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Defying the Odds: From Homeless High School Drop Out to Serial Entrepreneur

Defying the Odds: From Homeless High School Drop Out to Serial Entrepreneur Credit: Hammer & Nails Grooming Shop for Guys

I grew up in the inner city of Philadelphia. My home life was difficult – I came from an abusive family that was functionally poor. At 16, I became a ward of the state and found myself moving from youth shelters to boys' homes.

On my 18th birthday, I was no longer the state's responsibility. The state's care, which included food and housing, was over. I needed to start to take care of myself, so I dropped out of high school and started to work. I spent a couple of years floating around Philadelphia, sleeping in friends' basements, on a bench at 30th Street Train Station, and even on the subway train, until a stranger (one of many real-life angels that have touched my life along the way) gave me a room to rent.

In my twenties, I tried putting on hip-hop concerts to earn extra cash, but didn't see much success. However, I was determined to beat the statistics bound to homeless teens and make something of myself.

In 1988, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I created Krush Magazine – the first publication that exclusively covered the emerging hip-hop music and culture scene – and spent my days writing and designing the entire magazine. I finally saw a glimmer of success when the first issue completely sold out. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders, but that feeling was only temporary. After my fourth issue, I ran into financial problems and couldn't afford to keep the magazine alive; my first entrepreneurial journey came to screeching halt.

I didn't let my passion for the hip-hop industry stop with the magazine, though. I had $250 in my bank account and burning desire to make something of myself. I convinced several local retailers to help me launch a TV show duplicating the style of the magazine, which turned my $250 into $6,000 in advertising dollars. The Krush Rap TV show aired for thirteen weeks before gaining sponsorship from Coca Cola. I could see my hard work paying off as the show became nationally syndicated across major metropolitan cities. Shortly after, The Source Magazine (considered to be the Rolling Stone of the hip-hop music) sought me out. I accepted a position as the magazine's Director of Special Projects.

Fast forward 10 years. I was so intrigued by the concept of writing screenplays that I bought a "how to" book on screen writing and rented all of my favorite movies so I could study up. I found success just 13 months later when 20th Century Fox bought my first script for "Brown Sugar," and then again with the kids film, "Like Mike." Four screenplays later, my scripts had generated over $118 million at the box office. The downside was I never felt financially secure since I didn't own any of the content; 20th Century Fox did.

I looked for an original idea that would be seen as "the next big thing." My "ah-ha" moment came when I found myself at a nail salon getting a pedicure. Every man knows the intimidating and uncomfortable atmosphere that comes along with walking into a women's salon: You're in a sea full of women, surrounded by female magazines, bright colors and reality shows on the TVs. I felt as if every woman was staring at me and judging my manhood. I also felt completely out of place, like a fish out of water. It was at this moment I knew God had given me my original idea to put the man back in manicure and create a male spa. The idea of Hammer & Nails Grooming Shop for Guys was built that very day.

For Hammer & Nails, I envisioned a manicure and pedicure shop designed for me. I saw a more male-centric environment for hand and foot grooming and barbering services – a man cave with a low-lit atmosphere, furnished with dark wood and steel, personal Bison leather chairs, complimentary alcoholic beverages, personal televisions and noise-cancelling headphones for each guest. In 2013, I made my idea a reality when I opened my first Hammer & Nails location in Los Angeles.

Six months later, I made an appearance on ABC's "Shark Tank." The Sharks didn't buy into the brand and when I turned to exit the stage, I heard Kevin O'Leary say, "That will never work." That one sentence has been engrained in my mind and fueled my desire to succeed. It became my mission to prove Mr. Wonderful wrong. Since then, Hammer & Nails began franchising in 2015, has awarded licenses for more than 200 shops and is on track to have 250 locations open and operating by 2022.

About the author: Michael Elliot is the founder and CEO of Hammer & Nails Grooming Shop for Guys, a men's grooming shop that provides hand and foot care, haircuts and shaves in relaxed man cave nirvana.