“Read this and maybe you will be someone one day”
Those were the words my dad spoke as he handed me a book on the Mafia. I was 12 years old and very impressionable. I would stay with my dad during the weekends. He would rent gangster movies for me to watch while he was away at work. He was obsessed with the lifestyle.
During my childhood my dad was involved in criminal activities that ranged from selling drugs to running numbers. He tried to hide it from me, but I knew. He hung around with low level, wannabe mafia types. They sat in diners all night long drinking coffee, breaking each others balls about women and how “rich” the next guy was. The fact of the matter was none of them were rich.
They told stories about the past while laughing obnoxiously loud in public places, creating a scene. The majority of what came out of their mouths were either lies or half-truths. It was like watching a bad episode of the Sopranos 20 years before it was a show.
As a kid I loved it. I couldn’t wait to be around his friends. I thought they were the greatest. I idolized them. They had nice cars, which my father never had. Some wore gaudy jewelry and always carried big wads of cash.
They were always excited to see me and treated me like royalty. Unlike my father who usually put me down and made me feel less than. When I grew up I wanted to be like them. I had become obsessed with that lifestyle.
At 13 I started selling weed to my friends. At first, I stole it from my brother and my friend’s dad until I found my own source to buy it. I bagged it up in little dime bags and sold it to friends for $10 a piece.
Even back then I remember wanting to make sure I always gave people a great deal. I packed the bags I sold nice and full, removing the stems from the buds. When I bought weed from other people it was mainly stems and seeds. I hated that and wanted to be different, even it meant I made less money.
As I got a littler older and progressed from selling weed to coke, my mentality on making a profit changed. I cut my product, but tried to maintain a certain quality standard. I found that if I added seven grams of cut to an ounce of quality coke and mixed it well people rarely complained. To stretch my profits further I would make half grams weigh .4 instead of .5 and my grams weigh .8 instead of 1. These two tricks net me an additional $500 in profit if I didn’t use too much of it myself.
I was very resourceful and always saw the angles to play in that world. They were obvious to me. My thought processes and goals had been predicated upon what I saw growing up.
I had numerous opportunities and choices to have other careers. But this was what I chose. I liked the people I to associated with, the danger, the fast money. The lifestyle appealed to my sense of excitement. Before I realized it I had become the person I aspired to be as a child.
When I reached this point my thinking changed. I wanted something better for myself. I started to think about the future and wanted to be someone that my family could be proud of. I wanted to be proud of myself. I no longer wanted to meet new people and have to lie about what I did for a living. I didn’t want my mother to continually worry about my freedom and safety. She knew what was going on, but it was something no one discussed.
Leaving that world and recreating my life hasn’t been easy. Letting go of the money and material comforts wasn’t nearly as difficult as letting go of the identity I had created for myself. I was clouded with doubt and confused as to who I was in the legitimate world.
I’ve had to learn new skills, as well as relearn old skills which have atrophied. Although, much of the same skill set that kept me safe and out of jail is transferable to the world I live in today. Basic concepts like: customer service, standing behind your product or service, building brand loyalty and demand for the product. The importance of creating a level of trust by taking care of issues that may arise in a fair and timely manner. Giving customers a good product at the right price. The right price doesn’t mean cheap, it means what it is truly worth.
Other key concepts I learned that still apply for my life today are:
Taking risks and controlling fear – Understanding the possible consequences of my actions and weighing it against the rewards. Forming decisions based on that information and deciding whether to move forward towards my goals or change my approach.
Managing suppliers and demand – Logistics and inventory management were extremely important. Making sure my suppliers gave me product on time, in full, every time. I never took orders for products I did not have. It’s bad business. I never wanted to carry too much inventory. It lead to waste and tied up too much money. I learned how to make projections based on sales by season. Believe it or not some products were highly seasonal.
Utilizing profits to grow – Leaving money in the business in order to expand a product line or add a service. Or I could purchase more product at a higher volume discount and achieve a larger profit margin. Investing in infrastructure to keep myself insulated from risk. Outsourcing time consuming, non-mission critical tasks.
Being a Connector – My favorite quote from the movie Layer Cake is, “The art of good business is being a good middleman.” I would broker deals between people I knew and add my fees for each transaction. This way I never had to use my money or even touch a product while still generating revenue (almost like affiliate marketing). On other occasions I connected people who could work together without making a cut because I knew it would create a mutually beneficial relationship. This was a great networking tool and lead to more opportunities for me.
Marketing – Continually having a quality product to promote to my client base. Having multiple points of contact to safely and effectively let my customers know pricing and availability. Clearly communicating the benefits of my products and selling based on their strengths, not competitors weakness.
Saving Money – Not blowing everything I had on cars, gambling, women or other nonessential items. This was a difficult lesson to learn. I wanted to be a baller. The last two years of my career I understood the importance and tucked away as much as I could. Nothing lasts forever. I wanted to retire and I needed a nest egg to do that.
Miyamoto Musashi said, “If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things.” Applying principles used to create success in one facet of life can create success in other areas. Excellence in anything increases your potential in everything.