Evolving Entrepreneurs Part 1

When we think about the future, inevitably we think about the generations that are coming up the ranks. We also make assumptions based on what we think, see, or have experienced with other generations. Labels are placed on tendencies within each era. At its core, fear of the unknown or differences causes negative labels. Optimism and objectivity the positive ones. At the end of the day, every generation has its pros and cons. Regardless of the generation, you may fall into, you were seen as “The Future.” There are certain characteristics that are similar to all generations as it pertains to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs are visionaries, have focused passion, and are risk-takers…that’s what sets them apart. Millennials are no exception, and as the largest generation in numbers, after Baby Boomers, their innovation, creativity, and successes will surpass their predecessors. We are witnessing some amazing accomplishments occurring at younger ages. Is there something in your daughter, son, nephew, or niece that at first glance might appear to be a waste of time, but with a little encouragement could be the next big thing?

Joel and Jeremy Rodriguez, from the Inland Empire in Southern California, are two such stories. At a young age, they were interested in the same things every young boy enjoys; music, cars, and video games. Their entrepreneurial journey, while still considered in its infancy, is noteworthy in how they continue to cultivate their passions. As Jeremy states, “every detail is all part of the bigger picture.”

Their journey begins with music; rap, of course! Joel jokingly states “we’re thinking we’re going to be the next Rap sensation.” His goal was a little different. “I was a timid and shy person, my brother, more outgoing. As years went on, he (Jeremy) wanted me to do rap, and friends, family, everyone who listened to our music, at the time, encouraged me to continue. One of the perks was overcoming my shyness. I wanted to try something new that I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. Most people don’t get the chance or even learn how to start.”

Jeremy, on the other hand, was more strategic. He shares with me how when he was 8 years old, he asked his mom to take him to Virgin Records. He liked that you could preview each album on headphones before purchasing. He states, “I put Ludacris’ ‘Red Light District.’ Sonically, Ludacris’ southern style caught my attention, especially his rendition of “Georgia.” Southern-style songs really piqued my interest; and, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller album. Michael Jackson’s music always made me move. Those were the first two albums I ever bought in my life. Listening to the music made me feel like I was in my own little universe.” His love for music grew from there. His next major album was Eminem’s ‘Marshall Mathers.’ He recalls, “my dad had a bootleg. I remember listening to the album on autoplay and I took the CD from him. From that point on I started writing lyrics. I wrote about what I was going thru at the time. Storytelling infused with satyr imagery. I was 10 years old.” The lyrics in notebooks remained that way for 4 to 5 years before Jeremy started recording. He states, “At this point, I had a bunch of notebooks with lyrics.” 

In 2010, at age 15, as a high school freshman, his first album “25 Seconds From Success” was born. A friend who had a recording studio in his home invited him to record the lyrics. He uploaded his album onto Sound Cloud, a free platform that allowed him to begin building a fan base. In addition, he generated 300 CDs which he sold to Etiwanda High School students at $3 apiece. He leveraged his marketing plan in a unique way. His sales pitch was “I gotta feed my daughter. Of course, this was an icebreaker. They would ask: ‘For real, do you really have a daughter?’ No, but now you feel more comfortable getting to know me personally and my music. I saw my favorite artists all had kids and having kids really relate to the people. From then on, every year on my birthday, September 25th I would release a new album, to this day.” 

Jeremy did his research and with careful planning, his first venture generated 1,000 followers on Sound Cloud. Sound Cloud was the most accessible platform, at the time. Spotify didn’t exist and iTunes was exclusive and difficult to get into plus he made just shy of $1,000 from his CD sales. He shares, “At that time all I wanted was to build an audience and get my name out there.” His best strategy was word of mouth. As his fans continued to buy his music, they would recommend him to others. He also utilized pay to participate in events. You pay the organizer of an event to play and in turn, you have an audience of about 75-100 attendees. 

By Sept. 18, 2013, he decided to create Havok Klan. Havok Klan consisted of 6 members: Gio, David, Tony, Kimmy, Chris, and Jeremy. A week after officially creating the group, they were booked for a pay to perform shows. Jeremy recalls, “We performed terribly. We were hot garbage, but on stage, I felt above the world. Upon seeing the footage, the proof was not in the pudding.” That footage is on YouTube which according to Jeremy “is floating on the internet if you want to watch garbage. You have to have a sense of humor if you’re going to last in any business. It was a learning and humbling experience. It gave us the realization we had to work ten times harder.” 

While the original six Havok Klan members have changed, the family esthetic remains the same. Jeremy vividly recalls, “I wasn’t the only artist in the school or area, but I was the underdog and I related to other underdogs.” His definition of the underdog, “no one gave me an opportunity, so I made my own.” Jeremy wrote about relevant topics to kids of his age. Basically, humming along thru high school.

From 2010 – 2019 Jeremy’s Havok Klan, now known as KOVAH Records (Keeping Our Values At Hand) maintained its social status because group members were of different ages. The last member graduated high school this year. In the meantime, Jeremy segued and grew his following in college. Since its inception, Havok Klan has 32,000 Instagram followers, 10,000 Twitter followers, and I was shocked to hear the deleted its 5,000 Facebook following. His followers are from all over the world. He is striving to make it to the Billboard Hot 100. Jeremy has produced 9 albums and curated 3 albums. 

Their journey continues to evolve. Joel shares, “I learned how to record vocals, how rhymes are put together and, how you could tell a story on your life. The reaction that I got from people helped me move forward. I never really experienced the negative criticism about the music.” Joel took his newfound confidence into the video game live streaming space. “Being around a microphone, I felt confident on how I sounded. A lot of people don’t like their voice, but I know what I sound like. I thought to myself, I really don’t have a problem with how I sound, if I like my voice, others won’t mind my voice either. I was already playing video games while creating music. The people I would play would ask me if I live-streamed. The majority of good players, live streams. They have their hand in some type of recording of the games they play and put it on social media. Lifestreaming would eventually drive people to watch and helps me create a relationship between me and my viewers. Without the viewers, you’re never going to get anywhere. You need the viewers to be big live streamers and YouTubers. I wanted a balance; a game people would enjoy watching, acknowledging the viewers watching my gameplays, connecting them to the games, and helping them improve their game. A lot of gamers come across as not wanting to help viewers. I’m interested and care about helping viewers improve their game.” Joel currently has 3,000+ viewers. He says, “I could have more viewers if I’m consistent. You have to be consistent if you want to grow quickly.” That would require same day and time of the week streaming. So, what type of equipment is needed? Joel shares, “Quality internet. Viewers don’t want to watch choppy games. They want crisp viewing. A good gaming platform like Twitch. tv. plus, a good setup. Your gaming setup is the most important tool to become a well-known streamer and YouTuber. The setup is a good gaming monitor, PC or console, a microphone, and headset.“

Video gaming is now a sport with earning potential at tournaments ranging from $60,000 to over $2Million organized thru the MLG (Major League Gaming). MLG players are from all over the world and are ranked. You can start locally with Netfragz or arcades that hold tournaments. A key component at this level of playing is a high communication skillset. You must know how to communicate with your game partners. 

Joel’s other venture is cars. He shares, “Cars are something that I always liked. How they sounded, how they look. It’s something I pay attention to. It began when my grandpa bought me Hot Wheels. Then he bought me a remote control PT Cruiser. He would always ask me about the PT Cruiser. He showed me how to drive, and it made an impact on me like cars.” For Joel, the love of cars goes a little deeper. “The passion I have for cars is you can have a million things going on, you can go on the road, clear your head, use it as a therapy session. You have time to think. Make your next plan while clearing your head.” From a business standpoint, Joel has taken his hobby and honing it into a business. “You can make a profit from buying and selling cars just by doing a few things to it.” Another way of staying connected is a Car Club. Members with similar interests, exchanging ideas and improving one’s skillset. Joel’s take on this, “In life, you think about your dream job and dream car. People are always going to need transportation. A car is an essential thing. Public transportation could be an inconvenience with multiple stops. I like hearing other people’s ideas and making them a reality in my car. I think of this as providing a service. You want specific features; my cars will have those custom features.”

Jeremy branched out into audio engineering, producing music, creating beats, and merchandising. Jeremy started this side business while in high school. When he scheduled an audio engineering session, his entrepreneurial acumen included a menu of food items such as soda pops at $.50 and microwave cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches at $1.50, energy drinks at $1.25, water $1.00, popcorn $1.00 a bag. As Jeremy stated, “gas ain’t free.” That’s how he offset his car expenses and purchased equipment. 

Jeremy studied the area audio engineers and priced his services to accommodate local artists at a price point that was a win-win. “I was overlooked, but never underpaid.” When I asked what he meant by that he said “I was overlooked by other on the rise artists, but I was able to get paid by doing the audio engineering and producing for another rising talent. I was the youngest one to make it to iTunes when distribution was difficult to get into. Now it’s a lot easier to get into all iTunes platforms.” He advertised his audio engineering services on Instagram and Twitter. It took about a month of the promotion before he started seeing results. Joel, his brother, would refer people to Jeremy for his services. His farthest traveling client came from Atlanta. The artist was in town for one day to shoot a music video and lay a track, which Jeremy did the audio recording.

Jeremy knew he wanted to sell merchandise. He felt it was important to have an offering for fans to show the group’s style as artists. He feels it is important to keep the design current, fresh, and relevant to what KOVAH is doing. His line includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, bags, stickers, and buttons. He plans on expanding to backpacks, bandanas and is working on a shoe. 

His music can be found on major streaming platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon, Pandora, and YouTube Music. His clothing line can be found on www.HavokKlan.spreadshirt.com

What have these young entrepreneurs learned so far? For Joel, “Besides coming out of my shell, I became less worried about hearing ‘no.’ You always have this doubt, what if? You go thru life wishing you’d done it or taking a leap and saying ‘look at what happened.’ What’s the worst that can happen, hearing a no? Taking the chance to see if it could be a yes, that could be the life-changer right there. Never be afraid to hear no. Having a definitive answer of no and moving on from there.”

Jeremy’s input, “You have to count your losses as much as your wins. If you don’t know how to handle the negatives, it’s going to be rough for you. This is a long-term game; this is a competitive sport. There is someone younger that can offer something that you can’t. I have to stay true to myself. I do what I see fit for myself and people support me. Sometimes I feel lucky, but it’s because I took time to build relationships with people. Those will build new connections with new people and talk about what I’ve done. Now it’s gotten bigger than music.” In closing, Jeremy wants to “thank everyone for counting me out, because I beat the odds.”