After spending more than six years in a Florida prison, the first thing Lawrence Aponte did upon his release was look for a job.

He found one shucking and packing oysters at a seafood warehouse for a whopping $7 an hour. Never mind that Aponte is allergic to shellfish and would leave work every day covered in hives--for the first time in more than half a decade, he had a job, and he had hope.

For most people, making it out of the prison system would be a major accomplishment in its own right. But Aponte is hardly one to rest on his laurels.

In less than three years after his release, Aponte transitioned from that $7 an hour a job to raking in more than $1 million in online sales via the power of e-commerce. Here's how he grew from hives to riches, and landed a gig teaching his method at the online school Tecademics.

A Rough Introduction to Entrepreneurship

"Growing up, I didn't make all the correct choices," says Aponte. "In fact, I made [a lot] of "bad" ones. From shoplifting, to stealing cars, drug dealing--you name it, I probably tried it. Entrepreneurialism at its finest."

Aponte was quickly labeled a "problem child" and spent the ages from 13 to 18 in and out of juvenile detention centers and on probation . At the age of 20, he was sent to prison.

"It was inevitable," says Aponte. "With the life that I was living, I was sure to land there."

Aponte served three years before being released on probation. One of the conditions of his release was to find a new job, but of course that's difficult to do in a downturned economy with a felony on your resume. So less than a year later, he was back in prison for violating the terms of his probation. This time, he served close to four years.

"All in all I spent over seven years of my life behind bars," says Aponte. "Seven years that I'll never get back--nor do I want them."

Aponte left prison for the second time determined to never go back. He made it his mission to find a job from day one. And that's how he ended up at the seafood warehouse where the next phase of his life began.

Trial and Error (And Error, and Error) Leads to Success

Not long after his prison release and job acquisition, Aponte was browsing Facebook in his free time when he came across an ad for a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "American grown with Puerto Rican roots." The shirt caught the eye of Aponte, an American-born Puerto Rican. As he checked out the shirt, he noticed it had sold more than 1,500 times on a platform that allowed users to upload their own shirt designs and sell them to the public with no inventory costs .

Aponte spotted an opportunity. So he uploaded his own slogan ("Once you go Rican, you won't stop freakin") figuring he'd sell a few shirts and make a few bucks.

He sold zero.

But he wasn't deterred. Instead, he tried out a new slogan targeted at Texans--and this one worked. Aponte sold 40 shirts and made a few hundred bucks. It wasn't a windfall, but it showed him the potential was there. He began seeking out design inspiration and enrolled in a course to procure its bonus--a guide to scaling a winning T-shirt design. He quickly launched a bunch of new designs.

Just as quickly, he lost all the money he'd made from his first batch of sales.

Many people would give up here. But Aponte is persistent. Some people use art or weightlifting to overcome a rough past and instill new values; Aponte seems to have chosen work.

"It doesn't matter who you are and where you've been as long as you truly want better for yourself, put in the work, and never quit," he says. In that spirit, he refused to let this setback send him back to construction with his tail between his legs. Instead, he decided to switch gears and dive into the course he'd purchased originally just to procure the bonus. The course was about using Shopify and Facebook Ads to make money from anywhere.

Using the information he gained from the course, Aponte soon started up a "Free +shipping" drop shipping business. Instead of sinking a lot of money into the business right away, this time Aponte went slow. He started with a $5 ad that generated around $20 in sales. Then he invested that $20 in ads to the tune of $60 in sales. He continued this process for his free Shopify trial--and by the end of it, he'd generated more than $10,000 in sales. Bingo.

By the 90th day on Shopify, Aponte had grossed more than $100,000 in sales--all stemming from that initial $5 ad.

Success was coming. Aponte decided to capitalize on his gains by seeking out mentors and taking a mastermind course with Chris Record and other online internet marketing trainers.

After the mastermind, Aponte started up a retail drop shipping store that grossed another six figures in 40 days--less than half the time it took him to reach those numbers with the first store.

With two successful stores and more than $700,000 in revenue under his belt, Aponte began refining his business strategies and providing client consulting services to those looking to follow in his footsteps. The mentee had become the (very wealthy) mentor.

Inspiring Others

Though he no longer provides client services, Aponte regularly shares his story with others as inspiration for what can be achieved both in terms of entrepreneurship and as a human being.

Aponte's financial success is unquestionably inspiring. But perhaps even more so is the attitude he brings to his work in general and his life as a whole--in spite of his rough start.

"I'm a firm believer that everything happens in life for a reason, and that those situations that I went through have molded me into the man I am today," says Aponte. "I feel that everyone should learn and grow from their mistakes. It just takes some of us longer than others. For me, it took almost 17 years to figure it out. Better late than never, right?"

Published on: Apr 24, 2017