Chapter 2

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Six months earlier, David started the day with a cup of coffee, black. He began the morning ritual with the beans. He made sure they were freshly roasted, never pre-ground. He read somewhere that they lose their notes within minutes of grinding.

His grinding process was an important sub-ritual, starting with the grinder. He preferred burr mills to blade grinders because they produced less heat. For the same reason, ceramic was preferable to metal. He worried about burning out the volatile bean oils. Burr grinders also gave him the best consistency. He was particularly fond of coffee beans from Ethiopia, Kenya or Panama.

Like most days, David decided to use a Chemex filter. Water flowed through the grinds more slowly than a regular filter. David poured carefully boiled water into his sweet Ethiopian grinds. As he waited for the first pour of water to bloom the grinds, he picked up his phone and called Andrew.

"I have a plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel," said David.

Many phone calls between David and Andrew started with a Blackadder quote. David hadn't actually seen an episode of Blackadder, but his best friend quoted it so often that he started doing it himself.

"So what's the cunning plan this time?" asked Andrew.

The chair squeaked heavily on the turn-of-the-century hardwood floor as David dragged it near the bay window. His small mission-style apartment had a view of lush flowers and green foliage. He continued to pour water carefully into his glass carafe.

"I am going to buy a website that sells jellyfish aquariums. Easy money."

"David, that's a terrible idea."

"This thing will pay for itself in ten months. After that, pure profit."

"How many people do you know who want jellyfish?" asked Andrew. "How will they find you? What do you even care about jellyfish?"

"That's not the point. The website has carved out the niche already. The work is done. I just collect royalties."

"How much does it cost?"

"Twenty thousand."

"Pennies?"

"Dollars."

"David, it's a terrible idea."

David had put a bid in for the website two weeks ago.

He was obsessed with financial independence. He read so much about passive income that he considered himself an expert on it. Theoretically, anyway. Financial independence was the American dream of the millennial generation: out-source your day job to cheap labor and virtual assistants. Then use your extra free time to create passive income streams by carving out small niches on the Internet.

Niches like jellyfish aquariums.

Eventually (so the theory went) you would only need to work a few hours a week. All goods were drop-shipped, so you didn't need to hold inventory, the bane of most retail businesses. You checked on the fully automated system and answered a support email or two and everything would work out great.

David thought he had an advantage over most of his generation because he had been a programmer since middle school. His mom bought him his first computer, an Apple Performa 6116CD with 8 MB of RAM. The CD stood for CD-ROM drive, but it might as well have been an abbreviation for "Compelling Distraction," because that's what it became the day he discovered the World Wide Web. One morning, before his first class of the day, he snuck into a science room that was home to his school's newest computers. When he uploaded his first website and saw that anyone could read what he wrote, he was hooked.

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