Knowing when to exit business to go back to school

I have been described as a “purple unicorn with a rainbow-colored horn” and various other euphemisms, mostly pleasant after starting high school at least. Looking across the past decade, I launched from a kid digging through the garbage for electronics to repair and sell, into one in the top decile charging over $200/hour as an expert in wireless system design, buildout and problem resolution. The question has come up of whether to double-down, taking the 800 MHz proceeds and pour it into UHF networked trunking systems. We have to build out a modest system to cover for the 800 MHz channels sold, yes. But there is a problem in that the analog Passport system is not cheap, considering the microwave backhaul as well. Yes we’ll have extra backhaul capacity to sell–but as Nextel continues to expand coverage and people get more interested in telemetry/data solutions, building out an analog voice network may not be the choice anymore. The backhaul alone may not be enough to sustain the investment.

I am starting to realize that I have to step back for now, finish my degree. Part of my “problem” is that I am interested in medicine, law and engineering. I have started conversations with people in each field and they are all encouraging, there are ways to combine the degrees like MS/JD, MD/PhD etc. Like always, the issue is Risk/Reward/ROI. Engineering is the sure choice, but mixing in elements of MD/JD can maybe bring rewards without the investment of a degree in those fields. Oh yeah I almost forgot, MBA.

We have built something great together, a real network that with buildout via roaming can cover Cleveland to Chicago and beyond. Of course, people wanting that service would go to Nextel, so it’s not worth building out a voice system to that extent as the ARPU would be too high for the end user to tolerate vs. Nextel. I believe that the competing system would be a radio handset with the features of Nextel (except half-duplex phone) and 1/3 the ARPU. The problem is the long-lauded digital tech is just not here yet, and the sense I get from those in the know is it’s a few to several (!) years away for commodity digital radio handsets.

So why not go to school, watch the market, if it’s going to go hot, stop at BSEE. If it’s questionable, do MSEE. If doubtful market, go to PhD–that’s a 5 year commitment so I need to be sure sitting out of the market is worth it. I believe these digital systems will have more built-in diagnostics like the high-end systems I work with, where I can do things more over the phone vs. running out with the Aeroflex. Less revenue but a lot less investment.