I was recently having a discussion about the rise of a charter school system in the State of Texas with a past colleague of mine. It began as an after school program inside of a church after hours, and has gained enough momentum to now be in multiple cities with ‘affluent’ people beckoning its participation within their communities. Over two decades, the after school program accelerated, snowballed, accrued assets and resources to produce a force that attracted wealth and hope as a solution to a dysfunctional educational system. Their largest ‘make it or break it’ moment came in the form of an Obama stimulus grant, during one of our most bleakest economic periods. As entrepreneurs, that is what we all aspire toward, the embracing of our ideas, concepts and solutions to world problems.
Rightfully, this is how we define success in our society. In a post-COVID world, we see massive corporations and Fortune 500 companies receiving bailouts by the federal government with tax payer money. In 2008, many of us within the United States heard that banks and other institutions were ‘too big to fail.’ These organizations have become so large that they embody their own ecosystem of resources without real ‘individual ownership’. Those that are publicly traded operate with hundreds and thousands of shareholders to maintain their momentum. As their capacity to produce progress slows, so does their net worth and investment. Everyone is excited to capitalize on momentum and acceleration. The faster the move, the larger the snowball.
On a smaller scale, as consumers, we attempt to embody their spirit and worth by accruing materials like cars, jewelry, the latest technology, real estate, etc. In truth, this is not the same as accruing assets that produce utility and inherent value. Many of us, become ensnared in debt to advance our assets ahead of their utility. Admittedly, it is an exhilarating feeling when you drive off the lot in your brand new car or peel the wrapping from that fresh, unscathed iPhone. We’re programmed to appreciate the new, the better and the more than we have now.
So, what’s the point? You worked hard, you deserve that Porsche. Of course you do, you busted your ass, go get yourself that car! Or, wait, take a breath and think about your financial capacity to maintain that car’s presence in your life. Monthly payments to the bank, maintenance such as oil and tires, insurance and the list goes on. As an entrepreneur, your mindset should not be about ‘budgeting and saving money’ as much as it is about building cash flows to create further momentum. When you have liquid assets, you need to capitalize on those investments to produce further gains such as stocks, other businesses, people, and leveraging current equipment to produce verticals. Eventually, the cost of the Porsche becomes a small fraction of the wealth momentum you have created.
What do I know? Well, I’ve been there. I went after the shiny car and the sexy office. I thought that these would produce better returns and not only overhead that slowed me down. So I got great photos, check them out…but what value did they really bring? Yes, they were a result of incredible hard work paying off, but in hindsight, they were the wrong investments. It is important to not only celebrate when the good is good, but invest so its even better later on.
The charter school didn’t take off because the owner drove a Tesla, though he does now. It gained momentum due to its snowballing of programs that benefitted communities, attracted new students, drew in quality educators and private donors. As the school shifted from an after school program, to a network of schools, it had enough value on the books to draw major support. The rest, is essentially history. Managing momentum and maintaining it is a whole other discussion and one I, myself, have yet to master. To summarize, don’t focus on the material rewards, focus on diversification and revenue streams. Liquid assets (cash) and a substantial cashflow will net you all the eventual rewards.
Adapt. This is key. It’ll open the door to the way out of the situation. If you read my most recent post So You Want to be an Entrepreneur you will recall me mentioning having lived out of my car. This goes way back, to the beginnings of my time in the workforce. The year is 2008 and after 8 years in office, George W. Bush, Jr.’s administration and the banks have ruined our economy for personal gain. The stock market is crashing, houses are being foreclosed and cars are being repossessed. The American Dream is dead. Come early 2009 people have all been laid off and guess what, the bills are due.
At the time, I was working for an oil and gas company in Colorado as a Well Planner Engineer. I was 19 years old in 2008. I got this job by working down the street from their facility at Wal-Mart in overnight soft-lines processing. After my shift, I would show up at their offices in the early morning as they opened. I made it clear that I was hungry for the opportunity and eventually got one after less than a month. Long story short, 6 months later I was out on my ass along with the rest of the country. I took my new car, a 2008 Infiniti G35 coupe, and drove out to Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. This was a place the industry would later move to, but hadn’t arrived yet. Timing is everything.
I spent two weeks hitting the pavement, driving out to New Brunswick, New Jersey looking for work. Unfortunately, the economy was worse off in the Northeast than it was in Colorado. Things were difficult, but I was hungry. I leveraged my support network and after two weeks of sleeping in that car at the Johnson & Johnson park, I drove down to Virginia where I had family. I spent an additional two weeks there looking for work and ended up giving in to the inevitable. In one 24 hour drive, I made it back home to the place I never wished to return. This was the beginning of the much needed shift in my mindset. One shouldn’t expect people to give you opportunities, you make them yourself.
Eventually, after 6 months of unemployment, I found work at Texas A&M University – Kingsville for a Title V Federal grants program. This will be a whole other story as it deserves some critique on its own. Long story short, it taught me a lot about how higher education functions and the incredible amount of issues and politics that exist within. If it weren’t for student loan debt, these institutions would have imploded a long time ago. This plays back into the whole idea of giving more than you take and not taking more than you give. One shouldn’t use government policy as a means to keeping the boat afloat. It’s simply bad practice. Moving along, after 3 years, turmoil at the top arises and the bosses are let go so the powers that be can pillage the coffers. Knowing well enough that this is a sign to abandon ship, I resign.
This departure begins my entrepreneurial journey, and there are many smaller instances of disaster that occur up to the COVID-19 catastrophe. The biggest, and most important, is that my mother has a massive stroke on August 3, 2017 in the OR at Bay Area in Corpus Christi, Texas. My world is shaken to its core and everything I knew and valued is uprooted. She is without healthcare insurance and those who are aware, means you don’t matter in the United States. You won’t receive adequate rehabilitation and you’ll be cast aside to decay in a long term care facility. This was truly unacceptable to me for my mother, whom raised me through turbulent times of her own, to be disregarded. I fought tooth and nail for her recovery. It is times like these when you’re pushing up against a massive system designed to place barriers in your path that you learn what your true grit is.
The important lesson here is that you adapt. Difficult times will be upon us all and in situations like COVID-19, we’re all in this boat together. You’ll find yourself surrounded by people who care about your well being and if they’re in a position to, will offer their support. Don’t let the stress of a situation overwhelm you into submission. Take a moment to fall to the floor, cry, let it out, then get back on your feet. Make a list of what needs to be dealt with and paint a full picture of your situation, finances and health alike. Begin identifying pathways to drawing down on negative cashflow and prioritize whats important. Life is full of ups and downs but push back hard and you’ll eventually find your way out of it.
How did we get here? Let me guess. You’re tired of being screwed over by the places you work or the people you work for. Welcome to my our world. This life isn’t easy and it comes with a lot of stress but the rewards will be worth it. I want to help you be successful as an entrepreneur. Your job is a big one. Not only must you create opportunity for yourself but you must create it for your community. It isn’t going to be easy. You’re going to fall flat on your face many times and those that love you one day may hate you another. You also will have to bootstrap this. Let’s be real. Nobody is going to come along and give you a huge check and say good luck, make us proud. In fact, they’ll do the exact opposite. They’ll string you along, waste your time, pretend they have more than they do and steal from your wallet while you’re distracted. Don’t give in. Don’t give up. Your community needs you.
Ok, so I sound a bit cynical. Let’s rewind. My story will unfold over time to help you relate as chances are I know what you’re going through. You’re hungry, either for food or for opportunity. You want to work and bills are piling up. You have a desire to learn and to better your life. Chances are, you’ve either created something beautiful already and nobody knows it, or you’re fighting for attention. If you’re only beginning your journey or have doubts, I promise you, this is the correct path. You have many crossroads ahead of you and decisions to make. Hopefully together, we can navigate these rapids and keep you afloat. Let’s start off by saying, avoid the banks. Debt is your enemy. If you cannot create what you want without it, you aren’t beginning the journey at the right place.
If you’re American, I have news for you. There is this barrier to entry I like to call a ‘poverty tax.’ This ‘tax’ is your lack of stability. It’s the shaky foundation beneath your feet because you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth. It’s why you’re asking yourself, can I do this? That car you have? There is a payment to someone. The roof over your head? That phone you have? There is a payment. The computer you need, the software, the gas…you owe someone for it all. This is the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur. It’s the early stages before you own that vehicle outright or have the equipment you need to provide a service. It’s the rent due on your success every month. This is your first goal to overcome and that pathway you were sold in high school on college? This is the consequence.
You were designed through our education process to work for someone else. Let that sink in. The rules you were taught. The lessons you learned through your adolescence were all to be a good employee. Let that outrage you, because it should. If you’re here, chances are you realize that the carrot dangled in front of you never came to fruition. That $50,000 job out of college? Doesn’t exist, right? If it does, you didn’t get it. Opportunities for exposure? They aren’t worth it and don’t pay the bills on poverty tax. In my almost 9 years of doing this, I have never seen ‘exposure’ pay off. If someone offers it to you, its because they want you to do the work on their dream and can’t afford to pay you. Avoid it like the plague. These people don’t help you build value, they take it.
This all might sound like rules, but they’re hard lessons learned. Through entrepreneurship, you’ll figure out what our society really is. You will realize that at each step of the way, someone will always have their hand open asking for more. Protect yourself and what you’re building. Over time, you will identify who is your friend and who is simply taking from you. Those that give back? Keep them close, they’re precious. Your network is key to your long term success. There are over 6 billion people in this world and you need to find the ones that you can SHARE value with. In the early days, you have very little to work with. Find others who have the knowledge and resources to help you overcome barriers. Most importantly, understand how you can be of value to them as well. Give more than you take and take less than you give. This is the way.
So I’ve laid out a few things for your journey. You’re going to stumble and trip a few times. That’s ok. This is how you learn. Mistakes will have bigger value than your successes. Most importantly, slow and steady wins the race. Don’t get too big for your britches and don’t undervalue what you have to offer. This hurts everyone in your industry and creates an expectation of ‘cheap’ labor. As we go along, I’ll share with you how I went from living in my car after being laid off, to making six figures a year in my 20s. The journey is a wild one, but it keeps life interesting. Challenges will come and we’ll face them together. Welcome to entrepreneurship. The clock is ticking and those bills are due.
Photo by The Bend Magazine and Lillian Jean Photography
Amid the bustling bayside hub of port comings and goings, a booming medical mecca, and refineries running at full steam, there is the network of creatives who are building their brands into thriving business ventures. If you are a downtown regular, you’re likely already privy to the art scene, along with its growing community of eclectic minds all banding together to put the Coastal Bend on the map for film and art education. One such group mastering the craft of turning raw creative energy into works of on-screen art is Pomegranate Studios.
Read the full story on The Bend website.
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