How Gang Life Helped One Man Become A Multimillionaire Entrepreneur

Ryan Blair gang entrepreneurRyan Blair's rag-to-riches story is no marketing shtick. He may have dubbed one of the chapters of his New York Times bestselling book, "my philosophies from the jail cell to the boardroom," but Blair's childhood isn't naturally packaged into slogans. And the things he learned on the streets of Los Angeles, and from two stints in juvenile detention, did help him build a series of successful startups, the latest of which took in $231 million in sales last year.

Growing up, Blair idolized gang culture, he told AOL Jobs. His older sister was a gang member, selling the weed his father grew. After his father abandoned the family when Blair was 13, and his mother started drinking, he needed money. Initiated into a gang with a brutal beating that left him with a mouthful of broken teeth, he started peddling stolen car stereos, and learned the first principle of business: "Buy low, sell high."

The Entrepreneurship Of Poverty

"The roots of my entrepreneurial mindset lie in seeing the entrepreneurial work of poverty," Blair says. "The working, hustling rich and the working, hustling poor are the same species, except one plays by society's rules. Or makes them, some would say."

Blair bulked up. He was 260 pounds at his peak, his body a patchwork of gang tattoos. The more intimidating he appeared, the less he would have to fight. "When you're 15 and you see someone get murdered," he says, "survival becomes your goal."

That idea, in a somewhat modified form, is true in the business world too. Success depends on the ability to adapt to your surroundings and provoke the reaction you want. "Every board member creates his signature, a signature of his insecurities overcome," he says. "A combination of old-fashioned DNA, anthropology, culture, ambition and aspiration."

Blair's "signature" is, of course, his past -- a past that he finally put behind him during his second stint in juvenile detention. His first came when he was 14, after he attempted to rob a restaurant but set off a silent alarm when he threw a rock through the window.

Gangsters, he now contends, are "entrepreneurs who steal from other entrepreneurs." The best thing small-business owners can do, he thinks, is to "educate the local hoodlums" in legitimate business skills -- "as a form of insurance." That's exactly what Blair now does with his foundation.

Ryan Blair teenager prison
A Book, A Letter, A New Life

Blair was locked up for the second time at age 16, for a strong-arm robbery and battery. He says that he was beaten up on the first day, the last time around, so he decided to go on the offensive. As he puts it in his book, "If you let someone take your milk the first day, they'll start taking it every day." Blair incited a riot.

Over the next 30 days, most of it spent in solitary confinement, some thoughts gnawed at Blair. Mainly the fact that, at the judge's whim, he could be spending the next four years of his life behind bars.

He read his first, and only, work of fiction at this time, Stephen King's "Firestarter," sounding out the syllables phonetically and listening to them bounce off the walls. Today, Blair has read over 1,000 books and remembers most of what he reads, a remarkable feat for a dyslexic high school dropout. He says that it's because he doesn't read visually, but auditorily, thanks to that excruciating month he spent with nothing but his own voice.

Blair wrote a letter to the judge, with some spelling assistance, begging for leniency. "You should be writing in college," the judge replied, "not in prison."

When Blair was released, he found his mother's home ransacked -- his fellow gang members assumed that he'd become a "rat." Blair decided to begin the long, delicate and sometimes life-threatening process of leaving his gang. He got a job picking up the cans dropped off for recycling, meeting what he calls the "lowest form of life": the crackheads clutching at nickels for the next hit, the drunk who turns in his beer cans just to scrape together enough cash for the next 12-pack.

Nothing spurred Blair upward faster than staring into the eyes of the bottom. He worked almost every waking hour of the day, seven days a week, and still does. His mother started dating a new guy, a successful real estate entrepreneur, who moved them out of their crummy neighborhood, let Blair drive around in his Cadillac Allante, and hired him to do odd jobs. Blair suddenly appreciated the connection between wealth and hard work.

Soon he got a job at another company, answering phones, but impressed the higher-ups when he covered a shift at the data center. Computers had always been a passion of his. After all, he says, he'd "liberated a bunch."

Addicted To Business

Within three years, Blair became vice president. His starting salary had been $6 an hour. His new salary was $100,000 per annum. The next year, he founded his own 24-hour computer repair company, at age 21. Blair claims that this rapid rise came thanks to his ability to "hustle" and his "nothing-to-lose attitude," but no doubt his charisma helped too. Blair has the charm of a practiced motivational speaker -- which he is.

Blair claims that he "sees the world as a technologist." His current company may not seem so technical: ViSalus is a weight-loss and fitness program. But it's based on the idea of challenges; people set their goal, and get prizes for completing it. It "game-ifies" weight loss, like the many websites that keep people coming back through badges and give-aways, and anything that will tickle the brain's reward center. Blair approached his book similarly, making the chapters short enough to give his readers a regular jolt of accomplishment.

He's approached himself the same way too. "I've trained myself to be addicted to business," he says. And that's what drives him, not some misty sense of a legacy. He's requested that his foundation be wound down within 10 years of his death, along with the 90 percent of his assets that he's dedicated to it.

In 2004, Steven Levitt said that being in a gang is "perhaps the worst job in all of America." In 2012, Blair says, "it's one of the only jobs." Kids are increasingly turning to gang culture for money and meaning. Blair hopes to prove to them that they have the skills to get a lot more money and a lot more meaning, if they play by society's rules.

You can read the first chapter of Ryan's book, "Nothing to Lose, Everything To Gain: How I Went From Gang Member to Multimillionaire Entrepreneur," for free here.

Next: The Homeless Man With The Golden Voice, A Year Later

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Sounds like you are a victim and a chronic complainer BOB. Provide evidentiary support beyond Internet sources to back your claims then let's talk. Until then, crawl in a hole and be negative Nancy to yourself. Clearly you have never made any life changing mistakes nor succeeded in business. Take it for what it is and face the fact that you failed at attaining real wealth. What do you do again besides complain?

September 21 2012 at 9:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sounds like you are a victim and a chronic complainer BOB. Provide evidentiary support beyond Internet sources to back your claims then let's talk. Until then, crawl in a hole and be negative Nancy to yourself. Clearly you have never made any life changing mistakes nor succeeded in business. Take it for what it is and face the fact that you failed at attaining real wealth. What do you do again besides complain?

September 21 2012 at 1:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@Deborah Kitelinger. They allow people to film testimonials at visalus events and post them. According to those - visalus has this magic shake the cures cancer/lupus/diabetes/arthirtis/heart conditions and makes everyone wealthy while doing it.. Then people try to convince you that they should buy some protein powder and marketing materials for $500 for basically $20 worth of material.

There's no science behind visalus. just testimonials similar to that of the old patent medicines..

It's just protein powder - no real difference that what you can get on amazon - only much much more expensive. You CAN make a lot of money - but, sadly, you won't. It is very likely you got in too late and all the big money has been made.. Visalus is not Coke or Disney or any other business. It appear to slick quasi-pyramid scheme where the real push is to sell distributorships.

Google "visalus scam of the month" and "the MLM gas station $8 gas" - and the MLM and FTC.. and the MLM wiki article. "

They tell people they own a businesss to give an inflated sense of importance and to get them to pay the expenses and to make sure the company has no exposure. They can encourage you to lie because they have you sign a contract stating you are not an employee or distributor of the company. They fall for this because these people have never had a title or a chance to own a business. They take advantage of the dreams these people have and their bad body image they have of theirself. SAD "

January 26 2012 at 1:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Deborah Kitelinger

WOW.......some people amaze me with their comments!!! ViSalus IS an amazing company and ANYONE that puts in the work to do so, CAN make a LOT of money. NOT just the people at the top!!! Just depends on if a person does the work to succeed or not. And to Bob......ViSalus does NOT claim that the products cure anything!!! It is just that so many of us have found that when we feed our cells the product that is so good for our cells then reproduction of healthy cells are the results, and in turn our body heals itself. That is NOT a foreign concept. Most people that are familiar with what you need to do to help your body heal itself are not surprised by this one bit!!! One more thing. It does always hit me funny when people talk about people being in MLM and if they have made money they must be taking advantage of those under them. Did it ever occur to you that maybe they just worked harder at it? What about the person that is above me in ViSalus that has for whatever reason not been working her business and I am about to pass her up in rank. It is because I am working the business and she has chosen to do other things right now. In what traditional job can you work harder then your boss and are guaranteed to promote above him??? I would encourage all the naysayers out there to actually research the product and company and realize that if you scoff at this you will be like the guy that turned down the partnership with Coke that he was offered in the beginning!!! Or the guy that thought Walt Disney was crazy and turned him down when he went to him to join him. Check out ViSalus, give it a shot, and if you put your all into it I promise you WON'T be disappointed!!! Contact me if you have questions....

January 26 2012 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@Pollywantsacracker : you did the same thing by joining a MLM /pyramid scheme!

It's simply a protein powder.. not the cure for cancer/diabetes as they claim. I'm sorry you fell for the slick promotion.. and are angry with your decision and will soon be angry with your results.. MLM like this make most of their money by selling false hope.. The real product is to scam people into becoming distributors..The only people who make any real money are at the top of the pyramid - like blair. They exploit your greed and even convince some poor people so sign a lease for a car they cannot afford.. It's sad to see people getting ******* into a game they can not win.. The article must have been bought and paid for by blair himself. I guess there is no journalistic integrity at AOL who produce PR pieces they pass off as journalism.

The fact is Blair committed VIOLENT crimes and brags about them and nobody thinks of his victims.. They only see $. The only difference is now he's using a slick marketing campaign instead of is AK-47..

January 25 2012 at 10:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Bob go **** yourself

January 25 2012 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kim Dennis

WOW, the success of one that Helped nearly Thousands of people soon to be millions, always come with people talking Trash. Must not judge a book by its cover unless you've taken the time to Read it, learned from it, & maybe even applied principles of the Truth written within it! Until then Ryan keep doing what your doing, cuz its fuel to you I know. Let it keep fueling you~!~ Great Article BTW~!~

January 25 2012 at 6:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Matt Ward

Ryan Blair is my hero!!

January 25 2012 at 5:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@Brandi: "Shut up"? really? Don't blame me that you've made a mistake and have a vested interest in his mlm. I simply stated the facts: Blair is a convicted criminal who's hurt people ( he's witnessed a murder - did he kill anyone? ). And the overwhelming majority of people don't make money with MLM's That is a fact and visalus print's this fact in the small print on their website. Did you read that? If vilasus is so legit, then why did they feel the need to put up fake review sites? Seems dishonest to buy the adwords "visalus scam" and put up fake review sites pretending to be unbiased when they only promote MLMs.

Perhaps you are just insecure that you paid $500 for the starter kit - which is simply protein powder and glossy marketing junk. It's just protein powder.. nothing more..

As for blair, a more accurate title could be "how my mom's new boyfriend helped one man become a millionaire".

January 25 2012 at 4:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bob, shut up. He could've stayed in gangs doing what he was doing, but he didn't. He turned his life around.
He can't change the past because what's done is done and he has served his time. I can't stand negative people like you sitting so high on your pedestal pissing and moaning while people like Ryan Blair are out there doing something...but yet you feel as if you're more deserving of whatever. Visalus has helped quite. Few people that I know and I will trust that over your statistics anyday.

January 25 2012 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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