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I have decided to share some of my unique life experiences as a black and disabled entrepreneur.
Being disabled presents many changes, so does is being black. Combine both to be a pretty toxic mix of double discrimination. However, whatever life throws at you, accept it, and move on. As Rocky says “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard+ you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done”
In life, you work with the hand you have been dealt. In fact, I believe it is not about what hand has been dealt with you, but how you play it. Life can sometimes be like when you have a really crap hand of poker and you think, *hit should I fold? Or go all-in in the hope that the other players will fold? I’m the all-in sort of person, giving it 100% 24 hours of the day.
At the age of five, I caught the Poliovirus which left me paralyzed from the neck down – yes that really sucks! Doctors gave me a 10% chance of living, which to me was better than 1%, so I was in with a chance! After years of being a talking-head I made a gradual recovery, but with limited mobility. I can’t remember exactly how long it took from being a talkative talking head to becoming a wheelchair user. Might check my medical records at Leicester Royal Infirmary one day. And yes, I was born in Leicester, not Nigeria, where polio is more common. No one could figure out how I caught it, but it happened.
After graduating from Leicester Royal Infirmary, I was stuck in a special needs school. I know I’m special but WHY a special needs school? I was disabled in a wheelchair not bloody brain dead! Fortunately, my parents saved me from becoming mentally disabled; shipped me over to Africa to start mainstream school. The biggest shock to the system, but that is another story in itself!
I escaped from the depths of Africa (Nigeria) when I was 18 to start my A Level. Years in hospital meant I had lost four years of schooling, but because I’m “special” I managed to claw two years back. In primary (junior) school, I had two double promotions, which meant I went from Year one to Year three and from three to five. So I didn’t start my A levels until I was 18.
I literally crawled my way through university, because access in those days (feeling old now) was crap with a capital C, but I persevered and ended with an MBA (Master Of Bugger All). Equipped with my MBA I was ready to take on the world but some dickhead had forgotten to tell me that black and disabled people have got zero chance of getting decent jobs!
With the chances of getting a semi-decent job out of the window, I decided to dumb down, which is pretty easy when you are black and disabled. People generally have super low expectations of both disabled and black people anyway, so I hid my academic achievements and worked in low-end jobs.
A local charity saw some potential in me and offered me a job as a Service Manager. A real job with proper responsibilities and with staff to manage – happy days!!! I had finally landed on my feet (wheels?). But life is a bitch at times, you never get everything you want. The charity I was working for had been in existence for over 100 years and had never employed a black person before. I will leave the rest to your imagination.
In 1999, I developed Post-Polio Syndrome which causes intermittent chronic fatigue – yeah that double sucks! As a result, I was forced to quit my “bookish” job and face the prospect of long-term unemployment for myself. To be honest, my boss had just taken early retirement and I was starting to hate the job anyway, so leaving wasn’t a big loss. I now had two doses of polio. My job prospects were looking pretty dire. The prospect of long-term unemployment watching day-time TV filled me with dread.
Starting My Journey
The internet was one of my hobbies. I used to spend hours online reading and looking at all sorts of stuff. That was when the idea of setting up a “Right Move” type of website occurred to me. However, I had zero technical skills and no IT qualifications. All I had was a burning desire to create an online business featuring properties online. After some research, I decided to set up House-Online.com – the first website to offer completely free property listings online. So, Right Move, in your face. I did it before you!
I taught myself FrontPage (pretty antiquated huh?) and with help from a friend to create the database, I managed to launch Houses Online. The next obstacle was MONEY! I had very little to spare because I had been out of work for several months and was living off my wife.
I approached the bank and got an emphatic NO! I can still picture the bank manager’s face. He thought I was nuts! Black, disabled, with no trading history and I, wanted a bank loan to set up a business? Unheard of in those days. Anyway, I thought *uck it, I’m doing this. Using the little savings I had, around £2,000 at the time, I tried to market the site. As you can expect I soon ran out of money pretty quickly and the venture flopped.
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
This experience forced me to evaluate my successes and failures and to weigh up my future options which were very limited at the time. However, the Houses Online venture proved to be a blessing in disguise because it had enabled me to learn basic web design and most importantly SEO (search engine optimization). SEO was almost non-existent in those days (even Google was a newbie back then). So I decided to learn everything I could about SEO as my instincts hinted at its future value.
*Uck It I’m Going All-In.
I launched my second website, Rank4U, in 2000, but in the first three months had zero sales! No one understood the value of SEO and I couldn’t exactly get out there to pitch for business. You can’t exactly call up a business, pitch for business and they invite you to come in and you then ask: “are your premises accessible?”. The other problem was that very few businesses understood SEO or appreciated its value. By then, the credit card I was living on and running the business from was reaching its limit. So I decided to take a drastic step and offer my services completely free of charge for the next three months. Yes, I gave my services away for free!
My strategy paid off as the companies I worked for saw the value – and most importantly – my previous clients offered testimonials to new prospective customers. Soon, I relaunched Rank4U on a no placement, no fee basis (the first in the UK), and the rest, as they say, my friend is history!
Thanks, Mark Esho for joining us!
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/eshomark/
Music Credit: Scott Holmes Music Corporate-Business
Podcast Production: Porchlight Family Media