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My journey towards a billion-dollar app was that of a rather normal, at times dysfunctional and at times difficult child

Profits were made, and a salesman was born

has taken me to this point in my life, and why – above all – I have tried to teach myself to focus on trying to see the opportunity that every situation presents (and having fun along the way). My parents were neither rich nor poor, they didn’t have any interest whatsoever in business, and had little grasp of technology (and for years even resisted having a VCR). I was born in 1977 in Warsaw, Poland and when I was two, my family moved to Australia. I was a rather demanding child, in constant need of feeding. I showed no early signs of ambition or activity (preferring to eat rather than talk, and sleep rather than walk). When I was seven there was a glimmer of hope. At a kindergarten bake sale I managed to persuade my mother not only to bake scores of cupcakes, but also to buy matching chef attire for my friend and me. The combination of two cute little boys with matching outfits, brimming with energy and big smiles, led to a cupcake sellout. My mother is still upset that I haven’t bothered to learn to cook. The summer of 1989 started off wonderfully, but my father had an alternative view and said I had been loafing about for too long. It was only the second week of my vacation and I was about to turn 13. Then he dropped a bomb: ‘Son,’ he said, ‘I bet, even if you wanted to, you couldn’t find a decent-paying summer job by the end of the day.’ A challenge is a challenge and I accepted. Though I do admit, I was petrified at the idea of getting a job (a wildly alien concept at the time). A full day of going from store to store with nothing but rejections landed me at the greasy counter of a local BBQ chicken restaurant. Less than 15 minutes later I was wearing an ill-fitting, stained apron, wiping down the counters and learning what it meant to earn an hourly wage. That evening I brought home 12 hard-earned dollars and enjoyed my father’s incredulous expression. How did I finally land that job? I bypassed my limited CV and opened the conversation with my would-be employer with the tried and tested TV shopping-channel line: try my work right now, and, if you don’t like it, then you don’t have to pay me. My high school prom in 1994 taught me a powerful lesson. I wasn’t one of the popular or cool kids (my mother insisted on cutting my hair until I was 16), nor one of the sporty types (but I could give you a decent rally on the tennis court). Prom rapidly approached, and I, naturally, was dateless. Then a

I ignored the pleading of my parents to join the Wall Street brigade, and jumped on board the startup train by joining Trilogy, an automotive and telecoms software startup

funny thing happened. The resident hot girl at our tennis club inexplicably started up a conversation with me after one training session. Words were exchanged, a question escaped by mouth, and somehow she accepted my feeble invitation to the prom. On the big day – and I still remember it all too clearly – we made a spectacular entrance at the venue. Mouths dropped. People were perplexed. As it turns out, she desperately wanted to come to our Prom but not a single guy had had the courage to invite her. I was the exception. To this day people comment on that night. From that moment I knew that the potential upside of asking the question you’re afraid to ask always outweighs the chance that you’ll hear the word ‘no’ in response. Somehow, in 1996, I was admitted to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with the ambition of becoming an astronaut. Despite less than perfect SAT results (SAT is the standardised test for college admissions in the USA), I managed to slip in under the radar. I suspect I was the token Australian – admitted to maintain the broad quota of nationalities on campus (that or they really enjoyed the essay I wrote about my senior-year summer working as an extra on the Aussie television soap Home and Away). My four undergraduate years flew by quickly, while slowly, in the background, the Internet bubble continued to expand. The year 2000 was the pinnacle of tech silliness. Internet startups seemed to be a sure-fire path to becoming a millionaire, stock-market launches (or IPOs – initial public offerings) blossomed left, right and centre and investmentbanking jobs were being handed out like frozen-yoghurt samples at a shopping centre. Working first at the company’s headquarters in Austin, and then the European head office in Paris, I witnessed massive demand for our software. Straight out of college, I was leading teams selling cutting-edge software solutions to companies such as Renault and France Telecom. The company experienced explosive growth – adding around 700 people in 18 months – then, through a combination of a largely inexperienced management team and a massive contract failing to materialise, the company imploded. More than two-thirds of the company was fired overnight. It was an intense – and eyeopening – welcome to the world of startups. After I had done a stint at a French business school, the spectacular story of MirCorp caught my interest. MirCorp was the company that tried to turn the Russian MIR space station into the first commercial orbital hotel. (In the end