What An Entrepreneur Can Learn From A Drug Trafficker


In 1987 three federal agents stopped Michael Santos outside of his home, pointing guns to his head. He was arrested and at only 23 he was found guilty of selling cocaine and sentenced to 45 years in prison. So far this is an almostmovie script story of bad mistakes and lifelong consequences – not exactly the best start.

Locked in his prison cell, Michael began to come to terms with his fate. Even though he was desperate to, he could not change his past. He realised he could only affect his future. So he became determined to influence his future to fullest of his abilities and to make himself successful. He condensed these abstract ambitions into a three-point plan:
1. Educate himself
2. Contribute to society
3. Build a support network

Over the following years he showed tremendous determination in executing his plan. He enrolled in courses that led to a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1992. He reached out to professors to become his mentors and soon they became his friends. After gaining academic credentials he focused on contributing to society by regliously writing every day – for publications, for his mentors’ books and eventually for books of his own. Worried prison administrators tried to beat him down by preventing him from getting a second degree and accusing him of organising a business in prison. Through this work he also came to know a woman called Carole and they later married in a prison visiting room. She made a website for Michael’s writing and amazingly it generated enough revenue to see Carole through a nursing degree and build up a savings pot for when he was released.

Although he is responsible for the position he found himself in, what he went on to achieve is nothing short of remarkable.

Today Michael Santos probably doesn’t like being labelled a drug trafficker,and fair enough really. He has finished his sentence and he is now an author, a businessman, a personal coach and a soon-to-be Criminal Justice lecturer amongst other things. But he’ll be the first to admit that he majorly ballsed things up in 1987. Back then he was facing spending the best years of his life behind bars and dealing with his family’s shame. But the choice he made to tackle his mountain of adversity is what we can learn from.

No matter how much work you have to do today, you probably don’t have to through as much as Michael did to get it done.
When you’re trying to build your company you do so in a largely encouraging environment of peers, technology and support groups. Michael got his work done with no internet and in a place of hopelessness where even the administrators didn’t want to see him succeed too much.
And you have almost unlimited opportunities to cultivate a network. Michael managed to build one without email/social media and while locked down to a prison cell.

What an Entrepreneur Can Learn

  • When you start doing good things, nice surprises often follow. So seize opportunities and make things happen.
  • No matter what you can always be learning and consciously working to better yourself.
  • Stay determined.
  • Even large obstacles can be tackled with a carefully thought out plan followed by unwavering execution.

A nice speech made by Michael at UC Berkley can be found here
Michael Santos’ Speech

More at Michael’s blog,

and he is also active on Quora.

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