Interview Series

Interview: Business Advice from an Entrepreneur with 25 Years of Experience

November is National Entrepreneurship Month, and I know so many people are looking to start their very own business but have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. So, what better way to learn than to hear advice from one of the most experienced entrepreneurs I know…. my dad! He dishes serious knowledge and advice here, so get your pen and paper out, and let’s get into it!

Q: So dad, how long have you been an entrepreneur and what inspired you to start your own business?

Wow… I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost 25 years. In the neighborhood I grew up in, we had Mr. Glover, who owned a trash company. A friend of mine, same age as me, owned a funeral home. I knew if they could do it, then I could too. What really launched me to start my own business was when I applied for a job at McDonald’s, and I never got a call back. From that point on, I vowed that I was going to be in control of what I do. That’s when I started Morgan’s Cleaning, and cleaning was something I was good at because I had a summer job doing janitorial services at a school. I knew how to clean carpet and strip, wax, and shine floors, so I just took it to the next level and applied everything I knew to my business.

When I started this, I thought about my oldest brother, Ethan, and my youngest brother, Marcus. I thought it’d be a great idea for a family business, but it didn’t work out. Marcus wasn’t ready, but Ethan actually worked at a cleaning place before and he knew the business already. Sad to say, he didn’t want to do it with me. I literally started with nothing — just a broom, dust pan, materials from the local Family Dollar, a used vacuum cleaner, and that’s it. A little over a year later, I bought a van for the business, upgraded my machines, and started to see a profit. That’s when Ethan, God rest his soul, wanted to be in the business with me. At that point, I’d done all the work by myself– passed out flyers on cars and went door to door every single day — that’s when I realized I didn’t need anyone. I kept it going for 15 years.

Q: Tell me about your other businesses you had and what inspired you to start those.

My other business, Derrick’s Paintbrush, I started while I still had contracts with Morgan’s Cleaning. It was getting to the point where I wasn’t getting anything out of Morgan’s Cleaning because cleaning was never my passion. It was my passion to own a business, and it was my passion to do art. I’ve been doing art since I was seven years-old, and I never stopped. In my early 20s, I did airbrushing, painting, and doing portraits, but Morgan’s Cleaning kind of got in the way of that.

Then, an old friend of mine named Nestle took me to a sip and paint class, and I did better than the artist on my painting. They asked me if I wanted to work for them, so I said yes, but they strung me along for a month. I don’t know what the hold up was, but I’m not a very patient person. So, I started learning about the business as much as I could — how to set up and what I needed so I can start my own sip and paint company. I already had a website where I posted all of my art, and Nestle suggested that I turn it into a business website and helped me with that. I went out and bought 12 easels, 12 sets of paintbrushes, 12 aprons, paint, and I built from there. I was able to shut down Morgan’s Cleaning, let go of my contracts that I’ve had for years, and focus on my passion.

My newest business, Derrick’s Custom Sneakers & Restorations, came about two years ago when I stumbled upon two YouTubers, Dillon Dejesus and Vick Almighty, who were customizing shoes. They had amazing tutorials on how to start a sneaker business, and they were my inspiration for doing custom shoes. I just studied and worked to master it. My family gave me old shoes to practice on, and I was able to see the trial and error in everything I’ve done. Once I felt like I was ready, I decided to launch it. So now, I have two businesses that I’m running — Derrick’s Paintbrush and Derrick’s Custom Sneakers & Restorations.

Q: What challenges did you face when you first started your businesses?

The biggest challenge I faced with Morgan’s Cleaning was that people didn’t take me serious because I looked too young. I had a pastor contact me to clean his church, so we met at the church and he walked me through what he wanted me to do. He shook my hand and said he’d be in touch, and I didn’t hear from him again until many months later. He called and asked me if I was still interested in cleaning his church, and I said yes. We met up again and he said, “I want to apologize.” I had no idea why, but then he said, “I judged you off of how young you were, and I didn’t think you could do the job. I want to give you the chance to do it.” I did the job, and he loved it. Then, every time he needed the carpet shampooed or the floor waxed, he called me.

The biggest challenge I faced with Derrick’s Paintbrush was with advertising. Even with Morgan’s Cleaning, advertising was difficult because it wasn’t cheap. You didn’t have the internet back then, really telling my age here, but I had to take out articles in newspapers and use the PennySaver. I had to spend $250 for a block in the newspaper that had your name and very limited amount of words in it. So, I relied on flyers and traveling to different areas to get my name out there. Thankfully with Derrick’s Paintbrush, my advertising came from word-of-mouth. Someone would attend a sip and paint event, post it on social media and tell all of their friends, and I’d get two or three more customers from that. Eventually, that made us the the #1 sip and paint company in the DMV area before the pandemic hit. We were invited to do sip and paints for Macy’s, Marlow’s Furniture, Yelp, and other big companies. We even did a sip and paint for a news anchor for WUSA9 News. I plan on using word-of-mouth to help with my sneaker business as well. The shoes that I’ve done for my family for free were great promotion for me because they were like walking billboards. Dejesus suggested doing this, and it’s been great so far.

Q: How did COVID impact both of your businesses? Now that we’re moving into the “new normal” how are your businesses recovering now?

COVID shut everything down. For Derrick’s Paintbrush, I was booked up for the entire year of 2020. I had people coming from Florida, Arizona, and California who wanted to do something with us, and we had to cancel everything because the entire country shut down. We had to shift gears, so during that time, we went the park and set up there. People did walk-up sip and paints, and that was a way for me to still earn money while keeping everyone safe from COVID. To this day, people ask me if I’m going to do that again because it was such a success. Once we got a handle on COVID and were able to have events with no more than 12 people, we started back up again. The Omnishore Hotel contacted us and allowed us to use their area, and we did three days of Valentine’s Day sip and paint events in 2021 with each one selling out. It hasn’t fully recovered just yet, but we’re getting there. A few months ago, we did a sip and paint even for Bolling Air Force Base with about 40 people there, so we’re getting back out there.

Q: What have you enjoyed the most about having your own business?

I love being my own boss because there’s nothing like calling your own shots. You determine how much you take on and when you take it on. I would suggest to anyone that if you have the talent, fortitude, and confidence, take that leap of faith. Be smart about it — learn everything you can, do research first, and just give it 100%. With Derrick’s Paintbrush, love that I’m able to meet new people, teach art to different age groups, and just create art in general. A lot of people don’t get to do something they enjoy when they work, and I’m blessed to say that I get to do that.

Q: Would you be open to someone contacting you for help if they wanted to start their own business and wanted advice?

Of course. I’ve done it before with Derrick’s Paintbrush. A guy reached out and asked all kinds of questions, and I helped him. I want to help people. I don’t look at everything as a competition. It’s enough money to be made in this world, and you have to help people along the way because God gave you this gift. You shouldn’t be selfish with it. I like to give back in a lot of ways. I do free sip and paints for different causes like breast cancer, autism, domestic violence, and a lot more. I’d like to think that offering advice to those in need is another way of giving back too.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who has dreams of starting their own business?

Don’t give up. It’s not a cake walk. It’s hard work, but it pays off if it’s your passion. Don’t get into it just for the money. The money will come naturally, be it quickly or slowly, when you do something you love. Take your time, believe in yourself, have a support system, and do your research. If you want your business to grow, change with the time. If you don’t have a support system, be your own support system. Believe in yourself and keep working hard and you’ll get there.

Need advice on running your own business? Want to inquire about having a sip and paint party? Want your own custom shoes or need your shoes restored? You can find Derrick’s information here:

1 thought on “Interview: Business Advice from an Entrepreneur with 25 Years of Experience”

  1. I heard some of these stories from Derrick before but to get more detail was so insightful. I respect his grind and hustle even more than I already did. Keep it up! Both of you!

Leave a Reply