Welcome to the new retirement. It’s about having the freedom to decide when and how you want to take a break from work — to rest, recharge or start a new adventure — no matter your age. In our Redefining Retirement series, you’ll learn how real people are living their lives to the fullest, and the steps they took to get there.
Here, a 40-year-old entrepreneur from Gilbert, Arizona, talks about how he sold his successful business and took some time off to fulfill a big personal goal: to make a feature film.
When I was in college, I intended to be a film major. I had started taking classes toward the degree and even wrote a screenplay, but because I got married young and already had a wife and two kids —we now have six — my college advisers persuaded me to be a business major instead. There was no money in film, they said, so I did the practical thing and made the switch. After graduation, I went on to start my own search engine optimization (SEO) consulting business.
The business took off quickly. Before I realized what was happening, I had more clients than I had time for and my phone was ringing off the hook. But even though my business was successful, the screenplay I had written in college was always in the back of my mind.
In 2009, when I was 32, I felt my company was as valuable as it was going to get, so I decided the time was right to sell. But I had another motivation, too. I wanted to make a feature film, and I was worried that if I kept putting it off, I would never do it. So I contacted an investor who had previously expressed interest in my business and asked if he would be interested in buying it.
We came to a deal, and I used the money to buy myself some time to pursue filmmaking again. I knew there was a lot I still needed to learn. My wife, Greta, supported the decision, and we also knew we could live more frugally to make the money last even longer. If we ever got to a place where we were concerned about money, though, I knew I could always do some consulting again.
I had a big learning curve ahead of me, but rather than go back to film school I started volunteering on movie sets. I was willing to do any random job just so I could get a feel for how a movie set was run, especially because I had never directed before. Then I made some short films and a web series so I could get experience going through the production process from start to finish. I was absorbing every bit of knowledge I could and going out of my comfort zone to network within the tight-knit film community. During this time, I was also revising my screenplay, polishing it so I could start pre-production on my feature.
The first thing people in the film industry will tell you is that you should never use your own money to make a film. So one of the big hurdles I faced was finding financing. Fortunately, I had some good friends and former business partners who believed in what I was doing, and helped back the film. I also ended up ignoring the Hollywood advice and investing some of my own money, too. Then, in May 2013, we began production on “Inspired Guns,” my comedy about two Mormon missionaries who get mistaken for mafia hitmen.
“I wanted to make a feature film, and I was worried that if I kept putting it off, I would never do it.”
We shot the film over a month with a full crew in Utah and a skeleton crew in New York City. Thankfully, we had a pretty seamless shoot. Because I still had limited experience making films, I made sure we hired really talented and experienced filmmakers for all of the most important positions — and I told them their job included not letting me screw anything up along the way.
Getting my movie to the big screen was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever accomplished. The film had a limited theatrical release in January 2014 in Utah, Arizona, Hawaii and Idaho. It then went to DVD the following April, and to Amazon Prime shortly thereafter.
BACK TO BUSINESS
While the film was well-received by audiences and even won a film-festival award, it wasn’t a huge hit financially. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to retire completely from the business world with just the money I made from selling my company, so it was time to get back into SEO.
Being out of that world for two years was a real challenge because so much can change in such a short amount of time. So I did have to spend some time figuring out what had changed and what problems needed to be solved. That research led me to launch my latest company, SEOJet, in 2015, which has since taken off.
But that doesn’t mean I’m done with writing or directing. Since releasing “Inspired Guns,” I have written two more screenplays and started a third. I am also in pre-production on one of them, and we plan to start shooting toward the end of this year. While I have no plans to sell my business right now, I do plan to take some time off for production.
And why not? Making my movie was one of the happiest times in my life, and it’s something I would have never experienced had I not taken a risk. I’ve always been a doer, not just a talker, and I don’t believe it’s the most talented people that are successful in life — it’s the ones that will get off the couch.