Company: Holding Space AD Limited
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m originally from North Carolina but have lived in Abu Dhabi for over 13 years. The biggest thing that I would say about me is that I’m always looking for the next adventure and I’m always trying to improve.
How did you get started in business?
My journey stemmed from my childhood experience working in a tobacco field. I realised that I am the one doing the labour, and someone else was making a lot of profit off of me. This realisation triggered my curiosity, and eventually, my choices in life. After having gone through the military and a few other endeavours, I realised that I have a knack for solving problems which is very useful in business.
What is your vision for yourself as a brand?
My vision is to witness the growth of the brand, as well as the growth of the team around me. My main focus is investing in the people around me and getting them to understand and see their intrinsic value—to create plans and visions for themselves. This is important to me, especially because the people who come to this region to work usually don’t have this kind of opportunity back home. I want to be a personal platform that enables people to rise and expand. I think my employees are able to grow when they see that I remove titles, which is the most important thing; when I’m firm but extremely fair; I treat everyone like the adult that they are. When I do that, I see a lot of people respond to me in a respectful way. They do the right thing even when no one is looking.
What does success look like?
To me, success is temporary. It looks like setting a target, reaching that target, and then planning for the next phase. I think success is also an ongoing initiative—it’s not about reaching something, like a final pinnacle. There’s always a next level.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about sustainability and longevity. I’m passionate about unity and all the related buzzwords people use these days. These things have always been embedded into me, coming from my upbringing and from my mother. From the circumstances of my upbringing, I learned that when you don’t have something, you learn to ration it. When we have too much of something, we usually take it for granted. Being able to find that balance is extremely important to me. When you get older, passions change, but it's important to me that the principles that I value stay as they are: they are the foundations of my passions.
How do you determine if a business idea is going to be successful?
Generally, I evaluate two things initially: the founder(s) and the team as well as the product-market fit. There's an in-depth formula our team uses once we get past the initial pitch, but we can tell within a matter of minutes if the business has merit. For one, I think Out and About Magazine is great—it's a platform that gives a voice in a unique way to people who want their voices to be heard but sometimes can't because they don't have a blue check beside their name. So there's a massive differentiation between what exists and what you're doing, and that's a great opportunity to be disruptive with traction.
Do you believe that successful entrepreneurs have particular traits? If yes, what are they?
Absolutely: successful entrepreneurs are determined and resilient—which are probably the biggest traits—and they have a vision. They don't accept the word 'no'—it's not in their vocabulary.
I look up to Jay-Z because we have a very similar story in terms of our upbringing. Having someone that looks like me is a big thing, and more importantly, seeing someone progress and thrive is inspiring to me. He is someone I’ve modelled myself after. I admire his personality too—he maintained his uniqueness by being authentic and true to his principles and beliefs, even if they were not popular opinions at the time.
Tell us about a time you had to deal with failure and how you dealt with it.
My biggest failure happened to me in my childhood when I was playing sports. I was cut from my baseball team, which made me never want to even try out for baseball again. It was a painful experience because I later learned that I was good at baseball; it was just that my coach did not like me for some reasons. I gave up a passion, gave up at something that I really loved at an early age because I let one person discourage me. In business, this translates into ‘taking no for an answer’ or saying you are not good enough just because of temporary circumstances.
When I started my first business—a sports investment business—here in Abu Dhabi, I did not understand the criteria required to succeed, so I quit too early. I ended up having to move my family to an awfully bad area where electricity went out every Friday, and there wasn’t any air conditioning—all during the time when my son was just born. Seeing my family struggle made me want to do more, and I allow the pain of those memories to fuel my drive and passion.
If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?
Patience and preparation. I would prepare a lot better in terms of doing diligence on projects and markets, as well as doing diligence on people I want to partner with—because that was my downfall. I let one person slip into the circle, which ended up doing some bad things.
What advice would you give to someone starting out on their entrepreneurial journey?
I’d advise them to have a hard talk with themselves, do as much research as possible to see if they have an idea that’s worth pursuing and to see if they're up to the challenge. Entrepreneurship is not an easy path whatsoever. It’s not for the select few—it’s for the chosen. The world needs everyone—it needs people who work, who are in academia like research and development as well as leaders who are willing to lose it all by not playing it safe. It needs a whole ecosystem. Do your research to be as prepared as possible and leverage your skills by highlighting your attributes.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
At one point in time when I was in the military, I had a captain who unfortunately died in a helicopter accident. When we were in Iraq, every day he would come by and say, “Mac, just process it as information, man.” I was going through some personal trouble at the time. The advice meant not to take it personally. It took me ten years to realise what he was talking about, but once I did, that was it. Now, I treat every circumstance that happens to me as information to help me become a better person.
What kind of businesses do you think people should be getting into?
There are obvious industries like e-commerce, and anything to do with online businesses, but I think people should look into concepts that are five to ten years out. What we are talking about are ideas or concepts that complement space or low-earth orbit technology that can be commercialised. That is the immediate future, and the industry is still not overcrowded--just yet.
If you have something that you’re trying to put out, you should remember that people are not spending as much as they used to before. Consumer behaviour has changed; people are not spending as recklessly as they were before, so looking into Fintech would be great. Also, I think there's a future with technologies that aid, support or promote mental or psychological health.
As you see, I’m into modern technologies because this is where we are. Anything with a holistic type of influence is what you should be getting into.
How do you look after your mental health?
I breathe; I'm very conscious of whenever I start to get out of rhythm, out of energy. Normally, I create rituals, which is a sign of what successful people do. The first thing that I do in the morning is to consume water—it does not matter if it's a sip or a full glass. I drink water because it reminds me to stay fluid throughout the day. There's a symbolism to this habit, which also has health benefits. Staying hydrated is one of the most important things for me.
I spoke at a United Nations event last year regarding mental health and suicide. I've had family and friends that I lost to mental health issues—we all do—and I think it's an unfortunate thing we should all be aware of. I was diagnosed as manic depressive almost fifteen years ago, and I still think I suffer from it a bit. I don't take medication, so I always have to stay on top of it. I also try not to put myself in positions that make me extremely uneasy. I recently heard a podcast hosted by Mike Tyson. They were discussing a medication that you can inject in your parasympathetic nervous system. It blocks the inhibitors that create and cause these traumatic experiences. That's why I think technology is very important. Science and technology can help many people that are struggling with mental health problems.
What is that one quote you live by?
Innovate or die—that’s it. You innovate or die, period. If you don’t innovate yourself as a human being—as a mother, a father, a sibling—if you are not contributing your time to get better—all you’re going to do is hold others down. In business, it’s the same thing.
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