This article was written by Victor "Divine" Lombard, former drug dealer, rapper, actor, tech entrepreneur and ambassador for The Last Mile. Divine is a disruptor in every sense of the word with his relentless ambition, determination, grind and hustle.
"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." - Lao Tzu
Five years ago, I was federal inmate #03845-070. After over a decade of going in and out of prison, I found myself in federal prison yet again. I was angry at and disappointed in myself. I always knew I was much wiser than criminality and incarceration. I was taught that it takes something dynamic to happen to change a negative psychological and habitual cycle of behavior. I was extremely dissatisfied and I set out with a determined idea to finally change my life. Since I was passionate about hustling and the grind (process) of making money and being successful, I decided I would pursue formal and legal entrepreneurship.
Interestingly, while incarcerated, I came across an article about famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, his love for Hip-Hop and how he used it to teach business lessons to his employees. I was skeptical but intrigued. Researching and learning more about Ben I became determined to reach out to him upon my release.
After my release, I hit Ben on Twitter. He responded and I asked him to mentor me. I wrote a rap song about him, and we quickly became friends. This relationship would develop and expose me to the technology industry. Ben (and eventually his wife Felicia Horowitz) embraced and believed in me, didn't prejudge me by my past criminal history, and became my biggest supporters in my life journey toward redemption.
The Struggle of Transition
Changing a negative psychological and habitual cycle of behavior isn't easy. I had been selling drugs since I was a teenager to make money to survive and sustain. However, I knew that if I was to become successful, I had to change and break free from my old life. I had to have courage and focused determination. The dynamic that put that transition into motion, and ultimately caused my breakthrough, was simply Ben's belief in me, my growing network of entrepreneurs and the positive reinforcement from the business community.
In 2015, I founded my first startup, BLAK Fintech (BLAK), personal financial and banking products for the financially excluded. That was my first formal education in entrepreneurship and building a startup. I had no idea of what to expect, but I was elated and went into it with an assertive and open mind.
I've learned so much over the last two years from just the day-to-day hustle and grind of building BLAK. I was able to take a lot of the transferable skills I applied in the streets and drug game into entrepreneurship, finding that there are a lot of parallels between the two:
- Entrepreneurship is no easy journey. Buckle up for a long and winding road.
- You have to be laser focused and disciplined, resilient, determined and ambitious, but also practical.
- Think big, but start small and execute precisely.
- There will be failure, but it's having the right mental attitude and emotional and spiritual fortitude to turn failure into triumph.
- Be flexible and adaptable, be prepared to pivot as things will change.
- Do your diligence on the problem you want to solve. Thoroughly research the market, the customer and the competition.
- Prove your hypothesis first and foremost before investing a dollar or your time and energy. Be sure the opportunity is real and you have a solid business model.
- Build an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) to test and prove your concept and build traction.
- Create a revenue stream from early adopters of your product or service before seeking to be funded.
- Seek out mentors and others more experienced and knowledgeable than you are about your particular (business) space.
This is actionable advice I learned from experience and that I would impart to first-time entrepreneurs. For me, entrepreneurship and building a startup is like warfare, so prepare for war. You have to be courageous and have a long view. It will not be an easy task and only the strong will survive regardless of the outcome. Good luck with your journey.