Drugs, Alcohol & Homelessness: My Path to Entrepreneurship
As I washed my body in the public bathroom, I wondered when this would end.
The gritty bathroom soap, the pink kind that feels more like sand than soap, was harsh on my eleven year old-skin. I couldn’t be upset about it though; this is what happens when you’re relegated to bathing yourself in a warehouse sink.
It was 1999 and we were homeless.
Not the ‘living on friends couches’ kind, but the ‘sneaking into my dad’s work after everyone had gone home to sleep in our car’ kind.
It will probably do some good to back up just a little and explain how things got to this point.
As long as I could remember my family didn’t have much, and even the word ‘family’ is probably an overstatement. My mother and father, never married, had two children in their brief stint together, me and my younger sister.
I don’t remember much about their time together but I do remember their breakup. I was five, and so the court-mandated back and forth custody battle began.
Every couple of years the court would decide who was better fit to care for us: the alcoholic father or the drug-addicted mother.
The court’s focus narrowed to my father, so from the time I was nine onward we lived with him. Not long after that my father’s hours were cut back at his truck driving job. We lost our tiny one bedroom apartment where my sister and I shared a room while my father slept on the couch in the living room.
Now we were on the street, and my father was unable to afford any other place so we spent most of our time in our forest green 1995 Ford Contour sedan.
A typical day had my sister and I getting out of school at around 3 P.M. and hanging around school until our father could pick us up at 5 P.M. Then we would find some place to park for a few hours, and if we were lucky we got $1 cheeseburgers at McDonalds for dinner. The reason for the long parking break was so my father could be sure everyone at the small trucking warehouse he worked at had gone home.
This was normally around 9–10 P.M. when the owner would finally leave. We’d pull the car into the warehouse, stocked full of saran wrapped pallets, with one tiny glowing light coming from a room in the corner. The bathroom was where we showered, using washcloths and the aforementioned pink sand soap.
We’d do our best to sleep in the car, my dad and I reclined in the driver and passenger seats respectively, and my little sister lying on the back seat. We’d wake up at 4 A.M. the next day, to be sure we could sneak away before anyone got there for work.
This lasted for a little over a year when my dad lost custody of my sister and I after they found out where we were ‘living’.
My father disappeared for some time after that, until finally when I was 16 we got a call from a hospital saying paramedics had found him unconscious at the mall. He had been living on the street since losing custody of us, the actual street though since his car was repossessed.
He had been drinking more heavily, and (mix that with his diabetes) passed away shortly after my sister and I said our goodbyes at the hospital.
He never woke up from the coma the paramedics found him in.
I’m not really sure he even knew we were there at all.
So Why Does Any of This Matter?
I strongly believe that I wouldn’t be the entrepreneur I am today if it wasn’t for my childhood.
I remember there were times I’d be sitting in school thinking about my friend’s nice new clothes and big house and thinking to myself: ‘this isn’t me.’
I was determined to do everything I could to put life into my own hands and take control of my circumstances.
Two years ago I quit my steady, high paying job in tech to start my own company.
Because I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a doer. I’m a tinkerer. I’m a hustler. I need to control my own destiny and few careers give someone the opportunity to do all those things to the extent entrepreneurship does.
My Motivation For This
The reason I’m so open about my past is simple really.
I don’t want anyone to have an excuse to not follow their dreams. It may sound cliche, but I literally started from nothing. No trust fund. No savings account. No extended family to give me angel investment or a seed loan to start my business.
I started my business with a few thousand dollars (by a few I mean four digits, nothing more) in savings and a handful of new clients. I quickly went into over $30K in debt trying to grow it.
After two years of hard work, my company is now at $100K/month, and every day I work with twenty two of the coolest people I know.
None of that success would have happened if I didn’t push through.
So the next time you’re feeling down or aren’t sure you can do it (whatever ‘it’ is) just remember that you can, it just takes some grit, creativity and faith.