Taking flight from the ashes
Posted on September 2, 2014
I vividly remember the day I decided to be an entrepreneur. It was more of an act of desperation than a choice. My family was struggling to make ends meet, I was 14, and I was trying to carry my own weight to help out the family. A few weeks before Christmas, I decided to get a job at anywhere that would employ me. I had a map laid out of all these companies that were in walking distance from my house, there were nearly 30 of them. I dressed up in my “church clothes” put on two pairs of socks and my lucky t-shirt beneath my dress shirt and headed out the door at 8 a.m. I really needed luck that day because the temperature was -34 degrees Celsius (I live in Alaska), and I would need far more than two pairs of socks and a coat to keep warm. I applied everywhere the grocery store, McDonalds, Taco Bell, everywhere with my resume showing all of my good grades, and showcasing my new haircut. Needless to say, I considered myself very unlucky, because none hired me, or even called back. That day I realized that all of my grades, fresh haircut, and charisma would not get me a job.
With hindsight being 20/20, my assumption of being the luckiest man alive has been reaffirmed, because if I had have been hired during that season of my life, I likely would never have made that conscious decision of “if no one is going to hire me, I will hire myself”. After I made that decision, I have been employed a few times to keep money in my pockets, and raise money for my own ventures. Now, I have four employees and dozens of volunteers that work for me.
The Early Days
Like many people that come from similar backgrounds, I have always considered myself as a “hustler” in that I had a hustle to make some chump change. I remember in highschool, I really began to develop a business mind, and recognizing markets based off of everyday complaints. An example was the school system stopped selling sodas and quality junk food for lunch because everyone was trying to eat health. So what I did was I orchestrated a little hustle where my friends with cars would go buy pizzas, cheeseburgers, and sodas then return to school and we would sell them to the students at high prices.
I proudly admit, that sometimes my entrepreneurial spirit has gotten me in trouble. One time, I was enrolled on Semester at Sea, and lived on a ship. Living on a ship, students only have access to what you give them. So what I did, was I stocked up on candy, blank dvds, sodas, and ran a little store from my room, and undersold the ships store with my inventory, and at times, I even oversold them. I really got in trouble this time, because apparently that was against ship policy. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate a deal to lessen my reprimanding, by donating the rest of my large inventory to an orphanage in Cape Town.
In 2011, I studied in Prague, Czech Republic where I learned the concept of social entrepreneurship under Scott Sherman with the Transformative Institute. I created a massive business plan filled with half polished ideas, the ideas were so many, that it made sense to make smaller companies out of them instead of a huge one doing several different things. So that is what I did, I made Project Phoenix the parent company of all of my companies such as the current operating ones HandMade, VisualAid, and CurrentEnergy.
The first of these businesses was HandMade. HandMade started out as a clothing manufacturing company that employed homeless people and gave them access to services that would help them get on their feet such as affordable housing, financial and emotional counseling, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Everything was perfect, the pilot-run was up and running in the summer of 2012, the company was beautiful. I learned exactly what I needed to know, but our product sucked and refused to move off the shelves. But the idea itself was a diamond in the rough. Between school, traveling, and everything else, I did not have time to save it. So I temporarily shut it down, until I have more time to put into it. I have already restructured it, and developed a product that is sure to sell, I am just waiting to graduate from college this upcoming spring and then, I’m letting HandMade loose.
Right now I work primarily with VisualAid and CurrentEnergy and I really enjoy it. I enjoy what I do, and the impact it helps to make on society. Growing up my dad used to tell me, “Do something that you love, and would do even if you would not get paid.” I work on my companies around 60 hours a week, and I have not been paid yet. It is weird, my initial goal was to get rich, now it is to enrich others. To me money is just a tool and means to an end, and not ends to a mean. I have yet to pay myself, because I prefer to put the money back into the company.
I remember being in elementary school and the teacher asked the class, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My friend enthusiastically replied, “A drug dealer.” Coming from where I came from, that made perfect sense. The drug dealers could afford necessities, they could afford the 40 cent reduced lunch at school, while us squares were often hungry. The older ones had cars, they had the pretty girlfriends, and a lot of friends, we glorified the lifestyle they lived and didn’t give much thought about the negative way they went about to achieve it.
The businesses that I have developed and plan to develop are not based primarily towards communities that are stricken with gang violence, but a bigger problem the lack of economic opportunity. It is my understanding that what a man is unable to make, he will take. If there were more opportunity in the hoods, townships, ghettos, slums and villages crime would decrease, and a better quality of life would rapidly develop. People do not like robbing, killing, and crime, they do it to survive. A lot of dismissive people would say something along the lines of an unwillingness to work and turn it into a racial conversation, but what they do not realize is that McDonalds cannot employ an entire community. The question is then, why is that identical communities across the globe have been systematically deprived, not through law but through practice, and how can we fix it? So the job is for entrepreneurs like me to bring education (VisualAid) and employment to them (HandMade & CurrentEnergy).
People often glorify the image of being an entrepreneur as someone that is a “one man band”, but it would of been impossible for me to have walked this path alone. Throughout this entire mind boggling, sleepless, and extremely fun journey I have had mentors, friends, and family to guide me through. A lot of what I have applied I literally learned from the people around me such as Ruthann Crosby-Cleeves, Ricky Castillo, Ken Miller, and Jim Muller who all have had a share of shaping the business mind and the leadership that I carry today.
In the far future, one of my biggest fantasies is to build an underground city. Right now I am taking a working vacation at Walt Disney World so I am more inspired than ever. It’s going to be amazing, and totally self-sustainable I even know what I will call it, I am just a few billion dollars short, but it’s coming.
I really like collaborating and creating synergy with other organizations. If you have any questions, ideas, or just want to chat feel free to contact me email@example.com