Southern California L.A. is home to Hollywood and the entertainment capital of the world. It’s a cultural mecca boasting an endless supply of Instagram worthy foodie restaurant fantasies, and a paradise of perfect daily weather. Fifty million tourists visit annually, and the startup scene christened “Silicon Beach” is thriving, with over 500 tech-related startups. From media and entertainment to disruptive tech; LA brags of being home to dozens of hot companies like Headspace, Hulu, The Honest Company, Vice, Netflix, Snap Inc., System1 and many others.
Innovation comes from everywhere. Increasingly creative startups are pouring in from all corners of the globe and Silicon Valley is no longer the behemoth it once was. People of diverse backgrounds are building companies and developing disruptive solutions. And, while the world’s image of what an entrepreneur looks like has continued to slowly evolve, people still don’t often tend to visualize ex-convicts as highly successful and influential entrepreneurs.
But, maybe they should. And, Andrew Medal wants to help shape that narrative.
Andrew is a tech entrepreneur. He’s an author and an angel investor. He hosts a show on SiriusXM’s 35 million listener network and another show on Entrepreneur’s 15m monthly viewership network. His network is vast and guests like DJ Khaled, Theo Von, Tito Ortiz, Damon Dash and many other famous entrepreneurs and celebrities frequent his show. Just recently, he sold a tech company. Press Hunt acquired one of his SaaS businesses called Hooty, which is a tool that entrepreneurs can use to generate media coverage.
His list of business accolades is long, but so is his rap sheet.
He was once known as inmate #1069108 while serving 2-5 years in state prison. And this, as he explained, is his greatest advantage. “Once you conquer prison, you can do anything in life. Client complaints and missed development milestones are a walk in the park after being stripped of all of your freedoms, and locked in a cage smaller than a gas station bathroom.”
Always The Rule Breaker
Andrew spent his teenage years living with his mom and siblings in Southern California, where he grew up. At age 11, his parents divorced which changed his life dramatically. By his own accord, “I lived the real Rich Dad Poor Dad sort of lifestyle. My mom worked two jobs keeping my siblings and I living in a nice area of Southern California. While my friends enjoyed casual rides in their parent’s Bentleys and maids while we’d shop for groceries at the gas station and head home wondering if the electricity was going to be off again.”
With a chip on his shoulder and a desire to break his family out of poverty, he turned to selling drugs. “I was always a hustler and did what I thought was best, at that time. I saw massive wealth around me and wanted to help my family and make more money than just working a basic minimum wage job. Looking back at my early years, I can see how my ambitious entrepreneurial spirit was simply being used in the wrong way, which is why I’m so passionate about youth programs and giving back to people who’ve shared similar experiences.”
From age 14 to 21 he had amassed an impressive rap sheet. He celebrated his 21st birthday in solitary confinement in Orange County men’s jail. Even after his release, at age 22, he got into one last fight defending a friend in a Las Vegas nightclub. It was at that point, he decided to change his life around and had enough of being in the system.
He worked and hustled all over Southern California until stumbling upon an opportunity with an angel investment team. First working for free, he moved up so quickly that he soon started full time and helped one of the portfolio companies raise $2.3 million. By age 25, Andrew became a founding partner of the company, and the co-founder of his first multi-million dollar business.
He struck a deal with CrossFit by cold emailing then CEO Greg Glassman, which catapulted the growth of the company and helped exceed its revenues north of $60 million, in under five years.
Andrew was living the life one could only dream of, in spite of his tumultuous past. But all of this came crumbling down when a Nevada judge decided to send him to state prison for the fight. He fought the case for 5 years, but ultimately started his 2-5 year sentence at age 27 even after changing his life around and creating successful companies.
Prison setback turned comeback At the start of his sentence, Andrew spent 60 days in solitary confinement. After a one year stint in maximum security, he was transferred to a minimum-security prison where conditions were marginally better. While grey walls and bars are bleak, he used the time the best way he knew how: learning how to better himself and continually building his entrepreneurial grit.
Prison is not a situation that seems conducive to success. Andrew was away from networking opportunities, basic freedoms and living in a cage in the middle of the desert in Nevada. His most advanced piece of technology was his #2 golf pencil. But, that didn’t stop him. Andrew taught himself how to code in prison, without the internet using textbooks. He read and wrote daily and handwrote hundreds of articles to his favorite outlets like Forbes and Wall Street Journal in hopes that someone would publish his work.
While in prison he was pushed out of the companies he founded. Upon his release, Andrew wasted no time. With only $200 to his name, he founded the company Agent Beta, a web development and design agency. His clients included notable names such as IBM, Microsoft, Warner Brothers, and the California Department of Education.
He also decided that his setback was going to be his brand. “I used the cell block as a stage for my comeback,” Andrew explained.
When Andrew decided to use his prison experience as a “branding technique” and be open and transparent; many people in his business life told him it would be career suicide, and his friends and family laughed at the notion. But, he’s always had an eye for seeing things from a different perspective and knew it would be a way to differentiate himself in an already crowded market.
He wrote a comedy book about prison called, Don’t Drop the Soap: The Wildest $#*! About Prison You Can’t Learn on Netflix, as a way to use humor to bring awareness to the need for prison reform. Andrew’s book is a fresh and funny twist on a serious topic. In addition to coding, he also learned some new slang, creative workout routines, and how to create a culinary masterpiece from all types of Ramen Noodles. He even learned how to make a tattoo gun out of a walkman. Andrew turned everything into insight, and some of his hilarious day to day experiences can be found in his book.
Sharing His Story
By sharing his story, he’s created a platform. And the platform has awarded him unique opportunities. He is currently an advisor to Captive, an Augmented Reality (AR) app changing the way consumers, brands, and influencers interact with one another. He recently built a marketing agency called Punk the Internet, which is a Fortune 500 Marketing Agency handling technology disruption and virality at scale. He uses his software agency as his own personal idea incubator and builds, sales and sells SaaS apps across various sectors and industries. With his recent company sale, he and his new partners in Press Hunt will be gunning for a spot in Y Combinator’s upcoming batch. And, with their tech combined, a strong set of financials and a diversified team, they look like a top contender.
Andrew IS Street Smarter
Andrew believes that going through the prison system was part of a bigger plan. 2.3 million adults are held in U.S. prisons, which is the highest rate in the world. Of those prisoners released, about two-thirds are re-arrested. Even for those who stay out, finding a job is challenging, making financial stability and normalcy feel far out of reach. Encouraging ex-convicts to pursue entrepreneurship provides a tangible solution, offering inmates the independence and self-determination they need to survive outside. After his release, Andrew immediately got involved with giving back to the prison population through a non-profit that teaches inmates how to computer program. The Last Mile is a revolutionary program providing a massive impact on the system.
While giving back over the past 6 years, he realized that he wanted to do more for the men and women inside the prison system. And, with the launch of his new social program Street Smarter alongside his book Don’t Drop the Soap, he’s doing just that. Street Smarter aims to teach inmates the necessary skills to build their own startups, to equip youth and adults with the skills needed to build websites, and to create the first and only venture fund that invests into ex-felon founders.
Prison has the power to change, one way or another and it all comes down to mindset. Andrew used prison to build a brand, to creatively disrupt the system, and to support innovative businesses and the people behind them.
State prison is known for riots, unfathomable living conditions, and horrible food. But, Medal didn’t see it that way. His story proves that enduring the harshness of prison life does not need to be a deterrent to financial autonomy and business success. In fact, he found a way to use it to his advantage. Prison became his launching pad, and he is helping other inmates and ex-felons do the same. He once focused his entrepreneurial ability and ambition on criminal activity, but now he’s using his rule-breaking nature to disrupt the same system that locked him away for it.