MARKUS WATSON – QUITTING ISN’T AN OPTION
To quote a favorite movie of mine that begins “I was born a poor black child…”, and it’s been mostly uphill since then. That’s not a gripe on the difficulties that I’ve faced over 45 years of life, just observation.
Simple story, I was raised in one of the worst neighborhood in Chicago, Cabrini-Green, by a grandmother who had a personal connection with God, a gun and an ironing cord. That was my Holy Trinity. But I made good and got myself out of ‘the hood’: graduated high school, went to the army, then later on college and ended up graduating with degrees in accounting, finance and business. After which I started my career in the finance field where I worked my way up from accounting clerk to my most recent corporate position as a Senior Treasury Manager of a $5B international company.
It was at that point in my life I thought aloud to myself “I finally have it all”. I had a career making mid-six figures, a wife and I was building a house in Florida and Arizona. I ‘d started a business on the side that was making upwards of $75K annually and the plan was to transition from the working-for-someone crowd to being my own boss full-time. Life was good… until I made a decision that changed my life and the lives of everyone I knew.
As is the case in a lot of large, international corporations–at least it’s been my experience over 17 years–accounting (recording cash transactions) and finance (cash transactions) functions operate in gray areas. By “gray” I mean bonuses get paid to employees that are not bonus eligible; petty cash is taken and never replenished; “management fees” and the ubiquitous “consulting fees” were commonplace. The company I worked for had holes in their policies and procedures and I was brought in to fill in the holes. After a couple of years of writing polices and having them languish, never to be instituted, I quit trying. Money was leaving the company at an alarming rate; no safe guard and no one seemed to care… so I stopped caring. My job was to manage the treasury department, which basically means I got the money where it’s supposed to go. I’d had enough and my own business was picking up, so I decided to find a partner, start a consulting business and strike out on my own…full time. The problem was that the partner I chose was one of the director’s of the company and he’d be hiding money in various accounts. I knew it was happening, but it didn’t affect me and that was the company’s problem if they didn’t want to lock the procedures down. Well my lack of discretion cost me… and cost me big. He invested $50, 000 into our startup, BUT that $50K was part of $2M he’d been taking from the company by sending my department false invoices for companies that didn’t exist. The long and short is, the feds were called in, I had signed off on the invoices and took $50K from him so by definition I was guilty. They charged me with wire fraud, later reduced to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and sentenced me to 36 months in federal prison and BOOM! Just like that, the first 40 years of my life were wiped out by the sound of a gavel hitting a desk.
For lack of a better word, prison IS hell. It’s repetition. It’s isolation. Its one of the most dangerous places you can go and expect it to get worse on a daily basis. During my time in prison inmates and guards beat me alike. I was divorced, bankrupted and had every physical and financial asset seized by the government. I served a hard 30 months in some places that would break a rock, BUT I survived. Upon my release I had no home. My wife had moved on and I ended up in a halfway house on the south side of Chicago. That was where my new beginning began.
I was no longer able to work in finance, treasury or accounting and every time I would interview for a job at Home Depot, Sears or somewhere that required manual labor I was passed over because of (1) over-qualification–why would a company hire a man at $12/hour when his last paid over $200k/year–and (2) the felony. Regardless of what you may hear or believe they can and will pass you over if you have a felony on your record. It’s discrimination, but that wasn’t my concern. So for the first time since the age of 14, I had no job, nor the ability to get one. Add on top of that the fact that I suffered, and continue to do so, from PTSD brought on by my incarceration.
I’m not one to look at a glass as half-empty, but even I was mentally, emotionally and physically at my lowest. So I did, what hard times teach you to do: quit feeling sorry for yourself and find a way. I spent the next few months watching emerging industries for consultants and found video marketing the most attractive. Low cost of entry and I could do it from home. Perfect! I taught myself Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, Premier Pro and Audition and started selling my services on sites like Fiverr, Guru, Odesk, Freelancer, Elance and others. With every small job, I built confidence and with every large job I added capital to upgrade my software thereby giving me the ability to charge more. I also started doing voiceover work (off-camera voice recordings) for video games, radio spots, voicemails and the like and again, with every completed job and positive review came confidence and more importantly BIGGER opportunities. I’m not where I want or need to be, but I am so much further away from where I was when my feet first touched down outside of prison. I still battle PTSD and have obstacles like supervised release and probation to deal with, but by blind faith, extreme stubbornness and what at times seems like a completely unhealthy obsession to succeed I have no doubt that the best is yet to come.
As entrepreneurs we all should have a single-minded focus. We can’t control the past… maybe we can’t control the future either, but we stepped out on faith when we first started out businesses. In the face of naysayers, doubters and ill wishers we said “we can do it”. So no matter what obstacles come up, understand that there are ALWAYS ways to overcome them: Around. Over. Under or Through. When your only choices are to live or die, try or quit… to me those aren’t really options at all.
Markus (Mark) Watson has been a senior level manger, finance professional and serial entrepreneur for over 5 years. He is also a veteran of the United States Army National Guard. Currently the president and CEO (Chief Everything Officer) of Ninja Media Group, he provides video, video marketing and voiceover services to clients nationwide. His educational background Finance, Accounting, Business and Communications has given him a broad base from which to approach many projects and topics. He particularly likes to use his knowledge in overall business to help struggling entrepreneurs and individuals changing careers. His video and voiceover skills may be confirmed independently on valeodesigns.com, markusvoice.com and yourvideoninja.com.
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