In The United States we thrive on the concept of turning nothing into something, something great. It’s in the very fabric that’s used to make our flag. The very essence of conquering fears and becoming “your own man” is written in the greatest document in the history of this country, The Declaration of Independence. Some argue that The Constitution is more important, but let’s face it; without the Declaration of Independence there’d be no states to unite. We’d all have endless love for the Queen and not to forget, teatime penned in our daily routine. Just after Crossfit, of course. But to get back on track, in this country we love those stories about ‘rags to riches’ because the truth is they are just as American as apple pie and hot dogs. As Golden Retrievers and Football (laces out). Most of the stories that you will or have read on here are about people creating ideas into companies in the face of adversity. That stuff gets me pumped up, hence the reason I write about them. Similar to Monique Bivens, Isaac Reed has had every card stacked up against him at different times in his life and in the end rose like a phoenix. Homeless in his early teens and again in his early twenties, Isaac is proud to say he has seen both sides of the coin. In just a few short years Isaac has gone from tech entrepreneur to barista to Venture Capitalist/Wine Entrepreneur. In case you have forgot, anything is still possible in America.
Isaac was born in East Oakland California where to this day has a reputation for being a rough part of town. In the 1990s East Oakland was known for being crime infested and violent, listed on the top ten most dangerous cities in America. Right around the time he started school his family moved to the suburbs or better known as Pittsburg, California. When he was twelve years old his family came upon some rough times and lost their home. He and his family of 7 moved from living room to living room in the homes of friends and relatives for about a year until his parents decided to return to East Oakland. His first year back in Oakland was shocking, he was now old enough to roam the neighborhood alone and see the world through his own lens. “My eyes just opened, like holy cow, this place is kind of rough. I think my mom did her best to kind of keep us out of trouble but, you know, it’s hard to not be exposed to that stuff when you live in it.” There was an album that came out a while ago by an at-the-time famous hip hop artist, Jim Jones. It wasn’t titled Jonestown, but it was titled P.O.M.E. or Product of My Environment. Which, at the time, got me to thinking: How responsible is someone for how they are affected, whether positively or negatively by the environment that they grow up in? I suppose it’s safe to say that everyone is a P.O.M.E., depending on the environment is what dictates the type of product you become. “The demographic that was there at that time, they all wanted to be criminals. That’s what they aspired to be. When you’re surrounded by people like that, at that point I didn’t even think about college or anything like that. I don’t even think I had any aspirations when I went back to East Oakland. When I was younger I did, when we were in Pittsburgh I used to want to be a doctor. But as soon as East Oakland hit, I kind of just lost the idea of aspirations for awhile.” In a previous interview, Hsu Ken explained how it was easy to envision himself as a web developer because so many of his friends were. Making a comparison of how easy it would be to envision himself as an astronaut if all his friends and influencers were astronauts. What happens when all of your influencers suffer from poverty or are criminals?
Growing up Isaac didn’t have any business experience or even any formal leadership experiences. But he did learn at an early age that he had a gift, the gift of gab. Layman’s terms, he was really good at convincing people of what he wanted them to be convinced of. For those of you who remember playing the card game Pokémon or still do play. The greatest part of that game outside of the game itself was the trading of cards. “I was really good at closing toy deals.” He told me about the story from his childhood of one of his greatest deals. There was a kid that lived across the street from his house and he had just got a hologram Pokémon card, which were by far the most desired. Isaac only had two regular cards and knew that they alone wouldn’t be enough to convince him to trade for his Hologram card. So, young Isaac who recently found a broken yo-yo in the trash had an idea. He told the other kid, who was good at fixing things (or at least enjoyed attempting), how cool it would be when he fixed the yo-yo. The kid agreed and traded his new, highly desirable hologram Pokémon card for a broken yo-yo with the idea of how great it will be when it’s fixed. Isaac got what he wanted and so did his neighbor, a win-win situation, that’s good business if you ask me.
Later in his childhood, Isaac’s mom made sure to keep him busy with volunteer work. “I volunteered at science museums, wild life, rehabilitation facilities, you name it.” To this day he is heavily involved in volunteering and attributes these experiences for preparing him for business by giving him confidence. Most volunteer opportunities for a 13-year-old boy are so far outside of his comfort zone that it forces him to conduct himself in ways he never imagined. Many of the roles required that he dress, speak and conduct himself professionally. In addition, he was introduced to a whole new world of people that he hadn’t met in either East Oakland or Pittsburg. “While most kids remained in the street, I was volunteering at a science museum with a 50 year old businessman, who was volunteering because he was bored.” Isaac explained that a lot of these interactions are responsible for him learning early on how to conduct himself amongst adults. The mannerisms and vernacular all ultimately “translated into my savviness”.
“As my dad wasn’t around much, you know, you pick up things from people you look up to. I can say that that was one of the things that helped me out in life, volunteering and exposing myself to demographics most people don’t have access to.”
In high school Isaac was fortunate enough to have a great teacher, Etsuko Kubo, who refused to accept a future for Isaac that didn’t include a college education. She helped him fill out numerous college applications and his financial aide information. He got into several more colleges than he had ever imagined and decided to attend San Francisco State University. It was close to home and in a city that he wanted to live in all along. SFSU was not only an educational experience for Isaac, but also a culture shock.
“So when I went to college it was like a whole different atmosphere. There I was this guy wearing Girbaud’s baggy jeans, Jordan’s, the gold teeth, the baggy tees. I was like ‘holy cow, I don’t have to be like this to be here’.”
Isaac entered college like any of us would enter a new atmosphere, with the skills and ideologies we used to adapt to our old atmosphere. In Isaac’s first semester he got into 4 fist fights, luckily none of them resulted in an expulsion. “I was trying to bring a mentality that I used for survival purposes to an area where I thought survival was also going to be necessary just to fit in.” Quickly Isaac realized that it wasn’t necessary to conduct himself the same as he had for so many years and he could truly just focus on making himself the man that he’s always wanted the chance to be.
While as San Francisco State University, Isaac joined a fraternity by the name of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated. ΑΦΑ is the first African American Greek-lettered fraternity and was founded in 1906 at Cornell University. Their motto paints a clear picture of what they’re all about, “First of All, Servants of All, We Shall Transcend All”. Isaac was finally surrounded by men who not only thought like him, but looked like him and were living a life that he admired. ΑΦΑ is well known for having many members who become doctors and lawyers. At the time Isaac wanted to pursue law. The course work made him miserable so he switched his major to criminal justice and began studying the justice system from a different angle.
“I’m just a small speck, I’m nothing. I want to make a dent, I want to be as big as this mountain and I want to be known.”
During his sophomore year of college, Isaac and his fraternity brothers took a trip to a lake house. While at the lake house Isaac rode a jet ski far out on the lake, so far out that there wasn’t anyone around for what felt like miles. Out there, on the lake, with nothing but water surrounding him at every direction, he realized how big the world is and how small he is. I think we all have those moments at least once in our lives. When we realize that the world or even life itself is greater than we can hope to understand. Within that, it’s hard to ignore how insignificant you are in that inconceivable world. Some accept it and pigeonhole themselves into an understanding that they’ll never be able to leave a dent in the universe; it’s just too massive. Some others accept this as a challenge, seeing themselves for the first time in the truest form by realizing their own mortality and place on this rock we call home. Realizing that the odds of them dying a no-name are in their favor and spend their lives trying to beat the odds. Why else did you think they call this life a gamble?
From that point on Isaac’s life was altered. He became incredibly focused on becoming greater than he had ever imagined for himself. He started looking for examples in the world of people that he wanted to emulate; Warren Buffet was on the top of his list. He started attending classes in suits, he started a campaign for student president, “I was going crazy, I just had this new energy”. He started attracting other like-minded students on campus and one in particular asked him to go into business with him to create a tech company. Chris and Isaac immediately started developing the idea from the ground up, from hiring best practices to premarketing their app. Due to inconsistencies in the developing team that they hired, in their second year of developing their idea Chris taught himself how to code and they launched their product. Isaac’s first company was called Zuggol, “A mobile app that allows you to share your goals with friends as they become achievements.”
“I want to be big, I want to be remembered, I want people to say my name when I’m dead, that’s precious to me, I want to be remembered in history.”
One day in class during his senior year Isaac had a professor who was really giving him a hard time and he realized that not only does he not need to take “this”. Also he doesn’t want to live a life where people are in a position of authority to verbally attack him and he was to just “deal with it”. With this in mind and to ensure Zuggol’s success Isaac decided to quit his job and to drop out of School. “For me it’s not about the money, it’s more about the achievement, that’s what I was chasing. Yeah I can be good at my job, but will I be remembered for it? Probably not.”
Shortly after leaving school, Isaac moved into a motel. His plan was, if worse came to worse and he couldn’t pay for the motel he would sleep in his car until they were able to secure some funding for Zuggol. This plan was curved when Isaac’s vehicle was towed and he was down to his very last $20. Not enough for another night in the motel and definitely not enough to recover his car. “I was dam near on the streets, like downtown San Francisco with a blanket.” Isaac was saved by the bell or in this case, the investor. A funding deal that was pending finalized and Zuggol was able to get some money to rent office space. They were legit. They got some office space downtown, some interns and Isaac had a place to sleep at night. “I had to be up at 5 in the morning so no one knew that I was sleeping in these offices.” Isaac lived in these offices for about 4 months on a Cheetos and candy diet. With some additional funding they were able to pay themselves a stipend, which afforded Isaac the money to rent an apartment.
Zuggol was successful but the money was going out faster than it was coming in. Eventually Chris had to get a job and Isaac decided to move on to another project. Isaac’s roommate at the time approached him with the idea of creating a mobile game. He agreed, though he knew it wouldn’t be big enough to make the impact that he was looking to create. One day a large mobile telecommunications manufacturer; who I’ve been asked to not disclose, approached Isaac and his partner. The company had a desire to have their app preinstalled on all devices. Clearly a huge opportunity. They agreed and asked if there was any room for an additional slot for other games to be preinstalled. The company was looking for content, they were interested in anything they could have for people to use from the moment the phone came out of the box. With this, Isaac had the idea for Founder Cave. "Founder cave is an incubator for game developers seeking user acquisition for their up and coming social game titles." He would help existing mobile games with user acquisition by utilizing this deal in exchange for some shared ownership and profits. Genius.
One year later Isaac’s dream came to fruition, Founder Cave got its first acquisition offer and the team was on cloud 9. “I was super excited, it was right when we were standing on death’s doorstep. We weren’t raising anymore funding, we were running out, this couldn’t come at a better time, I could retire.” Out of fear that he may make a mistake Isaac hired a team of consultant’s to help him through the acquisition process. Which unfortunately was the mistake. Acquisition consultants are paid on commission. In fact, anytime you hire someone to assist you in the sale of anything, they are compensated with a commission. That commission is typically a percentage of the overall price exchanged between the two parties. So, the higher your deal is, the higher their commission is. This can either be a great thing or a terrible thing; Isaac learned this the hard way. The consultants that he brought on were so aggressive with the valuation of the company that in the end they over valued the company by so much that it discouraged the buyers. It literally ruined the deal. After three months of working on the deal, the acquisition was gone with the wind…along with his team and his girlfriend.
“I felt like I lost everything, I was depressed. And I didn’t give up, that’s the crazy part. I never thought that I wasn’t going to make it, but I was so depressed from all of this turmoil, that I had just lost hope in people more so than anything. I kept striving, I kept trying to figure things out but my hope in people was gone.”
It was a dark moment in time for Isaac, a very dark moment. The windows were closed, the blinds were shut, the lamps were unplugged and the bulbs were removed. Rent was due, money was low, he still lacked a college degree and all the job offers that he had from a couple months ago no longer existed. Out of desperation to get some kind of income, Isaac decided to be a barista. “I took a job at Starbucks and it was the most humbling thing I could have ever gone through in my entire life.” While working part time as a barista at Starbucks, Isaac decided to write a book. No plan. No experience. Just one day he began to type. “I was maybe working at Starbucks four hours out of the day, the rest of the time I was just writing this book.”
During this time, Isaac also started seeing a life coach who was kind enough to offer her services for free. Her primary goal was to help Isaac find happiness, which is what we all are looking for. Some of us unfortunately think that money is the root of happiness (while other’s the root of evil) and that happiness is a luxury. I too in the past have been guilty and I know quite a bit of people like this. People who have fell victim to this societal ideology to ‘get rich and then great things will happen’. I guess we can blame Tony Montana for this. Truth is if you pursue your passion everyday, then great things will happen. If you are good at what you do then maybe you’ll be handsomely compensated for it, but if not at least you had fun. Isaac realized that his entire life he had been deferring his happiness for a large payday. Isaac always had a dream of owning a wine company as a young man and figured owning one would be his representation of achieving happiness. Though, first he needed the capital in order to afford it. His life coach asked him, “Why don’t you start now?” So it began. “So I just started figuring it out, writing out a plan to get it done. Which was kind of bizarre because you think, I may have had $7 to my name sometimes. Sometimes even $0.35 for days straight! But it was just believing in myself that I know I’m going to make it, it’s just hard right now.”
While at Starbucks Isaac was known for giving away free drinks, that were going to be discarded anyway to the homeless, children and construction workers. Eventually this caught up with him and became a reason for being reprimanded by management. During this conversation I realized that Isaac truly stands firmly with his beliefs and isn’t one to be swayed. After being reprimanded for doing something that he felt whole-heartedly was morally correct, he quit. The same guy with less than a dollar to his name quit his job with no back up plan. No safety net. He literally sky dove without a parachute.
Isaac walked out Starbucks thinking, “Holy cow, downtown San Francisco with a blanket, I’m going there and I don’t care, I’m still going to be a millionaire.” Isaac came home to a furniture-less apartment, though he had been giving his paychecks to his roommate for rent it hadn’t been enough to cover and they were being evicted. If you thought the room couldn’t get darker, think again.
“I didn’t even know this was going on, I could’ve took it personally but I just held my head high and said, ‘hey we’ll just see how it goes man’. It can’t get any worse than I’ve already been through. You know, living out of your car and showering at a gym and eating Cheetos for a month…coming from East Oakland and seeing people get shot in the face. I think I’ll be alright.”
Ding, ding, ding. Saved by the bell, again.
Luckily for Isaac, fate loves the fearless and clearly he has a team of guardian angels somewhere above the stars. The next day, after quitting his job that barely paid his bills. After coming home to an empty apartment and an eviction notice. Isaac got a phone call from Europe. It was a company that wanted to acquire his company Founder Cave and just to show him that they were serious they wired him an advance to live off of until the deal closed. “I went to Spain to close the deal and from there it’s been up ever since.”
Some call it faith, others call it crazy, I call it fearless. For Isaac’s entire adulthood he’s stepped out on a slippery edge and has said, “screw it, let’s do it.” Fate truly loves the fearless. Fate admires those who go over the hill first without a second thought. Fate admires those who are ready to die for what they believe in. Fate loves the fearless. With the money from the acquisition Isaac was able to invest in a few companies and put his plans for a wine label in full motion, which sold several cases prelaunch. Isaac has over his short time on this planet, redefined himself more times than most people do three and four times his age. So it was only proper to name his company based on one of his core principles, self-development. Reed Fine (read “Redefine”) Wines was launched in the fall of 2015 with the vision of being the wine for the entrepreneur, the dreamer and the fearless. “I’ve redefined myself to make what I feel is a better direction for my future and that’s what it is, Reed Fine Wines, redefine yourself.”
Through all the ups and downs, Isaac says the best thing that has come from it all is that he was able to identify all of the good people in his life. The people that stuck by his side through those dark times are the people he knows they don’t look at him like a dollar sign. He’s able to see the true blessings that have always been around him and thankful for all of the toxic people that aren’t around any longer. Like a good friend and now business partner of Isaac’s, Robert Aranda would say, “We are in the blessing business, not the stressing business.” One of the greatest things that he says he did in hindsight was to remain positive. “Anyone can work hard but can you stay positive through it all? And can you use that positivity to grasp the reality of an advantage or something you can utilize to leverage your situation.” Isaac’s book is complete and is scheduled to be published in January; according to his publisher it resembles “The Metamorphosis”.
People like Isaac Reed are why I started Champagne Wishes in the first place. I knew that they were out there but I couldn’t find a place to read about them. Since I’ve started this site I’ve interviewed at least 50 entrepreneurs, all of different backgrounds and reasons for starting their own company. Some did it out of desperation, some were fed up with corporate America and others couldn’t envision anything other than being the captain of their own ship from childhood. Regardless of their reason, they all did it. They all took the leap. I started this site because there are too many Donald Trumps on the front page of every business section and not enough Isaac Reeds. We need to shine more light on those who defy the odds, those who are the exception and not the rule. Those who are a true representation of the ideologies that this country was built on: fear-conquering perseverance that makes the Devil’s heart skip a beat. At the end of our time together I asked Isaac, “So, one year from now where do you see yourself?” Isaac responded, “I will have a value of 6.8 Million dollars”. Listen to our conversation on Soundcloud, you can find it posted below.