When Jason Mercado found himself in a dire situation, he had a choice: become consumed by negativity, or try and find a way out.
After being laid off in 2011, and finding himself homeless during the height of a national economic downfall, he did the last thing anyone would have expected: he decided now was the perfect time to open a small business.
“I thought, well, I love to bake. This would be the perfect opportunity to start my own business.”
Everyone told him he was crazy; that opening a small business would be impossible because he had no money and no place to stay. But he was determined to make it happen.
Ready for one of the most inspiring rags-to-riches stories we’ve heard in a long time?
Check out the story of Jason Mercado, CEO and founder of Just Cookies, below:
Starting a Business From the Streets
Jason’s first order of business was to gather as much information as he could about opening a small business, including marketing, business plans, and how to sustain success.
To do this he sought out free business classes at Entrepreneur Works, a Philadelphia based non-profit corporation that provides support to emerging entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Next, he had to find a place to cook.
The Friends Center provides conference rooms and office space to organizations in Philadelphia, and Jason reached out to them about using their kitchen to bake up his delicious treats, and they were open to the idea.
Armed with a business plan and a place to cook, Jason began the unending task of marketing his small business.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Jason began baking regularly, and passing out samples to everyone he met, encouraging word-of-mouth marketing buzz in his local community.
“I think my biggest hurdle was initially getting people to believe in me. I was homeless and talking about wanting to start a business!”
But instead of listening to every doubtful voice that came his way, he made it his mission to turn every new acquaintance into a believer.
“For me, I’m a very outgoing. No matter where I’m at, I always make some kind of attempt to talk about my cookie company. I’m always networking,” he said.
That networking paid off by turning his cookies into a popular local favorite. He thanked his community and those who believed in him by holding a Just Cookies launch party at the Friends Center on June 1, 2012.
“I think, for me, I was determined that this is something that I’ve wanted to do, and now is the time to do it, because I don’t have anything, and at the end of the day, I have nothing to lose.”
From Homeless to Hollywood
To keep his business moving forward Jason created a website and got active on Facebook. Posting enticing pictures of cookies began to pay off as he saw more regular interaction with his fans. His non-stop networking eventually led to another huge win for the cookie company.
“I recently had the opportunity to make cookies for one of the Oscar’s after-parties,” he said, for which he earned a good deal of positive press.
Since then, Jason has relocated his business from Philadelphia to California, and presently works on an order-only basis. To make things even sweeter, Jason is no longer homeless and living in a sober living apartment community until he can afford to live on his own.
But instead of simply basking in success, Jason has come full circle in his experiences and plans to turn his business into a vehicle to help others.
“When I initially started the company it was kind of a selfish thing. I wanted to do this because I wanted to make sure I had a place to stay and I wanted to draw some income,” he said.
“But I asked myself, if I’m going through this, I wonder how many other people are going through the same thing who don’t act because of all the negativity?”
Never Letting Struggle Limit Success
Jason wants his rags-to-riches story to serve as an example to others who might feel that their situation is equally as hopeless as his was.
“My eventual goal with the company is to use it as a way to teach at-risk youth and young adults to become entrepreneurs. With me being homeless before, I understand all of those components. What you did in the past is your past. Let’s talk about what you want to do today,” Jason says.
Thanks to his enthusiastic fans submitting recipe requests on his Facebook, Jason is up to 14 recipes from his original 8, and is hoping to eventually open a dedicated storefront for Just Cookies, and expand to different cities across America.
He’s also thrilled to announce that he has acquired full use of a kitchen in Huntington Beach, California, which enables him to do full production, accommodate larger orders, and even start accepting online shipping orders.
With all the good that’s come from Jason starting his business, it’s pretty safe to say that entrepreneurship has played an exceptional role in bettering his life. And he’s more than ready to pass on the lessons he’s learned while working relentlessly to make his business a success.
“I want to use the same model of teaching youth, young adults, at risk teens, and ex-felons how to work and become entrepreneurs.”
A Happy Beginning
There’s no better rags-to-riches story than one where the main character finds success, but Jason has one-upped even that. His desire to pass on his hard-earned wisdom so others can improve their lives through entrepreneurship is admirable and very telling of his giving personality.
And while we use the phrase “rags to riches,” throughout this blog post, we don’t necessarily mean Jason is rolling in the dough quite yet, so to speak.
Still, he was able to create a successful business even when all the odds were against him, and that’s pretty darn rich all by itself if you ask us.
What is the most inspiring rags-to-riches story you’ve heard?