USA-based Akil Stokes started out working long hours in three jobs during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Now he’s a successful property investor and mentor for traders all over the world who is able to fit his life around his young son.
BY ELISSA ROSE
Tell us a little about your primary motivation for starting career in trading.
My primary motivation was getting to a point where I didn’t want to work for someone else any more. Once I graduated college it was the start of the recession over here in the States and I was struggling to get a job. I ended up with three part-time jobs simultaneously including working with troubled children, coaching track and field, and also as a part time janitor. It was actually good pay! As the months went on though it started to wear on me and I asked myself whether that was what I wanted to be doing for the next ten years.
I was in that weird position where I was under-qualified, having no experience, but over-qualified with my Masters’ degree so employers thought they’d have to pay me more. I thought to myself, ‘where am I going to be in ten years? Am I going to be 35 with a family still working this many hours a week or is something going to change?’
I had got into investments at college on the side and it was something that interested me. I also found myself a mentor who suggested I look at making it into a career. The more I learned about it, and after I switched to Forex trading I realised that you really can make a career out of it. I was pretty scared to be honest but my dad told me that I was still young and I should just go for my dream. He pointed out that the worst that could happen is I fail and I’m just back where I started. That really hit me and that was the push I needed to take that step. Every time you try and do something out of the norm people think you’re foolish, but he gave me that push and I went for it.
That’s a great story, are you happy you did?
Aside from marrying my wife (who may or may not be able to currently hear me), it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. It changed my life.
Can you tell us about the Kaizen philosophy of ‘continuous improvement’ that you’ve adopted?
My roommate and I heard about this philosophy which was adapted by the Japanese when they were trying to rebuild their economy, and essentially it means don’t try and do everything at once, just be more efficient each day, even by the smallest percentage. If you can become more efficient each day than the day before then you are on the path to success, and I have really adopted, this not only in trading, but also my life. Every day I just need to do a little bit better and move myself in a positive direction. It makes me start every day better than the one before and it really pushes me to keep going – it’s a game against myself. How can I be a better Akil every day?
You also said investing in real estate is agony, can you elaborate on that?
That was my business mentor! He was a local millionaire who invested in real estate in my small town. I wanted to meet everyone who was more successful than me to see what I could learn from them. We started developing a good relationship as we had similar mind-sets. One of the first things he told me is that real estate is agony. It will keep you up at night but it’s probably the best investment you could make. At first I thought he was joking but the more I learn it’s everything he said it would be, including the great part though. He’s in his 90s now and he still writes to me reminding me of this fact, that real estate is agony.
“My dad told me that I was still young and should just go for my dream. He pointed out that the worst that could happen was I fail, and I’m just back where I started.”
How important is the role of mentors when you run your own business?
The best way to find success is to find someone successful and copy them. I have no secret strategy for trading but the value I bring is that I’m someone who’s made every single mistake and can hold your hand and walk you through it. Mentors are like a navigator, the person has a destination in mind and the mentor suggests which route to take and share our personal experiences with them. You’re helping people not make the same mistakes we did and make the path a little easier. Having a mentor is very important and a lot of people don’t make it past the trial and error stage, but having a mentor can help that.
Have you made any mistakes that have made you change course?
I think mistakes are great as long as you learn from them. Me and my real estate partner still have a property right now that was the biggest mistake we’ve made, we just went about everything the wrong way and it’s been biting us in the rear ever since. It’s a commercial property built on government aid so we assumed there would never been any vacancies but we didn’t do a thorough inspection of the property so we weren’t aware of all the shortfalls. We’ve had it for 5 years now and it’s been agonising, it’s just a mess.
Do you use social media at all in marketing yourself and do you think it’s important?
I’ve been told that even though it might go against your character you have to shamelessly self-promote and put yourself in the spotlight. My personality just isn’t that way at all, I’d rather quietly get on with running my business but the brand, Akil Stokes, has to be out there and people need to know who I am and what I’m doing. I’ll share family pictures and tweet about what’s going on in my life as it’s important for people to gain that trust in me and learn more about me as a person, not just someone trying to sell them something. There are hundreds of other people selling systems and strategies but people invest in me because they see I genuinely care by seeing how I interact with people on social media.
What would you say is the most difficult aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I guess it’s not knowing what will work. I like to think I’m past that point now but still inside I have a fear that everything I’ve worked for could go away. We like to compare entrepreneurs to people taking a leap of faith; they’re on the side of a cliff jumping off to reach their dream and they’re going to have to figure out how to build a parachute before they hit the ground. There is a point in this journey when you’re in free-fall and you don’t know what is going to work and it takes time to see the results of all your labours. It can take years and that’s a scary place to be in, when you haven’t seen any results. It’s when most people give up and fail. You have to mentally get past that point and then it becomes amazing.
And what is the most rewarding aspect?
I get to do whatever I want! It sounds awesome but I’ve worked for it. I do actually believe that a degree of money can bring happiness, from someone who grew up without much of it but freedom of time is the biggest reward. Your business works for you while you do other things. My wife and I have a two year old child and I see the importance of that time even more now. I’m not going to miss the important moments like his first steps or his first words. I’m so lucky I don’t need to sacrifice that aspect of my life to pay the bills.