By Han-Gwon Lung, the award-winning CEO and proud co-founder of Tailored Ink, a copywriting and content marketing agency based in New York City.
There are nearly 8 billion people on Earth as of earlier this year. Yet whenever we fail at things — whether in sports, school or business — we’re told to look to shining examples of superhuman success despite failure.
If you got cut from your high school basketball team, then go watch The Last Dance. Do what Michael Jordan did and keep missing those game-winning shots until you start making them, right?
Unfortunately, a 2016 study of 400 low-income ninth- and tenth-graders in New York City public high schools found that students didn’t believe normal people have the natural aptitude or ability to succeed in the same way famous celebrities, athletes and entrepreneurs do.
This isn’t too surprising, because I feel the same way. Having gone through New York CIty public schools myself, I have a hard time believing there are actually people out there who see these famous failure-to-success stories and think, “Gee, I bet I could do that, too!”
So, for the rest of us normies, here are three failure-to-success stories about ordinary, everyday people you likely have not heard of before. These are people like you and me. In these uncertain times, I hope you find their stories inspiring.
1. Jacob Warwick started out with no credentials and no mentors.
After graduating from high school, Jacob wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. So he quickly got one odd job after another, working random hours to make ends meet.
In his early 20s, he got a shot as an entry-level journalist at NBC News. This spun into a video editing job at Discovery, where he learned the ropes of digital marketing. Jacob quickly realized marketing was his passion.
Through sheer grit and determination, he proved his worth as one startup after another began hiring him, first in junior marketing roles and eventually as a marketing strategist.
Before he knew it, Jacob had spent nearly five years in Silicon Valley and was hired by Xerox as their youngest-ever director of marketing in 2015. He couldn’t believe his luck. Unfortunately, due to internal differences, Jacob left Xerox after just one year.
But that didn’t stop him. He decided it was finally time to strike out on his own. Today, Jacob is the CEO and co-founder of Discover Podium, a Reno-based company that offers one-on-one career services for senior leadership. In business for a little over three years, the company is already raking in over $1 million in revenue.
I had the pleasure of working with Jacob many years ago, and I’m not surprised. He works harder than most people, and he is tirelessly enthusiastic. His story goes to show that with a little bit of talent and a lot of hard work, you can really go places.
2. Artem Mashkov sold phones because he didn’t get into college.
Despite being fortunate enough to attend Stuyvesant High School (where I was his lab partner), Artem didn’t know what he wanted to do. Pretty sure he’d figure it out after college, he realized all too late that he’d missed the deadlines for several colleges — and he didn’t get into the ones he had applied to.
Stunned, he got the first job he could find at a local Verizon retail store. There, he worked in sales until he knew the store, its inventory and its customers inside and out. Several years later, he was the manager.
Artem got his big break when the original owners decided that they wanted out. So they cut Artem a deal and sold him the store for a mix of cash and credit. Before he knew it, Artem suddenly owned his own Verizon Wireless retail store. He wasted no time in expanding.
By 2018, Artem and his business partners ran over a dozen Verizon retail locations around New York City, bringing in well over seven figures per year. But after being in the phone game for his whole career, Artem was stressed out, as I’ve written about elsewhere. He wanted to explore new business opportunities.
Today, he owns and invests in several other businesses, such as Proper West and Manhattan Proper, sports bars in New York’s Financial District and Midtown. He’s also the chief operating officer of SwagUp, which sells onboarding “swag” to new hires for Fortune 2000 companies. It made $9 million in revenue in 2019.
3. Justin Park sold books. Now he runs a venture capitalist-funded startup.
Growing up in Illinois, Justin Park was a smart kid with big ambitions. But he didn’t have the experience or the know-how to realize his dreams. After all, it’s one thing to want to be an entrepreneur. It’s another thing when you don’t have mentors to set you up for success.
So, after enrolling in the class of 2010 at Amherst College, my classmate wasted no time in inheriting a local work-study campus bookstore job when graduating seniors had to hand it off. There, he learned the ins and outs of running a retail shop while attending classes full time.
Due in no small part to his business experience, Justin was able to land a job as an analyst at IMS Consulting Group right after graduation. After one year, he decided he wanted to be an entrepreneur. So he co-founded Vidaao, a video marketing platform, in 2011. It was acquired by Skyword in 2014.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Justin quickly got started with his next venture, launching New York-based QL Gaming Group (QLGG) in 2015. Fantasy sports had always been a passion of his, so it made sense for him to start the direct-to-consumer sports betting data and iGaming affiliate platform. Today, QLGG has over a million users and has raised over $8.3 million.
You don’t have to be superhuman to be successful.
Want to know what Jacob, Artem and Justin all have in common? They’re not all that different from “normal” people. I also started from humble beginnings with no idea what I was doing.
If we can learn from our failures and make it, how about you?
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