In The Beginning
Growing up in rural Mississippi (Rout 1 box 93b) I didn’t have much but my family was resourceful and hard working. When I could find the free time (after my chores, of course) I would tinker and break things just to see how they worked. One thing I learned early on was in the value of hard work; we basically lived off the land. I learned how to farm, hunt, fish and build whatever our family needed. And these lessons would prove valuable to me later on down the road.
I remember my entrepreneurial path officially started back when I was only nine years old. I mowed lawns for money; at our farm, we had 22 acres of which 4 acres was part of the immediate yard and had to be mowed on a regular basis. To accomplish this task I kept that grass cut with a 18″ push lawn mower. Yard work was a perpetual endeavor, in Mississippi grass never stops growing. After being freshly cut, the grass would grow back full strength in about a week’s time so cutting some part of the lawn was required on an almost daily basis. I must have mowed enough grass in my youth to cover the entire county. For this service I would earn a steady allowance that I would promptly spend at my local in-town hobby center (before hobby lobby) where I made one of my first business discoveries.
Becoming a Wholesale Pet Supplier at Age 9
I invested my lawn earnings in a 50- gallon aquarium with all the bells and whistles and in my free time I would keep all manners of creatures in it. I would put anything my dad and I caught fishing or whatever I caught from the ponds and streams where we lived. On one of my adventures I found a dark water stream deep in the woods where I discovered the most incredible species of fish I had ever seen. These unique types of fish had beautiful red, blue and yellow colors on their bodies and fins. I placed a few specimens in my aquarium tank at home and would watch them for hours. My parents were also equally impressed with these little fish. My dad would say jokingly “They look a lot better than those crawdaddies you been keeping in there”. I asked “Do you think anyone would buy them?” “They look as good as anything I’ve seen in the pet store,” my dad said. I put about 50 fish in a five gallon bucket and convinced my mom to take me to a few local pet stores in town. To my surprise the very first shop named “The Bird House” (and, yes, they sold fish too) was immediately interested in making a purchase. The owner for some reason thought they were a species of Tetra from South America. This was an idea I was totally cool to let him run with. He asked me with a look of gold fever in his eyes; “How much do you want for them?” As a young businessman I had not yet given thought to the price because, honestly, I wasn’t sure anyone would actually want to buy them. So I quoted the first price that came to mind; “One dollar each.” The owner responded, “If you sell only to me, I’ll take 100 today and 100 each month for now”. From a kid’s perspective I thought I had hit the lottery. I didn’t know much but I did know I had an almost unlimited supply of fish and a hungry market so I was in business; or so I thought. We shook on the deal; I completed the first order in two days and he gave me a check for $100 dollars. Before the next order, it all came to an immediate end. What went unnoticed to this point was the beautiful moneymaking colors on the fish would fade over time after being subjected to bright aquarium lighting. The very light that was showcasing their vivid colors was causing the fish to fade at the same time. In the dark water streams of their natural habitat there is almost no sunlight at all and the fish need the bright colors to attract each other. So as quickly as I was in business, I was out; you win some you lose some but the seeds of entrepreneurship had been planted.
What I Learned From Military Service
To earn money for college I decided to serve in the military as it seemed like a pretty good deal since my plans for a football scholarship went up in smoke when the phone did not ring. I assume my workout did not impress the local college coaches well enough. I quickly learned how the military works, being totally dependent on systems for every aspect of its operation. They take young men from all over the country with different backgrounds, strip away most of their personal identity, indoctrinate them and turn them into well-oiled killing machines. All in as little as 12 weeks. After my completion of infantry basic training and airborne school, I was shipped off to Operation Desert Storm/Shield for a 13 month tour in Iraq. Even in a war environment I discovered many business opportunities existed. As a side business I started was selling battle field items I found on the front line as souvenirs to support troops in the rear. It is often said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I also invented my quick deploy field toilet. The Porto-potty was a 5 gallon bucket with the bottom cut out of it. The operational instructions for my marvel of engineering were very simple: 1. Dig a hole, 2. Place bucket on top of hole, 3. Drop your load, 4. Cover hole and 5. Carry on.
My First Real Business while in College
With the remaining combat money I saved up, I started a wireless communications company. On the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi it seemed everyone at the time was wearing a beeper or carrying a bag phone for a legitimate reason or not. I was too dumb to know what I didn’t know; I would promote my business to anyone who would listen. In my first year in business my partners and I were awarded a resell contract with with Bell South & Mobile Comm. Being part of Bell South I had access to early versions of the Internet and text messaging (called alpha-numeric dispatch back then) way before the mainstream SMS. I could see the potential of the technology way back in 1992. My business was growing by leaps and bounds and I would find myself increasingly managing the business from class. I can remember days my professor was teaching business theory and I was handling real world issues like payroll, customer service and inventory purchasing. It was becoming clearer, I started to realize that the university system itself was a business and keeping me there was more about money for them than value for me. I ultimately lost interest in the products and services offered by the university so I decided to cut my college campaign short to pursue entrepreneurship full time.
Dark Side of The Game
As my business expanded, the need for working capital increased and I will never forget the look bankers would give me when I presented my business plans and loan requests. I don’t know if it was a dirty Southern thing as they couldn’t seem to believe I had the skills and sophistication to put those types of business plans together. Even with SBA guaranties and an established business with paying customers, they wouldn’t loan me money. With no luck from the lenders, I decided to support my business by expanding my hustle. As the owner of a communications company selling beepers and cellular phones I had plenty of access to shady characters who were strapped with cash and could talk a good game. Leveraging this street network, I landed a partnership deal in a couple of night clubs- one was named Speak Easy and the other Rumors. From the outset cash started pouring in and my ego expanded just as quickly. I guess I went from dumb to dumber by adopting image and perception of a boss player. My crew and I would watch the street hustlers home study course (Scarface & New Jack City) every day which later led to my participation in the street game. I thought with my skills in business and military training I would have an advantage and would be immune to the risks from the folks (Police) and gunplay from rivals. My cash flow continued to scale and for a time I was literally sleeping on money. I made another mistake of flaunting it by throwing legendary parties (they are still talked about to this day) with entertainers, armed security, free drugs, and the like. But it was all short lived, my stint as a boss player came crashing to an end with some of the following highlights: burning up a lot of cash (thousands) in an oven, my best friend getting shot on top of me, getting heat from the AG’s (Attorney Generals) office, being robbed twice by gunpoint, $0.0 money, no friends and no business (lost my legitimate business due to absentee management). So made another decision; I did a 180…… I quit, I was out, I figured my life spared was a good enough deal for me so I walked away from all of it as far as I was concerned. Getting out of the game is never easy as favors and debts are sometimes considered unsettled. I figured it was in my best interest for a change of scenery so I headed out west.
With life lessons learned and only $1,733.44 dollars in my pocket I headed for Laredo, Texas. I remember researching on the Internet that Laredo was the fastest growing city second only to Vegas in 1997. Laredo was known as a premier trade destination and the largest inland port in the United States. I quickly realized there were more entrepreneurs per capita than anywhere else I had been so it was my kind of place. I found an immediate opportunity in communications and provided consulting to a small chain of independent paging resellers. I would later expand into importing and exporting as well as commercial real estate investing.
The Corporate Job That Was Not To Be
Laredo was a entrepreneurs’ dream, the color of my skin which had been a disadvantage in the South had no bearing at all in this new place. Socially, there was not much to do; but from a business standpoint I’ve yet to find its equal. Somewhere between opportunities I was invited to become part of a company who sold trading seminars, teaching investors how to trade in the stock market. As a result I too became an active trader in the markets and decided to become a licensed stock broker and investment advisor. I studied hard obtained a Series 7 license, thinking money management was the way to go. The problem was I had no actual experience so I decided to apply for a job as a stock broker with an established investment firm. Over the next several days I interviewed with several of the big name brokerage houses (Merrilll Lynch, Raymond James, Waterhouse). After being turned down, HR Block decided to take a chance and give me a shot in their accredited investor division. How could I forget my first interview my bosses name was John Holmes (Really) and I was scheduled to report for work that following Monday morning at 8 am. As the time to report for work came closer I was excited and scared to death at the same time. I was about to start a job paying no less than 70k per year and at the same time I was feeling like I was selling out my entrepreneurial soul. From Laredo to San Antonio is about a two hour drive and I would need to leave Laredo by 5 am to be at my new job on time. By the time 7 am rolled around, sweat rolled off my brow as I was still in Laredo. I can remember clearly the phone ringing at 8:15 then again at 8:30 after that the phone did not ring again. Since that time I never looked back as my first and last official job started and ended at the same time.
My First Million
The real estate industry was my first major win in 2001 where I made my first million by age 29. Having a mentor was a big part of my success. Until that point, I tried to learn everything on my on which mostly led to trouble and more frustration. My mentor had been out of the real estate game for a while and with my eagerness and energy to learn actually rekindled a spark inside him so we were actually good for each other (I learned an important lesson that the students desire to learn is fuel for the teacher). My mentor taught me how to pitch deals and all the little nuances that exist in the mindset of a true deal maker. He taught me the secret Dallas Flip and how to back into profitable deals. From 2001 – 05 we participated heavily in commercial real estate, syndicating deals and I soaked up knowledge like a sponge and I even earned my CCIM designation.
Lessons Learned From FU — School of Business
Some people say you can learn a lot from the school of hard knocks but there is another private business school (by invitation only). A business school where study and midterms are graded real time and wrong answers might mean your kids don’t eat. At this school the faculty are masters of the game where you learn from basically getting F—-ed over till you learn your lesson. At FU School of Business excuses don’t matter and no one takes any prisoners. FU teaches the threeK’s of business where you can get kissed, kicked and killed all at the same time on any deal. I earned my undergraduate degree from FU dealing with international businessmen from Mexico and I earned my post graduate degree competing against some of the smartest business minds in Dallas. I learned the art of deal-making from the pros. FU taught me the real professional business game at a totally new level where these guys jack you with a pen not a gun.
At that time the real estate game was not without its challenges, market cycles, negative cash flow and personal guarantees can all come back to bite you in the ass. Making money was easy during the boom times of the early 2000’s, you could throw a rock at a property and make money because everybody wanted in. Credit was easy and lenders looked the other way. The greater fool theory was in full effect everyone believed prices would keep going up and there would always be another buyer around the corner to buy at a higher price. Until it all stopped. The bubble burst. The lack of liquidity, toxic assets and easy lending created a ripple effect through the whole real estate economy and local markets. Money all but dried up and there was no debt or equity money available anywhere. I couldn’t sell a deal to anywhere nothing was moving, no deals means no bills. My main problem was very large overhead. I was what the industry calls a credit partner and I had personally signed on a lot of debt obligations. I had a few items in my name: 10 cars, a lake home, paid trips to Beverly Hills, no limit AMEX bills and several million in real estate loans. I remember times getting so bad I had to resort to cutting grass to buy groceries from the home builders I had originally flipped the properties to in the first place. It’s a very humbling experience driving up in a 60K suv with a lawn mower and weed whacker in the back cutting lawns at $50 bucks a pop. Times might get tough but you gotta do what you gotta do. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d make a new deal and get back on my feet. I did what any other out of work out of luck professional would do. I became a consultant. I already learned a wealth of knowledge getting in and out of my own troubled business deals. The good news for me was that everyone else was having the same major problems and I created a thriving business proving solutions to those problems a match made in heaven.
The Consultant Business: A Match Made in Heaven.
I discovered early on in my consulting business was that I enjoyed doing it and I was actually very good at it. The word spread quickly and it wasn’t long before I had more demand than I could handle. The business model did not require a substantial investment and kept me clear of additional personal liability. What’s even more surprising I was able to net about the same amount of income as I did when I was the principal in my own deals. I was also able to add real value to my clients and as a result and I was becoming a trusted advisor in my community which was also great. My work hours were also greatly reduced from around 12-18 hours per day to 8-6 hours per day and I had the liberty to set a more flexible work schedule. This personal business evolution planted seeds in my understanding that led to the thinking “make my business serve me and fit my desired lifestyle”.
My Love Of The Internet
Ironically for the past 20 years all throughout my entrepreneurial career I have always been exposed to the Internet in one form or the other being an integral part of my businesses. The Internet breaks barriers and makes the world local. These are exciting times as anyone in the world now has become your neighbor.
My New Doctrine
I have come to believe over my 25 plus year journey as a entrepreneur that my successes and failures have all contributed to my personal growth and development. In a past version of myself a higher focus was on money and the pursuit of it. I sold my soul for a jelly roll which was the highest cost of all.
Now that former thinking has all passed away as I have taken on a mindset that values lifestyle, time and freedom more than money. I learned the hard way that even when you make all the money you want the very next thing you do is go and exchange it for personal time anyway. So why not pursue lifestyle, freedom and enjoyment right up front and design your business dealings tailor made to fit.
Life is better when you enjoy what you’re doing….