A Second Chance For One Entrepreneur Rebounding After Federal Prison

Every year, the President of the United States pardons the Thanksgiving Turkey, removes them from one of America’s dinner tables, and sends them to live in some local petting zoo. Those turkeys are given a second chance, but it’s hard for those who go to prison to get back on their feet and contribute to society again.

Lifelong entrepreneur Justin Smith lived an adventurous but unconventional life in Ohio before becoming CEO of one of the fastest-growing field service management software companies. He started his first job at the age of 13. At the age of 18, he was a director in a small company. During his work, he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree. By the time he was 27, he was in federal prison.

Today, Smith is a successful and law-abiding 36-year-old entrepreneur, showing that with hard work and the determination to make a difference, one really can get a second chance at life.

As a teenager, Smith was anything but ordinary. At the age of 10, he could take a computer apart and put it back together. Instead of making friends with his peers, he spends his summers working for his mother, a licensed contractor, and playing paintball. As a teenager, he started a dial-up internet service provider (ISP). His mother coordinated the financial end of the business, while his friend Smith met Brandon Schlichter, who played paintball, and helped facilitate various technical connections.

The company’s success was short-lived, but Smith began building and selling computers in his neighborhood, while pursuing his passion for paintball. He created an indoor paintball court and a website for the team he plays for. His website caught the attention of Jeff Lizik, CEO of Action Fanatics, one of the largest paintball distributors at the time. He quickly made a name for himself and his web design and development work began to be noticed by the biggest names in the business.

“Shortly after we launched this new website, Jeff and I were offered a job by KEE Action Sports in Sewell, New Jersey,” Smith said. “I didn’t like their offer, so I decided to freelance and go to college.”

Smith attended Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL. A year before receiving his master’s degree in Entertainment Business and Law, he was hired as a web developer for one of central Florida’s most prominent real estate, property management and master companies. He was soon promoted to vice president of operations. He earned his master’s degree in 2008, and three years later, the business had grown to nearly 800 properties under management and expanded to include an in-house contractor division under Smith’s leadership. Despite his success, conflicts with management led him to leave the company and next seek entrepreneurship.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Smith said. “I got a few clients for video production and web development. But my savings quickly decreased.”

Smith was approached by the owner of a local smoke shop and given a packet of herbal concoction known locally as ‘spice’. Smith was asked to understand the chemicals used in the product. After successfully identifying the chemicals and realizing they were not yet scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act, he began ordering the substances by the kilogram from China.

“Within a few months I started ordering Methylone or BK-MDMA. Smoke shops in Florida were selling these things like Happy Times Bonzai Tree Fertilizer,” Smith said, noting that while the substances are not yet illegal, he knows the practice is a gray area of ​​the law. Business has boomed.

On January 13, 2014, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided Smith’s facilities after seizing 284 kilograms of BK-MDMA. It was the largest seizure of synthetic analogues in US history at the time.

Smith was taken into custody and later sentenced to 151 months in federal prison. He would have that reduced to 36 months after the DEA determined his substances were less effective than originally believed.

While prison wasn’t part of the life course Smith had planned for himself, he said it gave him plenty of time to reflect on himself and adjust to his values. He spent his time reading, exercising, and planning a life of purpose and service to others. While incarcerated, he completed the Residential Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program (RDAP), a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program that shaved an extra year off his sentence.

Smith told me in an interview, “Many inmates think RDAP is a joke, but I’m not ashamed to admit that the tools I’ve learned in this program have greatly improved my life. I am more rational and responsible. I am more open-minded and objective. BOP re-entry really needs a lot of improvement, but RDAP is something they definitely got right.”

Smith left prison in July 2020, halfway through his pre-sentence sentence, and soon began his next job. He started mocking up hundreds of screens in a mobile app for contractors, scanning them with his mobile phone and sending them to the programming team in India. These mockups have evolved into a service now known as Contractor+, which helps contractors run their businesses more efficiently.

Today, Smith says his app has more than 18,000 users, with 2,400 daily active users and 530 paying customers. Contractor+ has 14 employees, and Smith wants to grow even more. To keep the company growing, he pays back his earnings while also working on the production of a business mentoring and coaching company founded by his childhood friend Schlichter.

“I’m thankful that Brandon never gave up on me, even after he made some really bad choices,” Smith said. “He’s really invested in making a difference in people’s lives, and I think that’s the type of leader that entrepreneurs should want to emulate. He is the type of leader I am determined to be.”

He credits much of his success to the honest work ethic his mother instilled in him as a child, his prison experience in the RDAP program, his investors, advisors and staff, and the unwavering loyalty and friendship of Brandon Schlichter. Smith said: “I had great judgment and my true friends were there for me when I needed them most. I get this second chance and I have a lot to be thankful for.


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