UPTOWN HUSTLE W/ JOHN HENRY | #ENTREPRENEUR
John Henry is a Dominican-American serial entrepreneur, investor, and author based in Harlem, NYC. He started his first company at 18, successfully selling it just a few years later. He now serves as a Venture Partner at Harlem Capital, a diversity-focused early stage VC fund focused on finding the next generation of great, diverse entrepreneurs
John is also the host of Open for Business, the branded Podcast from Ebay and Gimlet Creative about building business from the ground up. the show debuted at #1 on the iTunes business charts, and has received critical acclaim from ADWeek, WSJ, The NY Times, and more.
John is also an avid speaker; delivering keynotes at conferences such as Big Omaha, Aruba Tech Conference, Millennial Week, and more. To learn more about John Henry, visit his website
interview w/ joel grannum
John Henry is a creative through and through. After he completed high school he moved from Florida to New York with ambitions of becoming the world’s best Jazz Musician. His desire to be the best didn’t stem from an egotistical yearning to be better than other people, but a desire to explore the limit at which he can express himself. Growing up in the projects the son of undocumented immigrants he drew an incredible an amount of inspiration from his parents who encouraged him to strive to be the best at any endeavour he chose to pursue.
Somewhere along his journey, John lost his passion to play jazz music and found it very difficult to find something else that got him going in the same way music used to. He explored finance; he explored marketing, but discovered the people in these arenas were mainly concerned with credentials, not merit and that line of thinking didn’t correspond with his. He learned a little about a lot, but nothing seemed to resonate. In time, John realized the people who excited him the most were people who were creating their own life path.
“Whenever you get excited about something, that’s a really good clue about your own personal intuition”
He believes creating your own path is about knowing how to coordinate the resources available to you to achieve your desired outcome. If circumstances are less than ideal, then you must recognize these unfavourable conditions, and get it done the best you can with you have at the moment. Take action. Learn a lot, plan a lot and build with passion. “If you’re searching for a why, you probably don’t have one…and if you don’t that’s ok. Try a lot until you feel strongly about something”.
“I always knew I wanted to get involved in the neighbourhood in a meaningful way I don’t like being a passer by”
Henry left college to start his first business, Mobile City, an on-demand laundry service and carved out a niche in Film and TV Productions, at only 18 years old. His Harlem-based dry cleaning service was handling wardrobe for Boardwalk Empire, The Wolf of Wall Street and Law & Order SVU. He had on-demand app developed so his business could provide laundry pick-up and other home services to the under-served people in the community. Within two years, he bootstrapped the business and successfully sold the company to a competitor. One of the best feelings was being able to give his parents the surprise of a lifetime when presented a cheque after the sale. Scrappy, driven and passionate Henry notes, “the market doesn’t care about anything other than what you put out”.
After the sale of Mobile City, Henry had some runway and different options to decide on what route to take next. Cofound Harlem started as a meet up group to discuss cool stuff happening in the community over wings and beer. Even at the beginning, it was essentially an incubator for great minds to congregate and get involved in the neighbourhood. The movement grew and it became apparent that a business model was needed to ensure the energy didn’t fizzle out. What Henry started out with was a not for profit operation, no cash in, and no equity out. But he learned that in order to make the kind of impact he wanted to make in the community he had to invest actual capital. Today, Henry is also a minority owner of a venture firm called Harlem Capital Partners.
Harlem’s Entrepreneurial ecosystem has grown significantly since Henry started his enterprising journey. There are now six co-working spaces in Harlem, several colleges in the area have added entrepreneurial programs, and with Harlem capital his mission has expanded from incubate 100 companies to invest in 1000 diverse founders over the next 20 years. Henry is not just building a business he’s building a community and encouraging generational wealth. Harlem Capital has looked at over 200 companies and invested in six within a one-year period, which is unusually active. They have signalled to the market that they are here, and that they are ready to deploy capital and change the face of entrepreneurship.
Meanwhile, Henry has been steadily building his personal brand and has signed on to a top talent agency, which has opened new doors of possibility for him. It’s amazing “I’ve been in this entrepreneurial bucket for so long I almost forgot I had other interests”. The talent agency has been very supportive and encouraged Henry to cultivate his creative seeds. The music bug has seemingly returned, and Henry plans to release an album in a few years. He himself doesn’t watch much TV, but says he appreciates it as a medium to tell a story and convey a serious message n a funny way. The possibility to executive produce a TV show in the near future is very real.
As a creative, Henry’s desire is to fully express himself. In Jazz, that involves mastery of the instrument. Right now his creative channel is business, and what’s beautiful about business is you can always loop in other things, explore other interests and industries and continue creating your own path.