Portfolio Careerist – Alex Eichner

Alex Eichner, web programmer, receives over 10 calls a day from recruitment agencies. The company he works for regularly offers him new opportunities. He turns these offers down. Why?

“The day job is a means to an end,” Alex explains. “Most of the money I earn goes towards other creative projects.”

When he’s not at the office, Alex, 32, can be found building his portfolio career. This means working on a series of software modules, steering the leisure company he part owns, freelancing as a web designer and managing property conversions.

This sounds like an extraordinary amount of hard work after hours. Has he ever been tempted to shelve his entrepreneurial schemes and climb the corporate ladder instead?

“Not so far, no. It’s not hard to stay focussed because I don’t like working for other people. It’s great if you want to give me more money or a more prestigious job, but the end result is that I’m still working for someone else.”

It is his software design enterprises which Alex hopes will lead him to full time self-employment. This would mean the fruition of a long term plan set in motion six years ago, when he was working as an IT support technician.

“I had been doing the job for 10 years,” Alex says, “7 years with the same company. It was very boring and I went nowhere. In that 7 years my salary went up by £3000. So I was earning very little, and I was doing very little, and I knew all there was to know about the job. Then I hurt my shoulders. I had to have two operations and was bedridden for about 6 months. So I thought – What am I going to do? I’d just met Jen, my wife, and I decided I wanted a future. So I started learning to program.”

Alex studied the art of programming with the Open University in the evenings. Once qualified, he changed jobs and started working as a support technician who could also program.

Over time this role has morphed, so that now he does purely programming plus some business development for the company. Alex plans to stick with it for another 2 or 3 years, by which time the software he’s writing will be complete. So far, things are going according to schedule.

“I’m a third to halfway through the 6 modules,” he tells us. “Whenever I complete one the sense of achievement is far greater than if I’d done it for someone else. I live for that feeling of “I’ve done that”. It’s not like an adrenalin high, it’s further reaching than that. It’s a sense of contentment rather than an explosion of emotion. You have to work hard to get that, it’s better than getting drunk. Addictions are the easy way – I know, I’m a smoker!”

Alongside his software project, Alex plays an active role in Leisure Pursuits, a friend’s company which he invested in 3 years ago. With clients ranging from corporate teams to groups of stags and hens, Leisure Pursuits offers the opportunity to drive monster trucks and buggies across rough terrain.

Alex manages the IT and marketing side of the company, as well as being involved in strategy-planning. He explains: “When I go on site, I go in the capacity of someone who’s there to make things happen. I talk to companies to see how we can benefit most from the situation in question.”

Alex devotes Mondays and Tuesdays after work to Leisure Pursuits. On spare evenings, if he’s ahead of time with his software project, he freelances. “I’ve got a quite a long queue of people who want websites or software built,” he tells us. “Although I don’t advertise, when I need the work I’ve got it.”

When he was first entering the commercial world, Alex built 6 free websites in order to create a portfolio. Many of the commissions he gets today are linked to the contacts he forged through this strategy.

Alex’s passion for construction in the virtual world is matched by his passion for construction in the real world. Working alongside his cousin, he has already renovated and sold on one property. He is currently residing in the second, a large terraced house in East Grinstead, West Sussex. The plan is to convert this property into two flats, with the various options of renting them both out, selling them both, or living in one and renting out or selling the other.

In 5 plus years’ time Alex would like to be working for himself, ideally with a staff to maintain his software packages so he can go out and sell them. He would like to have renovated another property and sold it. Finishing the trilogy and a collection of stories would also be a bonus, he tells us, adding: “But I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t get published.”

A key aim is to buy a house with land in the country, somewhere where he and his wife can keep horses and raise a family. “That’s £750,000 right there! I would also like a couple of great holidays a year and to be able to afford private schooling for our children, if that’s what they want to do.”

Although making money is of course important to Alex Eichner, it is more of a means to an end than a goal in itself. “I want the money for the house and so I can work for myself. I don’t need to be a millionaire and if I was I’d still do what I do.”

Alex also lives by the principle that a proportion of time and energy should be invested in voluntary projects. At the moment he is pioneering a campaign to rejuvenate the Tudor town centre of East Grinstead.
“I work 80% of my time for myself and family and 20% of my time I like to give back,” he tells us. ”The East Grinstead Project is my current way of giving back to the community.”

It is clear that Alex Eichner’s ambition in all areas, both paid and unpaid, is fuelled by the need to create, to harness his constant stream of ideas and make them a reality. And there is of course that abundance of energy to use up.

“I’m no good at staying still,” he laughs. “I have to be moving all the time.”


With his business projects being funded by a full time salary, you might say that Alex is acting as his own investor. In today’s financial climate, maybe this low risk approach to entrepreneurship is the way to go. The only drawback is having to cram a vast amount of work into your day – often a challenge for those of us with a portfolio career.

We were encouraged to hear how Alex and his builder friend have been trading skills. Exchanging services seems to be a growing trend, perhaps because of the economic downturn, perhaps because the internet is making it easier for people to find each other. If you fancy a spot of good old fashioned bartering, have a look at websites such as u-exchange.com, or just put the word out among your social networks. Also inspiring is Alex’s 80/20 worklife rule – is this the ideal balance to strike?

One thing that really stands out about Alex is that he’s driven by the desire to achieve and to be his own boss, rather than just to earn pots of money. This seems to be a trait shared by many who pursue the entrepreneurial life. What motivates you? Elise & Jon