The Helpful Entrepreneur
When I was four years old I received my first Superman suit, summer edition. My mom made it for me from a pair of blue athletic shorts and t-shirt, some red and yellow fabric and some Velcro (she is legendary at making a lot out of a little). Soon I wanted nothing but to be that symbol of all that was good, noble, and powerful. At the time, I didn’t realize what it was that so drew me to this superhero, nor did I care, but I was drawn. The majority of my imaginative energy was spent pretending to be Superman, even after summer had ended. So to keep me from freezing in the cold, damp, Wisconsin winters, mom was forced to design for me the winter edition. Can anybody say “Blue sweats for days!”?
I think I was born to be a helpful entrepreneur. That’s why Superman was (and still is) my inspiration. If you think about it, that’s exactly what he is. Just like any entrepreneur, Superman had a fire in his bones that prompted him to stand up and be the hero no one else could or would be. He was a “helpful” entrepreneur because his motivation came not from his superhuman powers but rather the depth of his soul and his passion to serve those who most needed him. His superpowers merely made him one of the fortunate, talented few who’s startup didn’t fail in the first year.
Fast forward a year or so to 1995. I’ve always had a knack for creating solutions to problems (especially when pumpkin chocolate chip muffins were at stake). At five years old, I was determined to show my neighbors how much we cared for them by helping them with anything, I didn’t much care with what. That’s when I began my first “non-profit venture”: the Helpers Club (never quite got our 501(c)(3) status...). The mission was bold, it was clear, it was powerful: “to help”. I recruited all of my friends to join the newly formed Helpers Club. Meetings were held in my room where a small group of poor five-year-old boys would fidget and eye the door, begging to be released from the overeager, disillusioned cage of their ambitious friend into the sunshine where they could play unrestrained by the burdensome club etiquette and rules I mandated (we were, after all, an official club). Our first (and only) philanthropic endeavor was an afternoon spent picking weeds in our neighbor’s yard, all five of us. Rather I should say we spent about 20 minutes picking weeds and the rest of the afternoon eating my mom’s freshly baked pumpkin chocolate chip muffins and watching movies downstairs while it slowly drizzled outside in the murky gray Midwest spring.
There’s something about stories in which the protagonists overcome their physical restrictions and become “super” human, soaring through the air, moving objects with their mind, or crashing through buildings without a scratch that has always resonated deep within my soul. You might say there’s always been a fire inside of me to “be the change I wish to see”. It’s almost like the desire to be a superhero is in my DNA. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t turned into a pancake when a car tire ran over my chest at two years old (true story).
Now we jump to 2013. At 13 years old, I am upset. The source of my frustration is that I am two years too young for most of the jobs in our small, mountain town. I knew I wanted to start earning money and working but I didn’t know how I could do that if I was too young to sign my W2, so I struck out on my first business venture: construction site cleanup. I was very good at cleaning things and I wanted to badly to work in construction (it was manly, after all), so that seemed like a logical choice. With this in mind, I made up my fliers and talked to my friends who had dads in construction, trying desperately to get connected somewhere. While they all gave me plenty of pats on the back and words of encouragement, I also received a ‘No’ from them all (something about not wanting the liability of unemployed children walking around their job site and getting skewered with a rusty nail or bludgeoned with a falling board).
Unfazed, I moved on to the next idea: car detailing, since cleaning came naturally to me. Once again I made up my fliers, handing them out to everyone at church, nailing my first (and only) client! While both of these ventures turned out to be quite disappointing for me, I wouldn’t be shaken.
That’s when I (reluctantly) joined my 8th grade teacher on his own entrepreneurial business venture: door-to-door candle sales. But not just any candle, mind you, but SOY candles. Yes, soy candles. I can still remember going door to door around my neighborhood, riding my bike down Whitefish Stage Rd. in the hot summer sun, just trying to make something for myself, no matter what the cost (I hated selling things). I can still remember my proselytizing speech I would give: “Did you know that most candles are made out of paraffin wax? Did you also know that paraffin wax is a waste product pulled from the bottom sludge of petroleum?”. I made sure to emphasize the word “sludge”. As I rehearsed for them my clever speech, I would pull out my array of wonderful, scented candles from my backpack, allowing their noses to meander through the forest of wonderful aromas, silently hoping they wouldn’t open the gardenia candle (I assure you that no gardenia EVER smelled that potent and abrasive).
Several jobs and a few years later and I found myself in college, struggling, like most college students, to make it through school while not going completely broke (at least for too long). School was tough and found I was unable to sacrifice much time to pay the bills. That’s when a friend and mentor of mine asks me to consider giving his children karate lessons. Naturally I loved teaching karate and I wanted to help my friend out, so I agreed. I had taught martial arts for years before going to college but it was my first time teaching outside of my own academy. So, once a week I would pretend I knew what I was doing, turning couch cushions into punching bags in the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship house in which I lived, along with two dozen other college students. While I would never have considered it a “startup”, it helped pay the bills.
It’s now 2017. I haven’t detailed a car other than my own, cleaned a construction site, or sold a soy candle in many years. I do, however, still teach martial arts. Ki-3 Karate (pronounced “KEY-three”) is a small, private martial arts school with REAL training equipment that operates underneath the LLC I created two years ago called Jacob Ideas, my outlet for creating and sharing my design, writing and teaching. Sound pretty generic? It is. If you’ve ever had a junk drawer in your house for placing all of the stuff you didn’t know what to do with, that’s what Jacob Ideas is for me. It’s what happens when you enjoy doing multiple, completely unrelated things like karate, 3d printing, writing, and architecture and want to figure out what to do with it all. But I suppose that’s all part of the journey of self-discovery for a helpful entrepreneur. I’ve watched enough Superman movies to know that he also didn’t have it all figured out when he first started out. From learning to harness his superhuman powers to figuring out what his role was in a society that offered him no applicable role models for him to follow, it took Superman time to finally figure out his place, through trial and error with a couple of mistakes and bumps along the way.
I’m far from the end of my helpful entrepreneurial journey, but if I’ve learned anything from Superman it’s that I’ve been gifted the desires and abilities I have for a reason. I’ve come a long way through it all as I’ve learned more about myself, my abilities, and what it is I can offer the world. There’s a lot I don’t know but there’s a few things I do know: I’ll always be an entrepreneur, I’ll always desire to help, and I’ll UNASHAMEDLY always love Superman.