FI Showcase: Sonya!

I’m start­ing a new series today! On my ran­dom for­ays around the Inter­net, I occa­sion­al­ly run across peo­ple who have already retired ear­ly or are finan­cial­ly inde­pen­dent. Since that’s what we’re all work­ing towards, I find it inspi­ra­tional to read details on how they achieved their goals!

That being said, let me intro­duce Sonya from! At age 27, after a mere 5 years in the cor­po­rate world, she left the cube farm to cre­ate her own busi­ness. Meow­tel began with the hope of pro­vid­ing cat own­ers with a resource to find kit­ty care and bills itself as the “internet’s pre­mier cat sit­ting web­site”.  Cat sit­ters are ref­er­ence checked before being list­ed on the site, so you know the per­son look­ing after your fur baby will do a good job! All you have to do is enter the dates you’re going to be gone and a num­ber of pro­files will pop up. All you do is pick a sit­ter and voila! You’re good to go.  As the proud slave own­er of a kit­ty, I ful­ly appre­ci­ate hav­ing a trust­ed sit­ter avail­able to look after my fur­ry over­lord friend when I have to go out of town.

Meow­tel also has ani­mal shel­ters in mind through its exclu­sive Shel­ter Incen­tive Pro­gram. Any non-prof­it ani­mal orga­ni­za­tion is allowed to sign up and post list­ings for cats in need of for­ev­er homes. When a home­less cat is fos­tered out or adopt­ed, Meow­tel offers finan­cial incen­tives to these shel­ters in order to cov­er oper­at­ing costs and light­en the bur­den. A purr­fect win-win for every­one! Even though I got a pure­bred cat, I ful­ly sup­port shel­ters and think this is an excel­lent way for them to get some addtion­al fund­ing.

(Small dis­claimer: I am in no way asso­ci­at­ed with her site, I just think it’s a real­ly cool idea).

So, grab some cof­fee, pull up a chair, sit back and enjoy the Q&A ses­sion with Sonya!

1) Tell me about your back­ground (edu­ca­tion, for­mer indus­try, what you orig­i­nal­ly want­ed to be when you grew up, etc)

I received my B.S. in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion from UC Berke­ley and then went on to work in sales for a CPG (Con­sumer Pack­aged Good) com­pa­ny. I was pro­mot­ed and relo­cat­ed three times dur­ing my 5-year tenure at the com­pa­ny, result­ing in me being set me up to tru­ly be finan­cial­ly inde­pen­dent with­in two years of get­ting out of school. Hmm…what did I want to be? I nev­er had one par­tic­u­lar pro­fes­sion in mind but odd­ly enough, I did have notions of want­i­ng to be an entre­pre­neur and run­ning my own busi­ness.

2) Why/When did you decide to start sav­ing up?

I’ve always had a knack for sav­ing so once I entered the work­ing world, I set my 401K con­tri­bu­tions to be at least 5–10% of my pay­checks and on top of that, I would put away extra mon­ey each month. Once I became a home­own­er at 24, my form of sav­ing was pay­ing my mort­gage each month and then I also start­ed con­tribut­ing to one of my mom’s rental prop­er­ty mort­gages in exchange for equi­ty, mak­ing most of my liq­uid mon­ey tied up in prop­er­ty. I hate con­sum­ing just to con­sume so I rarely buy friv­o­lous items — so that makes it super easy to save! Most of my mon­ey is spent on expe­ri­ences and food…I’m a suck­er for great food and tasty beer.

3) How long did it take you to save? 

To buy my first home, I went with an FHA loan so I only had to put about $6K down which had tak­en me about a year to save. To get to where I am now (launch­ing a start­up and boot­strap­ping a com­plex back­end sys­tem with my own cash), that took me a full 5 years of work­ing in cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca and mak­ing decent prop­er­ty invest­ments to be able to afford the project.

4) Did you have any debt?

I was extreme­ly lucky to come out of school with no debt and then by hav­ing a great job right away, I became finan­cial­ly inde­pen­dent in a very short amount of time — by the time I was 23. At the present moment, until my home sells, I’m car­ry­ing some sig­nif­i­cant debt which I plan to pay off once the home sale goes through.

5) How did you come up with a tar­get num­ber (if you had one)?

I did this total­ly back­wards. I con­sult­ed with my devel­op­ment team to see how much the entire Meow­tel project would cost and then I scrapped togeth­er cash and pro­ject­ed funds after­wards. As a result, I’ve put myself in debt by max­ing out my cred­it cards to pay for the site…with the con­tin­gency that I’d be able to pay it all off (with any amount­ed inter­est) after the sale. I’ve got­ten on edge because it has tak­en me sig­nif­i­cant­ly longer to sell my home this time around than I had planned. If you plan on quit­ting your job and launch­ing your own busi­ness, make sure you have a gen­er­ous buffer in case the uni­verse decides to throw you a curve­ball!


6) How did you get the inspi­ra­tion to start Meow­tel?

My kit­ty best friend of 17 years passed away last Jan­u­ary and it was ter­ri­bly sad…more so than I would have antic­i­pat­ed, espe­cial­ly liv­ing alone. All I want­ed was some sort of “cat share” or easy way to find cats to take care of since I couldn’t com­mit to a new for­ev­er cat at the time. There was noth­ing of the sorts, so I decid­ed to take the leap of faith and cre­ate it myself! I ran the num­bers and did my due dili­gence before just jump­ing into the project in order to make sure that it was a fea­si­ble mod­el and could gen­er­ate rev­enue in the long-term. Once I real­ized the cat care seg­ment of the pet indus­try was a $4 bil­lion mar­ket, I knew I could poten­tial­ly be on to some­thing.



7) How did you feel when you quit your job and opened your own busi­ness?

This was ter­ri­fy­ing and quite an emo­tion­al roller­coast­er even for some­one who walks with con­fi­dence each and every day. I con­stant­ly ques­tioned myself if I had made the right deci­sion and I would have men­tal argu­ments with my con­science about why it was the right choice to make. I quit on July 27th and almost 5 months lat­er, I feel assured that I def­i­nite­ly made the right choice and that this road less trav­eled will open up oppor­tu­ni­ties for me that I nev­er even could have dreamed of.

8) What’s one of the best things about being finan­cial­ly inde­pen­dent?

Def­i­nite­ly get­ting to enjoy expe­ri­ences with­out wor­ry­ing about your bud­get. While I’ve always been close­ly aware of my spend­ing and income, dur­ing my cor­po­rate career, I nev­er put a for­mal bud­get in place for myself. I was lucky enough to be able to afford all of the activ­i­ties I want­ed to do (main­ly trips) with­out fret­ting that I’d max out my cred­it cards.

9) What’s one of the worst things?

Stu­pid spend­ing! What I mean by this is that just because you can afford an extra round of drinks, doesn’t mean you need it. Lit­er­al­ly, I would spend a third of my pay­checks on eat­ing out and bar tabs and when I look back, I’d real­ize it wasn’t worth it or I could have had a much more enjoy­able meal at home. As I said above, I don’t spend on clothes, shoes, hand­bags, etc. I’m not a girly girl, so that worked in my favor. But if you’re a food­ie, def­i­nite­ly be con­scious of how much of your pay­check ends up being spent din­ing out!

10) What is the most impor­tant les­son you’ve learned so far?

Plan for the worst-case sce­nario. In putting my plan togeth­er to quit my job and launch Meow­tel, I was plan­ning for the “good” out­come and the fur­thest I got to the “worst-case” end of the spec­trum was still way off in terms of my pro­jec­tions, in fact, about $20K off. If I had planned accord­ing­ly, I’d have a lit­tle more peace of mind right now and a larg­er dis­pos­able income. Instead, I’m fru­gal­ly liv­ing off div­i­dends paid out of my IRA (I rolled over my 401K to an IRA after quit­ting) even though they’re sub­ject to a 10% ear­ly with­draw­al penal­ty. I’m also liv­ing back at home and doing odd jobs around town for extra cash to cov­er my bills in the mean­time until my house sells.

11) Has any­thing sur­prised you since becom­ing Finan­cial­ly Inde­pen­dent?

Yes…how you can take it for grant­ed. Work­ing in a cor­po­rate envi­ron­ment, you fig­ure every­one lives this way and when you remove your­self from that bub­ble, you real­ize a lot of us in our 20s have zero sav­ings, zero retire­ment funds, and work 2–3 part-time jobs just to make rent each month. Nev­er take your finan­cial inde­pen­dence for grant­ed and if you do decide to do some­thing rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent like spend your sav­ings on a start­up and then dip into your IRA to pay for grad school, I’d say do it full-heart­ed­ly with no regrets. Spend­ing so much of your sav­ings will be ter­ri­fy­ing in the short-run but pay huge div­i­dends in the long-run; you learn so much about your­self, about the peo­ple you sur­round your­self with, and tak­ing risks sets you up to take excit­ing new jour­neys which so many peo­ple nev­er get to expe­ri­ence.

12) How has your deci­sion been received from your close family/friends? 

I’d say the recep­tion has been… “sup­port­ive skep­ti­cism.” They want me to suc­ceed, and thus are sup­port­ive, but they ques­tioned the lev­el of risk I was will­ing to take in order to pur­sue some­thing I’m tru­ly pas­sion­ate about. Valid con­cerns, but I’m just a more risk tol­er­ant per­son I sup­pose. There have def­i­nite­ly been days when those around you try to make you feel guilty for what you did…as if walk­ing away from some­thing that wasn’t mak­ing you hap­py is a crime! If there’s one piece of advice I wish every­one would fol­low, it is to find out what makes you hap­py and then do exact­ly that.

13) What is your advice to any­one look­ing at doing the same thing in the future?

Plan, plan, and then cre­ate your con­tin­gency plan on top of all that plan­ning. I told myself I have essen­tial­ly 1 year to get Meow­tel off the ground and run­ning suc­cess­ful­ly before I head to grad school. I wouldn’t dive head first into such a huge project like launch­ing a start­up unless you have a back­up plan that can get you right back on your feet if you fall down. Chances are, if you’re will­ing to take the risk, that’ll open up a vari­ety of new oppor­tu­ni­ties that you nev­er even knew exist­ed. From there, you can hope­ful­ly choose a new path if that’s what you want (or need) to do!

14) Why is your favorite breed a Siber­ian For­est Cat? What is your favorite cat breed?

Oh gosh…I just love them all! I’m biased since my floofer I had for 17 years was a Himalayan Ragdoll…so, if I had to choose, it would be a Himalayan!


Gwen’s thoughts: There is no one way to achieve finan­cial inde­pen­dence. Do what makes sense for your sit­u­a­tion and run with it! If your plans don’t work out, adjust on the fly and keep going! Espe­cial­ly if one of your rewards is to get to hang out with kit­ties!

Thanks for allow­ing me to inter­view you Sonya! Good luck in your endeav­ors!

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4 thoughts on “FI Showcase: Sonya!

  1. Despite being a dog per­son, I have to say Sonya’s sto­ry is pret­ty awe­some! I’d love to know more about her rental prop­er­ties. Assum­ing that was a big­ger fac­tor for FI then straight sav­ing for two years?

    • I would assume so as well. She men­tioned a large chunk of her fund­ing was com­ing from the sale of her house. I should check in with her, since it’s been over a year!

  2. Love this.

    That’s the best kind of busi­ness, when you are try­ing to solve a prob­lem in your own life and real­ize that a lot of peo­ple could also ben­e­fit from it as well.

    Now I want to sign up as a cat sit­ter because it reminds me of how much I miss my cat.

    • If some­thing like this exists still when my floof goes over the Rain­bow Bridge I will total­ly sign up. I love hav­ing a cat but the logis­tics are a pain some­times.

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