Your Story: Why a serial entrepreneur keeps trying

Aug 26, 2011

Brendan Doms has launched more than a dozen ventures. Most of these are tech websites designed to do something new and useful. By his own admission, none of the start-ups have been particularly successful. Nevertheless, he’s getting ready to launch the next one “within the next month.”

Doms is a serial entrepreneur. These are people who start businesses again and again, apparently impervious to outside pressures like a bad economy, tight lending environment, or failure.

“My dream has always been to be a small-business owner,” said Doms. “But not very many businesses are successful. In some ways, it’s just a numbers game.”

Doms, 26, thinks he’s been close to success a few times. In November of 2010 he launched a site that allowed people to read some books for free on any mobile device, anywhere. Sound familiar? Well, while he was developing the project he didn’t know that Amazon was about to launch its free reading apps for the Kindle and Google was about to open up its Google Books project to browsing for public domain books. Those two tech events robbed his site of any chance it might have had to be really successful.

Doms isn’t particularly bothered by misses like this. He says he isn’t trying to strike it rich anyway. Although he says, “I would love for one of my businesses to take off and take over my life.” This desire for total engagement makes Doms wary of the traditional tech start-up model. In this scenario an entrepreneur sells an early stage business to a venture capitalist in exchange for a large share of ownership. “I would rather have less money and more control,” Doms said.

That Doms is an outlier on the tech entrepreneur wish fulfillment continuum also helps explain why he lives and works in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A Minneapolis native, Doms went to school at an innovative school in Boston called Olin College. After graduation he moved to San Francisco for work. By May of 2009 he was ready to strike out on his own. He couch-surfed all over the country looking for the right home base for his next start up, someplace he could keep his costs down.  Ann Arbor was comparatively cheap, and “a really fun young city,” he said.  He has lived in Ann Arbor since January 2010.

Doms says the city has a vital enough tech scene to keep him here for a while, although he’s nomadic by nature. He thinks being young, single and without any kids makes it easier to be an entrepreneur and he has no plans to change direction anytime soon. Doms did, however, take a full time job a few weeks ago because his bills were piling up. His new job is as a web developer for a San Francisco based website. He has no plans to move, and he says he’s been open with his employer about his side projects.

“Right now none of my ideas have been particularly viable,” he admits, “but you’ve just got to keep trying until you find something that works.”