The non-traditional journey
The path I followed to become an entrepreneur was somewhat unconventional. My life did not follow the narratives of the high school dropout turned CEO or college business major converted to a full-time entrepreneur after graduation. I went to college where I majored in African-American studies, after undergrad I briefly lived in Ethiopia, before returning to the US to attend graduate school, start a family, and eventually earned a Ph.D. Somewhere in between college, making babies, and completing a doctoral degree in Policy Studies in Urban Education, I discovered an unconventional path to starting a business!
While in graduate school, I worked as the physical education teacher for an independent private school in Chicago. My role was unique because instead of traditional US gym classes where students learn sports such as basketball, baseball, and soccer, I was responsible for teaching capoeira. Created by enslaved Africans in Brazil, capoeira combines dance, acrobatics, music, and rituals with self-defense. In my role as the PE teacher, I was responsible for the development of a curriculum in alignment with the Illinois Physical Education Standards and the unique elements of capoeira.
Identifying the market
The year that I began to teach students capoeira, corresponded with the school’s vision to take a trip to Brazil. Central to the curriculum's objective of the world studies program was to provide young people from underserved communities with opportunities to study and explore countries outside the United States. Brazil was the first country on the list that came to include Ghana, Mexico, Panama, and The Democratic Republic of the Congo. The initial focus of my business, teaching adults and children capoeira, derived from the trip to Brazil where seeds were planted about the potential market for my services.
Impressed by the ability of capoeira to encourage community in Brazil, the principal and manager urged me to start a company that offered classes in the evenings and on the weekends. To get me started, they offered the school as a space to host capoeira classes. Hypnotized by the aftermath of an incredible experience with my students in Brazil, I decided to take the advice of my employers and explore a part-time entrepreneurial lifestyle. With a limited business plan, I began as a Sole Proprietor using my passions for capoeira and well-being to attract customers.
Many of my first customers were students from my gym classes who convinced their parents to stay after school for additional instruction for a nominal fee. As more students received word of this added opportunity to learn capoeira, my classes began to expand and soon parents, cousins, and other friends outside of the school joined my classes. It was exhilarating to see my vision of capoeira as a tool to encourage healthy habits and build community come to fruition. Although I was not making much money, I felt successful because of the impact that I witnessed it make in the lives of young people and adults.
How you can learn from my mistakes
Due to my lack of an extensive business plan, my inability to make a full-time commitment, and acquire partners to help realize my vision, I experienced limited growth for many years in business. In addition to my role as an entrepreneur, I also had responsibilities as a husband, father, graduate student, and employee. For seven years, I worked to build a sustainable business in the evenings, on the weekends, and in the moments between life’s many challenges. While living in the United States, the structure of my business changed from a Sole Proprietor to its current status as a Limited Liability Company.
I currently reside in Mexico with my wife and three kids where my company engages my work as a business and education consultant, writer, and coach. I generate revenue via traveling for workshop presentations, my online instructional video series, and freelance writing projects. In my eight years of experiences as an entrepreneur, I have gathered many insights to what it takes to be successful. Applicable to any company, are two prominent lessons that I have learned while exploring my potential as an entrepreneur.
1. Don’t try to do it alone. I know that the common rhetoric among business circles emphasizes personal responsibility. It is important to take the initiative and do what you can to create your vision. However, I believe it is critical to acquire a diverse team of individuals who can support and add to the company’s objective (s).
2. Research to understand the market value of your products and services. For many years my business did not see a profit because I lacked the research to fully understand capoeira's market. I undervalued my services and products, which ultimately did not lead to financial success.
This entry illustrates my journey to entrepreneurship and the lessons I have learned in route to success. If you desire an entrepreneurial lifestyle, it will not be easy. There will be moments when you want to quit, but hold on to the faith that anything is possible for your life. Whether you follow a similar path as mine via a job that morphs into a business, or a completely different route, hold on to the fact that others have achieved the type of success you desire.