Entrepreneurs who don’t win business plan or pitch competitions often get down on themselves. They may wonder whether they will ever get the funding needed to turn their idea into a commercial venture. The sense of frustration when circumstances don’t appear to go the right way can lead to despondency. Vivian Giang, writing for Business Insider in an article published earlier this week, reminds that others have overcome greater odds.
Giang shares Ryan Blair’s story of coming from a broken family, learning disorders, and gang life to become a multimillionaire serial entrepreneur. In his book “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain,” Blair writes:
“I quickly saw how the system worked, how the street lords kept themselves in power through influence and manipulation. I observed how the older people used bribery and fear to get the younger kids to do their crimes, and I saw how the young people willingly went along with it because it seemed like the only power structure that had any kind of respect in the neighborhood.”
“Long before I became a millionaire entrepreneur, I was a kid with a criminal record, street gang experience, and a lot of emotional scarring from years of abuse from my father. My teenage years were hardly the typical starting point for a normal, productive life, let alone a successful business career. Turns out, that didn’t matter.”
Blair was arrested more than ten times. Living the street life left him facing a four year sentence and the tender age of 16. His mom began dating a businessman a couple years later who showed modeled how to make money legally. Giang observes that Blair was insightful when he decided to apply the survival skills learned on the street to make money the right way. His “street smarts,” she writes, were gained from observing the strengths of the gang system through a new lens.
“There’s a hierarchy in gangs, a hierarchy of positions and power,” he says. “A gang is an economic system, and there’s a lot of similarities between gangs and some legal companies. I know that it’s not always the most powerful organization that’s going to make it, it’s the one that’s most adaptable with the changing times, the one that understands how to manage their politics.”
At 21, Blair launched his first company (24/7 Tech) and brought his understanding of street economics, plus a determination to turn himself around, to bear on the effort. Today, he’s the CEO of ViSalus and won the DSN Global Turn Around Award in 2010 when he actually turned the company around from being $6 million debt in early 2008 to sucess 16 months later.
When trying to get his first business off the ground, Blair says he was nervous about ‘taking his skeletons out of his closet,” because people were always “looking for a reason to see why they are better than you. People look at people who don’t have pedigree upbringings differently.” But “if you avoid it, or hide it, others might feel as though there’s a dishonesty there, and hiding something is a very expensive emotional thing for you.”
Blair’s belief that others, too, can overcome mistakes and troubled histories influences the way he runs his own company. He said that he’s willing to hire people with a criminal record–provided they are honest about the past in the present. It seems to be working well for him!
So, if you as an entrepreneur feel that you have long odds for success, consider what Blair and others have been through. He has faced similar challenges to your own–and additional ones that, thankfully, do not confront you. With that in mind, hopefully smaller challenges will be seen for what they are.