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How a Side Hustler Triumphed to Leadership
Sean: What happened? Cause you mentioned that this was your first business and now you’re running other businesses besides, so what’s the story in between? What are we missing? Can you share that with us?
J Haleem: Oh, no, definitely. So when I’m running that business and it’s going very, very well, but you know, in 2008. And the states we had the great recession, my wife was working on Capitol hill, doing very, very well, but she lost a job, they gave her less than 30 days’ notice. And our, and the truth of the matter is, our now president over here, Joe Biden. He’s the vice president at that time, his chief of staff was my wife’s boss.
And, you know, he wants to take that job seriously and he let everybody else go. And so now you have all these people in this place, some people making six figures is done in less than 30 days. So here we are, you know our world is turning upside down. So here I had a decision, I say, okay, I’m going to sell it because I had contracts. So I sold them off my contracts and made sure we can stay afloat.
And I had already other business interests as well. So we thought about coming back south, cause a lot cheaper. DC areas, one of the most expensive areas in the states. So we came back south, we get started all over again. We thought it will be a lot easier, but it was not.
One of the business interests that I had was – I was in entertainment. I was doing entertainment, throwing events. I was moving on promoting. Then I started working with music artists, things of that nature. I went into the blogging space, which was great. I worked with a lot of celebrities at that point because my business was kind of on autopilot.
You know, I had to come to the south and that kind of slowed down, but I still had a camera. And I hated it. I didn’t want to take pictures, anything like that, but I sold my camera to my minister, to my pastor here. And he gave it back to me two weeks later because I needed the money. I had a $2,000 Canon and I sold it to him and he gave it back to me two weeks later.
He said, “Hey, I want you to use it.” That’s when I took it seriously after that. And that’s why J Haleem media was born. You know, I said, okay, well I want to still do some of the filmings and we’ll take some pictures. And it just morphed into what it, what it is today. But I told everybody I never ever wanted to do it.
I got the camera for the blog. Literally, I will just go and interview celebrities in different places across the country. And it’s morphed into me now being internationally you know, published photographer, you know, award-winning and all that other stuff like that. I never saw that coming.
Sean: That’s amazing.
So what gave you the sign? Like “Hey”, because a lot of people don’t like doing things to just throw in the towel and quit, right? It’s not for me. Hey, I don’t like doing this. I feel so tired afterward. Cause I feel like this is something that, you know, I could hire someone to do this, but in your case, you went ahead and took the grind. I mean, how did you know that this was something that was going to direct your future and you’re going to build your business with this even if it’s not something you really love doing?
J Haleem: I never even knew. I’ll be honest with you, I never knew. Again, I sold my camera. When we got back here, my son, my wife was pregnant with my son. She couldn’t get a job. She was making a lot of money in the DC area. And down here, you know if you make a lot of money like that, so people didn’t want to pay her.
Plus she’s pregnant with a kid and I am still a felon at that time, so I can’t get a great job. And again, once I saw it I’m like, listen, I have no money, so let’s sell this camera. I want to have no 2000 out of the camera and I can do nothing with it. Let’s make the money, we can pay our rent.
But literally, this man gave me the camera back and was like, I said, “Okay, well, look, this is what I do. I’ll take pictures for you, no matter what.” And so he’s a pastor of a church. I took pictures of the church, but then people started asking me to do it. And I was like, “Okay, I needed the money.”
So I take the money. I worked at a crappy job for like $8 an hour job for a little while. And I was taking pictures. I had a college friend who had a car dealership. I would go with him to get cars from the auction. And, you know, I started hustling. So while I’m going with him to get cars from the auction, I got smart in watching him and I said, “Okay, well, listen, I know how to do it now.
So his business is picking up, so he was like, “Well, you go by yourself, you can take the guy.” So now I would get a hundred dollars for a car. He’d pay me $200 a day, you know, just to go ahead and go get, go with the guy. Then it went from that to, we go on that one day, we going to three days a week. So now I’m working like three jobs.
I’m taking pictures, I’m working at a hotel for $8 an hour and I’m running, working at a car dealership. And so I’m doing all this stuff at the same time, but the pictures is starting to pick up. And then it was about 2015 when we had a, it was a lot of stuff happened in South Carolina. You probably heard about the Emmanuel 9.
When the guy shot the nine people in the church in Charleston, South Carolina that happened and we’re in the Capitol. And so they had to bring the Confederate flag down. I was there for that. I shot that. We had a historic thousand-year flood here. I shot everything for that. And I got on the mayor’s radar and the mayor had me do work for him.
We knew we were getting relief, help from other cities, other major cities in the region. He would have me as the only photographer shooting. And so I got to put on the map from there. Then I started working with a lot of big-name companies and big-name law firms and stuff like that. And my career just took off from there.
But I never knew I was just, you know, using it. I wasn’t going to put it down because I felt like one spiritually, I was like, God was in the midst of that because I never asked for paying me the money. I even asked, “you want the money back?” He says, “no, I want you to use the camera.” I said, okay, cool. And I did so, and it worked out.
Sean: So that’s like a Divine intervention right there.
I mean, that is an amazing story. And, you know, just to share a lot of projects that I did for churches, pastors, campus, missionaries that I don’t ask them to pay for and we built their websites because that’s my business, we would do their SEO and I give their email marketing for free. That pays dividends. I mean, I couldn’t count it.
Yeah. But it’s exactly the same from your end where you never thought much about. But suddenly the church was giving you a project. It’s not big, but it’s snowballed all the way to getting projects from the mayor. And throughout that time you were honing your craft, you’re getting better and better at it.
J Haleem: Yep. Three years straight. I shot for the series three years straight for free, three years straight with no pain, but I’m okay. And I tell people all the time that was the best work I’ve ever done because I shot like almost, you know, churches have something going on every day. Every other day, I’m shooting you, man. I’m getting, I’m getting better. And the church has, has like the worst lighting.
They always had like these orange lighting with the red carpet and you had your white balance and it’s like ridiculous. So I would see people like guest passes, bringing their photographer, and I would see them struggling because they don’t really know.
I’m like, listen, this place, I learned in a horrible place. The how’s, it really honed in working at my camera. And so I have nowhere near the equipment that I have now, you know, so I just had to figure that thing out, but it got me prepared to work with people like Nike and, you know, Save the Children Foundation, the National Guard, Amtrak, places like that.
Sean: So what happened between that, being a one-man crew to where you are now with J Haleem media. And you’ve been, you’ve been president for eight years and two months already since, inception. And you have an 18 man team which we talked about in the pre-show, what happened in between, from a one-man team to an eighteen-man team?
J Haleem: The media that’s where everything I got in going on, cause because I got the media company, I’m a non-profit, I have the J Haleem apparel. I have multiple businesses but with us about five or six of us in the media company. And how I got to that point was reinvestment. You know I started working, working, working. In 2016, again that was a year after I got with the mayor in 2016 was a, like a coming-out year for me.
And so in 2017, I reinvested, I remember putting $30,000 back into my company and more equipments and more cameras. I got a space. I got a 3000 square foot office space, as opposed to, I had like a 500 square foot office space at the time. And then I went and got a 3000 square foot office space. I put myself in a position where I can do $500 and a $1000 jobs, now we can do $10,000 to $20,000 jobs, by reinvesting in my company.
And so of course I couldn’t do it by myself. So we got certified with the city. I certified with the counties, got certified with state-federal certifications so that we can actually do that type of work. And so once we got those types of jobs, we go ahead and bring other people in as we can go ahead and pay them.
Sean: That’s amazing. Hey, we’re planning to also, this is a personal question now, so because we’re planning to expand SEO Hacker’s office space, but I’m wondering about 3000 square meter office space for 18 people. Isn’t that a bit too much?
J Haleem: No, and everybody, some people are remote. So I have people working from Baltimore, from Los Angeles, from Atlanta, you know, so everybody’s not here where I am. But it’s nice. It’s plenty of space.
We actually created what you call a virtual learning pod for kids during the school year because of Covid. So through my nonprofit, “I won’t starve academy”, we created the “kids won’t starve learning pod.” Basically, we brought kids in there, their parents didn’t want them to go to school.
And so we had social distancing, we have two conference rooms, so we turned them into the classroom, and we had the kids in it socially distance and it worked out great. So we got plenty, we got the space for a reason, you know, with my apparel company, we make all our stuff in the house. So one of my brands is right here, looking at a miracle we make all the stuff in house. So all that stuff was, it was a great investment and it paid dividends, still paying dividends.
Sean: That is amazing with your nonprofit. I’m just curious. What does your nonprofit do? How’d you found it? I do plan to start one someday, an orphanage here in the Philippines. That’s on the plan, on the roadmap, but I have no idea how to start and I’d like to learn from you.
J Haleem: Oh yeah. Oh, well, I’ve never wanted to be a nonprofit owner because, here where I am locally, people create nonprofits for it seemed like they are one of the reasons to ask for money. You know, from the government or otherwise. And I’m totally about hustling for whatever I get. So I’m okay with that. So we have, I won’t starve LLC at first, and this is me putting on conferences, doing training for individuals, teaching people about entrepreneurship.
However, when COVID happened, I saw the vision. A lot of people, minorities like myself in this country were hurt worse than other individuals. And so I created a nonprofit so that I can get individuals to help African-Americans here in the states to learn about entrepreneurship, without having to spend their money. Not me spending money, but without them, I had to spend money.
But we deal with in the states is we have a lot of businesses that us, as African-Americans spend money with and they don’t have to spend money in our community. And so my thing is trying to create a pipeline through my nonprofit, for someone to spend money with us, without them having to go ahead and spend money, to get that knowledge, wisdom, and understanding that they can go out and feed their family.
So that’s what the basis between creating ‘I won’t starve academy’ was about. Successfully being able to teach African-Americans how to be entrepreneurs.
Sean: Thank you. Thank you so much for doing that. I mean, not a lot of people have that burden. Not a lot of people actually act upon that burden. You’re one of those few people and I just want to say thank you from all the way here from the Philippines.
That’s really amazing.
J Haleem: No problem. No problem. I, you know, we just gotta step up, you know, we see these things. Again, I never wanted them. My wife always told me, because she’s worked for nonprofits. “J, well a non-profit can make money too.” Like it’s not about that. I needed to, I really wanted to have something that I can really offer.
And then it’s just COVID that opened up the door for that. So we actually became a 501C3 last year. We’re celebrating our one-year anniversary actually next Sunday, we’re having a nice celebration here for that.
Sean: Congratulations. And hey, you know that God, won’t forget that, right. I mean, he’s just looking at you and saying “more blessings for this guy, cause he’s being a river of blessing. He’s blessing other people as well. So that’s really good stuff.