Born in San Francisco, raised in Los Angeles, and educated in the Silicon Valley, Mauricio Mejia has the best of three worlds all in one. A trailblazer in his own career, Mauricio created his success in many different ways. He is an accomplished entrepreneur, a restaurant owner, and a real estate mogul. In a former life, he was a nightlife promoter and owner of the successful Vault Ultra Lounge in Silicon Valley. On today’s show, he sits down with Steve Farber to talk about his entrepreneurial journey and how he went from a gang banger to a millionaire, to homelessness and ultimately creating a business empire.
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Decide. Commit. Execute: An Entrepreneur’s Journey Of The Heart With Mauricio Mejia
My guest is Mauricio Mejia, he’s my new friend. We’re getting to know each other. Mauricio is a very accomplished entrepreneur. He’s a restaurant owner. He’s a real estate mogul. He’s a creator of jobs. He’s an investor and speaker. In a former life, he was a nightlife promoter and Owner of the successful Ultra Lounge in Silicon Valley where he still resides. However, he’s a trailblazer in his own career and created his own success in many different ways. He started in the nightlife industry and then his career has woven its way into the real estate business, selling, purchasing, building both homes and commercial buildings.
He built a highly successful staffing company called California Labor Force, which has six offices throughout California, employs over 1,000 employees on any given day. At the same time, he’s running the operation, he co-founded the Cal Pacific Contractors construction company. Through his life’s journey, which is not the typical story of a so-called mogul, he started in the gang world. He went from a gang banger to a millionaire to homelessness and ultimately creating a business empire. Throughout all of that, he developed and you’ll see this emanates from him the compassion, empathy and love for doing more to propel others to economic leadership and lifestyle success.
That creativity and drive led him to produce cultural events such as the Cesar Chavez Annual Scholarship Breakfast, the Latino Leadership Alliance, Annual Dinner Gala in Silicon Valley. He sits on the board of the Cesar Chavez Family Vision and the PAL Board. He’s always maintained the importance of giving back to his community and increasing his contributions as his own achievements grow. He’s got a new book coming out soon called Still Standing. His existing books are Smoke And Mirrors and Decide, Commit, Execute. I encourage you to check those out on Amazon.
Please welcome to the show, Mauricio Mejia.
I always love to hear what someone else has to say about me. Steve, thank you very much for having me here. It’s an honor to start a new friendship and a new journey together.
It’s my pleasure. If you think of the name of this podcast, Love Is Just Damn Good Business, we tend to attract people that already get that either on an instinctual level or a full on practice as the way that they operate every day. What we try to do here is help folks understand what that looks like, and we can go about practicing and putting it into play. It’s not just an empty idea or an empty sentiment but more practice and discipline. Your story keeps coming back to the heart. I would love for you to tell us your amazing story. Take us in a way back machine starting way back when and give us the arc of your journey so far.
I might get emotional there for a minute. I’m very open and I know when I talked in the past, I do get emotional when I touch it because it still feels like it was yesterday and because I speak from my heart and I wear it when I talk about my family and my upbringing. It’s like I’m reliving it. I grew up with a single mom, born in San Francisco and raised in Los Angeles. When I was three years old, my sister was born, we moved to Los Angeles. I moved to the Silicon Valley in 1993, 1994. I always say born in San Francisco, raised in Los Angeles and educated in the Silicon Valley. I have the best of three worlds all-in-one.
I’ve used all of my experiences to guide me and to keep me going to where I’m going. That, for me, is to make an impact and to share my story with others versus holding it on and never get to tell my story. I started in LA as a young child, my mom is a single mom. My mother was always working because she had to put a roof over our head. She was a hairdresser, so you can imagine in the early ‘80s, mid-‘80s being a hairdresser, the income that she was making and at the same time, us growing up in that era, we were known as the latchkey kids because when parents weren’t at home, we had to lock the door at home.
My sister and I were a product of that and grew up in a neighborhood and a barrio call Highland Park, which is a barrio of Los Angeles. You can go back there now, you can walk in the day in flip flops and you will never recognize because it’s not the same. Growing up in that neighborhood, it was gang-infested. It was infested with drugs. There were all kinds of craziness going on. It’s right up against Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, these other barrios of Los Angeles. There’s a freeway that splits us. It’s the 110 and the 10 Freeway down there. West of the 10 Freeway is Compton, Inglewood, South Central. Above East of the 10 Freeway, you have all these different other barrios.
In LA, during those times were very crazy times to grow up. One of the things that I realized being growing up with my mother was that my mother was always struggling. Going to school, we had enough to put clothes on our back and we were part of the lunch program. We couldn’t afford obviously to buy our own lunch or pack our lunch so we were part of the lunch program. My mom was a hard worker. Those were the things that were planted in my mind that I would see how hard she worked. Education wasn’t pushed. It was more like the fight for your life kind of thing. I was seeing that my mom worked hard every day.
I remember one day, going to school and kids are brutal. We talk about bullying now, but bullying has been around forever. I remember kids would make fun of other kids and even made fun of me because I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, right clothes or kids just being mean. It’s part of growing up. I don’t think it’s an intentional thing. I remember one day, I told myself that enough was enough and I wanted to see how I can contribute. At fifteen years old, the switch clicked on. There was a gentleman, I can never remember his name, I think it might be Earl but he was an African-American gentleman. He was from Inglewood. I remember I met him at a car show and I was selling this car wax for cars.
I was trying to get in the mess. You got this cute kid walking around and trying to sell these car waxes to these cool cars. The gentleman looked at me and says, “Son, you have an entrepreneurial spirit.” I was 14, 15 years old I don’t know what the word entrepreneurial is. I asked a question, “Sir, what does entrepreneurial mean?” He said, “Son, you’re going to do great things. Continue to do what you’re doing. An entrepreneur is someone that creates and wants more in life and doesn’t settle.” That stuck with me. It was like seeds being planted. My mother at a young age, she said, “Son, if you want to be successful,” during the ‘80s real estate was a big thing, “get into real estate. Either you’re going to be an attorney, a doctor or in real estate.” Obviously, I wasn’t going to be a doctor and I wasn’t interested in doing law but real estate was something that was planted in my mind.
What strikes me about that, Mauricio, is here you are selling car wax. The stranger comes up to you and says, “Young man, you have an entrepreneurial spirit.” That could have been it because you were there selling stuff and that’s what he recognized, but there was something in you that asked the question, what does entrepreneurial mean? A lot of kids at that age is like, “I’ll pretend I understand that or I don’t care that some stranger is talking to me.” There was something in you that asked that question which led you down that path.
Something woke my spirit up. There’s a higher power that’s guiding us. That man was brought into my life for a reason and he turned on that switch. Once he turned on that switch, my curiosity only grew. At fifteen years old growing up in the hood, being exposed to gangs and the drugs, I could have taken down that path. I got entangled in some gangs and stuff like that. I never got into gangs but I got exposed to them. I never went through that but I learned being in those circles for a very short period of time in my life that they were looking for something similar except that they found a way to channel that energy, which was through violence and other ways.
For me, I was looking for acceptance and love because I didn’t feel that I had the structure at home. In that era, gangs were recruiting young children because there was this growth. There were a lot of things that were happening during the ‘80s in this country. When I look back I’m like, “I remember when that was happening.” The ‘80s were a huge drug era for the United States. These gangs were recruiting young kids so that they can be the distributors. Something in my heart and my mind guided me that wasn’t the right thing to do. Thank God I never went down that path. What I did get caught up into was I got introduced to nightlife and that was what caught my attention.
I fell in love with the glitz and the glamour. The fact that I got to see a lot of money being made from the people that were promoters in the nightlife industry. At a very young age, again someone saw a talent in me whether it was genuine or not, they saw talent in me and they reached out, and they asked me to be a part of their circle. I started from the bottom. I started passing out flyers, going out around the parking lot because we didn’t have social media back then, so we had to do it old school style. You get a flyer, you put it on the windshield. That’s how we got the message out in these nightlife circuits. At fifteen years old, I was in the eighteen and over clubs with a fake ID.
At 16, 17, I was in a 21 and over clubs with a fake ID. I was already producing events at sixteen years old. I had the number one eighteen and over night club. At 17, 18 years old, I had the number one 21 and over night club. I wasn’t even 21 but I was able to latch onto the people that were successful, I was a little sponge and I wanted to learn. That’s all I wanted to learn. I remember crazy that I’m a big fan of Tony Robbins at a young age. There was this infomercial or something that would be playing on the radio, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” When I heard, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” I’m a young soul that is absorbing.
Somehow, I’m being protected from the negativity around in the surroundings but I’m paying attention to the effects of all those negative energies, but I keep absorbing the positive. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” made a huge impact in that affirmation or that saying, whatever it was during that time. I remember, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” I said, “I want more in life.” When I asked my mom prior to me being a day into the nightclubs, “Mom, Air Jordans were the big thing. If you’re wearing Air Jordans, you were the cool thing at school.” My mom said, “I couldn’t afford it,” because $150, $200 for a pair of tennis shoes, that was a lot of money back then.
It broke my heart. It wasn’t that my mom was saying it to disappoint me but it’s because the priorities were different. That instilled in me and it broke me open to say enough is enough and I had to make a decision. Once I made that decision, I committed to that decision and then I executed on that. These are things that are brewing in my head at a young age. In retrospect, I look back now I’m like, “This is something that I’ve been living by all my life.” Now I know how to put it into words. That’s how I’ve come up with my latest book which I call it the entrepreneurs quick guide, Decide, Commit, Execute. Going back to the early, I got involved in the nightlife but I also knew that I wanted structure in my life because I didn’t have structure. I wanted to feel that discipline. One of my friends was with the LA County Sheriff’s Deputy the Explorer Program. I enrolled myself in the Sheriff’s Explorer Program. That was like a pre-military experience.
You were how old at this point?
I was sixteen years old at that time. I’m going to clubs and I’m going to all these parties. I’m a promoter at night. In the weekends, there was this 21-week bootcamp that was in Whittier, California. It was two bootcamps and I was going to the one at Whittier. Every Saturday, we had to be in line and in formation by 6:00 AM and ready for inspection. I was excited because I wanted to excel. I wanted to show people that I’m a fighter and the streets were not going to conquer me. I was going to conquer the streets in the lifestyle that I had at a young age.
Sports was something that I wanted to be in my life and I was a great athlete. I played football, Pop Warner. I played soccer, baseball, in every position I excelled. Sadly though, my mother was never there to see it because my mom was always working. Even though I was still involved and my mom getting me into the sport, it allowed me to discipline myself and to better myself. It allowed it to carry me through this journey, this path that I was on. I was young, I don’t know where the future was going but I know that in my heart of hearts, something was guiding me.
At this point, Mauricio, is this one you had a vision of being in the nightlife industry? Was this a concurrent thing and you did this as a way to give yourself the best chance of succeeding in it? How does that fit together?
I’m going to say music saved my life. I say music is a universal language of love. The late ‘80s, early ‘90s music was phenomenal because it was going to transformation. I fell in love with music and entertainment. The fact at a young age as a teen, I was already going to a teen club in Pasadena. I got involved with the social club at my school. I started organizing the school dances because I thought the school dances were cheesy and the way that they were putting them together. I wanted to put some glitz and glamour because nobody knew that I was already living a different lifestyle. I was very mature for my age. At one point people thought there was a big TV show back in the day called 21 Jump Street. I was very mature. I was very different. I dressed differently because it was my thing. I had my own fashion, I hung out with all the girls and I was like this cool kid. At least I thought I was this cool kid, I was told.Be careful with your words because your words are power. Click To Tweet
You’re spending your nights in the clubs with a fake ID so you can get in.
Crazy part, when I started the bootcamp, two of the drill instructors, I recognized them. I’m like, “I know you, guys.” They looked at me because we looked at each other and they were like, “You never saw me here.” I’m like, “You never saw me here.” They know I was underage. I knew that we shouldn’t be in this environment together but it was funny because when we cross paths, it was interesting because the following week, those two drill instructors didn’t ride my ass as hard as they should have. It was funny we caught eyes.
It pays to know the right people.
That was another thing. I had another gentleman in my life that said, “Mauricio, you have the gift of gab.” I didn’t know what gift of gab meant at that time but he always say, “You’ll be able to talk your way out of things or you’ll be able to use your way of speaking to people to navigate.” I started to learn that at a very young age going through junior high as well and then going into high school. I went to four different high schools because there was a lot of instability in our lives. When I ended up moving to the Bay Area was because life started to get a little too crazy. I was getting the nightclub business a little too frequently. The structure wasn’t enough.
My mom was in a toxic relationship where we lost everything. We were almost homeless again or not having stability. That, to me, was a version of homelessness. I moved in with a gentleman by the name of Tim Nugent and his son, which I went to high school with. Tim Nugent was a famous movie editor, a very well-known movie editor in Hollywood. I got to work with him. I remember on the weekends when I wasn’t at the Academy, we would go to the Star Search building. That was where the original America’s Got Talent and all that stuff. Star Search was way before all of these shows. We used to sit backstage, our offices were backstage.
On the weekends, when they weren’t filming, I would walk on that stage to Star Search building and I would look out into the audience where people sat. It gives me chills. Looking up there I said, “I’m going to do big things. My day will come.” I don’t know what it is. I was learning at that time. I was an intern. I didn’t know what the hell an intern was at that time too. I asked the question, “Tim, what’s an intern? Do I get paid for this?” He goes, “Son, when I was working with Steven Spielberg and all these famous directors, and when I was going through college, I did an internship for all of this.” He started labeling.
I remember when the directors like Steven Spielberg would come in because he was doing projects with him and I would sit there because I was the assistant or I’m the go-for kid. I go and grab a coffee or whatever but I’m learning. I’m watching how to do this editing. It was long hours in the studio. I got exposed to a lot of these things and they’re planted. My soul kept nurturing these seeds. I knew that I was going to do some great things. Unfortunately, I talk about it in my book, Smoke And Mirrors, which I published in 2020 right before the pandemic. I talk about it in a chapter of what happened where I had a falling out with the son. I ended up moving to the Bay Area with family. An angel was definitely on my shoulder and saved me from a split second of possibly making a major mistake in my life and going down a different path because the streets are still in me. The street smarts and the survival of being on the streets is still inside of me. I remember that I wasn’t going to let anyone punk me, try to tell me and degrading in a manner that was hurtful because I know the struggles that I’ve come from and I’ve experienced. For me, I wasn’t going to allow that to happen.
You had that falling out with your friend and you moved to the Bay Area. You have the Ultra Night club, which was your big splash in the industry. Was that your first major entrepreneurial endeavor?
No. I finished high school up in the Bay Area. Education was a big thing and I lived with my cousins who were big on education. They pushed me to apply for universities or colleges. Now, my dream school was Cal Berkeley because I wasn’t living in LA anymore. I always wanted to go to USC. USC was my dream school but my second school was Cal Berkeley. Cal Berkeley was either Stanford. I applied to all the schools but I got accepted into San Francisco State and San Jose State University. San Francisco State University had an impacted program for hospitality. I knew what I wanted to do was get involved in the entertainment world. I wanted to bring my skillset that I learned in LA up to the Bay Area because I felt that there was a need up here.
My cousin used to work for Bill Graham Presents. He was a big promoter in the Bay Area. He used to do big concerts and my cousin was the head of security for their Bill Graham’s production. He knew I had a passion for music. My cousin was into music and all it did was reinforced my love and passion for music. I wanted to mirror Bill Graham and I wanted to become the next big concert promoter of the world. It was my dream. I wanted to be around stars and I wanted to be that person.
I ended up getting accepted into both San Francisco State and San Jose State. I chose San Jose State because it reminded me of Los Angeles. It was like a little LA. The weather was warmer. Even though it’s an hour difference in travel, San Francisco and San Jose are night and day. We have many micro-climates up here. I got accepted into San Jose. My first nightclub was known as the Tropicana. Prior to that, back in the ‘80s when Studio 54 in New York was happening and all these big disco clubs, the owner of this club, his name is Harry Evans started what’s called Studio 47. There was a version of Studio 54 on the East Coast and on the West Coast, Studio 47 was the nightclub up here in San Jose. Crazy enough, the building that I’m in right now back in the early 2000, they tore down the nightclub and I live in the High Rise that they built on it. It’s funny. I pay homage where I started here in the Bay Area.
You’re living on hallowed ground.
Even my Wi-Fi has the old address, 47 Notre Dame Avenue in San Jose. I love where it took me. Another mentor, another angel came into my life. Harry Evans gave me an opportunity. 1996 is when I started my journey full force. I had done three years of University of San Jose State. I was on my 4th year, I was ready to finish, graduate and take it to finish off. One day, one of my classes and I looked at the professors, I fully loaded myself with classes and I made a decision again. I made a commitment to myself, I execute it and I dropped all my classes. I knew this school was no longer for me. I was in debt. I was young. I knew what I wanted to do. I was focused on the nightlife. I had a great mentor in my life, and I wanted to take advantage of that. Someone wanted to teach me, so I learned. I went to the roots of learning the business. I learned the permitting, liquor license, entertainment permits.
I learned A to Z, step-by-step, how to own and operate a nightclub. I never looked at myself as an employee. I looked at myself as a junior partner in the company and I had a lot of love and passion for what I was doing. I put all of that energy and we excelled. From 1996 to 2003, until the building was sold and torn down, I dominated all those years of the nightlife industry here in San Jose. I had number one 18 and over club, number one 21 and over club. On 2004, I got my big break. Literally, it’s a chapter in my book as well. I used to stand in front of one of the corners here in the heart of downtown San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, in the market in Santa Clara street, I used to look at this old historical building. I threw it out to the universe and I said, “That building is going to be my building one day and that’s going to be my first nightclub. That’s going to be my signature piece.” I threw that out and a boomerang back to me and they came back to my life.
How long did it take for that to come back to you? I’m always fascinated when people point to that kind of cause and effect. “I put it out to the universe. I put my attention on it. I decided that’s what I wanted and then it came back to me.” Did you have a thought one day or was it something you focused on for a period of time?
I focus my energy, my attention and I spoke it out and I said, “That is going to be my building. That is going to be my place.” I knew I wanted to do bigger and greater things. I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to make them my signature to be known. 1996 was when I was promoting on the streets of San Jose. Your counting in ‘96, ‘97, ‘98, ‘99, you’re talking about a minimum of 5 years, 6 years before it started to become real fruition. I remember we went through dot-com bust 2000 and the world had turned upside down. I remember that building was still there and it was empty. One day, I woke up and I said, “I’m going to go knock on the door and see what’s going on with that building.”Success is not defined by an end result. It is a journey, not a destination. Click To Tweet
I knocked on the door, there was a phone number on there. At a young age, I had a cell phone so I called a number. This old man comes and opens up the doors and I’m like, “I didn’t know anybody was in the building.” It’s an old man by the name of Walt Toffler opens the door and I smiled and I said, “What’s going on with the building?” He welcomed me in the building. I knew once I walked in, it was home. The building talked to me and embraced me. I felt like I was home. I put it out and my opportunity was now. I sat down with the owner of the building for hours. I would come by at least once to twice a week hours and I listened to him. He shared how he created and made himself a self-made millionaire, if not billionaire, here in the Silicon Valley. The man wanted someone to listen to him. I was this young soul. I’m a learner. I want to learn and listen. I learned from that. It seems to be a pattern. People come in my life that are older with experience, they speak to me and I learn, listen and absorb, then I take action from what they say.
I remember one day I told him, “I would love to take your building. I would love to create the Silicon Valley’s first Ultra Lounge. This is what I have. This is the vision. These are the people that I’m working with.” I had brought the number one construction company in the Bay Area, if not the United States, it’s called Devcon Construction. I had met the owner of Devcon and I met one of their project managers. He knew that this kid is associated with these kinds of people. I didn’t even know at the time Devcon or whoever, by chance, those were the people that were aligning with me. I told Walt, I shook his hand and I said, “Trust in me that I’m going to deliver one of the greatest shows and greatest venues that Silicon Valley has ever had 2004.”
July 29th, 2004 was the grand opening of the Vault Ultra Lounge. I was in debt $1 million. I went in and borrowed money from everyone and anyone. On grand opening day, I was sold out for the next three months in advance for the next two years. I paid back my $1 million within eight months. I made my first $1 million in 2004, 25 years old. 2008, multimillionaire, driving a Ferrari, living on a life of excess. All I knew growing up was success but in a forward climbing matter and I never knew what real failure was until 2008. I enjoyed all of these years of greatness. Going back to some of my real estate popped back into my life, I found a mentor who started mentoring me in real estate. In 2005, we made $9 million, myself and my team. I closed over 360 deals. I was doing a deal a day.
You were also building out and starting the club, right?
Yes. I tell people, “I was Bruce Wayne during the day and Batman at night.” It was the truth. I was not unfocused. I was very laser-focused on what I wanted. What I was doing is I was feeding my fears of being poor, homeless, broke and not ever having. That obsession became a ruler of myself and my mind, which later was my biggest downfall. In 2008 when the real estate market, the stock markets, and the world took a dive, my world came tumbling down because I thought, “If the stock market is going to take a shit, I’m in real estate. I’m not going to worry about it because people are going to go out, have fun and drink. Whether they’re happy, sad or depressed, they’re going to come out and drink.”
In realization, I had built such a high-end nightclub that the people that I was attracting were all people that cared and understood the value of money. Disposable income was no longer on buying martinis and popping bottles. We had a lot of celebrities that came through my plays, Black Eyed Peas, every time that they were in town, they came through my place. Madonna, when she performed at the SAP Center or the Compaq Center, which was known back then. U2, all of the famous comedians that were in town, Jamie Foxx would come in through the place. We had a motto that was similar to Las Vegas, “What happens in the Vault, stays in the Vault.” People knew that there were a lot of great things and great stories that were shared in the Vault and that they would never be exposed. Not only that though, social media wasn’t a big deal and phones weren’t as high-tech as they are now. Look at the world now that we’re living in. Information flows quickly that you can’t get away with it. The world was a different time.
It was a safe haven for these celebrities. Of course, the cachet of, “I’m going to hang out in the same place where the celebrities hang out.” When the real estate market and everything crashed, these folks said, “I’m not going to spend the money on this anymore.” Is that what’s happening?
Yeah. I remember a true story. Baron Davis, he was a former Golden State Warrior here in the Bay Area. We were jam-packed in one night and somebody tapped on my shoulder. I was running at my front door and I looked through the glass. I recognize the face because he had a beard and he was with an agent or a friend. It was about 11:00, we’re jam-packed, we’re at a peak. The guy said, “We’d like to come on in.” I glanced and I saw the gentleman was wearing white tennis shoes. We don’t allow white tennis shoes or tennis shoes in the club and there’s a reason for it, not because we’re hating on the tennis shoes. It’s because in a nightclub, when you’re packed and people are drinking and having fun, people will bump into you. Drinks are spilling all the time.
If you’re wearing white shoes, you know you want to keep your shoes clean. The nightclub is the wrong place to come with white tennis shoes. People don’t understand the philosophy or the idea behind it, so I’m sharing it with out right now that don’t wear white tennis shoes to an entertainment venue because there’s shit flying all over the place. It’s not appropriate. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the person in because I was like, “He’s a celebrity.” I told the guy, “Sorry, it’s not going to happen tonight. We don’t allow white tennis shoes.” He goes, “This is Baron Davis.” I said, “I don’t give a shit who it is right now. We’re packed. I can appreciate it unless he’s got another pair of shoes in the car. He’s not coming in with white tennis shoes.”
I wasn’t going to turn around and explain to him why we don’t allow white tennis shoes. We don’t have the time. Within fifteen minutes, my phone starts to ring and this is about 11:30. It says, “Chicago.” I’m like, “Chicago? That’s some gangster shit right there. Who’s calling me from Chicago that has my number?” I’m like, “Hello?” They’re like, “My name is Wynn Silberman.” I’ll never forget him. He was an agent and I knew him because he would come to the club. He goes, “This is Whynn. I understand one of my players are outside.” I said, “Who’s that?” He goes, “Baron.” I said, “He’s not coming in.” He says, “He has to come in.” I said, “We’re sold out. We don’t have any tables. He’s not coming in.” He’s like, “You’ve got a couple of my other athletes in there, the 49ers, the Raiders, the Giants, The A’s.” They were all coming in. They knew that this was a safe haven for them too. At that time too, we had a couple of other athletes who were in there. We have some UFC Fighter, Chuck Liddell. He was the champion at that time. We had all these people that were in there.
I said, “He’s not coming in.” He goes, “What is it going to take?” I wanted to be a smart ass. I said, “It’s going to cost $5,000. He’s going to have to buy a table and we don’t have tables, but I’ll make a table for him.” He’s like, “How do I get you paid?” I was like, “This guy called me out on my bluff. Hold on.” I radioed my guy and said, “Come over here. Do me a favor. Go downstairs in my office.” We had these $10 Ikea tables. They’re little 12×12 tables. They’re made out of some real cheap compressed wood. I told my guy, “Do me a favor, go downstairs, put a table together, put it next to my table, the owner’s table. Put them into the table.”
It’s $5,000 for these two guys. They have some friends. The agent that was with them pulled out a credit card, a black American Express, $5,000 came in and called it a night. That’s how we rolled. Eventually, at the end of the night, he was complaining because his damn tennis shoes got dirty. We all laughed about it. I told him no white tennis shoes. That was the craziness that we had. Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights, it was an exotic car shot. There are Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys. It was truly a peak here in the Silicon Valley before the 2007 because it wasn’t until 2008 when it blew up. It started crumbling the 4th quarter of 2006, 2007. In 2008 is when the world went upside down.
Tell us that chapter. You’re driving around in your Ferrari Spider, you’re Bruce Wayne by day, Batman by night, experiencing all the trappings. Then it all went away. It all came crashing down. I want to hear it. The crash is important too because we all experienced that to some degree or another, maybe not with the same level of intensity. I’m curious, while you were driving around the streets of San Jose and San Francisco at the top down in your Spider, was there ever any inkling, any premonition that you had that said, “All is going to go away. Something is not entirely right here?”
Steve, you gave me chills. I was certain in my life and I thought to myself, “This is life. This is forever. Nothing is going to come in the way.” I was arrogant, Steve. I will scream to the universe, “World, you can take it all away from me now and I’ll have it back tomorrow.” The universe heard me.
It’s the same dynamic when you said that, “One day, that building will be mine,” it came into play here but not in the best possible way.You must learn to love yourself first before you can learn to love and embrace others. Click To Tweet
Words are powerful and I’ve learned that now very well. I’m very careful with my words because I know that my words are powerful. If we speak out a word, it will come back. I’ve learned that through my journey and I had to learn that through losing it all. I want to share a highlight. This was how crazy life was. Out of all the celebrities that came through my place, the one that got me excited the most and I took one picture with was Manolo from Scarface because that was one of my favorite all-time movies was Scarface. Why? Because the world was mine. Out of all the celebrities that came in through my place, even though I had a phone, I always wanted to protect the integrity and the people that came in through my place. I wasn’t a groupie in any way. I treated them respectfully as if you’re like me. I’m a celebrity in my own way. In my mind, that’s how crazy I was.
They were filming in San Francisco and he came to my club. That was the only person that I got super excited. I had to take a picture with him because I’m now hanging out with Manolo from Scarface, on my club, I’m excited about it. I remember that night, I couldn’t even sleep because it was exciting to be with him. Along with that, I remember in my home and I had a beautiful loft that I owned in Japan Town here in San Jose. I had a 350-gallon saltwater fish tank with a baby blacktip shark in it. Those were the trappings that I was falling into that I was not paying attention to. I’m telling you, I was so cocky and arrogant. I was such a fucking asshole to the world and disrespectful to all the great things that I was blessed with at that time, and I was not paying attention to it. I got blinded by that. When the world turned upside down, I had no way of controlling the downfall. I felt like I was in the movie of Top Gun when Maverick gets into the tailspin in his plane. That’s how I felt. I wasn’t a complete tailspin downward and there was no stopping. All the alleged friends, everyone that I felt that I could rely on, on my way down, I was grasping.
I was grasping in the air, trying to grasp onto whomever and whatever to try to save myself and not realizing all the hurt and the things that I had done to people on my way up because I was blinded by my success. Giving back to the community wasn’t even anything for me. I always say, there’s a pre-2008 Mauricio and then there’s a post-2008 Mauricio. Pre-2008 Mauricio, I was so lost in my own sauce, Steve. It was crazy. That’s what inspired me to put it into my book, Smoke And Mirrors. If you look at the cover, the mirror ball is the mirrors in the nightlife scene. The mirror ball represents the nightclub and the industry.
What we do is we create that illusion so that when you come to our venues, you’ll get lost and you get lost for a couple of hours. I was enabling bad behavior, drinking, partying, all kinds of craziness. What I wasn’t doing was I wasn’t feeding my soul anymore. I was lost. I fell into a trap. As you said, I fell into those trappings. In my mind, I thought this was forever. I was making money left and right. I didn’t care. The first one that went down was real estate market. The mortgage industry took a big dive because all the mortgage fraud that was being created by the mortgage industry. In my heart too, I knew that some people that couldn’t afford those homes should have never been in homes but I was never on the mortgage side. I was always on the real estate transaction side and on the development side.
I don’t want to say I didn’t care, but I had a rule and it was crazy. It was a true rule. I’d ask a client three times, “Are you sure that you can afford this? Are you sure that you want this? Are you ready to commit to this?” If the answer to those three questions and they gave me yes, then I felt that I did my part to validate that they were ready. Whether they were lying to me or not, that was their decision and their commitment to execute and move forward with it, so I let them be and then 2008 came. I remember free falling. I remember waking up to a phone call from the IRS, state board of equalization and then my landlord, all asking for money.
I was wondering, “Where’s all the money that we’ve been making to pay these bills?” I found out that there was a break in my foundation with my partnership and then 2008 woke me up. I remember the day waking up so hungover because I was depressed. I remember that the numbers went down in my club. One time, this gentleman was standing up at the mezzanine with me, I’m looking down and I’m like, “Where’s everybody at? Where are people at?” He looked at me and he goes, “You’ve got a weird energy about you right now.” He walked away. I was like, “What an asshole. You could have comforted me, you could offer me a drink or something.”
That was the beginning of where the new journey was going for me. I remember when I returned the keys back to the landlord of the club and it was a great run, I lost my home, my cars got repoed because I couldn’t afford the payments anymore. I couldn’t afford anything. I couldn’t afford my home. I lost everything. Everything that I feared came back to haunt me. That arrogance about me, the humility that I didn’t have was now being born in me. It got into a very deep soul searching for myself and I had to peel all these layers like an onion to get to the core. During all these times on a surface, I was always trying to do personal development. Tony Robbins, I’ve been following him all my life. I had other people that I was listening to. That was part of the balance because after those long nights at the nightclub, I would go home by myself. As much as people thought that I was always cool being around, it was a very lonely life for me because I go home by myself. It was smoke and mirrors. It was a facade.
With the crash, you’ve lost everything, you lost the home, the business, all these debts. What did life look like for you at that point?
I was gasping for air. I was trying to find my bearings in life. I remember waking up one morning and literally in my shower, on my knees, butt naked, crying, asking God, “What did I do to deserve this?” I was cutting a deal with God to get me back on track because I was lost. My mind was clouded, focus was off, that little boy Mauricio that was driven but driven for other reasons was lost. I had covered all those pains with so much layers of bullshit. People fed me so much bullshit in my life telling me what I wanted to hear versus telling me what I should have or needed to hear the truth that I was full of shit.
I had to find myself. When I lost everything and I gave the keys back, I’ll never forget the date, April 4th of 2009. I don’t forget dates like this. They’re memorialized in my mind. The industry was giving that what they were calling the Cash for Keys. They would give you a $5,000 check so you can get out of the property so that these banks can get back into these homes, get them ready for market and then sell them. I remember that I gave my keys for $5,000. I had a cargo van at that time and I had packed as much as I can in my cargo van. I was homeless again.
You lived in your van?
Yes. I started couch surfing. I was jumping from place to place with friends. From 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, I was very unstable home-wise. I didn’t have a place to stay. I ended up moving back to Los Angeles with my sister who, to this day, she’s done very well for herself. I remember moving back into a 10×10 extra bedroom that she had in her house. That’s where I started to peel away these layers and this garbage in my life. I’m a visual person, so I had a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and I started to write out my plan again. I started to throw it out to the universe with a ten-year plan, “I’m going to start at $150,000, $250,000, $350,000. I got to $500,000 then to $1 million. I put $1 billion.” I projected all of that.
2012, I got my break back in San Jose. I moved back to San Jose. I opened up a restaurant called Chacho’s with a partner of mine. It’s a Mexican restaurant that I’ve been around for many years. He had a falling out with a partner. I partnered up with him and life started again for me. In 2013, I knew that I wanted more in my life. January 1st, 2014, I got my big break. I launched, which you mentioned earlier, California Labor Force which that company lasted with me for six years. 2020, 2019, we would’ve made $100 million in business. That business has gone. I’ve moved on. I’ve launched another company called CALEX similar to that, but I’ve learned from that lesson as well. That has inspired me to write my new book that we’re working on Still Standing beyond Smoke And Mirrors. Life doesn’t stop, Steve. Success is not defined by an end-result. To me, success is a journey, not a destination. Life continues and I want to continue to make an impact. My experiences are that. I’m a co-founder of a media company called LATINLIVE. I worked as a Vice President of a commercial construction company called Cal Pacific.
I am the Founder and President of CALEX, which will be the next largest staffing company in California after we get out of this pandemic. I published my book, Smoke And Mirrors right before the pandemic started. During the pandemic, Kristin and I worked on Decide, Commit, Execute and that was published during the pandemic COVID-19. A lot of things have happened and transpired. I want to share my story with the world to inspire, to motivate, but to make an impact and see if my story resonates with people so that they can change.
A couple of things that occur to me. I have that image of you driving in your Ferrari and saying, “You could take all of this away from me and I’ll build it back.” We could get philosophical about that part, but it did go away. Whether it was consciously taken away from you or not, it did go away and you are building it back. You’re building it back from a different place in turn. How would you describe your internal environment now versus the first monetary uphill climb?
I’m going to say a quote that I’ve learned from our common friend, Stedman Graham. I started working with him in 2019 and I built a very great relationship and friendship with Stedman. His quote is, “In order to lead others, you must learn to lead yourself first. In order to have those kinds of traits, you must come from a place of love. You must learn to love yourself first before you can learn to love others or embrace others.” Steve, I didn’t love myself. I was saying things like, “I can lose it all today and get it back tomorrow.” I didn’t love myself. I didn’t respect what I had. I didn’t appreciate the blessings that I had then.Success is not just there for us. You must create your version of it, whatever that may be, in order to have it. Click To Tweet
What I did was almost throwing a negative with a positive. I was taken away and then trying to get back for myself. The universe heard my arrogance but the universe also heard that I was just kidding, I’m going to build it up and get it back. That’s what I’m going through. I come from a place now of respect. I honor, I’m very grateful for things that I have. I’m very blessed to have the things that I have. It’s not about what it does for me but what can I do with what I have to make an impact and give back? At least in my version of understanding is that the more that I’ve given back outward, the more that I have received inwardly. The more love that I’ve given out, the more love I get in. I’m working on myself every day because I’m not perfect. I don’t claim to be perfect. I still got things and issues that I’m still going through. Writing my books have been therapy for me. If you read the unedited version of Smoke And Mirrors, you’d be like, “That’s the one that I want.” I had to clean it up because it’s not for everyone. It’ll be in the movies. We’ll glamorize it in the movies but in the book, I didn’t want it and then Decide, Commit, Execute was my principles of what I’ve done in business. I come from a place of love, understanding and respect for the things that I have now because when you disrespect it, there are consequences.
What is next on your trajectory? Bring us into your vision for where you’re going with your business and also with your contribution to the community.
One of the things is I’m a big advocate for the homeless community because I’ve lived it, not to certain extremes. I worked with a local pastor here in San Jose where we do cleanups for towns, we provide food for the homeless community. That in itself is a pandemic. There seems to be no solution on the horizon because it’s something that has been going on for hundreds of years. I want to do my part and giving back to that community and helping and hoping that someone can climb their way out of that hole. Others like abused children, abused kids. We didn’t touch on that, but as a child, there were things that I had experienced that to this day, I’m still dealing with and more internal. The children are sacred. They’re our future, we have to nurture them and protect them from people that are predators or people that cause harm. Whether it’s bullying or physical abuse from adult, people do it to children. It’s a tragedy, it scars people and us. Those are things that have continued to fuel me in my journey.
My goal, and I throw it out to the universe, is there have been others but I want to be one of the Latino billionaires coming out of the Silicon Valley. It could be on one of my ventures or collectively. It’s not because of the title of the billionaire, but it’s how much more of an impact can I make with the resources that I have? Let’s say if I don’t make it to there, I’m still going to make an impact either way because that’s my goal. I want to set a higher standard for myself so that I know that I’m competing against myself. I’m not competing against the outside world. That’s what drives me. I’m going to hit it because I want to hit it. It’s something that’s ingrained in my heart. It’s my passion. I know that once I get to that point, the impact that I can make is a lot bigger.
I’ll throw it out to the universe. When I get to that point, I want to give it all the way to the people that need it to make a better impact in their lives because I’m not going to be able to take it down underground with me. I’ll make sure that I set it up for my children as well but at the same time, I wanted to help the community whether it’s local, regional, national or globally. That’s my journey and that’s my mission.
Bring this in for a landing. Let’s get a snapshot of where you are right now with your business enterprise that’s going to enable you to do all those wonderful things for a community. You’ve got LATINLIVE, which is the media company. You also have another construction company.
I have a construction company which is not my bread and butter, but I’m a partner on that. I would call it a co-founder, vice president. My runway is CALEX, which is California Labor Exchange. That is the one where I get to help people have a second chance in the workforce, in the community. We’re focusing in the construction industry because I understand the construction industry very well. We’re specific in what we do. If I was to put it in order, it would be CALEX, LATINLIVE, Cal Pacific, and then my own personal brand, Mauricio Mejia, which is the speaking, the books and all the other things that come along with me.
What a great journey. Thank you so much for allowing us to participate, in some way, with you in that. Thank you for sharing with such depth and honesty. One last question, I want to make sure that people know how to get ahold of you. Let’s hear that. If somebody wants to have a conversation, learn about what you’re doing, what’s the best way for people to reach out to you?
I’m going to give you the best way, Mauricio Mejia San Jose on Google and you will find me. I have been very public since day one, the good, the bad, the ugly. When I was young, back in the day, people like to make allegations. It’s all bullshit anyways. The higher you climb, the more people want to hate on you. You can find me on YouTube. I have my YouTube channel, Mauricio Mejia. I do a weekly show on Facebook Live, on YouTube Live, it’s called Mauricio Mejia Live. You can go to my website, MauricioMejia.live. That will go to my website and it will give you to all my social handles. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, I’m on a community channel. You can subscribe to my text messaging. I’m on Amazon with my two books. The best way is Mauricio Mejia San Jose on Google and you’ll find me everywhere. You’ll even find some of my projects that I’ve worked on, my real estate developments, construction stuff. You’ll get to learn. Even my cell phone pops up in there and there’s no secret.
The only thing that I ask is that if you call me on my cell phone, don’t call bullshit with me, call me to talk about real business. I have the courage and the guts to ask intelligent questions. If you want to call in gossip or prank call me or whatever, don’t waste your time. I’m open like that. I have some entrepreneurs that I work with right now and there are a couple of multimillion-dollar businesses that I’m working with other entrepreneurs of their own. All I’m doing is advising them, guiding them through the pitfalls so they don’t make the same mistakes that I did at a young age.
That leads me to one more question. Given everything that you’ve learned on your journey so far and obviously, we all have more to learn. If I’m in a situation right now, it might be because of the pandemic or any other reason where I’m having to rebuild or build for the first time a future for myself, what advice can you give me in terms of setting my own internal course for that?
I’m going to tell you what I’ve done. I think that this will resonate with people. When the pandemic hit, for us, it was March 13th of 2020, it was a Friday when they put a shelter in place order, we’ve got to shut down our restaurants. It was like, “This was the beginning of the snowball.” The first two weeks was unknown, then week number 3, 4 was like, “This is happening.” Week number 5 and 6 was like, “This is serious now.” I had to slow down. I had to assess what is on the table and how am I going to navigate? What has happened is everything now has come down to an equal playing field.
Even the big companies, the guys that we were competing against or things that we were doing, everyone now has been leveled out. We’re in ground zero now. How are we going to survive out of this? It’s by educating ourselves by building a stronger mental toughness. We have to recalibrate ourselves. We have to educate ourselves. We have to learn. We have to read. We have to think about what we want and not take this like, “I’m going to take a break.” No, there’s no break here. This is when you have to hone in on your skillset. If you don’t have one, learn one. If you have to learn, go get one. This is an opportunity to come out of this pandemic or this time in our life to come out with a different outlook.
The best word that I could use, and Stedman was the one that told me this, is recalibrate. We have to recalibrate. The world has changed. We’re doing now things on Zoom. The tools were there for a long time. Skype has been around for a long time but we never utilized them until now. Necessity is the mother of invention. We are here now, we need to take advantage of the tools that we have in our hands. Unfortunately, the younger generation right now is not going to get it. Us, the older generation, it’s our responsibility to try to educate the younger ones, the ones that want to learn like the kids. When I was young, I wanted to learn, I listened, I learned and I applied. Take advantage of the time because we will not in our lifetime have another experience like this for a very long time.
This is a great opportunity for us to recalibrate, retool ourselves, prepare ourselves because nothing is forever. When we get out of this, depending on how you’ve trained yourself or retooled yourself, you’re going to come out ahead. It’s either you’re going to be slow out the gate or you’re going to come out jamming fast and furious, then you’ll be successful. That’s working for me. People are saying, “Mauricio, how did you publish a book during the pandemic?” I did it. That’s what I did. I didn’t make any excuses. I might have a guy to track it or go out and be able to talk about it, but I’ve got two books now that I can say I’ve published. Once this stuff gets out, I’m going to be able to start hitting those stages and start sharing my story with people because I’ve done all the infrastructure work to get me to where I’m at. Not only with that, but all my other businesses as well.
That’s fantastic advice. Not only is it great advice for the times in which we’re having this conversation otherwise known as the pandemic, but it’s great advice for any time you find yourself in that trough as it were. Having to recalibrating, reimagining, retraining and refocusing ourselves is a great strategy for any setback. This situation is bringing it evermore into focus. Thanks for sending us in the right direction. It’s been a real pleasure. I’m glad we had this conversation. I look forward to more.
I want to leave off with a quote that my mentor, my friend, Stedman, we talked about it and he said, “You must create success to have success.” Success is not just there for us. We, you, everyone out there, you must create it, your version of it, whatever it may be. You have to create it in order to have it. If you’re wishing on the star or all these other things, you’re going to continue to be wishing but if you don’t create it, make your decision, commit to your decision and then execute on it, I don’t know what you’re saying. I hope it was not me, someone else, on a show or anything else who may turn on that switch one day because we all have switches. It takes one experience, one person, something in life to turn that on. I want to say thank you very much. You’re amazing. I wish you luck on everything that you’re doing. You have my full-on support with everything that you’re doing. I love your mission and your journey as well. You can tell me, not only as a new friend but as an advocate of what you’re doing to the world.
Thank you. I’m honored by that. Folks, thanks so much for reading this show. Until next time, remember to do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.
About Mauricio Mejia