We need more financial literacy everywhere, especially in the hoods of America

mark-lugo-metro-dress-1The world has changed a lot in the last hundred years.  For the most part, people at the turn of the 20th century either worked for a small local company or owned their own business. That’s basically how families survived.

Today, the game is totally different.  Now, the game is get an education and go find a job at some big powerful company that allows you to play video games, nap under or on your desk and wear your coolest pajamas to work.   

Although, I must admit it would have been cool to get a job working at a place where I could play ping pong or Donkey Kong for hours and actually get paid. I opted to be an entrepreneur.  For me, I started my dreams of entrepreneurship at the tender age of 16 in the Bronx, New York.  What was I doing?  I was installing car radios. Why? Because it was what was popular in the hood at the time.   My Puerto Rican friends would ask me to install very loud radio systems in their little Toyota Corollas.  Most of the time, the radios cost more than the cars themselves.

My Puerto Rican friends would ask me to install very loud radio systems in their little Toyota Corollas.  Most of the time, the radios cost more than the cars themselves.

Since then, I knew that financial literacy needs to be taught in schools.  Why schools? Many of the parents in the hood didn’t have a clue about finances.  I had a little knowledge about money because my grandmother was a loanshark in the hood and always had thousands and thousands of dollars.  Bought houses cash, pay for lawyers when my uncles got into trouble and bailed out the entire family when they got into financial messes. Money was her art.  She understood money.  I learned the little that I could from her. But honestly, I never mastered it and never allowed money to master me.  To date, I would say my biggest setback in business is not being motivated by money. I love the adventure that business brings.  The excitement and the thrill.  This is what moves me to do whatever I do. Never the money always the passion. 

After starting and running a few startup businesses from mobile billboard companies to web design and development companies, I found out the hard way that not knowing about big money transactions and getting money to work for you instead of you working for money was the key to growth success.

In January 2012, I started to venture into the world of smartphone applications.  I started to link up with app companies that could scale into the Latin American market. I connected with a company that offered digital coupons based on geo-location. In other words, you’re walking in a certain neighborhood and you will get digital coupon offers from retailer in that area.  I wanted to bring this idea to Latin America.   I did that for a few years.  I was really starting to like this app game. In 2014, I decided to try the same method in the European market.  Taking scalable apps from the USA and launching the apps in European cities.

Spending a few years in the app arena on different continents, I started to notice that many app companies were focused on quick deployment apps that could raise lots of money but essentially do nothing but snap a photo, share a video or just say “YO”.   Hard to believe but these apps are raising money like there’s no tomorrow.  Tomorrow is here and some of those apps are starting to buckle and fold.  Some have raised millions and millions of dollars and did nothing.  What a shame, not to the app itself, but rather to the industry as a whole. I come across some great ideas that need investment and never find it. I have been there. The edge that I have is that we can take the app a long way into development before actually needing money. The problem with that is that investors don’t want to pay what an almost fully developed application is worth.

My company, Sports Digital Entertainment (SDE), is designing and developing smartphone apps that will bring more than just bursting bubbles and running a street jumping over trash cans on fire or on top of subway trains.  Nothing wrong with these games, but what are we creating here?  I jump on metro trains and other public transportation in my work travels in cities like New York, London, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon and Latin American cities… The story is almost always the same.  People spend their travel time playing candy crushing games. I remember my days living in Boca Raton, Florida and driving down to Miami each day. I would spend two to three hours daily in the car.  78 miles exactly.  I would have to be learning something in the car.  Listening to music only on the “fun” days like Friday.  But otherwise, I was listening to people like Anthony Robbins, Zig Ziglar or some other motivational teacher. I learned quite a bit in the car. Stay motivated for the most part.

At SDE, we want our users to play games but learn something about life.  We are designing games that teach while educating and entertaining.  Our games are designed to make learning subjects like finance, money management and entrepreneurship while playing games and having fun. 

Our BallersLife game series is our signature brand focusing on that purpose.  BallersLife allows the players to role-play the lives of celebrities who roll in the dough.  The general public has no clue what it’s like to get a bank wire of a few million dollars into your bank account. And like the celebrities who get these checks, don’t know how or what to do except spend the money on luxury items, cars and other depreciating stuff. BallersLife will challenge the players to manage and build fortunes based on a starting salary of a celebrity entertainer or professional athlete. Multiple levels of play will move with the levels of real-life itself.  In the “high-life” it’s not just money that influences. Status also plays a very important role in advancing the game. 

My personal hope and our company’s focus is to get enough people interested in learning through gameplay.   We all played Monopoly at one time or another in our lives. Some of us became real estate power brokers, others became real estate moguls and others are renters.  Who took the game serious?

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