Farrah Gray, Millionaire by 20

20 year old Millionaire publishes first book explaining his journey from poverty to riches. Here’s an excerpt:

Sit up straight. Brush your teeth. Don’t talk to strangers. Smile. Do unto others. The list goes on and on. Since we took our first breath people have been telling us what to do, haven’t they? They meant well, but in the grand scheme of things, most of the advice people gave us growing up wasn’t very useful. That’s why I have a saying in my office: “Less is better — if less is good to begin with.” I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I know what I know. In business you have to dot your I’s, cross your T’s, admit your mistakes and say thank you if you want to get anywhere. Nobody wants to do business with someone who pays no attention to detail and isn’t appreciative.

Stakeholders invest in people first and the idea second, as I’ve said. This premise is sometimes lost on entrepreneurs seeking seed capital. People invest in people based on their perceived worthiness. I have seen wealthy individuals walk past a homeless person hold- ing out a cup. Why? Because they felt that nobody should be given anything — and even more importantly, they didn’t perceive that they’d be getting value in return.

Our world is caught up in the “you wash my hands, I’ll wash yours” syndrome. Some people feel it’s foolish to give unless you’re getting something in return. That’s not true giving. That’s conditional giving. I learned early in my life that the real gift is in the giving. Mom and Grandma taught me that.

My extensive travels resulted in many fortuitous meetings with business executives. I was suddenly thrust into a world known only to the elite. I was picked up by limousines, taken to United Red Carpet, American’s Admiralty or Delta’s Crown Room clubs, comfortable private lounges complete with VIP check-in and amenities. I must have been a sight, walking leisurely to my gate in a suit and tie and carrying a Wall Street Journal or a Japanese self-help book. I was also interesting fodder for the other first-class passengers. A man once told me on the way to New York, “Can’t say I see many passengers like you up here.” I remembered wondering what he meant by that. Was he referring to my age, race or both? Eventually I was somewhat adopted by the flight attendants. They became my surrogate airline mothers who would look after me by waiting with me at the gate until the host sponsor representative met me. They would call the hotel to make sure I was checked in properly. Often, after the plane crew checked into their hotel rooms for their overnight stay, they would appear in my audience in uniform.

Life was good. I was seeing the world, meeting myriad people from all walks of life and more good news was just around the corner. I became fond of the nightly business report on the local PBS stations in the hotel rooms. This heightened my interest in the stock market, investing, venture capital and technology. But mostly I started studying the meals I was served on the planes. I got the strong urge to try my hand at preparing some of the unique meals I was served in-flight and in the hotel. I made myself feel at home even when I was on the road. Instead of maid service I wanted to help clean the dishes and take the trash out, and I asked the room service attendants about the ingredients in the meals they delivered to me. I also learned the importance of physical and mental fitness on the road, where it can sometimes be lonely.

One of my favorite people is Emmanuel Steward, the famous boxing trainer Andre had introduced to me a while back. He taught me the importance of developing my body along with my mind. I have a daily training routine, which is never broken unless I’m ill. I do a minimum of one hundred to five hundred push-ups a day. My workout time is more than me building my physical body. It is also a time for me to regroup and get centered.

Being on the road gave me a chance to reflect on my life, the past and my future. My family was at a different crossroads at this time. I was traveling on my own across the country with little need for an escort. I was suddenly a breadwinner for the family. Since I still wasn’t at the age where I could sign business documents, Andre would deposit my earnings, and I’d handle the management of my income and expenses. Grandma was the bookkeeper who’d pay for household and entertainment expenses. I can’t tell you how good it felt to be able to provide for the two women who made me what I am today.

In the span of a few years, my life had done a complete 360. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was becoming my mother. I know you’re more accustomed to hearing women saying that about their moms, but it was true. I was becoming Mom. I was spending more time in the air than I was at home with my family. And if I wasn’t on a plane, I was on the telephone making a deal. I had become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, but my travels left little time for me to bond with my family, who were all doing their own things.

Andre was setting up in Las Vegas, which demanded a lot of his time because he had to work within several time zones in the U.K. or Japan. Kiki had started studying to become a certified fitness trainer. My brother Jonathan had gone to Chicago, and Alex was still in Phoenix with Grandma.

Slowly but surely Mom gained her strength back. I sensed she would never be able to run as hard and fast as she used to. She was like a former heavyweight boxer. She still had that fire in her belly, which meant you always had to keep a watchful eye on her. You just knew that one day she’d walk into the room and announce her comeback, whether it compromised her health or not. Even on my travels, I called her several times a day.

I was enjoying my newfound freedom and earning power, but I missed my family. What kept me going was a liberal adaptation of an Aesop fable.

It seems that a fox spotted a rabbit and started chasing him around a field. The fox did everything in his power to track the rabbit but could never seem to catch him. The fox barked, thinking he could scare the rabbit into submission. He growled, thinking that maybe the rabbit would surrender. Finally, the rabbit was gone. Two people were watching the entire pursuit. One of the men shook his head in wonder. Then he said to his friend, “I wonder why the fox didn’t catch him?” His friend looked out into the distance as the rabbit disappeared from sight. “The fox,” he said, “was chasing and running for fun. The rabbit was running for his life.” I’m the rabbit in this fable. I started running to provide for the health and financial well-being of my family at thirteen years old. I was running for my life.

This only happens in America.

Press: A youngster’s entrepreneurship yields him millions

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