The Saga of the Accidental Entrepreneur
05 May, 2012
In part one of a six-part series, a Hispanic business man imparts lessons learned on the wild ride of entrepreneurship. In this longer piece, Carlos E. Garcia highlights getting educated, picking a career and getting ready to get started.I was the Accidental Entrepreneur. I had just moved back to the US weighted down with unpaid college loans and a baby in diapers but buoyed by a really good liberal arts education, and using a combination of luck and determination I learned a professional trade, liked it, got good at it and eventually got sick of working for others, refinanced my house to start my own company, ran it for 21 years, painstakingly grew it using only our own bootstraps, sold it to a much larger company which was shortly thereafter itself acquired by a global giant. Whew. What a wild ride.
Well, that was the short version. And you can imagine there were a few bumps, curves, cheers, moans and groans along the way. And now that I have formally left the ranks of entrepreneurs, I have some perspective on the whole crazy journey. It’s hard to see the forest when you are completely lost in the trees you planted, but having stepped out into the high meadow of a global enterprise, I have a somewhat better perspective on the wild ride that it was.
Okay, I was a reasonably smart kid, nothing amazing but focused, mostly by fear of failure. Growing up in Boyle Heights (East LA), surrounded by gangs and poverty but buoyed by a strong family structure, positive role models in my older siblings and high parental expectations, I tested into a high quality college prep school across town and won enough scholarship to make it through. It wasn’t exactly a fun experience because I was small, poor and Mexican in a school that was everything but. Still, I did okay academically and was well prepared for college.
My Big Break
Then came my big break – a friend had an application to Pomona College he had decided not to use, and on a lark, I asked him for it, filled it out and sent it in the very last week possible. Without even time for the customary interview, thanks to my combination of reasonable grades and scores, theater experience and an undeniable boost from affirmative action I miraculously got in. Pomona was an amazing, life-altering experience. I grew to imagine that I could do stuff, and my self-limiting, barrio scale slowly expanded to encompass the world and its virtually endless possibilities. For this I have to thank the College and of course the faculty, but more than anyone my classmates. They were so brilliant, so stimulating, studying very different things, sharing freely across disciplines in late night dorm room bull sessions.
After Pomona I won a Ford Fellowship to attend UC Berkeley in the admittedly esoteric field of Comparative Literature. At Pomona the study of literature was all about the literature, but in grad school it was all about the criticism, and while I learned a lot and made some life-long friends, a career as an academician was clearly not for me. What Berkeley did for me was get me back to Europe. I had done a semester abroad while at Pomona and being there and experiencing other cultures rang my bell. Getting back was amazing, as it again expanded my sense of “me happening to my life” instead of the other way around, which is so typical of the dreaded defeatist barrio mindset.
Other things that happened include a series of interesting classes at La Sorbonne, a run of great odd jobs running film crews around Paris, a few gigs substitute teaching English and French to French kids in the public school system, and oh yeah, a marriage and a baby.
But teaching middle school in the provinces was somehow not how I envisioned my life, no matter how beautiful France may be, no matter how much I loved Europe. So that meant moving back to the US to seek a career, to San Diego specifically, which was at least right on a border. Little did we know that LA is in every meaningful way closer to Tijuana than San Diego.