Investment Capital – How A “Dumb” Decision Turned Glorious

Back at the end of 2016 leading into the start of 2017, the purpose of the Otaku Central project completely shifted. Up to that point, the end goal of OC was to create an anime streaming website that not only had a great user community and fantastic anime selection, but also passively fixed a lot of the inherent problems with nearly all of the other anime streaming services on the market. Sadly, our gameplan had been to do all of these things outside of the boundaries of legality.

But in early 2017, it became apparent to the OC team that our purpose had to have a deeper foundation than anime, personal happiness, or even legality. With the amount of financial hardship that the anime industry has been undergoing for the past 10 years, and with that hardship subsequently trickling downhill to the thousands of people in Japan that make anime possible to begin with, something had to change. More specifically, someone or a group of someone(s), had to step in to try and change the financial landscape of an entire industry – otherwise it was going to slowly “starve” itself from the inside out.

Someone had to be the force of good in this small portion of the world that seemingly no one else wanted to be. Due more in part to the fact that we were only ones who wanted to tackle this challenge as opposed to the idea that we were actually the “right fit for the job”, the Otaku Central project was reborn with new passion and purpose.

Our new goal was to not only try and monetarily salvage the anime industry, and subsequently improve the quality of living for the thousands of workers who inhabit it, but also to act as a body of inherent good in the world. We wanted to make it clear that not only do we want to play by the right rules this time around, but also show that with a selfless mission, people who strive to be the absolute best they can be in their respective fields, and with the belief that many anime viewers are in favor of making the world in general a better place, a non-profit anime streaming service was not only a possibility – it was a likely outcome.

A few days later, while getting back into the groove of things and drafting a plan for the changes that would have to be made to OC’s model as a whole, the first major roadblock for our five-year development plan was assessed:

This project was going to require a level of money that none of the Otaku Central staff had.

How To Get Money For Your Business Startup – 101

The first idea that was brought up by the majority of our team was that we could get a business loan. The amount of the loan, while a little debatable, would likely have to be to the tune of $250,000.

​Now, this raised a concern on my part as well as on the parts of others. Up to this point, outside of the fact that we had previously been skirting legality on our streaming, we hadn’t really been faced with any inherent long-term risk or ramifications if the Otaku Central project failed. Sure, the team would be out a decent amount of work hours and a small amount of money, but nothing that couldn’t be easily smoothed over in the long run. Being saddled with a quarter-million dollars worth of debt (especially considering where I was at with my career at that point in life), would take me 10 – 15 years to dig myself out of at the earliest. It would also force me to put the rest of my life goals on hold for that timeframe simply because I wouldn’t have the money to fuel them.

This served as a reminder to us, and a necessary one at that, that while we have a tremendous amount of zeal for what we do as part of OC, there isn’t a guarantee for us at the end of the road that it will work. If that should happen, and OC doesn’t get off the ground, what are we really going to have to show for it at the end of the day?

Speaking purely for me, I didn’t want to run the risk of financially crippling myself. I also knew that once the OC “ball” started seriously rolling, I would lose most if not all of the time I’d had previously to work on self-improvement and building my career skills in relation to my portfolio. In other words, I wouldn’t have the time to go back to college, study for certifications, network in the IT industry, etc.

So, I proposed an idea that, at the time, most friends and family members thought was incredibly stupid and was over-simplifying the nature of what a small group of human beings could realistically accomplish:

“What if we just spent the next couple of years building out our careers to the point that the level of excess income we have would actually fit the bill for what Otaku Central needs?”

​Now, this was an “easy” thing to say. I mean, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it, right? Not to mention that this was a quarter-million dollars we were talking about, here – that’s a ton of money for a group of guys to get considering most of our backgrounds and where we were coming from.

On the flip side, it would put us in the position that if OC failed roughly five years down the road, we would all passively be set up to succeed in our personal lives and career fields to an extent that wouldn’t have been possible before. While it could be argued that we “lost” two years of our lives, the amount of personal and career growth we’d undergo would equip us to effectively gain back that lost time, and then some.

​My role in all this was decided as a result: I needed to more than double my net income in two years’ time to fulfill my end of the deal.

Was This Even Possible?

Sitting back at my desk in my home office that evening, I had some serious thinking to do.

​Now, I knew that in the IT industry, it was possible to earn a six-figure salary for the higher-end IT positions. A couple of my former coworkers had been well on their way to doing this, themselves. That being said, most of these top-paying positions were managerial positions and likely wouldn’t be offered to me because of my age. That left me with needing to find a technical position that paid that much, and then grafting myself into being the human embodiment of the requirements for it.

​But, I also knew that this wasn’t an easy thing. Those positions had a years of experience requirement that I didn’t meet quite yet, but also had a steep skills and certifications requirements list that my current knowledge covered roughly a third of. I’d not only have to gain these skills so that I could pass a technical assessment test for a job I’d apply for, but I’d probably have to get the certifications as well to beef up my resume to even get in the door to begin with. It would also require me, a relatively quiet and composed person, to become rather good at job networking rather quickly.

This would take thousands of hours worth of study, and thousands of dollars worth of resources to help me gain the needed knowledge.

Looking at my life at the time, I knew this wasn’t to be possible without drastic changes. Due to my day job grinding a lot of overtime hours and after-hours work from me, as well as my recording studio business that I was trying to get off the ground consuming almost all of the remaining time, I knew I’d have to give up at least one of these jobs if not both. Looking at my current employer, a small-town datacenter startup business, I couldn’t realistically see myself making the money threshold I needed with them. I also couldn’t see my recording studio getting me there, either – I’d only ended the month financially positive three times in the course of owning that business, and wasn’t optimistic that that picture could change sharply enough to get me to where I needed to go.

So, I needed a new day job, and the recording studio would have to be closed down. A fine cigar and a few glasses of condolence whiskey later, I returned to evaluating.

Because of the amount of hours I would need to invest in studying and training, as well as the amount of money I would have to throw at said training, my current apartment living situation wasn’t going to cut it. I’d have to talk to my parents about moving back home for a while to get the downtime I’d need. But, that in itself wasn’t going to be quite enough. I was going to have to gut a decent amount of personal hobbies, as well as some of the regular meetups that I’d have with friends and acquaintances, in order to hit the time threshold I anticipated I’d need. I’d keep only the bare minimum necessary for me to retain enough sanity to succeed. That was all.

Finally, some creative thinking would be required to be able to maintain an almost constant level of study. My estimating was that I’d be committing myself to the equivalent of 20 college credit hours worth of personal training for the next two years straight, which was a grueling thing to strive towards considering that I’d have to not only obtain the knowledge I needed in that study, but also retain it. I’d have to condition my body and mind to somehow, some way, be able to do this in addition to juggling a new full-time day job.

​At this point, I was slightly scared. I was throwing the majority of things that actually defined me as a person on the altar of sacrifice for the next two years. It wasn’t a joke or a casual conversational statement with the OC team anymore – I was literally going to lose the next two years of my life, and probably more to this venture.

A Road Paved In Ridicule

I had to wait until my current lease term for my recording studio ended before I could close it down, which gave me a couple of months of interim time to find a new day job in the process. After a train of applications and interviews that more-or-less belittled me as a person and offered me some pretty meager dollar amounts, I was accepted for a contract position with the United States military. The pay was higher than what I was presently making by a decent margin, but I was also guaranteed under the contract that I would never have to work overtime.

That contract job would end up being one of the core catalysts that got me to this point.

Giving my notice at the current job, and taking a decent amount of flak and criticism for doing so, I left at roughly the same time that my recording studio closed down. Making some phone calls, I worked out an agreement with my mother to move back home for a while to get my life on the track it needed to be on.

Moving back home was another core catalyst for making my present situation possible.

Around this time, due to some of the substantial changes in my personal and work life, friends and family started inquiring into why I’d done the things I did. While I’d striven to word my responses as professionally and true to the point as I could, the takeaway that most people had with regard to me was:

  • “So, you’re living in your mom’s basement so you can focus on anime? What a stupid weeb.”
  • “Why don’t you ever hang out with us anymore? Are you THAT obsessed with anime?”
  • “Are you turning into a shut-in or a recluse? Because that’s what it seems like.”
  • “What do you mean you don’t have time to attend the family gathering?”
  • “You desperately need to find a girlfriend and get married; maybe she could fix some of the crap you’re getting into with your life.”
  • “Aren’t you saving any of the money you’re earning? What do you mean you’re spending it all on books? Is this more of that anime garbage?”

Well, you get the basic gist of things.

​This progressively wore on me more and more as the months passed by. Very few people were seemingly able to grasp at the reasons as to why I was doing what I was, and fewer still were supportive. I found myself getting slammed with a large volume of anime stereotype labels, even though at the time, I watched less than three hours of anime a week and was really going down the road in life I was because I genuinely wanted to help people and make the world a better place.

I wonder if I’m arguably better off for placing myself on the “island” that I did. I feel like I have little in common with a lot of people anymore, but my conviction is that due to forming myself into the “misshapen spark” that I am, I might be able to accomplish what few others can. Perhaps, it’s as the philosopher Zet once said:

“The unity of the many was achieved through the fracturing of the self.”

At Long last, Virtue’s Reward

In late January 2019, I started throwing my resume out to a few prospective employers to see what kind of response I would get. I’d taken 14 certification exams since I’d closed my recording studio and left my old day job, and the years of experience I had under my belt now met the requirement for a number of senior engineering jobs I’d seen.

Responses were varied, but a few interviews yielded the long-awaited result: job offers that met the pay grade that I needed to fuel the Otaku Central venture.

At the beginning of February, I conditionally accepted a job offer similar to my current position in the regard that it’s with the United States military, and I’d be locked at 40 hours per week. While it’s dependent on the conditions stated in the contract and I’m waiting for this entity to meet those conditions, it’s a guarantee to me that I at least have something in store that will pan out while I continue to look towards something even better in the meantime.

​​What’s most incredible about all of this is that the Otaku Central project isn’t just the pipe dream that it once was due to budget limitations. Not only is the financial mountain for us climbable now, it’s a mountain that we’ve nearly climbed as things stand. It’s very real, and it’s going to happen. Lives are going to be changed, and the industry is going to take a drastic turn for the better.

And, because of the choice we made to not go with a business loan and accommodate our financial needs ourselves, the first lives that Otaku Central touched were actually our own.

It’s Far From Over, But Then Again, It Never Will Be

I still have some certification requirements to meet for the job I’ve been offered, so my study situation is still there, albeit ​not quite as pressing as it’s previously been. More time needs to be allocated for housing and living considerations, since I’m going to have to relocate for this job.

Pulling out some of the old budgeting documents for OC this last week, it’s interesting to read through our plan and see what minor changes need to be made to account for industry shifts that have taken place in the last two years. We’re also going to need some additional staff for artwork and translation, so we’ll need to get the ball rolling on that, too.

I guess the point that I’m getting at is that there’s still no downtime for me – it’s still very much “business as usual” on the homefront. But, that being said, I’m practically in a constant state of being on Cloud Nine these days. And how could I not be? Things are falling into place just as they needed to.

2019 is going to be a wild year for Otaku Central. We’ll likely have the production-level server infrastructure in place for our site by the end of this year, as well as a plethora of site changes and revamps that will provide some of the new features that we’ve had on the back burner for the last two years. Contracting and translation will also get going at the start of 2020, with the final go-live version of the site to follow suite shortly after.

I hope you’re as excited about all this as I am. The anime revolution that we’ve all been waiting for is almost here, and the only thing slowing it down is ​time.

Caleb
Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, owner of the non-profit animation streaming service 'Otaku Central', and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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