The Tribe Has Spoken

Starting Out During Hard Times

Two-and-a-half years ago, when Jory Rozner decided to throw it all away and start anew, she was a 29-year-old in Chicago making $200,000 per year as a national sales manager for a telecommunications firm: "I don't know anything about technology, I had never managed people and I had never done sales. But I said OK [to the friend who offered me that position]."

Rozner had always liked to take chances, so when the company experienced what she calls a "management schism," she says, "I decided to start my own thing." That thing? Totility Solutions! It was a firm that provided technology to offices! To restaurants! To any business that wanted it, and . . . "I did it for six months, and made $24,200," groans Rozner. That's great for pocket change, but Rozner had expenses.

Meanwhile, her previous lifestyle was knocking on her door. Rozner had purchased a condo, which was still under construction. And suddenly she was asking herself, "How am I going to pay the rest of the down payment, and [where will I be able to get] the money when I have to move in?"

But while working on Totility Solutions, Rozner came up with a new business idea, Zipple. Her vision: a Web site for the Jewish community. While on the site, Jews could learn about their religion, meet faith-minded people, look for Mr. or Ms. Right, or find a virtual rabbi.

Says Rozner, "I gave up everything I was doing and moved into my parents' basement." The basement had an aging mattress lying against the wall, crammed in with other pieces of furniture and well-worn clothes that Rozner's sister was storing. And it had no windows. Rozner propped up her desk and set up shop. "I became known as the basement lady," she recalls.

True, Rozner had the security of not paying rent, but there was still the stress of the unfinished condo she couldn't afford. Meanwhile, she was living under not just her mother and father's floorboards, but also under their parental microscope. Her parents would often ask, "Why don't you get a part-time job in the mean-time?"

And Rozner would wonder, "In the meantime of what? Like while I'm waiting to not do this anymore?" Her sister, who was working on a master's at Harvard, and the rest of her family and friends, says Rozner, were looking at her as if to say, "You bought a computer a year and a half ago, and you barely know how to do anything on it-who are you to be doing this?"

Ditto with the potential investors, who gave her looks that said it all: "You don't know anything about the Internet. You're not a rabbi. You're not a Ph.D. in Judaic studies. You're not a leader of an organization. Who are you?"

Undeterred, Rozner depleted $40,000 from her savings-only to get zip for her work on Zipple. Meanwhile, her credit card debt was expanding and would ultimately total $20,000. The minimum payments were (gulp) around $800 per month.

Debt piled up with no income for eight months. It was, to lowball it, a depressing situation-which wasn't lost on Rozner, who kept thinking: "I'm 30, and I'm living in the basement of my parents' house. I'm broke. I'm not married; I'm not dating anybody. This is sort of pathetic."

Think you're in dire circumstances? Don't be so hard on yourself-read "Don't Be A Downer" to help you get out of the darkness.

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the November 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Tribe Has Spoken.

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