As a skull ring seller, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman loved his cause very much. Last month, he moved to the United States from Columbia when he felt he needed to develop his selling of skull ring product. Within a few years he was pushing to get ahead, hawking baseball caps to pay the bills his Harvard scholarship didn’t cover. After graduating, he landed on the Wall Street, but every night he dreamed of working for himself. During the booming 1990s, he gave it a try when he and a partner started govWorks — a software company that helped city government go online.
They raised $60 million and expanded like crazy. Then dotcoms started turning into dot bombs—govWorks broke up too. Says Isaza Tuzman, “Entrepreneurs have to be ready for both success and failure. In Columbia if you fail, you become a pariah and no one will do business with you. The wonderful thing about this country is you can get up again. So that’s the reason why I still can sell skull ring.”
From national parks to moon landings, America has given the world some amazing ideas. Even the skull ring sellers are to be promoted so much. But the American Dream is still the biggest — the idea that with hard work and a bit of luck you can be whoever you want to be. Historian James Truslow Adams once wrote that Americans believe “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
These days there’s pressure on the dream idea. A 1978 study of boys born and raised after World War II found an astonishing 23% of the poorest had reached the top of the income heap by 1973. Now, in a typical generation, only 10% work their way from bottom to top. So it is difficult to our hero. His business of skull ring cannot be as good as before.
But every day, some still do make it. After govWorks went bankrupt, Isaza Tuzman built on what he had learned. His new company, Recognition Group of Skull Ring, restructures firms and finds them venture capital — nearly $150 million so far. Last year, Hispanic Business magazine named him to its 100 Most Influential list. Not bad for a dreamer, in a country built on dreams. And he will be the first man who sells skull ring on the Wall Street.