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Founder Profile: The Richard Bronson Story – From Wolf of Wall Street To Mission-Driven Founder

Summary

Reassimilating into society for those formerly incarcerated is a increasingly difficult task with criminal records pinned on people’s backs for the world to see. CEO and founder of 70 Million Jobs, Richard Bronson, is using his own experience in the system to connect the 70 million people with some kind of criminal record with corporations desperate to fill open positions.

I recently sat down with Richard to discuss his background and plans for the future. (This conversation has been shortened and edited for brevity)

Chris Lustrino

Richard, you built a financial empire early on in your career but it ultimately led to your incarceration. What was this experience like?

Richard Bronson

In the 1980’s I worked at several large Wall Street firms, including Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. But I started hearing rumblings from friends about a small Long Island brokerage firm where young guys were making millions of dollars.

I went to work there–Stratton Oakmont—the infamous Wolf of Wall Street firm, where I became a partner. I left Stratton and launched my own firm–Biltmore Securities–which I grew into a 500-person, $100 million business. It was designed to closely duplicate the business practices of Stratton.

I made a great deal of money and lived an incredible life of private planes, gambling, drugs and everything else that goes along with that lifestyle. But despite having paid everyone back, I was rightfully punished by the Federal government for my actions, and was sentenced to a two-year prison sentence.

Chris Lustrino

How did this fall from grace impact you as an individual?

Richard Bronson

Despite returning all the money I took, I felt so ashamed and disgusted. I felt motivated to give away all the rest of my money to charity because it was the only way I could feel good about myself again.

When I came out of prison I was destitute and essentially homeless, but also psychologically a very different person. What was once important to me before was no longer even remotely interesting. Throwing away money on private jets and other luxuries no longer defined me.

Chris Lustrino

Now you are building a job board for the formerly incarcerated. How did this come to be?

Richard Bronson

I realized when I was leaving prison that I was luckier than most. I am a white male with a college degree. The guys I did time with were primarily men of color who had little job experience or education. With all my advantages, it still it took me a long time to get back on my feet. As I later learned, formerly incarcerated people have very little opportunities out of prison, and that set me on a path.

I started working as Director at a non-profit called Defy Ventures, which helps individuals returning to society, but I thought if I wanted to move the needle in a meaningful way to reduce recidivism, I had to take a for-profit approach, and employ technology, to enable the business to scale.. 

I am of the opinion the 70 million with a record have been marginalized as socially and politically non-viable, but I think that’s changing quickly, creating a large business opportunity. Many are now having their right to vote restored and the chance to continue their lives. So I launched 70 Million Jobs to continue these efforts at scale, and put more former inmates back to work.

Chris Lustrino

What have been some of your early successes as an organization?

Richard Bronson

Almost immediately,  the city of Los Angeles asked to partner with me, and I worked closely with Mayor Garcetti’s office, who wanted to help with the issues surrounding that city’s formerly incarcerated..

We were also accepted into Y Combinator, the early-stage investor and accelerator program. That was an incredible experience that enabled us to raise a seed round from angels and VCs.

With that capital we have built a team of 7 full-time employees and have created the first for-profit marketplace that aligns this huge pool of ignored top talent with large national employers. And we’ve been very successful so far in filling those roles.

Chris Lustrino

What are the unique challenges of building a job board for the formerly incarcerated?

Richard Bronson

We can’t have a “if we build it they will come” mentality. This is a population with limited access to technology, and little awareness of how to find a job, so we have to aggressively market these jobs or else our population won’t find out about them.

This has meant that we have had to focus our efforts on building up distribution, so we’ve created very sophisticated protocols for marketing job opportunities to our users: we do targeted email campaigns, text alerts, phone calls and a lot of social marketing.

We have amassed a community of more than one million active job seekers and leverage our relationships with close to 500 nonprofits, community-based organizations, governmental agencies and correctional facilities. When there are jobs available, we get the word out fast and aggressively.

Chris Lustrino

As we think about the future of the company, do you think you win by partnering with a large job board or do you take another direction?

Richard Bronson

A number of the largest job boards have approached me regarding an acquisition, but it’s too early for us to consider this. But we’re certainly on their radar because we cater to a category of the population that traditionally is very difficult to target.

Long term, it is our plan to establish ourselves with employment, and eventually sell a variety of other products and services to this population. No one sells people with records anything–not jobs, not housing, banking services, medical, social or anything. That’s the big opportunity for us down the road and how we become a billion dollar company. But right now, we’re laser-focused on employment.

Chris Lustrino

This is a deeply personal problem to solve for you. What does it mean to you?

Richard Bronson

I urge everyone to experience visiting a prison–it’s transformational. I guarantee you’ll  end up hugging and crying with these poor guys who never even had a first chance, much less a second. Many had no role model, no one to follow other than the guy on the street selling drugs.

And when they get out, chances are they have little skills or experience to help them land a job. And even after doing the time, a felony conviction is really a life sentence, as long as employers can Google your name and do a background check.

Most people in prison are young men of color who got involved in some fairly low-level drug activity. Does anyone really believe that doing something stupid as a kid should follow you for the rest of your life? So with few “legitimate” alternatives, people return to jail or prison, unable to break the cycle of recidivism.

This destroys lives and families, decimates communities, creates new victims, and costs us all tens of billions of dollars to re-incarcerate people. The system is so broken, which is about the only thing that Democrats and Republicans–even the Koch brothers!–can agree upon.

But returning citizens who do land jobs almost never return to prison, and actually do very well on the job. Employment is the silver bullet to short-circuit recidivism. That’s what we’re tackling, head-on.

Richard, thank you for sharing your story with KingsCrowd. The issue you aim to solve is immense, and having volunteered tutoring inmates for a year during my time at Boston College, I deeply understand just how fundamentally broken our incarceration system is.

More solutions like 70 Million Jobs are absolutely needed. There is still time to invest HERE, and as a reminder, the team has already received a KingsCrowd Top Deal rating, which only 5-10% of all deals can obtain based on our stringent deal diligence!

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About: Chris Lustrino

A Boston College Eagle for life, on a mission to democratize startup investing for all people at KingsCrowd, with a passion for Fintech, investing, social impact, doing well and doing good, and an avid runner, cyclist and writer.

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