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The Pre-Entrepreneur

The Pre-Entrepreneur

Hello and good day!

 Every entrepreneur who eventually builds a successful and sustainable business lives through a period during which their present and their dreams for the future diverge widely.

 While my dad and brother were taking trips to the northern Peruvian jungle to get our chocolate business up and running, I was doing payroll for the department of defense.

 I married my wife at age 21 after a whirlwind romance in Peru. She moved back to the United States with me while I finished college.

 Our original plan was to return to Peru after graduation so that I could work for our family business selling mining equipment to a gold mine outside the city of Cajamarca.

 While Nery and I were in the U.S., our equipment distribution company fizzled out.

 A unique point about my childhood is that my parents never had "real" jobs.

 My dad owned a hotel. My mom owned a theatre.

 They were entrepreneurs.

 I didn't figure that I'd ever have a "real" job either.

 We lost both the hotel and the theatre when I was twelve.

 Both were stolen from us by a crooked investor.

 My parents rebounded and went on to start new ventures.

 Based on my role models, I couldn't see myself in a 9-5.

 I always assumed I'd work for a family business someday.

 Unfortunately, after college, the family business I planned to join was no longer in existence.

 I tried working for my mom's new business as a salesman for a while, but I couldn't make ends meet.

 I did odd jobs.

 I sold newspaper subscriptions in front of grocery stores.

 I worked as a substitute teacher.

 I did anything I could to pay the bills without having to accept an honest to goodness full time position.

 I couldn't make it work though, and I came to realize that I wasn't doing right by my wife.

I'd brought her over from Peru based on a plan.  Finish college, go back to Peru.

 She was working full time at Macy's, and I was messing around with a mish mash of occupations, none of which paid enough.

 It wasn't fair and it wasn't what I had promised her. She left her country for me, and now we were broke all the time.

 This went on for a year and a half until I decided that the least I could do for her was earn a decent living.

 Finally, I bit the bullet and did something that I'd never seen anybody in my family do. I took a full-time salaried position, working as a government contractor.

 I was on site at the Space And Naval Warfare Command in San Diego, SPAWAR.

 I won't mince words here.

 Working for the government made me a small government person. I've never been political. I don't have a party preference.

 But I do know from firsthand experience that parts of the government apparatus are at least 4 times over staffed and 5 times too expensive.

 To wit.

 Me and another young lady did payroll for the entire command. I did about two hours of work per day and so did my counterpart.

 That means you had two full time people hired for half of a real job. That is four times too much labor.

 It was even worse than that though because we both worked for a contractor who took a markup on top of our already excessive salaries.

 The manager of our department was a retiree who drew a pension from the government and then came back into her same job as a contractor. She was paid twice for doing a single job, plus the contracting company wet their beak as well.

 Waste was rampant and I became demoralized by this realization.  It was tax money that paid for the whole set up after all and thinking about that made me feel guilty as hell.

 Plus, I was deathly bored.

 After doing two hours of work, I didn't know what to do with the rest of my day.

 I read all the news there was to read, but that didn't take long.

 Most days, I ended up leaving a bunch of papers and binders spread out all over my desk, to make it look like I was in the middle of something serious, and then I simply wandered around the command, checking it out.

 We worked in what was once a huge airplane hangar owned by Lockheed Martin.  Now it was filled with grey cubicles. I've never seen anything like it since.

 You walked down a long, grey carpeted aisle, that ran from one end of the hangar all the way down to the other. The carpet was worn out and thinning from long tenure and in certain spots, you could see the grey polished concrete underneath.

 Considering how many people were in there, it was unusually quiet.There was an unspoken rule that nobody was to make very much noise.

 No rocking the boat.

 On either side of the central aisle, cubicles were built twenty deep until you made it to the walls. The walls had big windows, and from the windows, you could see the other hangars on the base.

 There were fluorescent white tube lights on the ceiling that maintained a constant ambient glow, regardless of the time of day or light outside. In some of the hangars, engineers did very cool engineering work on satellites.

 But not in ours.

 Ours was all cubicles, and four times too many by my calculation.

 I became known as a strange wandering figure. Nobody seemed to mind though.

I received high performance reviews for my work and was rewarded with several raises.I was able to take Nery out to eat in a modest restaurant once in a while, and that felt good.

 My best friend at work was Captain Fealock, a retired helicopter pilot with a bad sciatica nerve, who couldn't sit for long periods.

 There was a rule on base that only military officers could sign official documents and because of that, they needed a captain on site.

 When he wasn't signing papers, Captain Fealock walked around our hangar, short and bulky, bald with grey stubble around the sides, in his military tans, with medals pinned on his chest, watering plants.

He loved taking care of plants and he was loud and jovial, a nice break from the informally imposed silence, which only he had the rank to override.

 Many days, I followed Captain Fealock around and helped him water potted plants, which mostly sat on windowsills, and heard about his military history.

 That was my role and my identity and that was how the people who knew me thought of me. I was the tall, wandering, young man who was good friends with Captain Fealock.

 Then one day, I was sitting in my cubicle, just killing time, when the desk phone rang.I answered.

 "Adam? Do you have a second? Are you sitting down?"

 It was my dad.

 "I have all the time in the world dad. What's going on?"

 "You won't believe it. I just got off the phone with the USDA. We've discovered pure Nacional! It's a thought to be extinct variety of cacao that isn't supposed to grow in Peru! Brian is going to move out to the jungle! Can you believe it? The chocolate business is picking up steam!"

 I was caught up in the excitement.

 "Really dad! That is unbelievable! Congrats!"

 "I'll need your help now kid. Me and you are going to start going to conferences on the weekends. We need to make some sales. You with me?"

 "Of course I am dad. Let's do it!"

 "Love you son. Big things are coming."

 "Love you dad."

 I hung up and turned to my co-worker and told her about the discovery and the chocolate business.

 She shrugged.

 I could see that it didn't sound believable to her, and it didn't square with what she knew about me.

 I told Captain Fealock too, but it didn't add up for him either.

 So, I went on watering plants and reading the news and doing two hours of work, earning a decent living for my wife and going to chocolate industry conferences on the weekends, until the business could afford to hire me, which took another couple of years.

 The present of every new entrepreneur diverges widely from their hopes for the future.

 Thankfully, if you keep going, your hopes for the future become your present, and that is one of the best feelings in the world. 

 Thank you so much for time today.

 I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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