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Monday, January 16, 2012

Why I became an Entrepreneur

I grew up in the 1970's, at a time when the United States promoted it's business models around the world. It was the Cold War Era, and Capitalism was in a death match with Communism. What I didn't know then was that 'Capitalism' wasn't really capitalism and 'Communism' was really Stalinist U.S.S.R.

At that time we had a program called JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT which was a non-profit (I think) that would come into public schools to teach kids about the fundamentals of capitalism. We made widgets, and then sold them in competition with other schools, and whomever sold the most won. The program sucked, didn't teach us anything, and thus wasted our time, but looking back, I think that was the goal.

I did like the idea of being an inventor, of creating something, and selling it to make a living. Working for other people never appealed to me. In my teens, I stole some bicycle parts, and got caught. My Dad was so disappointed in me that it made me cry, but I was only 14 yrs. old, and could not legally work for money. I was dependent upon my parents for money, so I stole my families lawnmower and other equipment, and put out some fliers to houses within walking distance. Soon I had all the work I could handle.

Unfortunately, I wasn't aware of my sever allergies and hay-fever. It was the summer of '84 and every day I would mow a lawn, then go home and collapse, unable to breath for the next 8 hrs. At that time, I lived in Plano, TX, and the lawns were only 1/4 acre, and I charged only $20, which was a lot in my 14-year old mind. What I didn't realize was that the gas, the equipment, and my time were worth much more, and the 8 hrs. of recovery wasn't added in. I was loosing my life in the hot Texas sun for about $2/hr. It was only profitable with heavy subsidies from my parents, and child labor.

This experience taught me a lot about what it means to work. It taught me that I could pick and choose my customers, and that I should never work for less than I am worth. I vowed never to work for mean people, or make more money for a company than I made for myself.

Later, when I reached working age (16) I got a job at the local grocery store where I had stolen the bicycle parts. They paid me minimum wage ($3.35/hr) part time to bag groceries and collect shopping carts. It sucked, bored me to tears, and I quit after two weeks. I vowed never to do work that insulted my intelligence and had no opportunity for advancement again.

That year I paid $125.00 for a Red Cross Lifeguard Training Class, and even got a job with the big local pool ($6/hr.). It lasted two weeks, and I over slept one Saturday morning, had to walk to work, and was fired. Texas is big and lacks public transport, but my parents made my Driver's License dependent upon my Grades, and there was no way I could meet their expectations, every-time that I came close, they moved the goal-posts. So, I resolved never to work with anyone who broke their word. I then didn't work for two years, because I didn't have transportation.

Eventually I stumbled onto an opportunity with the YMCA, a non-profit. They hired me as a Lifeguard ($10/hr), and paid me to train as a swim-instructor. Then they charged local house-moms $30/child for two-weeks of swim lessons (ten 40-minute sessions). I was in heaven, working 50 hours/week, outside, with hot girls, fun summer. I worked for the YMCA part-time as a weight room attendant through the winter, and as a pool guard and swim instructor for a few years, but eventually I quit to make more money. Little did I know.

At age 19, my Mother wanted to throw me out of the house, and I wanted to go, but without any credit-history or a good paying job, no one would rent me an apartment. My Dad brokered a compromise, so I could stay at home and pay rent, if I was enrolled at the local community college.

At age twenty-one, I still had no car. It seemed impossible to save enough to buy a car that worked while paying school expenses and rent. My parents let me drive their cars, or gave me rides to places, but I wanted to move out of the house, and needed a job that paid more than I spent to save any money. Only problem was, those jobs were too far away from home, and I didn't have a car. My parents surprised me with a 1978 Chevy Monte Carlo ($1200). I had to pay the insurance ($2500/year), but it was mine, freedom. I immediately applied to work at the local pizza delivery store, and started making $20/hr. in tips (unreported income) plus minimum wage. (I ate a lot of free pizza, too)

I spent too much partying with my friends, but I still had money in the bank. I failed out of college, but I kept going back for more punishment, because my friends were there. Eventually I met a girl, and everything went to hell. But I had my rules:
  • Choose your customers
  • Demand what you are worth
  • Do what you love, love what you do, or don't do it
  • Never work for someone else unless you gain more than they do
  • Don't work with people you can not trust

That's how I became an Entrepreneur.

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