How I Built Online Business made Passive Income and Sold it Step by Step Brandon C White Build a Business

Cranking away on the LC 475 in our “office”


A Partner from Sequoia Capital Showed up at My Door

How it All Started

On a fall morning in 1998 I was working at our headquarters and there was a knock at the door. My heart rate picked up about 20 beats and I thought to myself, “Did he actually come to see me?”

Here’s what was going on: the day before I had received an email from a potential angel investor we were talking with about the possibility of investing in the social networking and e-commerce site for sport fishermen we were building.

The angel investor explained that he was having lunch with a venture capitalist (VC) earlier in the day and as an aside they got to talking about what they did for fun. The VC said he loved to fish. The angel investor replied that he loved fishing as well and that he happened to be talking with my partner and I about the site we were building. The VC asked the name of the site and the angel investor replied, Worldwide Angler. The VC, with a surprised look, said he used the site all the time and that he wanted to talk with the founders.

The email from the angel investor said he didn’t want to give our plan away, but strongly suggested I take him up on his proposal to make an introduction. With nothing to lose, I graciously thanked him for the offer and said we’d love an introduction. A few hours later I received an email that read:

 Hi Brandon,

I’m Tom from Sequoia Capital. You might have heard of us—we’ve invested in companies like Yahoo, Cisco, Apple, and some others.

I heard about your company during lunch yesterday with Matt. He had good things to say.

I’d love to come see you tomorrow and learn more about your company.


Can you imagine getting an email like this?

While one part of me was thrilled at this opportunity, another part questioned, “Yeah right, a partner from Sequoia Capital, one of the most successful venture capital firms of all time, wants to come see me tomorrow because he’s interested in our fishing site?!”

Not that I didn’t think we deserved it, but really, this guy was interested in us?

Heart pounding, not knowing whether to believe this or not, I wrote back:

Dear Tom,

Thank you for the email and interest. I’d love to meet with you tomorrow morning.

Attached is our business plan for your review.

Our address is
260 North St., Easton, MD

If you have any problems with directions or anything else don’t hesitate to email or call.

PS: Bring some warm clothes in case we go fishing.

That’s how the knock at the door happened.

I walked downstairs and opened the door, stared at the guy and said,

“Hi, I’m Brandon,” as I stretched out my hand to shake his. Tom says, “Hi Brandon, I’m Tom,” while shaking hands with a slight grin on his face as if some part of me had let on this was just a little surreal.
“Nice to meet you. Welcome,” I replied.

Tom came in, I thanked him for driving over to see us and about a minute into the conversation Tom asked about our office and suggested we head over to it.

“That’s a great idea,” I exclaimed without missing a beat. I turned and started walking up our creaky hardwood pine stairs and motioned to him to follow. When I turned to see if he was coming I saw his grin had turned into a perplexed look. I turned around and kept going up the stairs a little more nervously than before.

I led him into the spare bedroom in our house. You’ll remember I said I was working at our HQ office earlier in this story. HQ was code word for spare bedroom.

At this point in my life my then girlfriend, now wife, and I had scraped together every last cent we had to buy our small house for $108,000 not far from downtown Easton, MD. It was built in 1907, sturdy as an ox, but it was far from big and definitely not fancy.

Tom walks into our “HQ office,” pauses, looks around slowly, and scans the two desks we had against the wall facing the street, the whiteboard on an easel in the back right corner that had our business diagrammed, the small fly tying desk, and another table with a printer on it against the back wall that divided our headquarters from our sleeping quarters, aka our bedroom.

As Tom takes in this scene I realize he probably expected a “real” office, something more substantial that a Silicon Valley startup might have. Before I could get out a word in self-defense Tom asks, “Is this it?”

I didn’t have time to panic, and without missing a beat I replied, “Well, my partner works out of his spare bedroom that he turned into an office down the road. We can go see it you want?”

At this point I’m convinced Tom showed up with much higher expectations and any hopes of him helping us were quickly fading. So, believing I knew what was going on in this moment, I said, “You came here expecting a lot more and I’m really sorry you drove all the way from D.C. this morning. Maybe I should have explained where we were in more detail when I emailed you back. I’m really…”

Tom interrupted me immediately, “Hey man, relax. It’s okay. I’ve been using your site and you look a lot bigger from the outside. I’m surprised you can run the site from this room. I’m impressed. You don’t have to apologize. This is how we found Cisco. They were making routers in their living room.”

Writing that still raises the hair on my arms. Tom probably didn’t realize how that simple reassurance affected me, or maybe he did and that was the point in him saying it. Now that we’ve been close friends for over 22 years, I now know he’s way too smart for it to have been unintentional. Of course he meant it. He’s probably reading this right now with a smile and letting out the gentle laugh he gives when you’ve figured out something that he already knew. But he knew you needed it figure it out on your own for it to have had a meaningful impact.

I remember that feeling like it was only a moment ago, full of unbridled confidence, optimism, doubt, fear, and courage all at once. When people ask me what it takes to be an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, or simply, a risk taker? My response is plainly, “You have to believe you can do the thing you don’t think you can do.”

At first glance that doesn’t make any sense. In fact, it makes about as much sense as feeling unbridled confidence, optimism, doubt, fear, and courage at the same time. But that’s what it feels like and that’s what it takes.

If you’re an experienced business owner, seasoned corporate manager, or executive, and you’re reading this to launch a new product or service or you’re looking to raise money externally or internally you know this is true.

If you’re reading this as an aspiring entrepreneur or intrapreneur, it will make sense—trust me. Being an entrepreneur is incredibly hard, not because the fundamentals of business are hard to understand, but because when they say it’s a marathon, not a race, they’re lying to you.

A marathon is long, but entrepreneurship is a lifetime of marathons back to back to back— and it will test every ounce of courage, grit, confidence, and instinct that you have.

That’s not intended to discourage you— in fact, quite the opposite. While this profession regularly tests my will and scares the shit out of me, I can’t fathom doing anything else.

You’ll feel the same and you’ll have some of the edge taken off because the template in this book increases your chances of success. It’s my goal to help you succeed!

Having someone with Tom’s experience standing in your spare bedroom telling you that you look way bigger and badder than you thought you were gives you a kind of hope that’s hard to explain, regardless of whether you’re doing your first company, your third, or launching a new product or service for the first or fiftieth time. That vote of confidence irrefutably proves that success is possible. It makes all the difference in those moments of weakness when, instead of keeping on, you are tempted to quit. Every company starts with an idea on the back of a napkin in a spare bedroom, garage, or at the kitchen table.

The reality that Cisco, one of the most successful companies in the history of tech, much less any business, started in a living room, tells the real story of how companies get started. At one point, Cisco was just a few real people, just like the rest of us, and that truth brings so much motivation and confidence that with enough hard work anyone can build a wildly successful company. When you feel down, and you will if you haven’t already, remind yourself,

But back to the story…

My tension gone, I started to explain to Tom how we did everything. From rigging up the phone system to sound like we had a bigger office, to what software we were writing—remember this is the internet in 1998. We were still working with flat HTML files. This meant we were handwriting on paper, using white out and sticking it together with Scotch tape versus using Microsoft Word or Google Docs.

After explaining how things worked and answering some questions I suggested we head to lunch. We jumped in the car for the three-minute drive to downtown Easton, MD to Washington Street Pub, a local hangout that wasn’t too fast food or too fancy.

Once we ordered, Tom flipped over a napkin and started writing. I remember it like it was yesterday, his pen’s ink bled into the paper slightly as he wrote.

He jotted four things down with plenty of space between each one:

  1. Product
  2. Market
  3. People
  4. Financing

When he was finished he said, “Let’s fill this in.” By the time we got to “market” lunch was served. We continued working through “market,” “people,” and “financing” while we ate some good pub food.

These four areas would become the basis of the modern day business plan that I’ve developed through success and failure over the last 20 years. It’s the plan you’ll learn how to quickly create for your business, product, or service using this book.
Once we filled in everything and discussed it, we’d finished eating. Since things seemed to be going smoothly, I suggested we go fishing. Tom accepted enthusiastically.

We paid the bill and headed back to “HQ” to hook up my 21ft Parker center console boat. Then we grabbed some rods and fishing tackle and in just a few minutes we were headed to the docks.

We launched and took a 30-minute ride to a high percentage spot (HPS), rigged up, and no sooner had our lines been cast, we hooked some Chesapeake Bay rockfish (aka striped bass).

We fished for about three hours with steady action before we called it a good day and headed back to the ramp.

Here’s an actual picture from that day

Fishing with Tom

Tom with a fish from that day






On the drive back, Tom asked me how much money we had in our bank account. I said I wasn’t sure. He responded, “Why not?”

I explained that we traded stocks to help fund the company. He shook his head as if he wasn’t sure he heard me right. I interpreted the headshake as an invitation to explain further and acted as if it was just a normal thing.

I went on to tell him that besides building websites for people, we mainly traded stocks to fund the company, and frankly speaking, we did really well. Ah, the internet heydays (I’m laughing while writing this).

Tom gives another nod. The one you get when a person is trying to communicate that they heard what you said, but don’t necessarily approve of it or can even believe you’re actually doing it.

He doesn’t say anything and I keep driving. A minute or two later he pulls out a checkbook. I see the spine and that about half the checks are gone, but keep an eye on the road since I’m pulling a 21ft boat at 65 miles per hour down a major highway.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch him handing me something. I look down and it’s a check, he said,

Curious, I took the check, brought my eyes back to the road to make sure we were still on it, and once I made a slight steering correction, looked backed down to read it.

It’s a check for $50,000. I look over at him and he says, “Let’s go—but, no trading with that money” half laughing, but completely serious at the same time. I reached over and shook his hand.

And that’s how you raise money. Just kidding—well, not really, because that’s how it started for me.

What’s important about this story is that while working and raising money for the business the way I did seems like it’s out of the blue, it wasn’t.

It happened because I had a business plan that clearly communicated why people needed our product, what our product was, how it worked, how we were going to market it, make money, and how we planned on financing it. AND I had a working product that had customers.

The story of Worldwide Angler is as good as a big fish story, the one that almost got away. A story during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s with twists, turns, highs, lows, even lower lows, some redemption and ultimately success.

If you really want to hear that whole story I wrote a step-by-step of how I started the site, how I built a social networking site and got people to the site (still works today) and how it played out you can read it here: How I Built the Company of My Dreams.

This story is the first chapter of a Amazon Best Seller book I wrote titled: Back of the Napkin to…Business Plan in 11 Slides. So easy you and do it on a flight from San Francisco to New York. Get the paperback or hardcover on Amazon here.

P.S. If you want to know how the story of Tom and I ended. Well, it’s still going. We’ve remained best friends for over twenty years and traveled the world catching fish together. Here’s some fun pictures.

Chile expedition to the Straits of Magellan to catch sea run brown trout in the southern most river on earth.Argentina- Chile Expedition to the Straits of Magellan to catch sea run brown trout
Seychelles Islands. Triple hook up, Tom and I on the right.  Seychelles Islands fly fishing

Mid Atlantic 500 Fishing Tournament. I fought this blue marlin for at least 90 minutes. Tom measuring. 1 inch shy of $1mBlue marlin mid Atlantic 500 fishing tournament

South Andros, Bahamas BonefishingSouth Andros bonefishing

Tom lands a giant Pacu on the Paraná River, Northern ArgentinaParaná River Pacu Argentina fly fishing

Trying to beat a rainstorm. Somewhere in the BahamasBeating a rainstorm bahamas fly fishing

Turks and Caicos Islands Turks and Caicos Islands fly fishing
South Caicos, Turks and Caicos IslandsSouth Caicos Islands fly fishing