When I was in Port Credit, I skipped a large portion of my classes because I didn’t enjoy reading books and studying. I realized that it was not the case later on. I just couldn’t deal with the boredom, but mainly, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be after my post secondary education. My interest was in making money immediately than learning a skill trade or studying for my future career. Though I was smart enough to do well in exams, I decided to take an easy way out by hustling dime bags of weed. For this reason, I had to build relationships and spend time with people who were not a part of my crew in order to secure my supply chain. Due to this circumstance, it was really easier for me to just only hang out with people with supply and business interests rather than my usual crew. However, hanging out with a kid named V from Macedonia one day made me realize that if I have a tendency to spend time and befriend closely with people based only on popularity or similar interests/habits/lifestyle, I might miss my chances to learn, grow and open my eyes to other possibilities and opportunities. This is why I should always treat others who are different from me with respect and appreciation for their intellects.
Out of my crew that I spent most of my time in high school days, V was a smart kid who used to get teased by some kids in our circle. Tyrion and a couple of others would laugh at V and make fun of him for no real reason in many occasions. I guess V received those unfair treatments because of his peaceful and nerdy nature. Based on my history of friendships at that age, V was not the type of person I would frequently hang out with.
One day I was at V’s house for reasons I can’t remember. I could’ve been there for a class project. During this visit, he showed me a computer equipment and what it was able to do. This was the first time I was introduced to CDR-Recorder. Now this was before USB, portable hard drives and smartphones, so this was an interesting discovery. I knew just enough about computers and how to operate them since MS-DOS days, but I didn’t know shit about how the computer tech market was advancing. While most high school kids didn’t care about that, but V did for whatever reasons he had. His parents were lucky in that sense because he could’ve bought crack and smoked it all. His dog, Molly, would’ve been sold for a bag of crack. That could’ve been a tragic.
Being a hustler or an entrepreneur that I am, I couldn’t go to sleep when I came back home. Regardless of V’s popularity among other kids and nerdy nature, I realized that he was a person I should hang out more often than some other kids because he was cut from a different cloth.
Even though V had this CDR drive, he didn’t realize he was sitting on a gold mine. After thinking for awhile, I came up with a plan to make money by using his CDR drive. I knew it was going to work if I executed my plan with the right product. Shortly after, I asked V to burn me a personal mixtape with many different artists in one CD. And because this was right before the Napster and Limewire era, I had to acquire every song by actually buying CDs of all artists at HMV.
I made my first mixtape with some popular songs and some unknown songs on the radio and TV that I thought were going to be big hits. I really had to spend days to figure out the final playlist. After coming up with the list and required CDs of all artists, V made a mixtape CD for me to enjoy. Once I received the CD, I talked to someone in the school and let him listen to it. Then I asked him if he wanted to buy it for $10 or $20, and he agreed to pay and buy the mixtape right away.
V was the first and the only person with CDR-Recorder in my high school or maybe even the whole town at that time, so I pitched a plan of duplicating that same mixtape CD and selling them. I eventually made him realize and see what was possible. He agreed to the plan and we decided to split the profit. By taking pre-orders, we managed to control our expenses efficiently as students with not much money.
The product was moving in a slow pace in the beginning, but that changed very soon thanks to hours of spending my time listening to the radio and watching music videos. There was one song by a new group that I included in the playlist which was fairly new. It was not even a chart topper and most people didn’t even know about the song. The song was “Too Close” by the group NEXT. When this song blew up on the chart, our sales of mixtape CDs blew up along with the success of that song. Everyone was singing or dancing to the song in almost all dance parties, clubs and talent shows.
Our profit margin was awesome and the demand was great. With some word of mouth, we were even selling these mixtapes to kids from other high schools nearby. It got to a point where V didn’t even have time to focus on school work or party because he had to pump those mixtapes non-stop out of his computer. This overnight success was a gift and a curse for me because I had a taste of being an entrepreneur and making money without proper mentorship and guidance. It made me start to drift further away from the cold reality, books and studying in school.
Surfers are somewhat similar to entrepreneurs. When surfers go out on the water, they will paddle on the board to predict or identify a wave and prepare themselves to catch that oncoming wave to surf as long as they can. Entrepreneurs have to do the same thing pretty much. When you see an opportunity in the market, you have to be on time and not miss the perfect timing in order to maximize that wave of opportunity. Also, it is critical that you are well trained and prepared with a proper plan to ride that wave successfully as long as you can before you wipe out or else. This can also apply in corporate settings and stock trading/investing.
Just by collaborating with V for Groove Master venture, I learned a lot of hands-on valuable business and entrepreneur lessons without actually attending business classes. Here are some key points of what I learned during that time:
1. Perfect Timing
Groove Master was a huge independent success because V was the only person with a CD burner in the school and surrounding neighborhoods. And CD was definitely one of the most popular medium at that time. No one has done what we did before and we didn’t have any competition. There was only one place you had to go to get them, us.
2. Your shit is only as good as your last one
After the first mixtape, it was no brainer that we had to come up with another one. This time around, truthfully speaking, I didn’t put in the effort and time like the first one when I made the playlist. Also, I included a few unpopular songs that I personally enjoyed which captured a new demographic or potential customers. We didn’t have the same success as the first mixtape. We sold enough to make some money, but not as much as the first one. After that, I paid attention more when it came to making a product or a playlist.
3. Copycat (Competition)
Once we were making good money with this mixtape hustle, it was just a matter of time that somebody would try to do the same thing. It didn’t take too long for some other kids who had similar computer tech interests as V to buy CD burners. However, we were still better than them because I was a student of pop and hip hop cultures. Burning CDs was one thing, but you had to actually make a hot mixtape that the majority of people would willingly pay without any resistance.
4. $h!t happens whether you like it or not: Nothing lasts forever
If you didn’t actually put in the work to acquire those potential hit songs, it was tough to dominate the market. I was not a DJ and I didn’t know anybody in the music industry. I had to spend hours and lots of money to buy CDs of artists. This was another reason why we were successful. Just like pretty much everything else in evolutions, that was about to change for good. A computer software program called Napster along internet and mp3 arrived on the scene and it pretty much changed the course of music industry and business. That was the introduction to fire sharing between people from all over the world for basically free. That enabled anyone with CD burners and the program to easily make hot mixtapes or copy other hot mixtapes. We weren’t prepared for the storm of Napster and fire sharing. Some people were making customized order mixtapes. Our sales were going down drastically as we were losing our market shares due to various factors.
5. Branding & Management
In order to increase revenues, we really had to make our future mixtapes better than before. We had to be different than others and stand out when it came to the product. One too many people were now burning CDs and selling them. That’s when we started to actually edit soundwaves with a program called Soundforge to produce non-stop mix of songs. We spent countless hours to edit soundwaves. It was taking up too much of our time to make just one mixtape to duplicate. (However, this was a skill that eventually assisted me in making beats/music.) Our next two or three products were much better overall in my opinion, but it was too late at that point. Our time of Groove Master venture started to fade away as we started to enter different phases of our lives. Looking back, if we actually made a full commitment to it with convictions instead of thinking about post secondary education and 9 to 5, I am still a firm believer that we could’ve achieved something extraordinary and special. From the very start, if V and I had a proper plan with management system in place, who knows?
Instead of just selling hot mixtape CDs, we failed to create a brand with proper logo, packaging and distribution. Groove Master was just a title of CD, it was not an entity or a brand. After the successful result of our high school, we should’ve expanded our marketing campaigns and operations with haste to all other schools around GTA. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have any issue with spending hours on buses because it would eventually establish our brand a household name people can trust when it came to mixtapes and distribution. Who knows what could have happened after that as long as we didn’t smoke crack and shoot up heroin. We could’ve had a legitimate profitable company for years to come.
6. Vertical Integration
When numbers were not doing good and the market was oversaturated with other people with CD burners, V made a move to cut me out of the mixtape business. I was upset, but I could understand how he thought at that time. For that reason, I wasn’t mad or angry. At the same time, he didn’t recognize that someone had to light up a match to start the fire. This was a valuable lesson of vertical integration, ownership and partnership. Though I played a vital role making that mixtape business happen, I didn’t have any ownership of that business. I didn’t own a computer and a CD burner. There was no partnership agreement on record. I guess I could’ve bought my own CD burner and did it on my own. However, that was not what I was thinking at the time with other things I had going on.
If I didn’t hang out and spend time with V in high school due to my ignorance, peer pressure or popularity contest, there is a great chance that I would’ve never gotten this far in life from being broke with 20K debt. I forgot to mention another successful commuting initiative venture I had with V, but maybe I will talk about that in the future. Anyway, I definitely benefited from our short stint together because I learned to keep an open mind to new trends or technologies. I also learned not to be afraid of new technologies and learn how to adapt and improve my life and business.