Financial News

Catherine Hoke: 3 Hustlers Who Used Their Street Skills to Find Success

Catherine Hoke: 3 Hustlers Who Used Their Street Skills to Find Success

by Catherine Hoke

What does street hustling have to do with succeeding as an entrepreneur? The answer may not be clear at first, but hustling skills have more value in the business world than you might think.

For instance, some drug dealers are the best salespeople around. They understand that profit is generated by repeat business, which means you must have a quality product and offer a quality experience. They know how to read and service their customers, turn a “no” into a “yes,” set their product apart in the market, and use free samples to hook customers. That type of ingenuity makes for highly successful entrepreneurs in legal businesses.

These three hustlers honed their skills on the streets and transformed their street smarts into explosive business success.

1. Coss Marte

Coss Marte started selling drugs at the age of 13. By 19, he was making $500,000 a year. When he was 23, he was managing 15 people and raking in $2 million a year in the drug business. It took a five-year stint in prison to change Marte’s perspective on what he could be doing with his entrepreneurial skills.

After Marte was released, his managerial skills and profit-driven attitude helped him launch his own successful “prison-style” personal training service.

“I started to believe that my purpose was to give back to, rather than destroy, individuals around me,” said Marte. “Since my release, people in my community see me as a force — one who is establishing a mission to demonstrate personal transformation by creating a legal, successful business.”


2. Lionel Manigault

After losing his father at a young age and being abandoned by his mother, Lionel Manigault spent his childhood and teen years in the foster care system, where he suffered physical and mental abuse.

Manigault found a new family with the Crips, but when he was 19, he was shot and hospitalized for a month. Growing aggressive and violent, Manigault ended up serving six months in prison.

Taking calculated risks helped Manigault survive gang warfare, but it also led him to found AM’I Live, a networking company for multimedia specialists.

“I’m scared to fail,” Manigault says. “But this fear is good because I’m using it as a sign to become my best self.”


3. Charlamagne Tha God

Charlamagne Tha God, born Lenard McKelvey, got his name from a history book about Charlemagne — French for “Charles the Great.” (“Charles” was the name McKelvey used to give when he sold crack on the street.)

After several stints in jail, he decided to turn his act around and went back to night school to earn a chance at a legitimate career.

“If you don’t know no better, you’re going to have people telling you, ‘You can’t get a job because you got felonies,’ or ‘You can’t get a job because of your jail record,’” he said. “I was one of those people. I never let that stop me…I was tired of getting locked up.”

Charlamagne started off working at Taco Bell and as a telemarketer, but his all-or-nothing attitude soon paid off when he applied for an internship at a local radio station. Now, he’s a famous DJ and radio host of his morning show, “The Breakfast Club.”

These men all succeeded because some of the same street-hustling skills that landed them in jail were highly valuable in the business world. And if Charlamagne and other hustlers-turned-businessmen have anything to teach us, it’s that it doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s where you’re going.


Catherine Hoke is the founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that serves people with criminal histories nationally. Defy “transforms street hustle” by providing entrepreneurship training, executive mentoring, startup funding, career development, and job placement. Defy hosts “Shark Tank-style” business plan competitions in which people compete for $100,000 in startup funding. Defy is currently enrolling its next class of entrepreneurs. To find out more about how Defy Ventures can help you or someone you love, click here.

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