Brian Trautman is the owner and captain of the Sailing Vessel Delos. In part 1 of our interview with him, he speaks to us about the wide variety of jobs that led him to forge his own path to become a successful sailing blogger. In part 2, he’ll discuss what it’s like to recruit and manage a crew and succeed in an emergent industry.
The Delos is a 53-foot Amel Super Maramu built in France in 2000. Brian bought the boat in 2008 and eventually took on his brother, Brady, and met Karin while in New Zealand. In the intervening years they’ve taken on crew, over 50 total, who help sail the ship and become the co-stars of their popular travel videos.
Compensation Science: Before managing a sailboat and a travel blog, you worked in a wide variety of roles. What was your early career like?
Brian Trautman: I had what I would consider to be a pretty typical American educational experience. My Dad was self-employed and supported our family by running a small sandwich shop and deli in Flagstaff, Arizona. We didn’t have a lot of money and lived paycheck to paycheck so I attended normal public schools. Straight out of high school I started working for the phone company (U S West). I was the guy in the truck with the spikes on my boots that would climb the poles and repair the lines after a storm knocked them down. It was a cool job and I got to work outside which was nice. I actually really enjoyed it.
One of the major benefits is that as a Union employee the phone company would pay 100% of my tuition to further my education. I started taking night classes at a community college, and finally transferred to the University of Washington. Working full time while attending the engineering college was tough, but I made it happen. It took six years but I finally graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering and got offered a job as a Program Manager by Microsoft just across Lake Washington in Redmond. Microsoft was an interesting place to work, much different than the culture of the older style phone company I was used to. The Redmond campus at that time had just over 35,000 employees, all very smart and at the top of their field. I learned a lot there and got to work on the massive Windows team for almost two years. One day during a meeting with my manager he closed his office door and said “Brian, look at this org. chart.” On the back of his door was a massive chart starting with Bill Gates at the top, then hundreds of nodes from SVP to VP finally ending up at Director at the bottom. If you weren’t a director (managing 100’s of people) you didn’t make the chart. He continued “It’s my goal to be on this chart someday. What’s yours?” This is what really started me thinking about my place in the world and what I wanted to do with my life. Striving to appear as a node on someone’s org. chart really didn’t appeal to me. Within a few weeks I put in my notice, along with two other friends from Microsoft and we started our own software consulting company. As it turns out for the first few years Microsoft was actually our biggest customer as they were favoring contract work instead of hiring more full time employees at the time.
We ended up growing the company to about 35 employees, and it was a fantastic experience. Very fast paced with a do-anything start up mentality. I was able to learn a lot about managing and motivating people, and generating new customers. It was a crash course in running a small company. The business ran great and did well right up until the global financial meltdown in 2008/2009. Within a period of 3 months about 90% of our business dried up. By this time we had been running the company for a few years, and it was starting to mature and I grew restless. It became more about growing the business and paying the bills than the technology, and I felt myself becoming less passionate about the day to day operations. The last few years I had been fantasizing about traveling and taking some time off. I think Americans are expected to go to school, graduate, get a house and mortgage, and work until you retire. I didn’t realize it at the time, but taking time off to travel and explore really isn’t ingrained into Americans as it is other countries. I could have easily ridden out the financial storm but the thought of doing the same thing for the next 20-30 years really didn’t appeal to me. I had stashed some money away during the good years and with the down turn in the economy it was a perfect opportunity to take some time off. So I sold everything, turned the business over to my partners, and bought Delos with the intention of going sailing for 1.5 or 2 years. At least that was the plan! Continue reading