As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Jeremy Ong from HUSTLR.
Hey, I’m Jeremy. Prior to my entrepreneurial journey, I had a huge gambling and ecstasy problem when I was studying in Melbourne, Australia. I’m now focusing on HUSTLR– a website that helps people hustle better in the 21st century. I’ve been running online businesses behind my laptop for the past 5 years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?
I grew up in a typical Asian household with tiger parents who always pushed me to study harder, get great results, get a scholarship (which I did for college), get a good job and retire at 60. I never really had the freedom to do what I actually wanted to do. I was the model Asian kid that scored awesome grades and scholarships. I used to represent my state for speechgiving. My life revolved around back to back tuition or extra curricular training for speeches.
Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
The period where I was studying in Melbourne was my first time ever living away from home. With this new found freedom, I went nuts. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, I was partying a lot with friends. I always wanted to attend raves (Australian raves are amazing) and I’ve seen from TV popping ecstasy was something that was the norm when it comes to partying at raves. I decided to go for it.
As for gambling, I have always had a high risk appetite. A lot of people called me a daredevil when I was younger, which sort of reinforced this. I was a poor student studying abroad, and I wanted to get branded bags, wallets and belts – I wanted to look rich. No guts no glory right? That’s what I thought most of the time, and I found a way to do this “easily” – through gambling.
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
I’m not sure about this, but I think I was trying to escape the life that my parents planned out for me. I didn’t want a boring, dull lifestyle that’s all about studying and getting a great job. I was really running away from the reality that after I graduate, I’m going to have to slave away in the job market for 30+ – 40 years. I was trying to escape reality by thinking that life is easier than what most people think. I was also trying to make up for “lost time” because I thought I wasn’t living the life I wanted when I was growing up under my parents’ roof.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
I remembered one day, my dad remitted about $3,000 to my bank account for my tuition fees. On top of that, I had about $1,000 saved up from working part time as a waiter. For some retarded reason, I decided to deposit all of this money into the nearby casino. In less than an hour, $4,000 became $30,000 – which was a hell a lot of money for me at that time (I was 20). I was freaking ecstatic. I thought my life would change for the better, until I decided I was on a roll and decided to continue playing. I ended up losing that money faster than I earned it.
I officially had $0 in my bank account, with no money to pay for my tuition fees, rent and food. I was fucked. I remembered going all pale and considered committing suicide – it seemed like such a big deal to me at that time. To get through this, I took a personal loan from multiple friends and started living on dirt cheap instant noodles for the next 10 months or so.
I worked my ass off as a waiter, and I even started selling ecstasy and marijuana for a short period of time to barely make ends meet. At the same time, I was abusing the very products I’m peddling to escape my miserable life.
Can you tell us the story about how were you able to overcome your addiction?
I started losing friends, my relationship with loved ones started to deteriorate. The turning point (as I remembered it) was during the one and only time I experimented with magic mushrooms (ironic – I know). I had a bad trip, and I started reflecting on my life, and remembered telling myself that a life like this is empty and all these chemically induced happiness is fleeting, unsustainable and “not real”.
I started thinking about my parents, whom I love dearly. What would they think of me if they see me in this state? What if I’m still like this 10 years down the line? Would I be happy? I also started realizing that there were more things worth living for in life than chemically induced happiness. As a result, I quit all chemical substances, and I signed myself up for an exclusion agreement with local casinos in Australia (I’d have to pay a hefty fine if I were caught gambling in the casino). I still gamble during Chinese New Year (it’s Chinese tradition to gamble), but that’s about it – no more casinos.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
So I’ve kept the damage to others to a minimum, my family members didn’t know I was going through a hard time with addiction. I was internalizing most of this experience and I started being more conscious with communicating and connecting with them. I started spending more time on healthy activities (like exercising and playing board/card games) with friends that were distancing themselves from me (I was seen as a bad influence).
I believed that the most important reconciliation I need to do was with myself. I tried to keep a positive attitude at all times – meditating and exercise helped a lot. There were times where I was tempted to pop pills again when it was stressful, but I channeled that energy into working to pay off my debts ASAP.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
Exercise, gaming (card games like Magic The Gathering and computer games), reading.
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
I (try to) remind myself the 10 things that I’m grateful for (eg: family members, a healthy body, a functional brain) every morning when I wake up. I do a lot of positive self talk as well from time to time when I’m feeling down or in need of some “external stimuli”.
I’ve also adopted a habit of cooking my own meals and keeping to a strict exercise schedule.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
After graduating, I was working in a snacks company as a brand marketer for about 3 years. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur but there was this fear and anxiety holding me back. I’ve experimented with eCommerce during this period of time and made a pretty good side hustle out of it, giving me an average of $1,000 in extra income.
One of the owners in the company I was working for is my biggest source of inspiration. One day, I asked him, how old were you when you started this company? He told me he was 24 years old when he started, which was the same age as I am during that time.
I knew that I had to quit full time work now to pursue starting my own business or risk getting into a “create excuses” mindset. I’ve burned all bridges, I didn’t bother asking for a recommendation letter and I never looked back.
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.
1) Being obsessive
I think being obsessive about what you do is very important. To me, being an entrepreneur is an addiction in itself. The best entrepreneurs I’ve come across are obsessive over every single detail about their business. So I guess this is a good thing.
2) Always chasing
Just like chasing for gambling and substance abuse highs, being a chaser that’s never content pushes you to new heights as an entrepreneur. I’m not sure if this analogy is appropriate haha.
3) High risk appetite
I have made some really stupid and expensive mistakes as an entrepreneur. This usually happens when I don’t think things through and have the “just do it” attitude. This is something that I have to work on – to be more mindful when making key business decisions.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
I think there is this stigma when it comes to addiction. If you’re an addict, society thinks you’re less of a useful human being. Even though this is somewhat true, I’ve seen addicts transition into fully functional and hyper productive members of society.
Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
1) Be grateful with what you have.
If you’re not happy with what you have now, chances are you’ll never be happy even if you have more stuff or more money.
2) It gets better
The thought of stopping whatever addicting you’re facing can be a painful one. But it gets easier as time goes by. It’s the beginning that’s the toughest. It’s just like building a business. Persevere long enough and you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know, ecstasy and gambling are less addictive than stuff like heroin, but I do believe the same concept applies.
3) Get help
Your loved ones love you more than you think, speak to the closest people in your life. Set your stance and let them help keep you accountable.
Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!