The expectation that everyone is out to screw me, and that everyone will renege on every promise they will ever make to you. This leads to one being rather cautious with client and contract dealings, and has saved our bacon more than a few times.
2) Having nothing to lose is one hell of an incentive to take insane risks, like ditching a well-paying job to move into a office-cum-home squat to start a business.
Your tale is nothing short of ridiculous. What's even crazier, though, is the fact that you aren't alone. Many people find themselves in similar traps due to unscrupulous relatives. (hopefully that makes you feel slightly better)
"The expectation that everyone is out to screw me, and that everyone will renege on every promise they will ever make to you." <-- I'm (glad?) you learned this early on. I learned this after college and I feel I would have done things differently had I realized this earlier.