A story of a person who always followed their heart.
"Just start! Take that first step - even if you don't know where you're going."
(Still an entrepreneur before I knew what an entrepreneur was...)
Me in the house I grew up in. Wawarsing, NY - 1990
I was born in Hollywood, Florida. Lived there until I was 5 years old along with my brother and sister, Mom and Dad. In the summer of 1989 we moved to Wawarsing, New York. A very small town in a low key part of Upstate that had very little opportunity for those who want to create a life there. My Dad did have a good job with NYNEX (now Verizon), transferring from Florida to New York so he had this part already figured out. But for a kid like me looking for a future, good luck!
From ages 5-20 I lived and grew up in Wawarsing, New York. Also known as "Upstate" or the "Hudson Valley". From as early as 10 years old I would mow lawns in the summer, rake leaves in the fall, and shovel driveways in the winter for my neighbors to get some extra cash. I would even take my 20 dollars for shoveling the neighbors driveway, go to the local gas station, ask if I could buy a case of candy bars at a discount and then sell them for a profit on the bus ride to and from school.
In the summers I would go to a stream in the woods behind my house, by myself, with a sock and a bucket. I would go into the stream with no shoes on and stand over the water for hours as I snuck up on crayfish from behind and caught them with a sock over my hand to protect my fingers from getting pinched. I'd take them to the Taxidermy down the road from my house and sell them for 5 cents a piece! I don't think I ever brought in more than 5 bucks at a time doing that, but 5 bucks back then got you ton of candy!
I started getting a little more ballsy with my hustles and would do crazy stuff like wait for the dump behind my friends house to close for the day, sneak into the magazine recycling bins and dig for porno's! And I'm sure you're thinking that is nuts but it actually worked! I would dig and dig and some times I'd come up with nothing but other times it was like striking gold. You find one and then it's like you came across some guys entire collection! I would make so much money off of those things, I'd sell them at sticker price. Some of these magazines were like 35 bucks! And I'd get kids to pay for them! It was actually very easy to get rid of the magazines.
I first got my hands on a computer at 11, and was instantly drawn in. By 12 I was teaching myself how to make websites from scratch, using HTML coding and a simple graphics program. I can't even remember the name of it, but I do remember putting the websites I made up on a website called Tripod. I made fan pages about my favorite bands and favorite sports. I even started a site at the domain, www.naimco.com - to see if I could get anyone to pay me to build a website for them. But it never went anywhere and I never made a dime lol.
But a product that did sell? Well, I will just go out and say it, I sold my first bag of weed at 14. I think the first time I ever smoked I was 13 but didn't really pick up the habit until 14. Quickly I noticed other kids on my street would ask me to grab a bag for them when I'd go get some. First it started out where say for instance a half ounce is $50, I'd sell a an eighth to a couple people each for $20 and then keep my quarter for only $10.
It was all about smoking weed for cheap, if not for free. "Why pay for it?" was always my thought. One day when I was 15 I bought my first half ounce. I'll never forget how it felt. For the first time I felt like I was stepping up my game and had a hustle that could actually make some real money. I got home with that half ounce and weighed it all out into 5 dollar bags. I could double my money if I didn't smoke any of it. Of course I would, though. But this little side hustle grew quickly.
What started out as a side hustle grew to be my main source of money. A few months before I turned 16 I got my first job on the books at McDonalds, where I also sold weed on Fridays when everyone got paid. It started out where I would use my weed money as spending money to have fun with and my paycheck was my money to put away and save. It didn't take long for that to flip the other way around where my paycheck was so small it was my play money and my weed money was where the real money was, the money I would save.
But I would use it to reinvest. I turned that half ounce into pounds. $50 every time I'd re-up turned into $4,000 every time I'd re-up.
Me as a young teen, always up to no good.
Just to give you an idea of how New Yorkers split up the state. I'm from the Hudson Valley.
Me in my late teens, out partying with some of my boys. (Back when I did landscaping and had a tan)
At this point I had dropped out of High School, would sell and deliver weed all day around the area while I'd work the night shift at this food distribution the next town over. It went from getting weed locally to taking trips out to the Bronx with a buddy of mine who knew someone. Man that shit was sketchy, taking the train! So we finally decided to hire a kid to drive us out on our trips. The first time we do this, I'll never forget that morning... I remember stashing away $5,000 for the first time in my life and felt like I was rich (ha!). I left that money at home and took only enough to buy a pound of this really good weed on our trip out to the city. Good thing I did because we end up getting pulled over and I got caught.
The cop acted like it was a waste of his time, I felt like my life was over. I remember sitting in a cell, thinking everyone is going to f*ck with me because I am short. But my friend told my parents and luckily my Dad came and bailed me out. After that I was put on probation, and kept going but was a lot more careful. I spent most of my $5,000 on an attorney, which sucked. But at least I didn't have to go to jail. I was only 17... So, I guess that helped my case.
But now everyone knew, as if they didn't know already. I would sell to a girl on my street, she'd say "My parents would kill me if they found out", meanwhile little did this girl know that a few hours earlier I was selling to her Dad who would say "My daughter can never know!". Funny... But regardless, I got word from a few people that they got pulled over by the Sherrif and when they did he would ask about me and try to get information about me. This had me freaked out. I had just bought a Lexus GS300, put 18 inch chrome rims on it, had tv's in it, a bumpin' system, the works. This car was nicer than most of my friends parents cars, and it made me a target. Not only were Sherrifs asking about me but I ended up getting robbed, twice, once with a gun to my head. So, yeah. Here I was with this bad ass car and a shot gun under my bed while I slept at night.
Meanwhile I still mowed lawns and did landscaping for people, worked at my night job. I never stopped moving and making money, and I never had so much money before either. I was really heavy into Hip-Hop at the time, writing lyrics and recording music. I spent a bunch of money on an expensive music program, a nice keyboard, a couple of nice mics, and one of those Apple eMacs that came in different colors. It was supposed to be an investment that would hopefully turn into some fantasy come true where I could start my own studio. But I was so wrapped up in everything else I was doing and the music program was so hard to learn, so it never went anywhere and I kept recording taps of my voice over a karaoke machine.I still have those tapes lol.
Anyway, my 2 friends had taken a trip to North Carolina the year before and never stopped talking about it, and on New Years Day 2004, I ran into one of them on my way home from a buddies house who I crashed at the night before. He mentioned how he decided he was going to move out to NC, and asked if I join him. I said "Of course!" thinking, this could be my way out of this dead end town. But I also thought if I were to change my mind I still had the time to figure that out as he planned to make this move 8 months later in August.
So in an attempt to grow up, I decided move to Wilmington, North Carolina with the intention to use the opportunity to quit selling and start over. I would go on to learn a lot of hard lessons in North Carolina, but also had a hell of a time, too. I'm embarrassed to bring it up, I usually never do because it is so dumb, but it is part of the story. When I got to North Carolina, all I had was the $4,000 I would use to re-up.
When I got there, I was stumped on how to turn that money into more money. I spent some of it to settle in. You know, I bought my first set of bed sheets, my first computer desk, my first box of laundry detergent. little stuff. I still had an easy $3,000 or so left. I kept asking myself, what sells itself like weed does? ... SEX! (HAHAH)
But no before your imagination goes too far it's not what you think! I didn't become some pimp or even try to sell myself on the street. Not even close. I came across this company, god, I think they were called Teletaria. You give them $2,000, they do everything and set up a porn-based website for you.
Then you pay another $300 a month for access to content. I would have access to hundreds of thousands of pics and videos that I can then use to sell as subscriptions to other people for the same access.
At the time it sounded genius. I just get it set up and don't even need to come up with content, just sell subscriptions while I do nothing but laugh all the way to the bank. But no, honestly I had no idea what I was doing. It really showed me how amateur I was and how even though I thought I knew business, I only knew selling weed, not real life business.
To make things worse, my first job after that was trying to sell Kirby Vacuums door to door. What a ridiculous waste of time that was! I went all in trying to sell these stupid over priced vacuums for 3 WEEKS until I finally did. But then only got $25 bucks for doing so. They said because I had to finance the vacuum to the customer, I only get $25. It's only when you sell it in full right then and there that you receive a big commission. You'd think they would tell you that before you spend time learning their sneaky sales tactics.
So, here I was, about a month or so into being in NC and after paying rent, I was broke! I ended up getting a job sorting packages at FEDEX from 3:30 am to 8:30 am and then from there rush over to another job and work 9 am to 6 pm at a factory where they produced trusses. Both jobs were terrible but it was enough to pay the bills and have some beer money to party with.
My buddy Josh landed what seemed like a pretty good gig, doing construction work. One day on my way home I had to pick him up from work as his car was getting fixed. He introduced me to his boss and I asked the man if he needed any help. He did, and he hired me. Little did I know this would be what I did for years to come, as I discovered a new passion.
Construction is too vague of a word, what I did was frame houses, I became a framer. I actually fell in love with what I was doing. I felt proud of what I was doing. I knew it was incredibly hard work and that not just anyone could take it on and stick it out. You had to be tough to frame houses. I liked that. I also liked how I got a work out while I got paid, I liked how I learned something new every day. Something of value that I could use in the future, whether for personal reasons or as means to make some money. I was never the college type, so this just felt like a good fit. I started to develop this dream of starting my own framing business.
Then those reality TV shows like "Flip This House", "Flip That House" and such started to come out and I became obsessed, watching every new episode religiously. And that is when I realized I wanted to be a General Contractor and flip houses.
Meanwhile, about a year into living in NC, I was only making just enough to pay the bills and barely at that. I remember being so broke I was living off of Ramen Cups and Iced Tea Mix. I hated it. At this time I was toying with the idea of selling weed again, I knew this guy who I could grab some from. But then I met this girl, we were only dating a couple weeks or something and we wanted to smoke a blunt, and she insisted we see her guy instead. We got there, I had to sit in the car and wait. But before she went inside I asked, "How much money do you need?", and she replied "Just give me 5 bucks".
I'm thinking, "What the hell are you going to get with 5 bucks?". This girl came back with like 4 blunts of weed! I was blown away, and immediately I knew in my gut what was coming... Not even a month later I sold my Lexus, and used that money to buy a quarter pound of weed! LOL, yes, that's what I did. I got caught up on my credit card debt, bought a QP, and had some play money left over.
This time, things moved even faster than ever. I had a cousin who already lived there and knew a lot of people. My girlfriend knew a ton of people too. My roommates also knew a ton of people. It spread like a wildfire. Fast forward a year and I was buying a few pounds at a time again. Fast forward another year and I am buying about 10 pounds at a time, twice a week. I was killing it. Meanwhile, still working my job as a framer and also took on a job bussing tables at a restaurant that my cousin and roommate worked at.
My Roommate Josh and I in Wilmington,
I made money all day long. Money was coming in from every direction. I went from a small apartment with my roommates, to a big house with one of my roommates and my cousin, then moved into my very own apartment on my own for the first time, at 22. I was making some good money! I had 2 cars, the freshest clothes and new toys and gadgets all the time. I ate out every meal and hit up bars and clubs every night, treating everyone around me to free drinks and food. It was fun.
I loved my job as a framer but my boss was a real asshole and treated me like shit all the time. It was a love / hate relationship for me. I loved this man, I learned so much from him and valued that. But he never really taught me anything. There's a difference, see. I used to always ask him to teach me stuff, I would even propose coming to his house on weekends so he couls show me things I need to work on so that I could be a better framer. He would laugh at me, and say "You wanna learn something? Then pay attention!". This man probably screamed at me more than talked to me. We developed this weird relationship, almost like a twisted Father-Son relationship, except verbally and mentally abusive. This guy would put me through so much shit but I loved the work I did, and I respected him because he was a master at his craft. To this day I have never seen frame work as good as his, other than my own 😉.
One day it was mid summer, 98 degrees outside and I just got tired of his shit! Maybe it was the heat, but I just up and quit. I can't even remember what it was over but we got into some screaming match and I packed my tools and left the job site. I started doing framing work on the side for myself, which gave birth to ILM Construction. I started a small construction company where we would do decks, manageable structures like sheds, roofs, small jobs like that. I felt like I was on to something and worked 24/7 around the clock between selling weed, working at the restaurant, and doing small construction gigs. Then came Studio 1515...
The first time I put my music on CD
Inside of the booth at Studio 1515.
One of the Shows for Studio 1515
During what free time I had, I still wrote lyrics and worked on new material. I got a 2 bedroom apartment specifically to turn one of those rooms into a small studio. My girlfriends brother knew how to make beats and one day we put together my first CD. It was a mix of some of my best songs I had recorded years prior on tape, along with some new stuff as well. It was called "From The Ground Up". Did I mention they called me "IvoRy"? I was so proud of my music...
One day, this girl I sold weed to started telling me about how her boyfriend runs a studio. I kept thinking to myself that it was probably some makeshift studio like I had and no better than what I was doing. I kept dismissing her, but she lived a few apartments down from me and was always coming over to smoke with us and wouldn't stop going on about this studio her boyfriend had. She kept saying I needed to meet someone named "JReese".
So I decide to finally go check out this studio she keeps speaking of... WOW, did I kick myself in the ass because this was a REAL studio and I was simply blown away. It wasn't fancy at all, but it was 100% legit. It was a real building completely dedicated to music. There were lots of band rooms, 2 recording booths, and a mixing room. It was the real deal and I instantly knew this was going to be an important part of my future.
Right away I set up a session and recorded 3 songs in my first visit. After that, the studio took over any free time I had. I was going to the studio every chance I got. Studio 1515 would have shows around Wilmington, and before I knew it, I was asked to join as one of the performers.
I got to know JReese well. We would talk a lot during recording sessions, hang out after hours in the studio. I learned a lot about the music industry from him as I listen and experience for my self as well. The time I spent at Studio1515 are some of my most cherished memories. I wanted music to be my future, that's all I really wanted honestly. But I knew it was a long shot. Still, I pursued it and gave it my all at an attempt to make something of it.
I started putting out albums, I started putting out music videos, I started collaborating with other artists, I put up a website, I kept writing, kept recording. Eventually I was able to put together a group called "All 'Bout it Entertainment" and set up shows up and down the coast. I would organize these events. I would promote them. I would execute them, and make sure all the artists involved got paid something. But in the end, I would always break even.
It's a tough business, no doubt. I had sunk a lot of money into this venture. I recorded 106 songs, spread out over 8 albums. At a certain point, in the middle of all this, I had my first child at 24 years old. And in my mind that was sort of the beginning of the end of this venture. As I burned through cash trying to promote myself and get somewhere, the guilt grew inside and I felt I shouldn't keep losing money in this, and instead be sure my son was always taken care of.
I started to let it go, but still wrote. I made my recordings more focused, my songs actually got better, which you can listen to the 8th album and hear the difference. But the shows, the promotions, the music videos... I let go of all that and still continued to write. I think if I was in a different place, not the south. I think if it was a different time, and not at this particular point in my life. I think if I had more knowledge on advertising and promotion, I could have been able to accomplish even more, if not make it all the way.
One day, I think I will pick up where I left off, but at the time. I needed to cool it and focus on getting my life on a different track.
Check out the gallery here below to see some of the adventures I embarked on in those days!
All around this time, I had so much going on. I was in a toxic relationship. I had my son with girl from said toxic relationship.
I was hustling hard. Both legal and illegal. I was partying to no end and just living in the moment.
My first week in North Carolina, September, 2004. Wrightsville Beach, NC.
My Cousin Sarah and I in Wilmington,
Arriving in Wilmington, North Carolina. 2004.
I realized at this point, to tell the whole story, it is a lot longer than I thought... To be continued!