In 2017, while speaking on stage at the War Room Mastermind in Austin, Texas, a high-level networking event run by Roland Frasier, Ryan Deiss and Perry Belcher, little did I know that Jeremy Delk, founder of Delk Enterprises., and one of the most successful people in the room, was in the audience. I didn’t know Delk at the time. In fact, I had no idea who he was. But what I discovered was the epitome of the American Dream. A mind-bending rags-to-riches story that personifies true grit and passion, along with the utter resilience of the human spirit, especially in the face of great defeat.
The story depicts the iconic rise of a man determined to make it in business, against all odds. It’s a story that parallels that of some of the most famous people in history who had failed, but had gone on to reach the pinnacle of success. It’s the hallmark of the American Dream that so many yearn for but so few attain. It’s the story of a boy who lost his father at 7 years-old, leaving a hole in his heart and one in his family. An inflection point in time. A period of great devastation that saw him lose his biggest hero, leaving him and his family in a state of great duress.
These moments of great pain weigh heavily on our hearts. We carry them with us forever, often weighing us down. But for Delk, that period of pain and desperation as a young boy, turned into a period of great inspiration and determination that would ultimately fuel him into his later years in school and in business. Maybe it was the loss of his father, or maybe it was just who he was, but Delk was never much of a conformist. He preferred making the rules rather than following them. As an old soul who had experienced so much anguish, he was wise beyond his years and didn’t want to be placed in a box or be told what he should do.
That early arrogance briefly paid off. In high school, when Delk and the entire class were instructed to join a club for the school’s “club day” that would meet on a weekly basis, he decided that he and a few others would create their own club. The other clubs just didn’t interest them. Growing up in rural Kentucky, most kids showed an interest in clubs like FFA (Future Famers of America). Not Delk. To him, there was something more. It was an entrepreneurial spirit. A flame lit in his heart by a father who was now long gone.
When a new principal, who had just arrived on the scene that year, realized what Delk and his cohorts were doing, he threatened them with detention, and possibly even worse. But what happened after that was a discovery of something he would eventually fall in love with when he found DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America). To put it simply, DECA was for future entrepreneurs what FFA was for future farmers. And that was the start of a journey that’s spanned decades. A passion developed. A drive. A determination to learn business and understand it implicitly.
An Early Failure That Proved Nearly Fatal
DECA led Delk on a path towards marketing and sales. In fact, he became so interested that he won DECA’s state sales pitch that year. He was barely 17. But another passion had emerged at roughly the same time. It developed slowly but rapidly matured towards his 18th birthday. Day trading. To him, it seemed as though the stars had aligned at just the right time. He was barely 18 and still in high school. With a thirty-thousand dollar inheritance from his dad, Delk began absorbing and learning every aspect of the markets by studying CNBC, reading Investor’s Business Daily and the Wall Street Journal while tracking the market like a hawk.
His humble thirty-thousand dollar inheritance quickly doubled to $60k in his senior year. The following year, as a freshman in college, he ramped that portfolio up to $1.2 million. His time had freed up more and his schedule allowed him to trade more frequently and devote more mental resources to something that quickly grew into a passion. He was so confident that he began to trade on margin and his $1.2 million ballooned to $2 million. Delk was flying high. It was easier than taking candy from a baby and he envisioned riding that wave for a very long time. In those days, Delk soared into the stratosphere on the backs of companies like Qualcomm and Viavi Solutions.
Trading in class from his PalmPilot and Ameritrade account, Delk was making more money in an hour than his college professors made in the year. In his freshman year, that afforded him the ability to pay off his car and buy a condo with 20-foot ceilings and a marble fireplace. He had made it for all intents and purposes. He was far more successful than anyone in his group of friends. But that all came crashing down with the Dot-Com Bubble that burst his sophomore year. While Delk saw the sell-off, he thought it was only temporary. And that’s what did him in.
Over the course of the next 4 days, he broke his own rules. He held his positions overnight, “knowing” the market would turn around. Well, it didn’t. And as the markets sank deeper, the margin calls came in. And although he didn’t sink into debt because of those margin calls, he was left with nothing. Everything was wiped out in the blink of an eye. At that point, Delk wondered what kind of mess he had gotten himself into. How was he going to pay his bills to support his lifestyle with all his money gone?
Yet, it was the best thing that ever happened to him. It taught him early on that no one is untouchable. Failure is a bit possibility. And unless you’re strategic in your approach to business, you could fall flat on your face. Like many of the other wildly successful entrepreneurs in this world, it’s through that early failure that Delk grew and learned and reached deeper understandings about life and business. It helped him to realize that making money requires risk, but that the risk should always be calculated, with a clear upside that’s worthwhile according to that risk.
A Foundation For Success
Many of us have experienced failure. We’ve gone through the trials and tribulations. But that doesn’t make it feel any better. Hindsight it always 20-20, but when you’re plowing through those emotions, oftentimes, all you want to do is make the pain stop. Yet, there is utility in failure and in pain. It’s eye-opening and life-changing to say the least. And without it, we couldn’t reach the highest highs in life. We simply couldn’t. For Delk, that pain was brutal. Not only did he feel like he let himself down, but he felt like he let his entire family down.
When you go from riding those highs to experiencing such earth-shattering lows, it takes an enormous toll on you. You lose that glee and overall zeal in life. Smiles turn into constant frowns. And you go into survival mode. That’s precisely what happened to Delk. The depression gave way to survival. What was he going to do? How was he going to survive while maintaining a full-time schedule at school? So he did what he could. He took a job at UPS packing trucks at night, working a couple of hours during the day at the Providence Place Mall at Abercromie & Fitch, cutting grass and even renting apartments at a luxury complex.
However, his big break came when he was 4 weeks into that apartment-renting gig when he went to a resident function at the apartment building where he was renting out units. It was there that he met a couple that recently relocated to the area on a short-term basis and worked in Boston at Fidelity Investments. It was a chance meeting. There weren’t many people he could chat with about the markets at a deeper level. And it was there, at that networking function, when he dove into a 2.5 hour conversation about the markets with the couple.
At some point during that conversation, the gentlemen asked what he was doing now for work and why wasn’t he working in equities. Delk never imagined he could work in equities without a tremendous amount of experience. Delk knew he still had to finish school and had to stay back with his mom, but it was in a moment of inspiration that he told the trader if he could get him a shot, he would take an interview. One thing led to another, and 3.5 weeks after, and several interviews later, Delk found himself employed at Fidelity Investments in Boston.
During that time, he commuted an hour back and forth to school for a year until he finished his degree. But just 24 months after the market collapsed and Delk had lost everything, he was living in Manhattan and armed with a war chest of capital, albeit not the original $1.2 million he had lost. At 22 years-old, Delk was living the high life again, but something was amiss. Maybe he feared a repeat of the past pain, maybe it was something else. He just didn’t see himself doing that forever. He wasn’t creating something. He wasn’t building. Something inside of him yearned for more.
In 2002, Delk resigned from Fidelity, the company that saved him after his collapse. He went against his mother’s wishes. It was then that he decided to found his own company, Delk Enterprises. This time, he wanted to get into real estate, developing single family and multi-family residences in places where his money had more buying power. His first year, he made $6,000. Not much to brag about, but he had a ton of fun in the process. But it was while in the real estate industry that Delk realized the necessity for things like windows and doors.
It was such an epiphany that he decided to partner in a window business, going from a retail store to a distributorship, and onto becoming the exclusive supplier on the East Coast for a Canadian and German window company. They took over an entire industry that they knew nothing about. After a dispute over territory with the manufacturer, it led Delk to found his own window company with a private label suite 3 high-end German and Italian manufacturers. They were aggressive in their approach, taking plane loads of some of NYC’s top builders and architects to Europe and subsequently landing massive jobs as a result.
The company went on to doing the windows and doors for some of the biggest residential housing projects on the East Coast such as Carl Icahn’s house, Calvin Klein’s and many others. Some of these projects were in excess of $1 million for windows and doors alone. They took over the industry again. But it taught Delk a very important lesson. It was that business is business is business. If he could come out of nowhere and take over an industry in a short period, what else could he do in other industries?
The answer to that question has spanned a colossal expansion in Delk Enterprises, engaging in multiple business ventures and strategic investments across the board across several industries including consumer goods, digital marketing, pain relief and more. Today, the company employs hundreds of employees, both on-site and remotely. For Delk, that means success at the highest level. It also means a transition into doing things that will benefit society in areas like integrative health, medicine, peptides and more.