My history with punk rock began on Christmas 1979, when my dad gave me a copy of The Clash’s London Calling. My musical tastes had been somewhat mainstream, with LPs from Foreigner, Styx, and Toto occupying my turntable. The Clash cracked a door open into a new frontier: bands with lyrics that had a message.
I learned a lot from punk. The DIY attitude taught me that with hard work, I could achieve anything I wanted in life. The Straight Edge lifestyle taught me to keep my head clear by abstaining from drugs and alcohol: I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage since half a beer at age 16.
I wrote about some of my punk rock history in Burn Zones. Since publishing it, several punks-turned-businesspeople have invested in my company, American Homeowner Preservation, and have contacted me to reminisce about the old days. I wanted to find out what they’d learned from punk rock, and how they’ve applied it to their lives today. I spoke with AHP investors Rik Kwan, Jeff Block, and Mark Wolgin, as well as Leta McLaughlin, a rep at one of our largest vendors, about the one thing aside from business that unites us all: punk rock.
“Punk is an attitude,” said Rik, who had his own tiny record label back in the day. He shared that he'd been bullied in school for being different: for being Asian, for not wearing name-brand clothes, for not liking the same type of music as his peers. “It’s more than just the music. It's about having a place where you’re accepted, where people don’t judge you for being anti-establishment, or counterculture. That’s what attracted me to punk.”
This non-conformist attitude was a common theme for everyone. Punk rock is “being open to different lifestyles,” said Leta, who does business development for Single Source Property Solutions, which provides property preservation, title and other services to AHP. She grew up going to gigs at the Cuckoo's Nest and other venues in Southern California. “It’s about understanding that people have choices, and other people’s choices aren’t directed ‘at me.' They’re free to live their lives.”
Mark, a surgeon from Los Angeles, spoke about how this punk attitude shaped who he is today: “More than anything, punk informs my politics. Not everyone fits into our society’s narrative, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to contribute. If you’re a square peg and everything’s a round hole, you won't think you're worth anything.”
“My life in punk allowed me to be ready, to be fully invested in and focused on physics,” said Jeff, the former guitarist for the band Caustic Notions and a successful scientist today. Caustic Notions “played shows with most of the really big bands of the time,” Jeff shared. “We 'little punks' annoyed the likes of the Circle Jerks, Social Distortion, and just about everyone else we played with.”
Jeff credits his time in the band for helping him to gain the skills that would allow him to work in the semiconductor industry developing new technologies. “I would never have been able to do that if I’d taken the traditional high school to college to career path. Music had to be a part of it.”
Rik, the former punk record label owner, shared that his punk past still helps him today, with his investments. “I'm no longer in the scene. I trade stocks and futures and other stuff.”
“But that punk attitude allows me to think differently. In investing, you have to be willing to be a contrarian, to question the established belief. I never felt like I fit in anyways. So I apply that attitude to everything I do, and it helps.”
When asked about the seemingly unusual picture of a rebellious young punk growing up to be a respectable stock trader, Rik laughed. He had an answer ready. “Punk is about freedom, and trading stocks and investing allows me the freedom to control my financial destiny.” This also helps to explain why all of these people are attracted to AHP’s crowdfunded investment model. “Crowdfunding allows a large group of people to share in prosperity, to take pride in owning something,” Rik said. That, ultimately, is what we have striven for with AHP.
The most important lesson I learned from punk is this: Question Authority. Government and big business by and large will do what’s best for them and couldn’t care less about the majority of Americans. With AHP, we are building something different: a business that is for the people, by the people and truly benefits all Americans.