As I was cleaning the office toilet (a duty I actually take pride in), I was led down memory lane. I was reminded of the hard work and sacrifices I made to launch my businesses, and also learning the power of being broke. I knew I wanted to be successful and own a business, but the hardest part of starting a business was just that—getting started. I literally started with nothing. Like many young entrepreneurs today, I had a great idea but was lacking the capital to fund it. However, unlike many young entrepreneurs today, I didn’t know any venture capitalists and my parents weren’t willing to fund what they believed was a “hobby.” I was broke, but not broken. With no outside capital, I was more motivated than ever to pursue my ambitions. I knew there were revenue models that would make self-funding my venture possible, and the fact that I had no money was not a deterrent.
If it’s not yet obvious to you, I should mention that I am obsessed with success. I was fueled by passion and assumed my goals before I even reached them. I sacrificed nearly everything of value that I owned—I was my own venture capitalist who put my car and my Jordan collection up for sale online so that I could invest in an idea I truly believed in. I started my first online business out of the living room of my apartment. Ironically, it was a t-shirt company called ”The Broke Billionaire.” It was branded for the man with big dreams and small pockets (a.k.a. me). Although I probably had enough money to get my shirts silk-screened in bulk at a printer, I knew that it would be costly and leave me more broke (broker?) than I already was. Instead, I enrolled in myself in YouTube-iversity (a relatively new learning model at the time) and taught myself how to silk screen. Before I knew it, my apartment living room, which was serving as an office, a bedroom (I would often fall asleep in front of my computer) and a design studio, also served as a print house. No one other than myself and a few close friends knew I was a one-man operation–especially not my customers. I knew I could probably get someone to help me out, but by running all the operations myself, I kept my overhead low, which allowed me to reinvest my revenue and expand at a faster rate.
Head of marketing? That would have been me, pounding the pavement handing out flyers, and selling my t-shirts on the street after night clubs would let out on Friday or Saturday nights. Creative? That would be me too. I turned my love for photography into another source of revenue and created my own advertisements. PR? All me. I used every networking opportunity I had to get my brand out there. I hustled by night, and a few hours later, I would rise and grind.
When internet marketing was still young, and MySpace was still owned by Tom, I maximized my online presence. Soon, hip hop artists like the Game and the Diplomats took notice of me and began buying my shirts, and as custom sneakers. Every day a new idea would pop into my head, and it gave me satisfaction knowing that I could take that idea, and make it come to life. I did it before, how hard could it be to do it again, just on a slightly bigger scale?
On top of knowing the power of being broke, many successful entrepreneurs share something else in common—goal setting. It’s not just goal setting per-se—it’s how we set our goals. Anyone can say their goal is to earn a million dollars tomorrow, but how realistic is it for the average person to actually reach that goal? When people set unrealistic goals that are more like wishes, they get deterred because they seem so far out of reach. They lose faith and don’t believe in themselves, so their dreams seldom come to fruition. Success built on taking failure and learning from it. Success is knowing that it takes time, dedication and sacrifices to get there. From selling everything I owned, to working in a factory to fund my dreams, I harnessed the power of being broke and used it as motivation. Yes, I clean the office toilet and I can honestly say that I take pride in doing so—Hey, if you owned the office surrounding the toilet (plus another one in the city) you would probably say the same thing.
Chris A. Hughes