Going to prison at the age of 27 was a life shattering experience. I was sentenced to 16 years to life for a drug related crime, and at the time, had very little hope for the future. However, my desire to change and make amends for the crime that I committed propelled me to earn a college degree and learn to become a computer programmer in the The Last Mile coding program while incarcerated.
It was through this experience that I developed an entrepreneurial idea for Fitness Monkey, an online life-coaching platform that empowers addiction recovery through physical fitness. I built an MVP (minimum viable product) with the skills I learned in The Last Mile and was able to pitch my idea to investors and business people from Silicon Valley who visited San Quentin State Prison.
With a deep desire to be successful and a plan to pursue my dream, the parole board found me suitable for release earlier this year. I am now on a path to exceed my goals. I attribute many guiding objectives to get to where I am today, and where I will be in the future. Some of these key principles include:
1. Begin with the end in mind.
How did I create Fitness Monkey? I drew on my own story of overcoming substance abuse by participating in fitness fueled activities to get the monkey of addiction off my back. During my time in prison, the Fitness Monkey concept was refined to focus on it's core value proposition, target market, and of course, how will it make money.
2. Start where you are.
I had to pursue my goals long before I was released from prison. I had to live and breathe fitness and education. I started recruiting people in prison who were on a similar journey. I joined the 1000 mile club and ran the San Quentin Marathon (105 laps around the prison yard). When I wasn't running, I was studying and I became the valedictorian of my college class.
3. No hurdle is too large.
Becoming an entrepreneur in prison definitely wasn't easy and there were plenty of hurdles along the way. One of the biggest challenges was trying to learn about your competition and the market opportunity without the use of the Internet. There's no connectivity and inmates aren't allowed to run a business from inside prison while incarcerated. I relied on mentors who visited the prison to provide research and feedback.
4. Ask for help.
Asking for help in prison is sometimes viewed as a weakness, but I've realized that if you are focused on a goal, asking for help is the best way to accelerate your prospects. I received help from outside mentors with my business my pitch (recited it over 100 times), and from fellow inmates who wanted to part of Fitness Monkey when they became returned citizens.
5. Read, read , read.
I've had the honor of meeting many authors while I was incarcerated who were guest speakers. Authors Guy Kawasaki 'Enchantment', Andy Smith 'The Dragonfly Effect', John Hamm 'Unusually Excellent', Ben Casnocha 'The Start-Up of You" and many more. Each author wrote stories of inspiration, ambition, and overcoming adversity. I consumed these books and realized that to be relevant, I had to be consistently reading and learning.
6. Go beyond your fears and doubts.
I never thought I would be a coder. Frankly, I did not know what coding was when I was first incarcerated. However, I was determined to develop highly marketable skills that would prepare me for a successful reintegration back into society. On a daily basis, I was learning to master the entrepreneurial skill of finding creative solutions to the technical challenges of coding, as well as life. After all, I couldn't "Google it" in prison when I reached a hurdle.
7. Reach for the goal line.
I learned that a common thread among entrepreneurs was that some of the greatest ideas were born from our biggest challenges or worst mistakes. Now it's time to take the skills I learned and put them towards building a new life. I'm continuing to develop Fitness Monkey, and hope to be accepted into an accelerator program in Silicon Valley. My road to entrepreneurship is just beginning.
Going to prison and becoming an aspiring entrepreneur taught me resilience and the importance of never giving up. I am following my path and focused on the future.
Are you following yours?