The Curse of Entrepreneurship

I know, most of you are going to be like WTF?

But let me explain myself before you get your panties in a wedgie, ok.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane on how I became an entrepreneur, and then we will get to how it can be a curse.

TLDR, skip to the summary.

Ahhh, the good old days. You know, the days when you lived in your parent’s house, ate their food and didn’t have any real bills. When I was a kid we were not that well off, my mom was on welfare from the time I was zero till I was like 9. Things were tight, we lived in the ghetto and my mom was not very active in my life. I am thankful for this now because I learned so much, but as a kid it simply meant I needed to keep myself occupied with my boundless energy. If you have been around me, you know how exciting and full of energy I can be 😛

Well, when you have to occupy yourself and have no money, it means you need to figure out how to make something out of nothing. I remember the first things I always tried doing was building things, kind of like boys should. I also had to take things a little farther and wanted to build my first empire when I was 9 (1994).

I received a package in the mail about some boy band group and that they needed a street team. I was like “hells to the yeah I am in!” I got signed up and involved, tried to promote this boy band, but was met with the harsh reality that people in the ghetto don’t like boy bands. It probably took about a week, and I quit because it was easy to get distracted back then. At this point in my life I didn’t see this glimmer of entrepreneurship coming out, I just wanted to do something and be in charge of my destiny.

A few years later my mom got her act together and moved us out of Pittsburgh and to Youngstown, Ohio. Like really mom, you could have chosen a better place to move, but I understand that is where our family is from, and she could lean on our family to help her.

This was a game changer for me; I was now surrounded by white people, middle-class white people! I was still some white ghetto kid who did not fit in. Oh, the troubles of not fitting in.

With that aside, I ended up making a few friends in a few years, and when I was 14, my good friend Doug took me to my first rave. You might be asking yourself “What the hell was a 14-year-old doing at a rave?” My friends new the promoter and snuck me in and my mother didn’t really care, as long as I was not dead. The rave was called Focus, and the event was great, except for only 50 people showed when they needed 1000 to break even. The promoters lost their ass on the event, and these were friends, so I felt kind of bad. However, I fell in love with the party, the people and the community I had never been a part of.

At this point in my life I was pretty impressionable, I mean come-on, I was 14. Even though I was young and new, people were just nice and helped me, made friends with me and took me under their wing. All in 12 hours of being at this rave I had made 10 or so new friends who wanted to hang out and take me to another rave. This was awesome for a kid who has never fit into his surroundings, so I latched on!

The next day I got home from the rave, mildly hungover but started searching the web (1998) trying to learn everything I could about the rave business. Man there was a lot of cool stuff I found, not to mention how raves and drugs go hand in hand. All I could focus on was how did these events make money, who was in charge and how could I become one of the people in charge.

Within two weeks, I decided I was going to open up a record label for this new music I fell in love with. Back then, I was getting into house and trance and figured I should do what I love. I came up with the name Shattered Records and started telling my friend to find me all the best DJ’s. I looked all over the web, put out listings on forums and bulletin boards and the CD’s started flooding in. I had DJ’s all over the country sending me CD’s trying to get bookings or get a record deal. It was crazy, I was 14 and put this info out there and within a month or so I was already getting traction, or so I thought.

When you have no clue what you are doing and things start moving forward anyways, you need to go learn what to do, so I bought some books and read for weeks. I learned so much about the music industry and all the mechanics, from signing an artist, to how royalties and residuals work. There was one gleening thing though; record labels are banks that loan money to artists and then collect it back with interest.

“Shit, I am 14 and have no money.” I said to myself. What was I going to do now, I had no money to give these DJ’s, but the CD’s kept rolling in. I was three months into my first business Shattered Records, and it was already doomed for failure. I was crushed.

Then it hit me, I can work my way up to being a record label. All I needed was a way to make money and then that money could fund my record label. But how was a 14-year-old going to make money, I could only make $6 an hour at a restaurant, which I was already doing, and this didn’t make me enough money. I had to find something else!

I kept reading the books and studied the music industry and rave industry to see what may be out there. I read a lot about these managers who protected the artist from record labels and booking agents which managed the booking for the manager and artist. Neither were something you needed money to do; I was offering a service in which I was paid if I was successful. I changed the company name to Shattered Records Management and started signing artists to my management for a 15% stake in their earnings.

At the time, I was just communicating with folks via email or the phone. I never admitted my age and told these people I was new, and they only needed to pay me if it worked. Funny enough, I knew no one in the business and now had artists willing to let me do their bookings. Friggin crazy I tell you.

Once again, I turned to the internet to help me and used those same forums to find answers. Kind of neat how forums were the first social network, but no one thinks of it that way.

On these forums, I started promoting the DJ’s I was working with and sending people digital versions of their mixtapes. Back then (1998/9) people did not do bookings this way. It was still a relationship business, and you had to know someone. Our competition did everything in person, over the phone and some email. They worked directly with promoters or club owners to get the artist booked.

We accidentally did it differently, and it worked pretty well. I am proud to say this, at 14 I got really lucky with starting a business because I did not know how it was always done in the industry. On the bulletin boards and forums we communicated directly with the people who attended the raves and parties. If you could get them interested in an artist, they would then tell the promoter or club owner to book the artist.

At the time, I did not realize what I was doing, but somehow it worked. The artists I managed started getting requests for bookings. Promoters would call me and ask who a DJ was and their availability. The DJ’s would get bookings from across the country and wonder how someone there has heard their music, all I could say was the internet.

Over the next three years, things took off. We were the first online booking agency and started doing sub-bookings for bigger agencies. At the height of things, we had 160 DJ’s on our roster and we were throwing our own events. It was a great time in my life.

When I was 19, I wanted to take things to a new level and started investing the money we were making into other events. Investments started small with $250 and then grew larger. At one point, we invested a whole bunch of money, way too much money in an event called Solstice. Partially because the promoters had a big following and the event was on my birthday, and I could have main stage at midnight.
As expected, the event had some hurdles, but we never expected to lose our asses on the event.

A few major things went bad for us, and I will explain.

First, another competing event was announced on the same night across the state. This hurt ticket sales, but not enough to shut it down.

Next we had a massive rain storm which ruined our parking lot. At Camp of America, we had planned to use their football field and some other grassy area to park over 200 cars. With all the rain, these fields were flooded, and there was no way to get a car on them. Everyone had to park 2 miles away in a small town and then be bussed in by two rented greyhound busses. HUGE expense we could not afford.

Then the final blows came in. The promoter we invested in was so loved by the community because they had a huge flaw. They gave all their friends tickets to their events at no charge. Not just normal tickets, but VIP tickets that should have been sold at $300 a piece. Around 200 of those tickets went out for free, and we lost so much money on those it was stupid.

At the end of the night (8am June 22nd 2003) we did not have enough money to cover our bills. As a person who signed off on most of the bigger deals, my company was the one left holding the bag. Within seven days, I had decided I had no other choice but to sell off all of our contracts for future booking to get rid of the debt. We in essence sold the assets of the company, but I like to say we exited 🙂

I did leave the company with a good amount of money left over, but I still had to close the company down.

This was an important life lesson for me. I started my own business, all by myself and made it pretty far. No one taught me what I was doing, I just figured it out and did it. Just like when I was 9, I wanted to build something.

Since then I have started five businesses, which 3 have failed in some form or another. All of them I started with something I knew little about and just went out to solve the problem. This is what we do as entrepreneurs, we go build stuff that solves a problem.

In Summary

Being an entrepreneur is tough, there is a lot of ups and down. As an entrepreneur who has started six businesses, which 66% of them ended in failure, I have seen the good and bad.

Entrepreneurs are not normal people, especially the good ones. Even the entrepreneurs I know are all weird in some way and not many of them are my favorite people to hang out with. Overall I don’t like people too much, but that is because I grew up in front of a computer. Either way, there are some I like and a lot more I don’t like. I think this has to do with the fact we are strong personalities and sometimes things just don’t mesh well.

Back to the point! Entrepreneurs think differently, and when it is so engrained in your life, it can be controlling.

At times, I am cursed for being an entrepreneur because everything to me is a business idea. I just can’t think of anything other than starting businesses. Every problem in the world is something I can fix, I just need enough time and enough money. I will keep testing until I fix it and make it better than anything else anyone might create. This is how an entrepreneur thinks.

See this the where being an entrepreneur becomes a curse. I think I can do anything! Just give me enough time and money, and I can accomplish it. At the end of the day, this may sound great to you, but man does it get annoying.

I stay up late at night drilling into a problem with no light at the end of the tunnel. Over the years of doing this, I have learned to prioritize my entrepreneurial conquests. Unfortunately, I still am in love with trying to fix things, even things I have no business fixing. Kind of like how I am trying to disrupt the convenience store business with Fuelzee, but I have never worked in the c-store industry.

I have at least 4 or 5 businesses I could start right now. I don’t do it because I have control, but I know if my current company Fuelzee was to fail I would immediately pick up one of the other ideas and start running.

Getting a job might be a good idea and you might tell me that. Where would that get me though? I wouldn’t be solving the problem or have control of my destiny.

Having a regular job where I work from 9-5 would be amazing. I have always wanted that and have tried to do it. It only takes a few months, and then I start to get frustrated at the pace of things and then get distracted.

Being an entrepreneur has made me spend less time with my family and I only have a few friends. This is how being an entrepreneur has cursed me. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place.

Am I saying I hate being an entrepreneur? No, I love what I do for a living. I still yearn to slow down and maybe work less, but that is just not how I am wired. Being an entrepreneur is just who I am and thankfully I love it.

What about you, have you been cursed by being an entrepreneur?