“Plenty of people have ideas and do absolutely nothing with them.”

Entrepreneur and college drop out Stark Shapleigh shares his story, how to stay motivated, and how anyone can learn everything they need to start a business for free.

When I conducted this interview a few years ago, he was just getting his video production business, 843 Productions, off the ground. Since then, 843 Productions has taken off and Stark has committed all of his time to growing his company.


What were you like in high school? Did you know what you wanted to do?

I wasn’t very popular in high school or anything, I was very quiet. I really didn’t come out of my shell until I got to college. Now I’m more social than I was back then — I can start a conversation with a stranger in the middle of the street.

I had no idea what I wanted to do. You get what your parents tell you, which is pretty much like “go to school”, “get a good job”, “go to college.” I assumed I would be working in a bank or some sort of financial institution. If I had known what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college just because that was 2 years wasted of my time.

“If I had known what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college just because that was 2 years wasted of my time.”

Did you have any entrepreneurial traits in high school?

Not so much. I did sell lemonade out in front of one of my friend’s houses back in the day. When we were out of school in the summertime we’d set up a lemonade stand in front of his house — 50 cents a piece — we used it crush it back then. I had the best G.I. Joes and the best candy all the time. Other than that, I worked usual jobs that my parents helped me get.

I didn’t have really have any sort of entrepreneurial background or encouragement from my parents. My father was an advertising exec for 40 years so he worked for the MAN. There wasn’t anyone saying “hey, you should go do this.”

Tell me about your college experience

When I went to college I wanted to major in business management. I had a scholarship to the Darla Moore school of business at University of South Carolina. I did well the first year, but the second year I started to dip a little bit because I realized that college wasn’t what I wanted to do. No point in going to class to learn more about english than I already had learned in high school. When you get out and have your own business you can pay people to do all of that stuff for you.

It took well into my second year to realize that I didn’t want to work 9–5. I had a couple of friends that started their own businesses, whether they had been successful or not, and the whole process fascinated me…coming up with an idea and taking it from conception to implementation. That’s what first sparked my interest in wanting to go out and see what I could do.

“I had a couple of friends that started their own businesses, whether they had been successful or not, and the whole process fascinated me…coming up with an idea and taking it from conception to implementation. That’s what first sparked my interest in wanting to go out and see what I could do.”

What did you do next?

My first job after dropping out was bartending for Wild Wing Cafe in North Charleston. It was a great place to start because I learned a lot about the food and beverage industry. I made ton of money so I could put that aside to fund businesses ideas later on. My brother and I ran a parasail company for a guy for 3–4 summers. Basically we managed the entire operation and saw how the business ran from overhead to income, to profit. We worked to increase his profit margin so it was good learning about what I could cut back on “here” to make more money “here.” It wasn’t quite entrepreneurial, but it helped me learn more about the process of running and owning a business.

At what point did you actually start your own business?

I had been a med tech for 3–4 years. My purpose within the practice was a quasi office manager. I was also coming up with other sources of income for the doctor to make because he was a sole practice. It was just him. There was only so much money he could make, so my job was to find certain programs like in-house drug testing, in-house pharmaceutical dispensing, programs like that that would start to pay and increase his business. The whole time I wasn’t putting any more money in my pocket, I realized my potential, that I could do much better on my own, doing for others what I had done for him.

How did you learn how to run a business?

I started going to SCORE and chamber of commerce meetings, attending a lot of basic seminars that teach you a little bit about owning your own business. The SCORE seminars were very helpful, teaching the steps of business planning.

What is SCORE?

It’s a free service here in Charleston, I think they have one everywhere in every state. It’s a small business think-tank where you can go in and meet with business mentors who have done what you’re trying to do. They have experience as an entrepreneur and they have started a bunch of companies. You can go in and talk with them and they’ll coach you. The workshops are focused on bringing in groups of people who are interested in starting their own companies, whether it’s a tangible item or a service. They sit down and show you start out with an idea, how to create business plan, how you approach a bank or how you go to outside sources for non-conventional funding. Stuff like that.

COO: SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Visit their website here: www.score.org
“The workshops are focused on bringing in groups of people who are interested in starting their own companies, whether it’s a tangible item or a service. They sit down and show you start out with an idea, how to create business plan, how you approach a bank or how you go to outside sources for non-conventional funding.”

I had no idea what I was doing when I first started. Then it was just growing my network and, being from Charleston, I already had a bunch of contacts. I just told people that I was doing small business development consulting. You’re not making a lot of money at first but then you do some good work for people and then you get your name out there and you get a lot of referrals and a lot of people start coming back to you. I’m three and a half, almost four years, in now and it has been pretty good.

What are some of the most important things someone should know when they’re starting out?

You have to have a set of skills. You’ll learn self-discipline over time. You have to be ambitious because if you don’t have ambition or drive you’re not going anywhere. Plenty of people have ideas and do absolutely nothing with them. I’ve coached a lot of friends, and I still work with a lot of friends on projects that had ideas, but they were just too lazy to go out and do it. Now I’m partners with them, and keep them motivated and going. You have to be motivated to keep going. It’s very easy in entrepreneurial stuff to lose steam very quickly.

I learned by doing things hands-on. That’s the best way to learn. Whether you fail or succeed, that’s the best way to learn.

I learned by doing things hands-on. That’s the best way to learn. Whether you fail or succeed, that’s the best way to learn.

What were some of the biggest mistakes you made at first?

Definitely not following through. My motivation wasn’t there — everyone says they’re an entrepreneur but a lot of people just don’t do anything. It’s a lot of following through, you have to follow up with your clients. It’s a lot prioritization, time management and being better about setting tasks. It’s getting better at seeing whats most important and whats bringing in your profit.

What’s one of the biggest achievements you’ve had as an entrepreneur so far?

Other than starting my own companies, and being fairly successful with all of my projects, I would say that it has been helping other people develop their ideas into a businesses. I would rather see some of my friends succeed and do something they’re passionate about instead of sitting behind a desk somewhere and be unhappy like I did for 4 years.

One of Stark’s business ventures was to help start Holy City Helicopters, a helicopter tour company in Charleston.

Do you think it’s better to go to college and get a business degree or get your hands dirty and start something?

That would depend on the person and their motivation. I’ve found the best way was to get my feet wet by jumping in. Those SCORE seminars are huge, you can learn by Googling, but hearing success stories from people is one of the biggest inspirations you can get starting your own business.

How do you know if a business idea is a good or bad idea?

You never know if something is going to be a success or not. No true entrepreneur has had everything successful, they have a bunch of failures. 10 failures for every 1 success — that’s pretty standard. Fail your face off until you make something that’s actually tangible and feasible.

What advice do you have for high school students?

There’s plenty of information out there. You can go to your public library. I read books all the time, I’m always studying business books and stuff like that. Learning from the experiences of others. Reading has been my biggest inspiration, it keeps me motivated.

What if a business idea doesn’t work out? How do you stay motivated?

You have to pick momentum back up somehow, one way or another. Just find something in a facet of that business that you can jump back into to help get you motivated. Plenty of times I’ve lost motivation. You’ve got to pick yourself up and keep moving. You’ve got to believe in yourself, if you believe you can make it.

Plenty of times I’ve lost motivation. You’ve got to pick yourself up and keep moving. You’ve got to believe in yourself, if you believe you can make it.

If you’re interested in talking to Stark to learn more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, you can send him an email: sshapleigh@gmail.com


About College Opt Out

The mission of College Opt Out is the tell the stories of men and women who have forged their own path and enjoyed successful careers without a college degree. We want to inspire high school and college students to consider the alternatives and realize that a college education isn’t their only choice to establish a fulfilling career.

If you have any questions about College Opt Out, or know someone we should interview, please email paul@collegeoptout.com

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