My younger brother likes to tell the story of how my family immigrated to Chicago from Nigeria with $100 and a suitcase. My parents are embarrassed about the story, but I take a lot of pride in it. I never knew we were poor. My parents were highly educated, but we lived 4 to a room in a church, paid rent by cleaning it, and walked everywhere. Regardless, they flipped that $100 to a Dream.
I was on the phone with my dad yesterday just talking business and politics. He taught me so much at a very young age. The value of a dollar, but more importantly, how to find one. We didn’t have an allowance growing up, so we had to get creative. My dad recollected the day I started my first business. I was in 2nd or 3rd grade and we just moved to a Chicago suburb. It was a cold winter and more snow than I’ve ever seen came pouring down.
I looked at everybody’s driveway and wondered how much they’d pay me to shovel it. I’d go door to door offering my services. Some responses I got were, “I have a son that can do that for me”, “We already hired someone to do it” and other answers that were a glorified “no”. So I switched it up.
I would shovel their snow first, and then go ask for money after. Sometimes I was told no, but other people greatly appreciate the effort. I knew that if I didn’t get paid for it, I felt good making their life easier. I’d make about $100 on some weeks doing this. This became a principle that I’d begin to live my life by. Doing things without being compensated, but always willing to offer my time. Putting PEOPLE and CUSTOMERS before PRODUCT and SERVICE.
The elementary school came around and now living in the middle of nowhere in Sterling, Illinois, I kept my same entrepreneurial spirit. I was 11 years old mowed lawns in the summer, raked leaves in the fall, and shoveled snow in the winter. Every season I had to switch up my business model, it was unsustainable.
I took that experience and begun my own paper route. I’d wake up early before school and deliver papers to at least a hundred houses, ride my bike to school, and then head to football or basketball practice. At such a young age, I was a student-athlete-entrepreneur, and I loved it. I loved working hard to earn a good grade, to earn playing time, and to earn money. When I realized I could make more money for myself, than my parents could give me, I made it my mission to take the financial burden of them raising me away, or at least try to. I even burned CDs using LimeWire and sell them to my peers.
Fast-forward to high school, I was getting too old for those other sources of income, so I started doing different things. I would jailbreak people’s iPhones for money, root Android devices and just kept hacking away. I got a job working at my mom’s church as a secretary, and later at McDonald’s. Even in high school, my parents couldn’t really afford to get me some of the things I wanted for myself, mainly material things. If I wanted something, I had to get it for it myself. This meant paying my way through college.
After I stopped playing football thinking it would get me a scholarship, at one point I was working 3 jobs as a full-time student, AND I was involved in student organizations and campus initiatives. Senior year came and it was time to get a big boy job, but I didn’t want to work for anyone. I wasn’t afraid of student loan debt, cause I barely had any. I’ve done pretty well for myself, If I had worked at a major company, it would just be to say I did. Just to have it on my resume, but to me, that would be a waste of precious time. I elected to go to business school and take out a $50k loan.
I went to business school thinking they would help me start a business, boy was I wrong. I got absolutely no support, no guidance, no mentorship, but I jumped in. I invested about $15,000 of my money (and various sources) in a venture that would eventually scale too fast, too soon. There was no way for me to support the number of people who were interested in joining this, and equity didn’t pay bills.
I decided to become a venture capitalist to solve this problem of unequal funding to minority and underrepresented groups…until I joined Mesh++. I thought this would be an opportunity to do something that was equally as impactful as financially rewarding. Previously, I only cared about the impact, but I had bills and loans. The easy option would be to get a stable job, but stability is boring!
After three months of working at a Venture Capital Analyst, I learned so much so fast. I couldn’t waste this knowledge in some giant corporation that wouldn’t value it as much. I wanted to contribute in a meaningful way, so I decided to jump straight in. That was last September, and now I’m starting to peak my head up.
I’ve battled a lot of demons internally, cried secretly, and expressed my frustration silently. The recurring themes in all of this are that I always knew I could fail. In fact, I opt to choose something with the highest chances of failure. That’s the only way to show off any real ability, and that’s what my parents gave me.
They gave me the ability to take risks. The risk of coming to a foreign land, with nothing was all that I needed. Now when I talk to my parents, it’s about what can we do to give others this opportunity. How can we reach back, and I think we may have gotten the vehicle to do so.
That $100 turned to two son’s that graduated from two of the universities in the region, played college football, started a company and studied in graduate school. One day as a family, we will sit down and tell this story. Because there are multiple perspectives outside of mine, but I hope to continue the work that my parent’s established, and to pass it on to the family I will one day create.
100 Dollars and a Dream, turned to 100 Prayers and a Testimony.
I hope everything that’s down, locked away, or buried in your life resurrects today.