HBO's How to Make it in America wouldn't be much of a show if the young entrepreneurs it chronicles hit a home run the first time up at bat. I'm happy to report, there's absolutely no chance of that. Two episodes in, it's crystal clear that there's plenty of drama in store for Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk), who are frighteningly, although adorably, clueless about the realities of starting a business. Still smarting from a failed skateboard venture, and an ill-considered attempt at selling knock off leather jackets on the street (take note, kids: in real-world Manhattan, this results in jail time), our two protagonists refocus their entrepreneurial energies on creating a premium denim line. But all they've got is a nice big bolt of selvedge denim, purchased off the back of a truck with money borrowed from Cam's ex-con cousin Rene. Can you say "loan shark"? (Rene, played by Luis Guzman, is my favorite character so far. Sure, he's menacing, but holds his grandma's hand on the street, so I'm thinking there's more to him than meets the eye.) If they can't pay Rene back, they'll end up behind the wheel of his pimped-up Rasta Monsta truck, a delivery vehicle for Rene's newly conceived energy drink (I'm betting on a scandal involving Rasta Monsta's ingredients; wait for it).
Convinced that their first step is to find a manufacturer, they visit Jean Shop (a real store in Manhattan) and weasel the name and location of the store's production facility from its owner, Eric Goldstein (a real co-owner of Jean Shop). Believing that they have cleverly executed their first bit of industrial espionage, they head off to Hunts Point in the Bronx, only to discover that Goldstein has sent them to a meat processing plant. It's their first taste of just how competitive the fashion industry is. You can check out a video of Goldstein talking about the scene here. Fingers crossed for more cameos from NYC entrepreneurs!
But as Cam and Ben will soon learn, they're putting the cart before the horse: the first step isn't finding a manufacturer; it's getting someone to make a pattern for their jeans. Their biggest problem is that they don't know what they don't know. Plus, they haven't quite figured out how to be effective business partners. Ben is a sad sack who craves success but lacks the ability to follow through with his great ideas; and Cam is recklessly ambitious and dangerously impulsive. They're not exactly an inspiring pair. Even when they finagle an introduction to designer John Varvatos from a super-model friend, they squander a meeting at the company by being woefully unprepared. "Don't waste your time, don't waste your money," the Varvatos head of manufacturing tells them. "A million people before you have failed trying to do what you want to do'¶.I had ten years experience and backing and I still couldn't get it done." For real entrepreneurs, those words are like bellows on embers and, sure enough, they have the same impact on Ben and Cam. We left them on Sunday determined to track down a pattern maker and to move forward with their 70s-inspired denim line, called Crisp ("you say crisp, I think bacon," the local deli owner tells them). I'm also hoping they find a mentor or two and a better source of financing. And someone to help them write a business plan. Some confidence for Ben and some humility for Cam would also be nice.
What do you think is in store for our young, aspiring, fictional, entrepreneurs? Do they remind you of anyone you know?
DONNA FENN | Inc.com Contributing Editor
Donna Fenn is the author of Upstarts! How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.