Vashawn Strader is an angel investor, real estate magnate, astute businessman as well as a joyful and giving philanthropist. Owning and operating multiple businesses, investing in real estate and franchise ventures as well as traveling are activities that take up a lot of his time. But his resilience and pursuit of success is unwavering. His business investments include but are limited to Rita’s Water Ice, Zips Dry-Cleaning and he is a major shareholder in “As Seen on TV” and “E-Diets”. Vashawn is also the founder of H.E.L.P. (Higher Education Lifts Potential), which is a company that provides mentor and tutorial services to adjudicated youth in the D.C. area. His travels have taken him to Honk Kong, The Commonwealth of the Bahamas, Singapore, Mexico, Canada, The Dominican Republic, England, France, Amsterdam (Netherlands), Italy, Dubai, Ethiopia, Japan, China, Israel, Thailand and Sweden.
Although he’s very busy with business, Vashawn was gracious enough to take some time to talk about balancing life’s responsibilities with pleasure, the idea of working smarter versus working harder and fusing his hobbies to create a platform to encourage young people to pursue their dreams.
Ten years ago, you arrived in D.C. as a recent college grad. Normally when we’re fresh out of college, our parents encourage us to take the jobs paying the most money. Despite those pressures from loved ones, you worked as an unpaid employee at a local university. Talk about that experience and how it shaped your life.
To graduate from such a prestigious place as Hampton University and not have a solid job offer, or a defined career path, was both a numbing and humbling experience. It was a very uncomfortable situation to be in to say the least, but life’s greatest triumphs and achievements happen usually during uncomfortable times. Working for free taught me so many life lessons; the importance of money/time management, power of networking, importance of hard work, and I could go on and on. A many a great feats have been accomplished during some of the most uncomfortable times. Our biggest setback is that we don’t want the struggle, just the reward. That experience showed me that there’s no substitute for hard work and goal setting.
You have a vast business portfolio. From education services to real estate management to franchising, you do it all. Do these business ventures have any similarities? And where they differ, how do you handle balancing them?
They’re similar in that they all keep my cell phones ringing concurrently for the majority of the day. Seriously, owning a diverse portfolio of businesses has afforded me the opportunity to acquire a broad base of knowledge and develop skill sets that I can then leverage between my different companies. Creating positive daily interaction with businesses/people and the cultivation of these personable relationships are what drives businesses all across the board, in addition, to producing a superior product or service.
I’m blessed to have a good team of assistants that I lean on daily to help things run as smoothly as possible. Successful companies are usually the result of many people coming together around one common goal, pleasing the consumer. I’m lucky to have such a great group of people around me.
What’s the most exciting business venture for you at the moment?
All of my ventures excite me. Currently there are a few projects that stick out. I recently bought into the Zips Dry-Cleaning franchise and I’m now in the process of lease negotiations for site location, with the store scheduled to open later this year. In addition, I’m looking forward to the completion of a condo building that I purchased and fully renovated on North Capitol St. in the District of Columbia. Once completed, this building will have two luxury vacation rental units for visitors from around the world visiting our great city. The key for me when taking on new projects is to stay diversified and to make sure a residual stream of income is flowing from it.
You and I talked offline about “The 4-Hour Work Week”; a book that shows a different perspective on balancing time and money. How has that book impacted your focus? And what other books have you read recently? Describe their impact as well.
“The 4-Hour Work Week” is very informative and enlightening. It goes deep into the subject of working harder vs. working smarter. We are taught to go the safe route in life; go to college, get married, work 40 hours a week, retire in 30 years. This book challenges the standard and offers ways to live a rewarding and productive life without adhering to what society sees as the norm. I’m also currently re-reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and ” First Things First”. Both books challenge you to examine your daily patterns and behaviors and determine whether they are conducive to you being successful. In order to achieve your goals, you must be able to prioritize what’s important in your life and eliminate the things that impede your path to success.
You sponsor a school in Shashamane, Ethiopia (The Ethiopia Adventist College Preparatory School – pictured above). How important is philanthropy to you?
My philanthropic endeavors stem from my love for “humanity” and more specific my caring deeply for the less fortunate members of society. Business is important not just as a vehicle to make money, but as a community that draws people together. Business is also about giving without getting in return. It’s the way you relate to the community around you, whether local or global. As a businessperson you have to be part of your community not only for professional and personal involvement, but to also share your knowledge and skills with others to make the world a better place.
Give us an example of a business mistake/hardship that you’ve encountered and how you’ve bounced back from that obstacle.
I’ve made several, one that comes to mind is the mistake of being more open to invest in other people’s dreams instead of doubling down on my own. As an angel investor I’ve lost vast sums of money funding startup companies that never panned out. Bouncing back is the only option an entrepreneur can have. Obstacles are just minor roadblocks on your path to greatness.
What are your interests outside of work?
My interest outside of work are traveling, writing, reading, and motivational speaking.
Seeing new places opens your eyes to new perspectives. How has traveling leisurely impacted your ability to think differently about business?
World travel has definitely changed me and my prospective on life. Every trip taken abroad is a chance to learn more about yourself, the world, and the way you to choose to interact within it. Being able to experience different cultures and customs has shifted my perspective about what’s really important and deserving of my thoughts and actions. As a business owner, I’m interacting with citizens from all over the world on a daily basis and world travel helped me tremendously with relating to these individuals. I’ve always thought of doing business on an international level, so for me to be able to visit different countries and learn their way of life, the better it helps with my business interactions. Like I mentioned earlier, when people see you step out of your comfort zone they are more apt to step out of theirs.
What’s next for Vashawn Strader? What’s the ultimate goal?
To continue to be a positive driving force within the entrepreneurial field to show our community that their are young, educated, successful black men in the community to look up too and aspire to be like. I see myself fusing together my hobbies of motivational speaking/writing, cooking, and traveling together into a platform to encourage our youth to push past the barriers and boundaries that are keeping their dreams from coming into fruition. In a perfect world I would use a media platform to reach as many as possible. Who knows, maybe the Travel Channel will be looking for a fresh face to take over for Anthony Bourdain.
Lastly I want to take the time out to thank you for interviewing me and for creating this website, it’s a powerful tool for knowledge and information.