Throughout the course of our trip, we’ll be posting a host of short profiles detailing some of the awesome entrepreneurs we’re meeting. These could range from tech programmers in India to a modest rug weavers in Turkey. But what these individuals all have in common is the desire to create – to build, overcome, and provide opportunity where there wasn’t any before.
Today we bring you a taste of our upcoming profiles by documenting a young, aspiring entrepreneur in the United States. The portrait should give you an idea of what we’re looking for once we embark on the trip, and the types of inspiring people we hope to find. We hope you Enjoy.
Profile: Anthony Carmonas
Anthony Carmonas lived in Ozone Park, a neighborhood of queens nestled between Brooklyn and JFK. It was a working class neighborhood, isolated enough from Manhattan’s turbulence to have an appearance of calm. More importantly, its distance afforded it protection from the tide of gentrification that swept the East River shores. The neighborhood was a patchwork of nationalities, proudly displayed in the vibrant colors of hijabs and turbans, the booms of reggaeton base hits as cars whizzed by, and the Puerto Rican flags hung neatly on balconies. Even the grocery stores had nationalities, and spices would make fast cameos in the nostrils.
Anthony greeted me at the door with a sincere welcome that could have put even the most bashful of tweens at ease. He looked me in the eye with a quaint smile and ushered me in to the living room, a sparse establishment with three new-smelling dark couches and a large flat screen T.V. wedged in the corner. Another room directly behind the couches, obscured by a heavy curtain, boomed out an action movie soundtrack from speakers that sounded like they had been stolen from IMAX. Anthony yelled for the occupant to turn it down, and conversation continued at normal volume.
“That’s my brother,” Anthony smiled. He slouched his body, skinny enough to make southern mother scream, into the couch.
He turned as if on cue. “And that’s my mom.”
The volume of the woman’s voice cut off any chance of response.
“Anthony, get your fuckin’ feet off my couch!” Ms. Carmonas hollered.
She turned and gave me a warm grin. “Hi, welcome!”
“Hi ma, this is my friend Morgan. He’s here to interview me about my company.”
Ms. Carmonas grinned and glanced back at me, after which she and Anthony began a rapid fire exchange, ridiculing one another. It ended in split second laughs on both sides, fabricated sounds that acknowledged mirth and goodwill but weren’t real laughter. Ms. Carmonas walked out of the room as aggressively as she had come in, returning the phone to her ear.
“She’s on the phone every minute of the day,” giggled Anthony. “Sometimes she’s got the house phone in one hand and her cell phone in the other.”
Anthony mother leaned in from the kitchen, a direct line of sigh about 20 feet away. “This is a Puerto Rican family.” She imposed the statement as a Q.E.D. that was to explain everything around me.
Mrs. Carmonas was Anthony’s greatest role model. A first generation immigrant from Puerto Rico, she worked at a daycare center down the block. The home we were sitting in, and the college education of her children, were her greatest aspirations and accomplishments.
“When we finally signed the mortgage for this home, it was a dream come true for her,” said Anthony.
Anthony himself helped with the deal, as the real estate firm he works for after school brokered it.
Anthony was the founder of a computer repair business called “Anthony Knows Computers,” dubbed ATK for short. Anthony started the business during a NFTE program that was integrated into the school’s business class. Each student was meant to prepare a business plan that would be pitched at a competition at the end of the class. Winners would go to another local competition, then finally to a city one, and all the way up through four rounds to nationals. Anthony did more than write a business plan. He started a business.
Starting when he was 10 or 11, he fulfilled his love of music and video games by downloading them from peer to peer sharing sites. The platforms were rife with all manner of viruses and malware, which consistently infected and broke the Carmona family computer. Anthony was constantly calling his cousin to come fix the problem, who eventually got so tired of the hassle that he spent the time teaching Anthony how to fix them. Ever since then, Anthony has been working with neighbors, local businesses, and family friends to fix their machines, earning himself respectable amounts of pocket change. NFTE just became the impetus for him to formalize it.
Anthony’s entrepreneurial roots went even deeper, starting with the classic business of selling candy in elementary school. On his way to school every morning, he would buy huge bags of candy from the corner store at 20- 50 cents per item. Taking advantage of the New York State health laws, which banned the selling of candy in schools, he sold all his wares at a steep mark up.
“The trick was in the pricing” Anthony chuckled, “and that everyone knew where to find me.” All items cost a dollar, and he almost never missed a day, meaning that he was a source that students came to rely on.
By the fifth grade, the business folded. “It seems like people wised up. They knew they could get their candy for a lot cheaper elsewhere.”
ATK is certainly a big step up from Candy, and generated about $3000 dollars a month as of October 2011. What’s made him successful, though, is his rigorous discipline and routine.
Wakeup was long before sunrise, as if he was anxious to miss even a minute of the day. Alarms started at 4:00 AM, and continued every five minutes for half an hour, until his tired body lost the wrestling match with ambition and dragged it ourself out from under the sheets. The bus took us about half a mile away from his school, and on the walk over he got his coffee from the same little corner store every day. He insisted of paying for my coffee and bagel, and even remembered to pick up a nutriment drink for the school’s office attendant.
At 6:00 am, he started his first of three jobs, as an office assistant. He was the first one there, before even the school administrators. His job was to manage basic paperwork, deliver messages, and call in substitute teachers when the the regular ones called in sick. There were three such positions, but the other two arrived half an hour late and seemed to be spending more of the time gossiping. Anthony in the meantime, seemed indispensable. Every passing teacher waived and said hello, and A would often ask a personal question about their family. He was frenetic with activity, making phone calls, keeping track of the logs and preparing time cards. Everyone who passed seem to beam at him with pleasure.
When the class bell rang, Anthony went from AP class to AP class, sitting in the back and joking with friends. His notes were mere scribbles, and he was clearly not the model student in the class. He still managed high marks on his tests, though his homework scores where terrible. Anthony instead seemed to thrive outside the classroom. He was constantly running errands for teachers, helping other students with projects or even gossiping with the NYPD school safety officers, all of whom he knew by name.
Among his peers, he seemed to be a distant friend. He knew everyone, joked with everyone, but lacked a core friend group that he consistently returned to. He often felt personally responsible for the actions of his friends, as was the case with Carla. Carla, which is not her real name, was a troubled case. She’d failed out of another high school, and gotten a reputation as someone who consistently ditched class. She had the swagger of a young rebel, one who thought she was ready to take on the whole world by herself. Anthony met her at every class, and walked her to the next one, ensuring she never ditched. She looked at him with an air of deference that was absent everywhere. She even stayed with him during lunch, where she never seemed to be too far from his side.
With his other peers, Anthony seemed to attract respect but not reverence. He was a total sweetheart to girls, who seemed to materialize out of thin air to give him a hug. I thought he was a player until Carla told me otherwise.
“He’s just super sweet” she said, with a wry smile.
He enjoys the attention of his classmates, and basks in the approval of his teachers. “He leans over in the middle of the day, after having delivered a cart for one of his teachers and says “you know man, I’m just more mature than everyone here. I’m like a forty year old man in my head.” Despite his astounding maturity, he has not yet had occasion to lose his youthful confidence, for he has never known hard failure. Life has not yet put his industry to the grinding block of resistance to change and politics.
Nevertheless, Anthony’s story is less one of the successful entrepreneur—though that is certainly one he has the power to achieve—and more about the pride of a community. The radiance on the teachers faces, the kind words of his colleagues had a deeper meaning that simple respect to him. In a community where hundreds felt trapped in the lower middle class, where an associates degree was a dream achieved by only a fraction, Anthony seemed to be the one that was going to break out. In a teacher’s work, where hundreds of students pass through without caring and without working, and without being changed, Anthony had the power to gratify them. Talking to Anthony, one had the sensation that one was discussing with the soon-to-great, a leader that would create impact. He has a charisma that is impossible to dodge.
In his power to inspire is his real story, at least to date. He has brought attention and wonder where there was none before, and rallied a community of hard working people around him, effusing a sense of hope that the recession had stolen from elsewhere.