A Q&A with Mike Coughlin, Blue Ocean Life Co. Founder

How long have you been an entrepreneur? 

I worked for my last full-time job in 2010, so 9 years. After quitting, I worked as a partner in a digital agency for 3 ½ years, and then I went off on my own to be entirely independent in 2013. Since 2013, I’ve dabbled in digital marketing, web analytics, video production, creative advertising, and most recently, I’ve been focusing on building the Blue Ocean Life Company while also trying to produce a TV show.

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Are you currently location independent?

Yes, I am. I have been location independent since I last left my full-time job back in 2010. Although technically I can work from anywhere in the world, I tend to stay within the United States to make sure I can support my clients adequately and work within their general time zones. In the future, if Blue Ocean Life Co. proves to be successful, I will be able to work wherever and where ever I want. That is my ultimate goal. For now, I would consider myself a part-time digital nomad.

Where are you currently located?

I’m currently in Massachusetts and Boston for the time being. The summer is very nice on the coast, including Cape Cod where my parents live. That’s where I got my inspiration, at least partially, for the Blue Ocean Life Company. I travel to the West Coast and Florida area frequently and hope to be going to Europe sometime this fall.

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

To me, entrepreneurship is all about freedom and not having to live by the rules of others, creatively, physically, and even emotionally. I’m all about working with a blank canvas. 

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Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I always dreamed of it. I thought I always had it in me even when I was younger. I grew up in the age when the Internet was just emerging, and I was always building different websites and even started building a memorial website for my deceased older brother. I always wanted to build a memorial foundation for him, and I felt my path to that required me to become an entrepreneur. The foundation is something I still hope to do someday once I feel that my business career has fully stabilized.

As I became older, I knew I still wanted to start my own company someday, although I never knew what type of company it was going to be. When I was in my senior year of college, I got an internship at a company in Boston that specialized in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) just as Google started to emerge. 

From there I moved to New York City where I worked at an early stage startup company that became a global leader in search engine marketing. There I gained the experience to work within a small company that wasn’t really formed yet, and I learned a lot about how to sell and market a service.

After about five years of the company, some colleagues at the company started thinking about going off on their own. Finally, I pulled the plug when work stress was too much, and I decided to partner with someone I worked with previously. Although it seemed like it was going to be easy at the time, that was just the beginning of a long and arduous journey. Over nine years later, I still find myself dealing with many challenges but have moved on to newer ventures. 

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 What challenges have you faced being an entrepreneur? How did you overcome them?

Where do I begin? There is a long list of things that have been extraordinarily challenging throughout the years.

First off, I have to say that I actually suffered from physical ailments due to overworking. I developed a repetitive stress injury, also known as RSI, as a result of too much time on the computer and cell phone and not taking enough time off. Not having vacation time for a long period of time was really bad for my health. My agency work remains very data-intensive in that I’m using Excel nearly 8 hours a day and crunching numbers. Part of the reason I started BOLC was to begin transitioning away from a job that requires too much keyboard time. To minimize RSI issues, I started being resourceful by getting Dragon Naturally Speaking, the talk to text platform, and I learned to use my left hand for mouse clicking to reduce wear and tear.

I also have dealt with a lot of stress and anxiety as a result of being on my own. During down periods, this has caused sleeplessness, and in some cases, anxiety attacks from being overwhelmed. To help combat this ongoing battle, I started listening to guided meditation tapes on YouTube and Apple Music to help reduce symptoms and to promote healing. Also, I make sure that I now turn off my phone at a certain time each night while also trying to spend a great deal of time near the ocean when possible. Recently, I tried flotation therapy at Float Boston, which has really proven to reduce my stress levels.

Other obstacles I’ve dealt with as an entrepreneur include a garden variety of not-so-fun things: partnership disputes, a contractor taking my client, falling into credit card debt, spending too much on legal bills, not having enough money to pay my own rent, and having difficulty recruiting, retaining, and managing talent. And last and not least, getting paid on time became extremely stressful. So for all the people that want to be entrepreneurs, beware that the road may be a very rough one.  

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What challenges have you faced being location independent? 

Being location independent has had both pros and cons. Being able to leave the Northeast during the winter has been fantastic as I’ve been able to spend the cold weather months and warmer climates such as Florida and California. For those that live in cold climates, they know that the winters can be depressing. Another great benefit is being able to work my own schedule so I can book flights when they are the cheapest and most convenient to my personal schedule. I generally can sleep to whatever time I want, and I don’t set an alarm clock. You’d be surprised to know that Jeff Bezos does the same thing. He lets himself wake up naturally. 

On the flip side, for the many reasons that location independence can be a great thing, it can have a significant downside. If you’re traveling too much and you sleep in too many different beds or in too many different time zones, your sleep rhythm can be out of whack. It’s harder to create and build relationships, both interpersonal and romantic, as you’re always going somewhere new and need to book travel ahead of time. Although you may feel like you’re free from the corporate world, you may feel like you’re always working and the line between your personal and professional life blurs. Sometimes it feels like you’re living to work rather than working to live outside of work.

To learn more about Mike Coughlin, read his story here or his interview on Thrive Online!

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