Jared: Hello, hello, welcome to The Modern Soul Podcast, this is your host, Jared Goetz. In this episode, we are interviewing AK Kurji, you’re going to hear his story. Let me tell you guys, this is a powerful story. It’s his journey, he’s a modern-day entrepreneur, going through the rings, working hard, and he gets slapped with a criminal offense in the process and goes to prison for six months. This is the first time anyone’s interviewed him about this story, so you’re going to hear it here. He’s extremely vulnerable. He goes into tons of depth, and you’re going to learn a ton of lessons through the process.
With all of our podcasts, anything referenced, books, supplements, recommendations, websites, whatever it is, we’re going to have in the reference section on my website, jaredgoetz.com. Don’t worry about taking notes, everything will be there for you. If you enjoy this one, guys, give it a like, give it a share, show some love, and grab some popcorn, because this one’s going to be really entertaining and really heartfelt. You might want to grab a box of Kleenex as well, because it is pretty crazy, the journey that AK goes through.
Jared: AK, welcome to The Modern Soul Podcast, what’s going on my friend?
AK: Hey, Jared, thanks for having me.
Jared: How are you doing?
AK: Good, man. The weather’s nice, can’t complain. I love Houston. Only [crosstalk].
Jared: In Texas, how’s the election going over there? Are people going crazy, or it’s just laying low? How’s it going over there?
AK: Being a Republican state, I was looking at the numbers yesterday, at least in Houston and the county that I’m in, it was very liberal. I’m sure depending on who wins, it’s going to be pretty crazy, I think. I don’t know.
Jared: I have this crazy theory that the election is going to be– It’s going to take a long time to determine the winner. I feel like there’s going to be disputes and, there’s going to be court cases and things about it. My theory is that Trump is going to win, and then it’s going to cause the biggest riots that have ever happened. This is recorded on a podcast, I could be totally wrong, but if it does happen, I got it recorded here that I predicted it.
AK: No, actually, I agree with you. I think if Trump does win, people are going to go crazy. I can’t vote, so it doesn’t really matter but if I had to vote, I would– I don’t want to vote for either of them, but if I had to choose, it’d be obviously the Republican Party. In general, if he does win, there’s going to be riots, but I think he’s going to come through. I think he’s going to come through for the economy and whatever mistakes he might have made, I think he’s going to fix them.
Jared: I’m sure people are wondering why you said you can’t vote, and we’ll be diving into that here shortly. It was really weird. We were watching the news last night about the election, and then, I fell asleep around 10:30 PM, Eastern time. I expected an answer in the morning. For some reason, I was expecting to wake up and know who our president is. I just kept having these dreams. I had a dream that I was at this big news conference, Donald Trump was sitting next to me in a wheelchair with a mink coat on.
I had a dream that Biden won, and then, my dream shifted to Trump. I was literally all night thinking about it. It’s pretty crazy how much of an impact this election is having, even on me. I’m not a political guy, but it is the biggest reality television show in history right now.
AK: What’s funny is, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t matter, you control your own destiny, you can still be successful, you can still be happy. I think in the grand scheme of things, the government can’t really do much, you ultimately control your destiny. When people get so gung-ho on all this stuff and start– I put some posts up on Facebook about Trump and stuff, just as a joke, and then people were attacking me. I’m like, “Man, can I not have an opinion anymore?” It’s crazy.
Jared: That’s why a lot of big celebrities who do support Trump, they don’t say anything. The celebrities that support Biden, talk openly because they’re praised too, but like you said, you control your own destiny. The problem is that there’s people that take the victim stance in life, and they utilize public and world events to basically validate the fact that they consider themselves victims. They use reasoning that’s out of their control, to validate why they’re not doing what they want to be doing, as opposed to all the successful people I know. I’m sure you agree with me. They take full responsibility for their own actions and their own outcomes.
AK: Yes, exactly. I learned that a long time ago at Unleash the Power Within with Tony Robbins. That’s what changed my mindset, and ever since I did that, I was able to find a lot of success in my life.
Jared: I’ve been to UPW, I think, three times now. The biggest takeaway for me was really honing in on my vision. A lot of people think they know what they want, they want money, or they want a nice house, or they want that significant other, that girlfriend, or they want that car. They don’t know specifically what they want. They just think they know what they want, at UPW, for those of you who’ve never been to it, there’s so many exercises that you do, that you really hone in on your vision.
You’re writing it out, you’re envisioning it, you’re doing meditations and thinking about it. Honing in on my vision, I think has been the biggest determinator of being able to get there, because I know what I want. Did you get that same feeling?
AK: Absolutely, because it’s a mental shift on how you think. You grow up around so many people. As you grow up, the events around you shape who you are, and I think that’s the problem. A lot of people, they go in cycles. There’s a great book by Ray Dalio called Principles and it talks about cycles in life. There’s cycles in real estate, there’s cycles in the economy, there’s cycles in your own personal life, everything you do, it’s a cycle.
I think when you can change and disrupt that cycle, you actually transform into a different person. That’s what shapes you going forward. If you want to be successful, whether it’s in a relationship or in business, or whatever that is, you have to understand why you make the decisions you make. If you go deep down inside, you start realizing, “Man, I keep doing this to myself, and this is why I’m not successful. This is why I can’t keep a relationship.” It’s all comes down to that.
Jared: Where you mentioned the experiences you had growing up, everyone’s unique, and there’s millions of micro experiences you have, and all of these experiences, they shape your beliefs on the world, they shape what you think is true and false. What’s true to you may be false to me, and vice versa, totally based on our beliefs. There’s a concept that I like to think of and talk about, and I’m sure it’ll resonate with you too, is that you can actually outperform your beliefs to change them.
Meaning, if you grew up a certain way, in a household that made $50,000 a year, your subconscious beliefs are that $50,000 a year is the truth, that’s what you make. Even if you see other people doing well, subconsciously, you don’t believe it, but if you stay focused and you keep working and keep doing the things that you know you’re supposed to do and you’re consistent, eventually, you’ll outperform that belief. That’s how you truly shift those beliefs, is by outperforming them.
AK: For sure. I 100% agree with you.
Jared: Anyway, we dove in real deep, I want to introduce AK, and it’s good to have– We’re on the same wavelength here. We met, what? Maybe four or five months ago at Board of Advisors originally. We got to know each other a little bit, we became friends, and then about a week ago, at the Board of Advisors event in Sarasota. It was actually maybe 10:30 at night. I was about to go to sleep, I wanted to get a good-night rest. I saw you in the lobby of the hotel working on your presentation. We got into a conversation, and AK told me his story.
It was truly one of the most transformational, inspirational stories I’ve ever heard. It truly put my life into perspective. I really wanted to bring you on here to share your story. You’ve been through so many ups and downs but the lows that you’ve been through were lower than really most people ever been to. So many people would have just given up, but you’ve been able to recover. I’m not going to spoil the story, but they were legal issues, health issues all at once after working so hard, and you’ve been able to make a comeback and build something bigger than ever. AK, I thank you for sharing that story with me, but I would love for you to share the story with our listeners here.
AK: Do you want to ask me some questions and I can just– or do you want me just–
Jared: For sure. Where did you get started in your career?
AK: I’ve always been an entrepreneur since I was in high school. I was selling candy. My dad owned a gas station. I would basically have no COGS, no cost of goods. I would just get boxes of candy and then I would go sell it at school. Then once I sell it, then I would pay my dad back for the box of the candy, if it was Airheads or Sour Punch, whatever. That’s how I got started as an entrepreneur selling candy in middle school and high school.
I started making some decent money on eBay back in 2001 selling Lance Armstrong wristbands. I bought a ton of wristbands from local shops and then I put them on eBay. The wristband that I bought for $1, I’ve made my donation, and then I would flip them because they’re so hot. I was selling one wristband for $50, $60 on eBay. I made, I don’t know, $50,000 when I was 15 years old selling that, and then I ended up losing all of it on partypoker.com. [chuckles] That’s, that’s how I started.
Jared: Right off the bat, you basically– you were hustling, you saw opportunities. You made money and then you lost it playing poker?
AK: Yes. [laughs]
Jared: What came next after that? You lost the $50,000. Where did you go next?
AK: After that, I ended up just– I was still selling on eBay. I would stay up all night. I would take my mom’s and my dad’s credit card and go to eastbay.com and wait at twelve o’clock. Every time Jordans were released, I would buy hundreds of pairs. Then I would take those Jordans and then flip them on eBay.
Jared: How old were you at this point?
AK: Probably between 15 and 17 years old.
Jared: You start flipping shoes. You’re flipping wristbands and you flip shoes, so you understand economics of buying things low, selling them high. Where did that lead you to next in your career?
AK: Then I went to college, and I was still doing the same thing. At that time, it was the iPod Shuffle had come out, which was massively big. I ended up pre-selling them and then waited in line and bought the entire stock at the Apple Store before they had restrictions and stuff. I kept hustling. Then from there, I just went to college. I started flipping t-shirts to sororities and fraternities all throughout college. What I would do is I would get their order, go to customink.com. Custom Ink was still a small company at the time. I was just buying it from customink.com and selling them to sororities and fraternities, or I would go to local screen print shops and get them printed.
As soon as I got out of college, I ended up moving to Canada. My dad was actually going to buy a granite business from some guy. I went there for about four months and that’s where I really understood how to sell. I started going door to door selling granite slabs to fabricators in Calgary. After those four months, I got tired of it. I ended up leaving and coming back to Houston. I learned so much about selling because I didn’t make any money, I was just doing it for free. They were just covering my expenses, but I was selling millions of dollars worth of granite for this guy. Then my dad ended up not buying the business.
I was probably 21 at the time maybe, 21, 22 at the time. Then I got out from there, I was very passionate about music and music videos because that’s what I studied then, and started doing music videos for a few artists here locally like Lil’ Flip who was a big rapper at one point and Steve Francis who’s a former All-Star basketball player. He started records. I did music videos for those guys. They’re still good friends of mine. I did that for a little bit for fun.
Then I started a website, I mean not a website, a business called free wire communications, which was a wireless internet service from a company called Clear or Clearwire. This was back when 4G was just starting and there was a technology called WiMAX. I was one of the first few to get onto that train before it switched to LTE, and now which is 5G LTE. We went from LTE, 4G LTE, and now to 5G. Before LTE was WiMAX. I got in early.
The network was very choppy. We ended up in one year, I think I was like 23 years old. We ended up going from one location in a mall to 40 locations throughout the United States in about a year and a half, and about 350 employees. That’s where I got my first big venture. We ended up going out of business the following year, because we grew so quickly, and It was very depressing. I went in depression because I was like, “Man, I just lost everything I just built, I grew so quickly.”
Luckily, I didn’t need the funding just because the carrier was helping us fund. They gave us a stipend to open up stores because we were just so great at sales. We were opening up locations around the malls, like in Jacksonville, and Orlando, Tampa, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago. What happened was we would get a commission for every activation that we would sell. When you go to T-mobile and get a plan, everyone gets a commission, but if you cancel your plan within the first six months, there’s a thing called a clawbacker and they basically take your commission away.
The network was so choppy that 40% of our customers were canceling within the third or fourth month. Then we ended up going out of business because we just couldn’t keep up with it because the WiMAX technology ended up becoming LTE. Clear ended up really getting bought out and almost going out of business. Sprint ended up buying them out and then they converted all the towers to the LTE technology. We ended up taking a massive hit and going out of business.
That was my first big venture. It grew quickly and I also failed just as fast. Man, I went into a severe depression there just because coming from an Indian household, my dad was an entrepreneur, he was really tough on me, but it also taught me a very valuable lesson. He was really upset about it because he let me borrow some money at the time to start the business. I ended up losing that, losing his investment. I was fortunate at the time for him to give me an investment to pursue my entrepreneurial dream.
From there, I got up and started another company called sparse.com. I was on my way to closing some stores in LA and met these two ladies on the plane. They were selling-
Jared: Let me cut you off real quick. You built this company to 350 employees in a year. Now your confidence probably skyrocketed, and then you went out of business. It probably took a really big hit to your ego which set you into this depression. How did you muster up the energy to go back at it?
AK: I went to Tony Robbins. That’s what changed everything. After I went out of business, I didn’t know what to do. I was living with my parents in their garage. I mean, not in their garage but in the guest room. I just had got out of college. I’m broke. I’m nothing. I just had food and a place to live. I said, “You know what? I’m not going to go get a job.” My dad was forcing me to go to law school or go do something with my life, and I was like, “No, I’m just going to be an entrepreneur like you. I don’t want to work for you nor I want to get into being a doctor or an engineer or a lawyer,” like most Indian parents want us to be.
I ended up going to Tony Robbins. That happened because I actually was dating this girl at the time. We ended up breaking up, she was cheating on me and stuff. We ended up breaking up and then I was really close to her family. Her mom called me and was like, “Look, you should probably go to Tony Robbins. It might help you.” Because I was just really upset with the breakup, I was upset with the business going wrong. I went to Tony Robbins and that’s when I had a humongous mental shift on bouncing back up.
Jared: It’s crazy how similar our stories are, because after my first big venture, Electric Flurry, when I lost everything, I was living in my mom’s apartment, and I didn’t see the way out. I was just thinking about all my problems all day. It wasn’t until I started investing into self-improvement, reading some books, focusing on myself, on running, on meditating, that the next opportunity came to me. It’s important to note that when you’re in those moments of you don’t know what to do, you don’t see a next opportunity. It just lands in your lap. I’m curious, how did you get into that next venture? You went to the Tony Robbins event. You got your head straight. You got yourself in a state of inspiration again. How did you move on to the next venture?
AK: I was actually coming back from LA, shutting down all the stores. We were going out of business, we were shutting down all the mall kiosk and things like that. We were getting sued by all the malls because we had all these leases. That’s when I told myself I’ll never get back into a brick and mortar business ever again. I had a friend of mine, a mutual friend of mine who introduced me to this guy who owned a decently large company selling wristbands online. We ended up meeting up and we became good friends. We were just like, “Wow, there’s not that many successful online entrepreneurs here in Houston.” This guy was crushing it. I was just really inspired by what he’s been able to build at a young age.
We ended up becoming good friends and I went up to him and I said, “Hey, I met these two ladies on the airplane. They manufacture Halloween costumes and sexy lingerie.” That’s what they call it. The very boujee type like Victoria’s Secret type of lingerie, similar to adoreme.com, very similar. Before adoreme.com, there was a company called Sparse. We started before these guys. I brought the project to them. I didn’t know how to make a website. All I knew was eBay at the time because of my prior experience was eBay and Amazon. I didn’t know about Google AdWords and marketing.
This guy was just crushing it selling silicone wristbands and I was like, “Hey, man, I used to sell silicone wristbands.” I was just like, “Wow, this is cool.” He just sells them with messages. I remember back in the day, I would tell my dad when I was selling the Lance Armstrong bracelets, “How can we make custom wristbands with messages on it and help charities and schools so people can raise money?”
I met this guy doing that and through a mutual friend of ours, we ended up clicking and I was like, “Hey, look, I’m going out of business. I’d love to learn from you. I got this really cool online Halloween costume and lingerie business, would you want to invest in it?” He’s like, “Yes, I’m open to it.” Him and I ended up partnering together. Him, myself and three of his brothers. I became a 20% partner in the company and we all put in money.
He ended up growing the business through Google AdWords. I learned everything using Google Adwords and we ended up doing like a million the first year. Come to find out he actually did that project to keep me distracted so then I wouldn’t get into his wristband business. I ended up working for really free. I ended up going to India for a few months. My grandma was sick and we ended up staying there for three months. They got really upset set that I wasn’t running the company because the company was fairly automated.
I put a lot of my time and effort into it. He had promised me he would give me a $2,000 salary. I was still living in my mom’s house or my parents’ house. I’m like this 24, 25-year-old guy who has no job, nothing. I got this company doing a million in revenue, we’re breaking even. I read a lot of AdWords books and almost get the company to break even just optimizing the campaigns. Since I ended up going to India for three months they got really upset. When I got back, they’re like, “Hey, we want out of the partnership and I’m like, “Okay.”
They pretty much kicked me out of the partnership, gave me my money back. I was like, “Okay, what am I going to do next?” I totally got screwed. I had no contract with this guy. I trusted him and I’m back to square one again. I got my money back and I was like, “You know what? I don’t know anything else and I would love to do wristbands one day.” I ended up starting a project to compete with him. That’s where the whole story starts of everything you saw.
Jared: The whole beginning of the story I haven’t heard until now, but this is where things get really interesting so I’m excited to dive into it.
AK: Now I’m like, I’m in that same position again, I’m fricking back into that depression. What am I going to do? I failed again. Fuck. What am I going to do? I didn’t know anything else but the custom products business. You remember I used to sell wristbands. I used to sell custom t-shirts on Custom Ink. I now know how to make a website. I now know how to sell on Adwords. I’m like, “What else am I going to do?” I remember Tony Robbins, he would always say, “Hey, if you want to be successful, model yourself after somebody else who’s already successful.”
That’s what I did. I said let me just get into the promotional product space. That’s how I got into the promotional product space. I started creating a website. Oh, my God, it was such a nightmare trying to build a website on Joomla and WordPress.
Jared: What year was this?
AK: I’m sorry?
Jared: What year was this?
AK: This was in 2011 and 2012.
Jared: This was before Shopify and all these super easy tools that now we’re all lucky to have access to? This was back before all this stuff existed.
AK: Excatly, yes. I ended up going to India. I’ve tried to find a developer in India and Oh, my God, it was a night– You know how it is building custom code. It’s been a nightmare. I couldn’t get the website figured out. I ended up going into the wholesale side of the business.
I went to the trade show and his company was also at the trade show because he was doing both. He was also wholesaling but he was also retailing online. I guess one of his business partners or whatever and another company he owned saw me there. I guess he called him and then all of a sudden this guy flies out and comes to the trade show the next day. He comes to my booth, my old business friend, and he’s like, “Oh, I see you’re in our business now.” I said, “Yes, because you fucked me.” He was like, “All right, my lawyers will be in touch with you.” I was like, “Okay.” They were just trying to threaten me and scare me.
Jared: You’ve already been through lawsuits at this point. You’ve built up that muscle where you’re not super scared of legal issues at that point.
AK: Yes, I’ve been through lawsuits in terms of the real estate side. When I got sued by malls and stuff just on the civil standpoint. I wasn’t really scared of him because he can’t stop me from competing and being in the business. I guess he was really threatened by me because remember when I was in a partnership with him, I had no ill intentions. I had no intentions to ever compete with him. I was just doing everything and worked my butt off, put 20,000 skews up, built the whole warehouse. I really really truly worked really hard. For them to do what they did, it was just really discouraging and it sets you back.
When I walked out with my $40,000 check that they gave me back, my investment back, which again was not even my money, it was my dad’s money. He gave me one final chance to try this again because I was with somebody very successful. He goes, “Hey, maybe you should go back to school and be a professional, entrepreneurship isn’t for you.” That’s what he said to me and I was like, “Damn.” That’s where the lion roar. That’s when I was like, “All right, I got something to prove now.” I’ve been through a lot of shit and sometimes being the nice guy, they say nice guys finish last.
I always tried to stay humble and I just always want to learn and learn from people. I was a very knowledge-seeking individual. That’s how the whole wristband conspiracy and everything started because– I’ll get to that story now, is as I start this thing, I see him at the trade show. He makes those threats and I’m like screw this guy. Then I end up finally getting the website launched in 2012, summer of 2012. Sorry in 2013, summer of 2013 because in the summer of 2012 was when I went to my first trade show. The partnership ended beginning of 2012 I believe.
Jared: Just to clarify, your business is about making promotional material for companies, fraternities, whoever needs custom merchandise?
AK: Yes, we primarily sell to resellers on the wholesale side who are marketing agencies that sell to let’s say like for imprint.com, I’m sure you’ve heard of them. They basically, let’s say you want 100 shirts for your company’s brand or Shell needs 10,000 mugs or journals, like just branded stuff for businesses. That’s the business that I was in. From there I launched a website and then all of a sudden my website’s getting hacked. I’m getting phone calls, getting threats, and like, “Man, what’s going on?”
All of a sudden we start marketing heavily on Google and I don’t have my finances together so I’m making good money on my wholesale business and I’m taking all my profits and dumping it right back into Google AdWords because I’m chasing my old business partner and he’s raising up the bid prices on Google AdWords. We’re all now paying $30, $40 a click on Google Ads and nobody’s making any money. From there he hits me up and he’s like, “Hey, dude, let’s meet up.” I’m like, “All right, we’ll meet up.” I ended up meeting him up, and my company’s growing. We finally hit a million dollars of first year in sales. We’re getting some– but we’re in manufacturing, so all the money we’re making is going right back into marketing and equipment and inventory, so you don’t make anything in manufacturing for good seven, eight years. I’m just trying to build the infrastructure.
We end up meeting up. He ends up basically saying, “Hey, we’re all losing money. Let’s raise the prices,” and I’m like– and this is all public information, right?
AK: I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I was like, “Okay, yes. We’re all going to win together. Because right now anyone that’s winning is really Google AdWords.” Remember, this is a very small portion of my business, I don’t do a lot of online retail. For every one wristband I sell, he’s probably selling like 50, or 100,000 wristbands. I mean, that’s how big he was. For him, this is a huge win. I’m like, “All right, cool, whatever. I’ll make an extra $5,000 a month. I’m happy, whatever.” He ends up asking me to get all the competitors together because I knew everybody because I’m just a friendly person.
I get everybody together, and long story short, we all come together, and we basically talk about basically raising prices. Apparently, what that is, is a conspiracy to price fix, and I had no idea what that was. I personally didn’t even know that I was committing a crime. We end up getting together. I ended up setting up this meeting. About a year and a half go by, and we all had agreed to– they say, we all agreed to basically set a certain price on the market online, and I don’t even really sell online. I just followed what they said. I police the whole thing. Some based on what the government create– whatever evidence they had that I kind of policed everything. Long story short, we ended up getting raided by the FBI two years later, and now-
Jared: Wait, hang on one second. You go about your business as usual. You’re basically selling a product. You have competitors that are selling a product. You guys are like, “Oh, let’s just increase the price so everyone can make some more money.” Cool. You make it happen. Then for the next two years, what happens? Does your business grow? Are you doing well? Are you on track? What does it look like over those two years?
AK: Yes. My business is growing slowly. Their business is skyrocketing, but my business was growing on the wholesale side because that was my main focus was B2B. I never really did B2C, because my website was so hardcoded. I didn’t have a full-time developer. I was outsourcing everything out to India and Pakistan because I didn’t have the money like they did. My website kept breaking, so I couldn’t keep up with it.
Those years, there was never a– based on the law of the Sherman Act which I had no idea that even existed. It’s a law from the 1890s or something. Again, I didn’t know that this was illegal. It’s like two gas stations across the street that have the same gas prices. That’s totally legal but as soon as the competitors meet together and talk about it, then that’s actually a federal crime, and that’s called collusion. You can’t do that, you’re violating the Sherman Act, which now I know, obviously.
Those two years before we got raided, we didn’t know that. We had all agreed to something, but we never actually did it. No one ever ended up keeping that agreement. There was just a lot of conversation. One of the competitors, actually, from my understanding, and I don’t know if this is true or not, but just what I’ve read, was actually an informant to the FBI, already. Maybe he was in trouble for something else, who knows? I don’t know, but he’s the one who ended up– he or she, whoever it was, ended up turning the evidence over to the government. Then that’s when they raided us on the basis of a conspiracy and then investigated us for about two years. We ended up just turning in all of our cell phones which had the text messages talking about it.
Jared: Wait. Paint the picture for me. Your business is growing over two years, you got your feet on the ground. Are you married at this point? Do you have a kid at this point? What does your life look like?
AK: That’s a whole another struggle. I had just gotten married in 2013. I just started the business in 2013. I’m literally working out of my home. My father in law gets diagnosed with a very rare, aggressive kidney cancer, and he passes away later that year, in October of 2014. My wife gets pregnant in 2014, right when her dad almost– like a few months before her dad passed away, so that was already really, really difficult. We were dealing a lot with that. I don’t know if you know, I’m sure people have gone through the whole cancer process. It’s not easy. We were dealing with that and then we ended up having my son-
Speaker 1: Voice over on.
AK: Sorry. We ended up having my son in 2015. In summer of 2015, we had my son and then we got raided summer of 2016.
Jared: What were you doing that day? What was it like? The FBI just showed up to your office, your house? What happened? What was that date? What were you doing that day?
AK: The day before they showed up, I was actually– I ended up buying this JetSmarter package for $10,000. Luckily, there was a private jet available. For $10,000, you can– at the time when JetSmarter had just come out, you can basically own private jets, which was really cool on the empty leg.
I’m like, “Man, I finally made a little bit of money. Let me go get a $10,000 membership.” I did that. That doesn’t obviously look good in front of their eyes. [chuckles] They think I have all this money, and I didn’t. I ended up taking this private jet to Miami, the day before I get raided and I’m like, “Man, I finally feel like I made it. I finally went on vacation for the first time.” The next morning, I wake up, overlooking the water, finally taking my first vacation, decide to spend some money, and my brother calls me, and he’s like, “Hey, the FBI’s at mom and dad’s house. They’re looking for you.” I’m like, “What?”
I’m like, “All right, well, let me call my attorney, tell them I’m not here.” My brother’s like, “Yes, my brother’s out of town,” and then my brother ends up going to my office, and this is where it’s like a movie. I wasn’t there. I’m trying to log into the cameras at the office and my cameras aren’t working. All of a sudden, my brother’s like, “Dude, there’s like 30 FBI agents, with vest and guns in our office.” They raided my office like a big crime scene, like I killed somebody or something.
I’m scared and I’m like, “What the heck is going on?” My brother sends me a picture of a grand jury subpoena and it says, “You’re under investigation, and you need to show up in front of a grand jury for conspiracy to price fix under the Sherman Act.” I’m like, “What the heck is going on?”
Jared: Did you even know what that was about at that point, or were you just confused?
AK: I was really confused on what I had done wrong. Then when they said conspire to fix prices, that’s when I was like, “Okay, now I understand. That conversation I had with them those two years was clearly illegal.” I didn’t know it was like at that, so I was just super scared. I was like, “Man, there has to be something more to this.” All I did was get a few people together, and we were all losing money selling these little wristbands, and who knew this was going to be a federal crime.
I was in a total shock. I’m thinking I’m going to prison and I’m scared. I’m in Miami. I call my attorney. The prosecutor calls me, he goes, “Where are you?” I’m like, “I’m not telling you where I am.” I’m thinking like Bad Boys 2. [laughs] My wife thinks this is a joke, so she’s playing the Bad Boys anthem in the background. I’m like, “What the heck,” just to cheer me up.
Jared: Did she know that the FBI was there, and she was just like, “It’s not a big deal,” or she thought you were literally kidding about it?
AK: No, she knew the FBI was there, but we thought this was a joke. We’re like, “Oh, they probably got this wrong person.” She’s was just trying to just cheer me up. We didn’t know this was going to be this massive, this huge big deal. We would think the government has something bigger to worry about. Not four young internet guy selling silicone wristbands on the internet.
AK: That happens, and then the prosecutor calls me and I’m just like, “I’m not telling you where I am.” He goes, “I’m going to shut your office down.” I’m like, “I don’t think you can do that.” Then I’m like, “My attorney’s on his way and you can talk to him because I’m out of town.” He’s trying to ask me where I am and I’m like, “I’m not telling you where I am.” I was like, “Do you have a warrant for my arrest?” He’s like, “No.” I’m like, “Then I don’t need to tell you.”
I probably pissed him off and I didn’t mean to, but I was scared. When you’re scared and something happened, the first thing you do is react and act all hard. You’re not going to just give in, because I was actually acting out of emotion and fear. Then from there I come back to Houston the next day, take the next flight, go straight to my attorney’s office, and my attorney’s like, “Hey, you’re facing 10 years.” I’m like, “What? For what?” I just started breaking down crying and he’s scaring the shit out of me. He was like, “All right, give me $75,000 right now and I’m going to figure this out.” I’m like, “All right.” The first thing I do is-
Jared: Real quick. How old were you at this point?
AK: Let’s see, it was in 2016. That’s what, four years ago. I was 28,
Jared: 28 years old, you’re back from this trip, you go to your lawyer’s office, he tells you you’re facing 10 years in prison and basically tells you, “Give me a $75,000 retainer and I’ll help you figure it out”?
AK: Yes. That’s what I did. The first thing I did, because he’s like, “You got to show up in front of the grand jury in five days and produce all these documents.” I was like, “What the hell? This doesn’t make sense. How am I supposed to produce all these documents? I’m not a Fortune 500 company. I don’t have all this. I just started this in my garage.” I ended up giving him $75,000 charge it on my American Express. Luckily I had really good credit, so I ended up having a credit card that allowed me to do that. I paid him and my company, again, wasn’t making money, so I didn’t have the money to pay for all this.
Now, obviously, the investigation starts, and then a few weeks later, the FBI is like, “Hey, don’t worry about the grand jury subpoena. You’re just under investigation. You need to start producing documents, and we’re going to give you this much time.” I said, “Okay.” They gave us time to do that. We kept sending them stuff, but clearly, we weren’t doing it correctly because the attorney that I had, he was a criminal attorney, but he wasn’t an antitrust attorney, which that’s the biggest mistake I made. I should have went and got a antitrust attorney.
It’s like when you have cancer, go to a stomach cancer doctor, don’t go to just an oncologist. I didn’t know that. I went to a regular attorney. He had a good name here in Houston and he did some big high profile cases, but he wasn’t a business attorney, a business crime attorney. Long story short, two years go by and I don’t hear anything from the FBI besides, “Hey, keep sending us your tax returns.” We weren’t doing it correctly. We weren’t producing the documents because I didn’t know. I wasn’t getting the right guidance. I’m just spending all this money with the lawyers, and then finally come to find out my attorney had ALS.
He was battling with ALS for those years. He probably had just gotten it when I had just got the case and he ended up passing away and I had to get another attorney. My entire case got mishandled, talk about bad luck.
Jared: Wait. What were these two years like? I’m assuming there was an immediate influx of stress and anxiety, and then did it start to fizzle out over those two years, or were you just living in a state of stress?
AK: I was living in a state of stress. I was going to the emergency rooms, I would have panic attacks, I couldn’t sleep, I started gaining a lot of weight. I gained almost 35 pounds.
Jared: Was your son born at this time?
AK: Yes. He was already born. Remember, my son was born– He was about one year old when it happened.
Jared: Wow. Okay. Two years you’re living in this horrible state of stress, you’re getting panic attacks, and then right before the time that something’s due, your attorney passes away?
AK: No. He was really sick. He passed away recently when I actually was in prison, but he was just crippling. He was pretty much brain dead for the most part. Then I ended up hiring another attorney and this guy, oh man, there’s another story about this guy. Luckily my company starts to take off. My company actually started doing really well. I worked really hard. I was like, “Look, you know what? I got to make money to pay for all this. This fine that I’m going to get. All I knew was, hey, I can get 10 years and a hundred million dollars in fines. I said, “Clearly I need to go make money.”
You hear these things like, “Oh, well, just pay the money and you won’t go to prison. Pay the money, you won’t go to prison.” That’s not true when it comes to a federal crime. In my head, I’m like, “All right, I got to go make more money to figure out how I’m going to fight this case.” I ended up going and making more money and got out of manufacturing and started teaming up with other people in our industry and started selling all their products. Almost like I was a broker and I had this whole facility with all this equipment now.
I’m not doing anything here. I ended up letting go most of the staff, and I ended up just going back to that hustling broker business where I basically took something and sold it and brokered everything, but I had this office space of 8,000 square feet. I had to just start selling things other than wristbands, buttons, and temporary tattoos. Our business starts taking off-
Jared: At this point, what are you brokering? What kind of companies are you supplying? Are you allowed to talk about that?
AK: I was selling all sorts of other promotional products, because for example, yourself, let’s say you may want napkins and wristbands and tattoos and t-shirts and hats and mugs and tumblers. We would only make a few products. Let’s say you wanted buttons, so we would do the buttons, but then if you wanted custom water bottles, well, then we would just source it out to someone else who did that in our industry and makes 20%, 30% and just brokering the deal.
What we did was in our wholesale catalog, we had all these accounts that would buy our core three products from us, so we were like, “You know what? Let’s just sell them other things because they’re coming to us for wristbands, but why not just ask them if they want anything else?” Because they’re obviously working on these big marketing campaigns. They’re clearly working on t-shirts and other products. Then my brother and I ended up adding all sorts of different products of other people at our trade show. We had this humongous catalog of 4,000 or 5,000 products now. People were coming to us and asking us for products we didn’t even make. We just brokered those out and just started hustling again.
Then from there, obviously the case is still under investigation, it’s still happening. I started doing a lot of meditation, I started doing a lot of yoga, I started taking care of my health a little bit because I gained all this weight. I found a little bit more peace in me, but I was like, “Man, something is wrong. There’s something off about this. Something’s off about my energy.” Every time I’d go to the gym, I just could not get muscle mass. I’m like, “Man, something is off.” Come to find out my testosterone was really low. I go to Date With Destiny for Tony Robbins in December of 2018, I think you were there, but I didn’t know you at the time.
My uncle’s like, “Hey, let me check your prolactin levels.” I’m like, “All right.” My uncle, he’s in Coral Springs in Florida and he’s a urologist, and thanks to him– It was not my uncle, but wife’s uncle, and he’s like, “Let me check your prolactin.” I’m like, “Sure.” I didn’t even know what that was. He goes, “I’ll call you back.” Last day of Date With Destiny, he calls me back and he’s like, “Hey dude, you have a brain tumor.” I’m like, “What? What do you mean I have a brain tumor?”
Jared: Holy shit. You find out that you’re facing prison time and you have all this stress, and then you get hit with finding out that you have a brain tumor?
AK: Yes. He said I may have a brain tumor. He doesn’t tell me if it’s cancerous or benign. He just says, “You have a brain tumor.” I’m like, “Okay.” [crosstalk] Check this out. The next day, I’m actually going and meeting with the FBI. I’m flying back to Houston, I’m sitting out with the FBI for my first interview to go over my side of what happened. They want to just interview me and show me the evidence they had against me basically. Because I could go to trial and fight them or they can just– It’s called a reverse proffer. They say, “Here’s what we have against you. Do you want to go to prison and fight with us and we’re going to bring more charges or do you want to take this plea deal?”
I’m like, “All right.” They showed me what they had against me and it was just a bunch of text messages that I turned in myself under a grand jury. It didn’t really have anything, but whatever I had given them. Basically, they ended up getting me on a conspiracy to price fix on text messages.
Conspiracies are the hardest things to prove. That’s why the feds have about a 97% win rate. You don’t want to go to court with them because then you end up getting more prison time.
Anyway, so I was the last one to plea out of the deal because my attorneys completely didn’t do anything. That’s in 2018. There’s so much more to the story. I’m just trying to tell you as much as I can. I’m opening up. You’re the first one I’m opening this up to.
Jared: I appreciate it. I’m sure everyone listening thinks that this is an incredible story so far. Did you tell the FBI agents that you just found out you had a brain tumor?
AK: As soon as I walked in, I mean, remember this is a next falling. I say I fly back to Houston. I go straight to their office here in Houston and I just start crying. I meet them for the first time and man, they had no heart at all, no heart. They’re like, “Oh, we understand, we’re sorry to hear that,” and you can tell, they just did not give a shit. They’re like, “All right, well, this is what we have against you. This is what you’re facing.” A few months go by and then they came back with a plea deal.
Jared: What were you facing?
AK: I was facing 10 years, but based on the statue of what they hadn’t against me, you get a certain number. Based on your charges, they give you a certain number that they’re like, “Okay, well, based on this is this, you’re at a 15.” Then you look at the law and it tells you at 15 you’re facing 18 to 24 months or whatever. I was facing based on whatever they had against me, based on my revenues, based on the charge, based on my lead organizer mastermind role, or whatever they wanted to tag me as because they said I was a mastermind of the wristband cartel.
They’re like, “If you take the plea, you’re facing 18 to 24 months, sign here, and your company is going to get a $750,000 fine.” I really didn’t have any other choice. I ended up signing that. That’s when I ended up having peace with myself once I knew, hey, worst case I’m going to prison for this much. Hopefully, the judge will understand my side and maybe give me a break. Now, pretty much, you sign this plea with them and you end up going to sentencing because you’re not going to trial. You’re going to sentencing, which is when you pretty much have already pleaded guilty to the charges they bring to you under the plea deal.
Now you’re almost with the government, you’re not fighting with them anymore just saying, “Hey, we’ve accepted responsibility.” They give you some additional points for accepting responsibility. Now, I go in front of the judge, I have an entire letter, remorse letter, my family’s there. I go to sentence and within 20 minutes they hear both sides and they’re pushing for obviously what the deal says 18 to 24 months.
The judge that I had was amazing. I really respect him. He really realized that, hey, this story is crazy. There’s more to it. He had to give me something because he gave everybody else something. He ended up giving me eight months instead of 18 to 24 months. It was shocking to still get that, I was expecting six months because he gave a couple of the other guys that were part of the case. Two guys got one month. One guy got three months. My old business partner got six months and then I ended up getting eight months.
Keep in mind, I’m the smallest company out of all of them, but I got in trouble. The reason why I got hit the most and the government made me the mastermind is because I brought everybody together and that’s under the advice of my old business partner. It is what it is. I take full responsibility. I’m super happy that this happened because it taught me a huge lesson in life and business and people.
Jared: Paint the picture, you’re in a courtroom and you’re there with your family, are you in a normal courtroom setting, or what did that day look like?
AK: It’s a normal courtroom setting. I have a suit on and it’s just my family and a few of my employees because we only had about 10 people working for us at the time. We were growing when we scaled back manufacturing. We only had office admin staff. I had some staff come, my parents came and then you had the government. You had the three, four prosecutors that were part of their team. Then we’re just going back against the evidence that they had and objecting to what they had. It was just showing, hey, Akil shouldn’t get 18 to 24 months. He should be getting maybe two months or three months or some probation.
We’re trying to reduce the damages. You have the ability even though you signed something, but if the judge is good enough you still have that ability to go to the judge during sentencing and say, “Hey, look, I’m sorry, I screwed up. Please give me a second chance, please reduce my 18 to 24 months.” That’s what sentencing it.
Jared: They give you eight months. What about the fine, did they give you the same fine?
AK: Yes, I ended up paying $750,000 in fines. My fine should have been a lot less based on the statue, but my lawyers screwed that one up too because the government thought that I had 50 employees when I didn’t. My lawyers billed me for all this stuff, but did they not even read my plea deal? Like to even catch that. I ended up signing something that I didn’t even read because I don’t understand the verbiage. I have to become a lawyer now and understand law.
Jared: Hypothetically, could you go and sue your lawyer for malpractice?
Jared: You don’t even want to focus your energy on that.
AK: I mean, because you do sign paperwork, they make you sign paperwork. Your lawyers, they’re so slick, they’ll sign paperwork saying like, “Hey, release me off liability during your case.” If I were to go back again, I would not ever sign anything like that with any attorney and hold him accountable. Man, they’re savages. Most lawyers are savages. It’s very rare to find a really good attorney. You almost have to learn the law because your lawyers haven’t gone to prison. Remember, they’re just textbook. They’re like doctors [crosstalk] They’ve never been there so they don’t know how it feels. Most of them, all they care about is money and they take advantage of your vulnerability.
Jared: You’re given eight months, $750,000 fine, and then what? How much time do you have now until you actually have to go away?
AK: Usually, they give you six weeks to turn yourself in. You’re supposed to get a letter from the Bureau of Prisons, the BOP. No one sent me a letter or anything. Remember now, I go to Florida just to spend some time with my family because I know any minute I can get a letter. All of a sudden four weeks go by, five weeks go by, I’m in Miami. All of a sudden, my probation officer calls me and she’s like, “Hey, you got to turn yourself in next week.” I’m like, “What?” I’m like, ‘You guys said you’re going to give me six weeks.” They’re like, “Yes, but they didn’t send a letter or whatever.” I said, “Okay.”
Three weeks prior to that I talked to Mike Calhoun from Board of Advisors and I just signed up for Board of Advisors and I spent all this money. I leave Miami on Thursday, fly out to Houston. I see the letter from the BOP saying, “Hey, you got to turn yourself in on Wednesday.” I’m like, “Shoot, man, I just spent all this money on a mastermind.” I looked at my wife and I’m like, “What do you want to do because we got to go to Sarasota on Sunday?” I already booked the tickets. I booked the flights. I got to turn myself in on Wednesday. It was my first time in Board of Advisors. What am I going to present?
I looked at my wife, I was like, “Let me just go to Board of Advisors because I think it will be fun. I love being around entrepreneurs. It’s motivating.” I go to Board of Advisors, go there the first day. I don’t have a presentation. Then Monday night, I scratched whatever I had, I scratched it and I said, “Do you know what? Screw it. I don’t know any of these people here. Let me just be myself and tell them my story and who I am.
I just go up there and do my presentation and get a standing ovation. I said, “Hey, I’m turning myself in tomorrow. I’m so glad that I’m able to spend my last few hours here with you guys. It really motivated me and it got me ready.” Mainly because there’s two people in there who actually that I met and I’m sure– I don’t know if them or not. I’m not going to mention who they are, but they actually went to prison before too for a business crime.
By being there, I was able to just learn and understand and put there was somebody actually who’s been there before. They prepped me up and it was just nice to get some of that encouragement. I wasn’t scared walking into prison the next day. That’s where I met Stan. He was a big role model, he just really gave me some great advice and was super– He just inspired me a lot after he gave me a lot of advice and I was like, “Do you know what? It’s okay, it’s just six months, eight months, whatever. I’m just going to– or eight months and I’ll be okay, I’ll come back stronger.
Jared: Oh, my God. You go to Board of Advisors, you have to turn yourself in the next day, what is that like? Are you driving with your wife and your child? What is going through your mind at that point?
AK: You saw the video, right? I’m like, “I’m just going to film this whole thing.” The next day, I wake up in the morning, I had to turn myself in, I think by 2:00 PM. I was at a federal complex here in Beaumont, Texas. They call it Bloody Beaumont because of the amount of people that I guess get stabbed there I guess. [chuckles] I’m like, “Oh, shit.”
Jared: Oh, my God.
AK: I drive to Beaumont from Houston which is about two and a half hours, it’s my mom, my dad, my sister, myself, my dog, my son, and my wife. They drop me off and obviously, they all cry. I go in and they make me dress up in a jumpsuit, give me a pillow, a blanket, and some really shitty shoes. I am in a green jumpsuit and then I walked back out and hug my family goodbye and they saw me in the outfit, it’s a very humbling experience. Now, for the next eight months of my life, I’m going to be in this little jungle at a camp. Across the street, there’s three massive prisons that are super security high-end prisons. I’m at this little camp with 500 other inmates, they call us.
I sit there for about two hours after my family left. They finally take my DNA, they totally own us. They take my DNA, they check my blood, all that stuff. I meet with the doctor and then they take me to my, I guess my prison room, my cell which is like an open dormitory cell type of structure they have at the camp. I walk in there, there’s like four buildings, I’m in building C26, I walk in and I see my old business partner’s brother, we all got in trouble together, so my old business partner’s brother is there and he’s my neighbor.
It was nice to see a familiar face. We all learned our lesson and been through a lot psychologically. He was just very accommodating so it was really nice to see a familiar face because I was scared. I walked in and the first thing I see is I meet my cellmate, his name is Dante King, this big huge Hispanic guy from the big gang. I was scared shitless. He ended up becoming one of my best friends and super nice, he was just really accommodating, giving me food because they just throw you in there and they don’t tell you anything, you have to just figure out. How do you get commissary? How you get food? How do you get your toothbrush? How do you get deodorant? All that stuff. You literally start with nothing, you have no money, you have nothing.
Jared: Oh, my God. You’re there now, did you end up serving the full eight months?
AK: No, I ended up serving six months and I was able to get out earlier because I started writing letters to the inspector general. I had a brain tumor and I wanted to go home and then Trump had released the First Step Act which really helped a lot of people. I read the law when I was in there and I went to my counselor and I was like, “Look, based on the First Step Act, based on my medical condition, you can technically let me serve my sentence at home, my entire sentence could be at home.” They don’t want you to do that because they want to make money, the prisons need to make money. They get $3,000 a month for each inmate.
They don’t want you to leave basically. They manipulate me and saying like, “Oh, that’s not what it really states.” I was like, “No, I went to a four-year university. I’m not an idiot. I know exactly how to read. Maybe a lot of people here may not.” Because a lot of people in prison they’re not educated. She’s trying to convince me that I don’t know what I’m talking about and I’m like, “No, I know exactly what I’m talking about.”
I end up learning the law and I end up serving her in prison and almost became like a jailhouse attorney. She calls me back up maybe two weeks later and she goes, “I was able to get you more halfway house,” so they’re able to release me. Instead of March 24th, they released me February 11th and I ended up going to the halfway house a month and a half early which was nice. My family came and picked me up and it was a great humbling experience to just get out, finally be able to see cars, trees, highways, and eat food. I had to turn myself into the halfway house for about a month and my family would be to come visit me.
I was able to leave every day for a job. I ended up getting a job at a local print shop. It’s back to normal society but I had to turn myself into the halfway house every night by 7:00 PM or something and work every day and then give them a piece of my salary. I did that for about a month and then March 24th I qualified to go back home. I was able to go back to home confinement. From March 24th to April 10th, I was on home confinement and then April 9th, I got hit with another case with the FTC which I can’t discuss right now but-
Jared: Hang on one second before you get there. What do you do for the 6 months that you were in prison? You don’t have a phone, I assume you don’t have a computer. Are you working? Are you planning? What are you doing in there?
AK: I’m reading a lot of books that my wife was able to send to me. I read a lot of books about marketing, I read a lot of books about life and personal growth and business operations, everything I can think of. I just read a bunch of books, I worked out a lot. There was a little really crappy basketball court there, the prison would have a basketball league so we would all have teams. I played on the basketball team for a little bit, there’s a softball league, there’s a track but it was just all stuff that– there was a rec pretty much, a rec yard.
The first three months wasn’t that bad. We end up becoming friends with everybody, everyone’s nice. Obviously, there’s a lot of fights and stuff but everybody’s just– It was just like one big, huge all men college dormitory. It wasn’t that bad, it was just really lonely and boring sometimes and you don’t do anything but eat, sleep, work for the prison, work out and repeat, there’s nothing else to do but think.
The last three months they put us on lockdown because so much contraband was coming in. When they put us on lockdown, we were just in our rooms for three months. We couldn’t go outside, only when we wanted to eat, that was really depressing. You’re just locked up in your room the whole time. There’s so much stuff that went on in there where the inmates would rebel and not eat so they would only give us peanut butter jelly sandwiches for four or five days straight.
There were times whereI would call my wife crying because we had certain minutes we can call because I was super hungry, I don’t have any more food. It’s just a very humbling experience and you learn to survive with nothing.
Jared: What type of ideas or plans did you come up with while you were there? I’m assuming with all the time you had to think and with really no distractions, you must’ve came up with some pretty good stuff.
AK: Yes. I ended up working on my current project which in my print on demand platform. That’s where I started it. I designed the whole thing while I was in prison in my journal and then when I got out, I work on it and we’re very close to launching it here next week. When I got out, COVID hit, that’s a whole another story, how we went from 10 to 150 employees because it was nuts because my brother ended up running the business while I was gone and we’re still growing. Now we’re paying this fine every month, we had to pay the government fine. We also got fine with a class action lawsuit since it was like hurting the consumer since it’s an antitrust violation. We have to settle that as well.
Every month we’re paying almost $25,000 right now for all the fines. We worked out a payment plan with the government and then we just went back to work. Fortunately, when I got out the COVID hit and our company ended up taking off because a few years prior to that we ended up pivoting into print on demand and everything went online and we are fulfilling for some of the online companies out there that sell apparel. Our apparel business went up and we also pivoted our business into face mask and that’s where– like cloth face mask with designs on it. That’s where we ended up growing to where we are today.
Jared: You started basically supplying a bunch of these print on demand companies. I’m sure a lot of listeners know of because a lot of people listening to this are in the e-commerce space and then you go and you realize that face masks are a humongous opportunity. Actually, you’re supplying the face masks on Zendrop right now, which is a business venture we got into. All this stuff, after you got out of prison, when you get out, did you have enough money? Was the business doing well enough that you were able to continue to live before you started taking off? Where did you stand when you got out of prison?
AK: I was struggling, the company kept growing on the top line but on the bottom line we weren’t making money because we kept putting it back into growth, legal fines. Luckily, I had enough customers and the company kept growing and 2019, we actually had a pretty good year while I was in prison. Any business takes time to make, especially manufacturing. It was like our eighth year, seventh year, or whatever and we ended up being profitable for the first time in 2019. Remember, beginning of 2018, I ended up pivoting into print on demand. In terms of like a contract print on demand, like contract printer for print on demand platforms out there.
That’s where we ended up making some good money and we use that money to obviously pay the fines, pay the lawyers, to really survive our business because we almost lost it all. Luckily we made enough money to survive. When I got out we had a little bit of money in the bank account but remember we still had the fine. If I pay the fine off then I don’t have any money left at all. I was just working hard to pay the government and my lawyers because that’s the only two things I could do. When COVID hit, I’m just blessed that we made some good money last year.
I was like, “At least I can keep paying my fine. I’ll figure it out. I don’t have much overhead besides this big facility now with equipment and I’m not doing any manufacturing.” Once COVID hit, I turned all my equipment into face mask and it just took off. Luckily, I had all this space and I just had to pivot and that’s why we were able to grow so quickly because my infrastructure was strong. I had spent all this money and time on user acquisition and my customers were still there.
Jared: Got you. I want to touch on one other thing though, not monetary. You’re in prison for months on end. You get out, you’re with your family. What changed in your outlook on life? Did you become more appreciative of the little things? What did it teach you? What did it teach you that you think would be valuable for others to learn?
AK: There’s something funny. I got out when COVID hit. When the city went on lockdown, when the country went on lockdown, I just got out of lockdown. My lockdown was completely different than everyone else’s locked down. When I was at home with my family, I was super blessed.
Jared: You were ecstatic to be locked down.
AK: I was like this is great. I get to spend all this time with my family, call Lupe [unintelligible 01:14:23] over. This is great. I can eat ice cream and I can eat all this food. Everybody’s complaining and bitching. I’m just like, “Man, they have no idea.” While everybody’s depressed about that, I’m like, “This is easy for me. I’m going to go build my mask business. I’m in a clear mindset to go execute.” While everybody’s uncertain about their future, I was like, “I just went through all that early on.” For me, COVID was like a breeze.
Jared: This was less than a year ago. What’s happened with your business since?
AK: We’ve gone from about 20 people to 180 people. We created a lot of jobs this year. Our manufacturing facility now is 100% full when it went from no production to a lot of production because usually, we were only doing production during the wintertime for fourth quarter. Most of the orders we were getting we would dropship. Now, our facility is like can’t even walk because it’s just so packed with orders and people and now we’re growing and we just close on a 10-acre lot to build 180,000 square foot facility.
We’re just expanding and I’m just super blessed to be in this position after what I’ve went through. Now, I’m just super excited to provide jobs. I think that’s the biggest thing, especially times like. I look back and I’m like within the last eight months my life has completely changed, not because I waited on someone else, I did it myself. That all goes down to the training I had from Tony Robbins and my mind.
Jared: I have a couple more questions for you. You’ve been through highs and lows, I’ve been through highs and lows but my lows have never been as low as yours. At my lowest points in those moments, I never was able to see a way out. Something just always came but it came because I kept pushing. What is your advice to people who– A lot of people listening to this haven’t been through these highs and lows. If they got into a low they wouldn’t know where to go and a lot of people give up when they get to those lows. What’s your advice to people who think they’re at rock bottom or don’t know what to do.
AK: It all starts with your mind. I think personal growth training is the most important thing you can do. When I’m down, I still have my downs always. There’s always [inaudible 01:17:10] in life. I always go on YouTube, listen to Eric Thomas, Gary V, Tony Robbins and I work on my mind. Our brain is like a software and you have to update it. It’s just emotions and it’s like a dark cloud over your head and it’s going to go away. As long as that, you’re going to be okay. It’s just a temporary feeling.
You just have to know when that temporary feeling hits or when that thundercloud is above your head and you just got to just stay calm and just keep telling yourself, “This is going to be okay. It’s going to go away. Just go to bed or go for a walk, go work out and keep your mind off of it.” When you sit back and think about it and think about it and think about it and create all these stories and assumptions in your head, that’s when you start losing your fit.
Jared: What I like to say is, when you’re in those moments, your mind always points toward the worst-case scenario, like what’s going to happen next? You’re just thinking about the worst-case scenario. It’s just our minds. It’s not just me, it’s not just you, it’s a lot of people listening or almost everyone. Our mind tends to think about the worst-case scenario but almost always, something better than you expect happens. Always it’s much better than what you expect.
AK: I went through something last night where from my current case that I have with the FTC which everything’s settled but again I felt like I got screwed compared to the other settlements out there. I got really upset and I was getting mad. I was telling Andrea who you’ve met this past weekend. She was like, “Akil, let’s move on. It is what it is.” I said, “You know what? You’re right.” Then I couldn’t sleep last night. I was having anxiety again thinking about something that doesn’t even matter anymore. The case is settled. It’s the past. Why am I even creating these stories in my head? Just let it go.
I closed my eyes and I just changed my thought pattern and I started thinking about something different. I said, “Do you know what? I’m blessed. I’ve been through worse, it’s okay. I’m just going to pass out.” I closed my eyes and I passed out. I woke up the next morning which was today, played some music, and my day’s good. Your mind is everything and training your mind and learning from your mistakes and talking to yourself about that stuff is so powerful.
Jared: We always seem to think that our problems are the worst problems because they’re ours and when you think about someone else’s problems you don’t feel the emotions. For me, it’s a lot of maintenance work. It’s not just like I’m always in a great state of mind. It’s a lot of proactive work. to get into a good state of mind. When I do feel stressed or anxious, or I don’t see a way out, or I see a problem that I can’t find a solution to. I think it’s really helpful to stop thinking about the problem and trying to find the solution and bring it back to your body, stretch, workout, do something that gets your endorphins going, focus on the present moment and allow the– focus more on who you need to be rather than what you need to do and then the thoughts you need to do what you need to do will come to you naturally. That’s the lesson that I’ve learned in the past.
AK: Exactly. So many people are afraid to take that next step, and they just need to. You’re afraid to take that next job or let’s say you know you’re in a bad situation, but you’re afraid to because of money or because of– I can promise you, we are animals. We are trained to hunt. No matter what, you’re going to come out ahead because if you just leave or walk away from a relationship or a business or whatever or a job, you’re going to figure out that next thing because your body will do it anyway. It’s the people that are so afraid of losing stuff that ended up losing more and be miserable and be depressed.
Just let it go, move on. I promise you, as soon as you leave, you’re going to feel better. You’re like, “Man, it’s over.” Now starting tomorrow, you’re going to go figure out your next goal in life or your next job, your next relationship. You have to learn to just let go and let nature guide you.
Jared: I’ve read a couple of really good books that talk about this kind of stuff written by the same author actually. The first one’s called “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer and the next one is called “The Surrender Experiment. It’s basically about surrendering to the universe. You don’t have control over everything and you really need to just have fun with life. It’s not that serious. The Surrender Experiment is really cool because it’s the journey of Michael Singer’s life. It’s from age, I don’t remember the age, maybe 19 or 18, he decided he’s just going to go with whatever the universe brings him. Good, bad, ugly, beautiful, whatever and it’s his journey of he’s this guy with a van. He starts doing meditation, he becomes a college professor. Long story short, he ends up building a multi-billion dollar company.
He also gets into a crazy legal situation like you. FBI raids his office, he fights the case. It’s like all these things bring all this stress and our brain just obsesses over these problems and doesn’t see the solution, but it’s like, you just have to surrender and keep doing the right thing and a better outcome than you expect ends up happening.
AK: I was talking to my endocrinologist yesterday and I asked him, “Do you think my brain tumor happened because it was genetic?” He’s like, “No.” I asked him, “Does stress play a big role into it?” He said, “Probably. There’s a book about it.” I’m pretty sure I got this brain tumor because of this case. It was all because of the negative thoughts that I was thinking, thinking the worst. Sometimes, you know what? Those experiences in life, it was my second chance to live. It could have been the worst. It could have been cancerous. I could have gone for 10 years. I mean, there could have been so much more worse.
When I went to prison and saw people there for 10, 20, 30 years, you realize, man, my six months that I was there– They were making fun of me in there, all my little gangster friends. They were like, “You’re just here to take a shit.” I’m just like, “Yes, you’re right.” You just adjust to life. Hey, at least I’m alive, I’m healthy, I’m good. I’m taking care of my family, my friends, my health, and at least I don’t– There’s people out there that don’t even know where they’re going to get their meal or they have cancer.
Even my situation may be like, “Oh, my God, that’s crazy. You went through all this,” but no, man, there’s people that have it worse. You just have to be thankful and live in the present moment and think positive, man. When you do that, your life changes. I’m a living case study because I went through– To a lot of people, I might’ve hit rock bottom, but I didn’t because I’m still alive and I’m still healthy.
Jared: Honestly, it comes down to perspective, some people tend to always fall on one end of the spectrum, when something happens, they follow the negative side and they give it negative meaning. Somebody might say something to you. They may say, an example was my grandfather got remarried after my grandmother passed away and my family doesn’t really like his new wife or had some issues. She would say certain things to my grandpa like, “Hey, you shouldn’t drive.” Let’s use an example. You can take that, you shouldn’t drive, and if you follow the one end of the spectrum, it’s like she’s taking away his manhood, she’s controlling him, she’s not letting him live his life or be happy. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s like, maybe she’s looking out for him. Maybe she was looking out for both of them.
You could take the same exact thing and give it two completely different meanings, but it’s the exact same thing. For me, at least it’s on a daily basis, there’s a proactive approach to getting myself into a good mood and a state of gratitude and it translates into your entire day. If you could take some time in the morning for mindfulness, for meditation, for yoga, listening to good music, feeling good, thinking good thoughts, you tend to fall to the better end of the spectrum of meaning. I think that that’s a valuable lesson that a lot of people will get a lot of benefit from
AK: 100%, you hit it on the mark. I always realized that I would always blame other people. I realized your quality of life is based on the quality of your relationships. If you take care of your family, you take care of your employees, you keep everybody happy around you, you’re going to be happy. That has worked for me. Even being financially blessed now and taking care of my employees, taking care of my family and the people around me, I live a very, very blessed and happy life, not only about the experiences that I’ve gone through but also because I’m taking care of other people and they work hard for me and take care of me. When you do that and give, they’ll bring a lot more clarity and happiness in your life.
Jared: Yes, man. I’m 100% with you. This story that you shared, opened up, you were vulnerable. Myself and all the people listening have gained a ton of insight from you. Ak, man, you’re just an awesome human being. I really appreciate you coming on here and opening up and sharing your story. I think you’re going to inspire a lot of people with what you’ve been through.
AK: Thanks, man. I appreciate you giving me the chance to speak and share my story. You’re the first one, you’re the first podcast I’m talking to about it. I came out super raw on this one.
Jared: That’s amazing and I’m super grateful to be able to interview you about it. If people want to connect with you or learn more, are you on social media? Is there anywhere people could find you?
AK: Yes. I’m very active on Instagram. They can follow me @Scalableceo. That’s S-C-A-L-A-B-L-E, CEO. That’s my handle. I’m always posting some great content. I’m going to continue to share my story. My mission is to inspire other entrepreneurs and really just talk about my case so they can learn from my mistakes. That gives me a lot of fulfillment.
Jared: Life is a crazy journey, AK. If you guys want to find him, I’m following him on Instagram. If you want to connect with him, show him some love, that’d be awesome. AK, thanks again, bro. Really appreciate you hopping on and looking forward to hanging out again soon.
AK: For sure, man. Thank you so much.