But not only is that often not true, some of the most successful -- not to mention interesting -- people you meet are what I all "ands": people who are this and that, and that...
Case in point: John Dolmayan is the drummer for Grammy winning, mega-platinum-selling rock band System of a Down... and he's an investment guru, and he's an entrepreneur. John founded and runs Torpedo Comics, a high-end comic book store in Las Vegas that specializes in rare and hard to find comic books.
In fact, John's entrepreneurial roots predate his music roots. (You could even argue that System of a Down is an "and," not entrepreneurship.)
John's story is fascinating -- not to mention inspiring for aspiring entrepreneurs -- so instead of chopping up our interview, I'll get out of the way and let him tell his story in his own words.
When I was a young lad growing up in California I had a $5-a-week allowance. Every Saturday my friends and I would go to the movies.
But one Saturday there was nothing we hadn't seen, and one guy said, "Let's go to a comic book store." I didn't know there were stores dedicated to comics.
I walked into that store on Victory Boulevard called Passport Comics, and it was like walking into another world: Posters, comics on the walls, superheroes I had never seen --and I instantly fell in love with the hobby. I spent all my money on the comics that day. I bought some 25-centers, 50-centers, I bought an issue of Savage Sword of Conan... From that point forward, I spent that $5 on comics.
Within a year or so I had a long box of comics. Two years later I convinced my mom to take me to the San Diego Comic-Con. I had a budget of about $100 that I had saved, and I blew through that $100 in about thirty minutes.
I started out just buying whatever I could afford, so I could read as many titles as possible. Through the process of elimination I figured out the titles I enjoyed, and then I started to buy the new issues of those titles. I had a pull list of 50 titles a month: Detective Comics, Batman, Superman... and then everything else was essentially Marvel titles: Amazing Spiderman, Avengers, West Coast Avengers, X-Men....
So I was getting every new issue, but I had a thirst for more, so I said, "Let's take a look at back issues." Very soon I embraced the collector mindset, which for many is to be a completist. I started writing wish lists, tried to find first appearances. There were all these books I had to have... it became a pretty bad habit. I was spending $500 a month. I've had jobs since I was 15 years old, and whatever money I had, I essentially put into comics.
When I was 18, I didn't want to ask my parents for money but I had bills to pay, I couldn't afford a good car and I was constantly paying for repairs... so I had to make a tough decision: stop collecting, or make more money.
Not buying new issues of the comics I loved was unthinkable, so I started selling some of my back issues. I put ads in a free local paper. I had some pretty good books by then, so I ran ads saying, "50 percent off back issues." I quickly developed a business selling back issues.
Then a friend who sold baseball cards said I should go to a convention and sell some of my books there. I wasn't even aware there were small, pop-up conventions.
I lost money for the first six months, primarily because these were baseball card conventions and there would never be more than three or four people who were interested in comics. One time I got a speeding ticket on the way to a convention and between the $180 ticket and the $30 fee to set up a display, I took what was a big loss to me.
My dad said, "Instead of trying to sell them, why don't you just take these comics and throw them away? You'd lose less money." My parents had been lending me money, and he felt I was squandering my time and my talents.
When someone tells me I can't do something, I'm the kind of person who will kill myself to prove them wrong. I've been told no one makes it in music. I've been told comic books are a stupid idea.
I take great pleasure in proving people wrong.
SoI kept at it. I heard about a convention in Anaheim that was strictly for comic books. I went to Home Depot and bought closet organizers and used them to create displays. (I figured I'd return the organizers to Home Depot at the end of the day to get my money back.) I crammed everything I could into my beat-up 1986 Baretta, set up my display in a nice corner of the hall... and I made a profit of $250, which was more than I had made the entire six months previous.
I went home and I gave my dad the $250 and said, "See? I can be successful at this... and I will be successful at this."
I kept running ads in the free paper, went to more and more conventions, made more and more money, and expanded my business. Eventually I was making more money selling comics than I was working at my "real" jobs. So I said, "This is it. This is what I am going to do for a living."
Fast forward a few years, and when I got signed to join System I was making about $60,000 a year selling comics. I actually had to take a pay cut to join System.
Of course, looking back it sounds odd, but at the time deciding to join the band was a tough decision to make. I love everything about the comic business: hunting for rare books, talking to other people who are passionate about comics... I love everything about the comic book world. The first day of San Diego Comic-Con is my favorite day of the year. The last day is my least favorite day of the year, because that means Comic-Con is over.
So I did take a big pay cut to be in System, but I took advantage of touring to go into every comic shop, every bookstore, every antique store I could find. People in the business are generally really nice. If they didn't have what I was looking for -- vintage, high-end books -- they would give leads. I built up ten to twenty really good sources across the country, I'd buy books in those towns... and when the band was off, I'd set up at conventions and sell books. I did that until 2003, when I decided to build a "real" business, and that eventually became Torpedo Comics.
Even though I was successful in the comic book business, I still started small with our brick-and-mortar presence. I already owned a warehouse in Vegas so I set up a store there, focusing on vintage, old-school comics: Golden Age, Silver Age, first appearances...
That store did really well really quickly, so we're opening at our new location on May 20. It's a 3,500-square-foot store in a high-traffic area. We met with the owners of the complex, showed them our ideas for the store, and they liked it so much they gave us a really good deal on the rent; otherwise we couldn't afford to be in that location.
Even so, I'm spending way too much money on the store, but when a kid walks in I want them to feel the same thing I felt when I was 12 and I walked into my first comic book store. I want the adults to feel that way too. I want people to feel good about being there... and miss it when they aren't there.
Selling is secondary to me. I truly believe that if you have a great product and create something incredible, the sales will come.
Anyone can make a living -- but not everyone can make an impact. I've always wanted to make an impact. People go to Disneyland because of the way it makes them feel. They're not in the ride business, they don't have the best rides. They're in the "way it makes you feel" business, and that's why I miss Disneyland when I haven't been there for a while.
I want to watch kids have that look of awe on their face. I want to experience that with them. I want to create something in the comic book world that takes them to that place.
That's also due to our inventory. I've been doing this for so long, and so many people know I buy... I have people out there that act as unofficial finders. They'll give me leads, or I'll give them a finder's fee or buy what they bring in. Plus, lots of collections walk in the door. We're always buying. And every customer that brings in a book to sell, we let them know we give a finder's fee of 10 percent for any collection we buy.
That makes every single customer a potential source, too.
But most of all, the best way to provide a great experience is to treat people fairly. We give honest appraisals of what books are worth, and what we can pay. Even though we have rent to pay, overhead, employees... we don't cherry-pick collections. I have five million books right now. We pay, on average, 30-40 percent more than most comic book stores.
I've been very lucky. To find not just one but two things I'm passionate about... there's a certain amount of luck involved. I knew I wanted to be a drummer since I was probably 2 years old. That wasn't a choice; I was born with that desire. My dad was nice enough to get me a drum set when I was 15 because I had asked for a set every Christmas and birthday since I was 5 years old.
But if my friend hadn't suggested going to a comic book store when I was 12...
The key is to do something that makes you happy, so every day when you go to work you're happy about working -- that way you put as much effort as possible into what you do. That way you will go to the limit of your ability.
If you're going to be successful at something, you have to give it every ounce of effort that you can. I've known tons of musicians and tons of people in the comics business who fell by the wayside, and the ones that have the drive... they're the ones that are successful. They're willing to go through the tough times and the failure.
When someone tells them they can't do something, they want to prove those people wrong.
They'll do anything to prove those people wrong -- and to get to do what they love.