A Serial Entrepreneur Tasted your share of success and failure? Me too!
I could aptly be defined a “serial entrepreneur” with a penchant for creating new things. My gender identity played a key role in both my success and failure. The creative energy arising from dual genders was an ingredient for certain achievements. Unfortunately, the distractions & frustration associated with living two separate lives had a habit of destroying accomplishments.
This area of my life best personifies the “beautiful-ugly” moniker: What was good? Was great. What was bad? Was nothing short of dreadful. Mine is a love-hate relationship with my entrepreneurial calling. Andrew Carnegie once aptly observed: “Pioneering don’t pay”. The greatest challenge of pioneering? It usually takes many months - even years - to bring projects to fruition, and there’s no guarantee those efforts will bear profitable fruit. That part really sucks! I once tried adapting my gifts to more established routes but felt lost. Alas, we are, who we are.
The Young Entrepreneur
I began my first business at the age of thirteen & entrepreneuring remained a cornerstone of my existence thereafter. Along with my best from childhood, Rob Puckett - I started a slew of good & not-so-good ventures in my early days. When people would ask us about the nature of our business focus in those formative years we would playfully retort we were in the business of ATMAB…”Anything To Make A Buck”. *Laugh*
Some of you might recall the early & mid-1980's - when success before the age of thirty was a novel concept born from an Apple tree named Steve Jobs. Nowadays, you’re considered a dinosaur if you launch your first technology venture later in life. Back then? It was nearly impossible to be taken seriously in the world of business before your 40th birthday. I was a small part of a revolution that forever changed all that.
My pilot for success was a first-ever entrepreneurial hub at a public university - UK Student Agencies, Inc. - born by necessity since I faced multiple threats of expulsion for constantly starting unsanctioned businesses on the college campus.
I leveraged this entrepreneurial beginning into a hodge-podge of new companies that collectively caused me to get ranked as one of America's top 100 entrepreneur's under the age of 30 in 1985.
This notoriety was the basis for my fifteen-minutes: from profiles in Forbes & Success Magazines plus cameos on morning talk shows...I became a flavor of the month.
In retrospect, the most interesting aspect of this phase of my life adventure wasn't my own entrepreneurial vistas but rather, being afforded a front-row seat to the makings of several entrepreneurial giants of our generation. I encountered Bill Gates before he was all that. Met Michael Dell when he was just seventeen years-old and running an impressive albeit much smaller mail-order computer enterprise. Met Steve Jobs before returned to reinvent Apple. My list of acquaintances was long & distinguished.
I was at the formative meetings of YEO (Young Entrepreneur's Organization) - Now EO and one of the nation's premier entrepreneurial groups. Alas, the whole thing was first created because founder Verne Harnish wisely recognized all the initial associations were tailored to being under-30...and we lacked a formalized mission to gather once we began approaching this over-the-hill legacy. Generally speaking, I didn't exactly fit-in with this clan of business builders. They were either from the East...taking the whole thing way too serious for my tastes - or...they resided out West - and seemed dedicated to pretending nothing really mattered.
A Successful Failure I'm forced to compare myself with other entrepreneurs I encountered over the years. I once seemed destined to accomplish great things in this regard. In that sense? I f’eel like a a bit of a failure. However, within myself there existed only one essential aim - correct the mistake known as my gender. By finally solving that problem? I'm also a success.
The only other person I encountered at those early entrepreneur gatherings most like myself was a guy from Texas who owned a retail computer chain called Micro-Solutions. While our entrepreneurial comrades remained dedicated to bettering their minds & wallets at each conference, Mark & I were only interested in one thing...having fun!
We first met at the ACE conference in Chicago in 1984...long before he was a pro-sports team owner & I was anything more than a once-a-month DRAG queen. As graduates of the two most storied college basketball colleges of that age (Kentucky & Indiana) we formed an immediate bond.
However, our real connection was a taste for night-clubbing. Thus, while the other young business-builders were wolfing breakfast in pinstripes & spying one another with that eye of the tiger, Mark & I were usually just getting poured from some cab with nothing on our minds but the lovely women we were dragging back to the hotel.
Mark knew nothing of my gender identity issues. Doubt he'd have cared - he's a good guy. In the end? Following these early successes, we both got exactly what we dreamed during that time span. I became a woman - and Mark Cuban became a billionaire. Works for me...
A Bitter Defeat My business history during transition isn’t a favorite subject. I built an extraordinary basis in retail dry-cleaning. However, as I prepared to ramp that platform into a national chain...I recall the day I looked into a mirror & realized I was painting myself into another corner. I didn't want this life. I tried being fulfilled as a weekend gender-warrior but with each passing day my inner female-self made it clear...that - wasn't enough.
Building a growth company is a challenging course. Dismantling one? That's ugly. If I had it all to do over? I'd have done things differently. Wouldn't we all?
In the end? I was left with just enough to finish transition & begin a new life. I eventually lost everything as I continued melting down during my new reality. That was a bitter pill to swallow. I worked so hard to build a quality platform and almost destroyed everything: wasn’t my finest hour.
The Accidental Inventor I tried launching new ventures. Almost nobody wanted to know me - let alone work with me. I was transgender. I was a failure. However, I was also an “entrepreneur” & knew that true entrepreneurs never actually fail: their companies do. The best entrepreneurs? They pick themselves up - and try again. That’s just what I did.
I never envisioned myself an “inventor” earlier in my entrepreneurial career. I dealt with inventors - coddled their often unrealistic expectations: usually exhausting. I eventually embraced technology development and new patent creation as an essential entrepreneurial skill. Also, as an openly queer entrepreneur? It was perhaps my only way to get back in the game.
When the dry cleaning industry faced mounting environmental regulations in the early 1990’s, I procured alternative cleaning solvents for the industry. During this process, I created a methodology for consumers to clean “dry clean only” clothing at home - in a household clothing dryer.
Subsequently, I was awarded my first patent and assigned the technology to an enterprise I cofounded that manufactured and distributed the product. I eventually achieved eleven US & worldwide patents - all relate to processes for cleaning “dry clean only” clothes at home in a household clothing dryer. It became a new and well recognized consumer packaged goods category and is still available in many grocery stores, Wal-Mart, etc. I’m proud of this project and very thankful it got me back on solid ground.
We sold this enterprise in March, 2012. I subsequently invested my free time (facing a two year non-compete agreement) into finishing a pair of personal passion projects - completely updating this web site plus creating and launching my new comedy magic act: DRAmaGic.
I’m also an active investor in a number of single tenant commercial real estate locations.
I still sometimes struggle with feelings of disappointment regarding how little I accomplished entrepreneurially relative to my skills and experience, particularly when I compare myself to certain people. However, I overcame some pretty tough obstacles and I’m now female, healthy, financially solid and peaceful. Thus, I choose to reflect upon those many blessings. Recently finalized plans for my next business venture. Hope to launch in late 2014 - nothing too major - but perhaps it will become quite profitable and fun.