Hire Power

The Quest For Independence

Ditching his shoehorn, Leffall spent the following six years working in community-service positions. For the first five, he created youth and family programs in urban communities for the Oakland Housing Authority. And for the next year, he aided a nonprofit organization in getting the community more involved with the educational upbringing of children. Unfortunately, the good vibes created by the goodwill work became increasingly strained by bureaucratic frustration. Whether it was being passed over for many a promotion by his first employer or nearly being laid off when the proposed five-year community education project came to a halt after less than a year, it became starkly apparent to Leffall that it was time to get started working for his own cause.

"What I wanted was more control over my life," he says. Drawing from his childhood dreams, Leffall began exploring business opportunities, even though he'd just started graduate school to get his master's in management. "It just so happened that we had to do a project on growth business areas in one of my classes," he says. "In doing it, I came across the staffing industry and realized the projections for growth were just astronomical because more and more companies were moving away from a permanent work force to a more contingent, contractual work force."

It sounded promising enough. The only catch was that Leffall needed a minimum of $25,000 in start-up capital and a set of instructions on how to start a staffing business (or any business, for that matter). Luckily, a friend in the industry shed some light on the unknown. But the money hunt wasn't so easy. He sought assistance from small-business-friendly financial institutions like the SBA, his local bank and a nearby Small Business Development Center. With an insufficient business plan and a lack of collateral, however, Leffall's request was almost immediately denied by all three. "They knew staffing was a growing industry and thought there was so much competition from major agencies that a small agency like ours would be eaten alive, and that we didn't really have an opportunity," he says. "And I just didn't really want to hear that."

Maybe it was to retaliate against what poor kids are too often told growing up: Don't dream too big. Be practical--go get yourself a job at the post office. Whatever it was, Leffall wasn't about to settle for less than his highest hope. He dismissed warnings from friends that he could lose everything and accepted one of many mail offers to take out a second mortgage on the Stockton, California, home he'd purchased two years prior and was, at the time, renting out. When he finally secured the $25,000 loan in July 1996, he happily resigned from his job at the nonprofit organization.

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This article was originally published in the March 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hire Power.

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