After Heroin Nearly Killed Him, Brandon Stump Got Sober and Founded a Company With More Than $21 Million in Sales
The CEO of Charlie's Chalk Dust gives an unflinching look at the horrors of heroin addiction, and how he was able to turn his life around.
Unlike other startup founders, Brandon Stump, CEO of Charlie’s Chalk Dust, a pioneering brand in the vapor market, didn't work his way through normal 9-to-5 jobs before, one day, proclaiming that he had had enough with corporate America. That's because, for Stump, rather than being addicted to an office, he was addicted to heroin, injecting himself daily to get a high that he couldn't get elsewhere.
Somewhere along the way, Stump found himself at a crossroads: continue to live a life that would, ultimately, kill him -- which, technically, it did, as he clinically died an incredible 15 times -- or go down a different path and find something deep in himself to turn his life around. He chose the latter, refusing to let addiction be his ultimate fate, and becoming an entrepreneur with one hell of a journey so far.
Now, this is usually the time where, as a storyteller, there's supposed to be some sort of glorified "holy shit" moment. When I sensationalize the story by leaving out details that suggest that what Brandon Stump did can be done by everyone. Don't fool yourself, because that's not the case. You're about to read an ugly, authentic and raw history of his life.
Rather than sit here and attempt to retell Stump's story, for fear of leaving any fine detail out, keep reading to see how the CEO of Charlie’s Chalk Dust overcame his addiction to heroin. What began by making the decision to go to an AA meeting to get a free cup of coffee and a cigarette, Stump's journey led him down an unknown path towards a company that's disrupting an entire industry. Here it is in his own words...
The root of powerlessness
I never woke up and said to myself, "You know, today's the day I'm gonna do heroin for the first time."
Even before high school, I liked to drink on the weekends and smoke and just sort of enjoy life. I liked being rebellious and breaking the rules, and figure out ways to have fun. From partying on the weekend, it turned into showing up to school with orange juice bottles filled with vodka and drinking them in class. And progressed to all kind of drugs.
I barely graduated high school and got into an open enrollment university; where you can basically get in with any grades you want. And I showed up to college already taking Percocets on a daily basis, and, from there, I got into Oxycontin, which is the natural progression. You know, you can only take so many Percocets to get that opioid high before you need something stronger.
When I ran out of Oxycontin, somebody had heroin, and, sure, I was scared to try it, but I said "fuck it" and decided to do it anyway. I snorted it.
After that first time, I thought I would never touch heroin again. Man, I was throwing up for hours; I did too much. And I didn't touch it for like two months. But then I found myself in a room with a guy who was shooting it up, I gave him my arm and said "fuck it," just go ahead and do it. So I turned my head, gave him my arm and he shot me up.
That high that I got that day was something that I chased every day until the day I ultimately got sober in 2010. And I never got that high again during my chase for five, six, seven, eight years, however long it was. Once you get addicted to heroin ... it's got you, and it dictates all of your decisions and actions.
Heroin's impact on his family
Once drug addiction took hold of me and took a grip on my life, my family was affected big time. I mean, complete disarray, where I was a nightmare to be around and wouldn't show up for days or weeks. My mom and dad told me they used to stay up at night and wonder when I was going to die. My brother and sisters didn't have an older brother to lean on. I remember the third or fourth time I went to treatment, there was a family weekend and I asked my brother how my heroin addiction affected him. His response was pretty clear: "It's destroying our family. If you ever use heroin again, I'll never talk to you."
Related: Mental Illness: The Silent Destroyer
Image credit: Charlie's Chalk Dust
The inspiration to get clean came from a simple cup of coffee
That conversation was in 2007. I didn't get sober until the end of 2010. So, for another three years, I kept at it. The inspiration to finally get off heroin and clean was a combination of my actions. I wrote down my thoughts on a notepad in my car about how much my life sucked: nobody called me for my birthday, I was living in a car, I was in and out of hospitals for overdoses -- I had clinically died 15 times. I lost my faith and was looking for an answer because I thought I was going to die.
In the hotel parking lot where I used to park my car, I went into the hotel to get a cup of coffee and they asked me for $2, and I told them to charge it to room 235. They told me they didn't do that, and, at that moment, I realized that I was defeated. All the hustling and lies to feed my addiction; it hit a low point when I couldn't even afford a cup of coffee.
I walked out of the hotel in a pair of sweatpants, got in my car and thought that I could get a free cup of coffee and a cigarette if I went to an AA meeting.
So I drove my car to this AA meeting and, before I got out of my car, I pulled the rearview mirror down, looked myself in the eyes and said, "Brandon, let's do something different today and let's try to stay sober for just one day." And I got out of that car and I've never had a drink or done drugs since.
What happened that day was that my faith was restored. I focused on one day of sobriety, and that was my answer. I did everything in my power that day to stay sober. As hard as it was, I fell asleep sober. And then I did it again and again and again. I started to reach out for help, and I started to have this restored faith, which led me to try and help other people.
Image credit: Charlie's Chalk Dust
Building 'Ohio House', a sober environment for men
The light was back in my eyes and I wanted to help others. I founded the Ohio House after a couple of guys from Ohio had asked for help. I told them to come out to California. I brought them into my house and showed them what I was doing and how I was doing it.
It wasn't originally called the Ohio House, but people jokingly called it that after a few months because these guys were hosting sober barbecues and stuff like that. People who needed help started calling me asking if they could come to the Ohio House and, next thing I knew, I just started moving strangers in. I was having fun, helping a lot of guys and I had a passion for it. I just kind of organically grew it into two houses and then three houses and, eventually, I was able to quit my job in aviation to pursue this full-time -- but I wasn't making money at the time, I was just paying my bills and helping other guys.
I called my pops up and told him I was focusing on the Ohio House full time, and he told me I better make it work. I asked him if I could borrow $20,000 since I only had $1,200 in my account, and he said no. But I was able to hustle and make it work, and, with just $1,200, grew it to four and five houses ... but I needed some help.
That's why I reached out to my brother, Ryan, and, after he worked in medical sales for about a year and a half, I kept pulling on him to come work in this sober living house with me. He kept saying, "Yeah right." But, finally, I hit him up one day and asked him how much he had saved in his account after working the job he had. He told me he had $12,000. At that time, the Ohio House had $12,000 in the account. So, with everything I had in the account, I told him I'd give him everything I had if he came out and helped me. Within two hours, he was packing up his car and driving across the country from D.C. to California.
That's when the Ohio House really started to take shape, because we now had two brothers together to grow this thing, and we really started to help a lot more people.
Today, we have an outpatient facility called the Buckeye Recovery Network, and we have a female center called the Chadwick House. We're known as the gold standard throughout the country for aftercare. We help those who come out of rehab and achieve long-term sobriety, and we're really good at it.
Image credit: Charlie's Chalk Dust
The itch to sell led to Charlie's Chalk Dust
In about 2014, I was still smoking about a pack of cigarettes each day. One of the guys who went through the Ohio House program said he knew how to make vaping products. At that time, vaping was getting really popular. I didn't really see anything that I liked in the market, so I went into the vaping industry as a way to help me quit smoking. I spent about $2,000 to get some materials to start making stuff at home in my kitchen late at night, and ended up quitting smoking.
I started handing some of the products out to a few guys in the Ohio House, and people really liked them. One of the guys took it into a local vape shop, and they contacted me because they liked it so much.
I went down with no business card, no website, no samples, no product, no price guide. And he asked me what my MOQ was. I had no idea that meant minimum order quantity, but I pulled out a number from my head that made sense for me to go back and make: 300 bottles. The guy laughed at me, telling me that the MOQ in this industry was 100 bottles. I told him, "Not today. If you want this product, you're going to have to buy 300 bottles."
I ended up selling him 300 bottles, and I went back to my office, and I was fired up. I had been in sales my entire life; I think it's the greatest job on planet Earth. The Ohio House was great, but that salesman inside of me was dormant for three years. During those three years, I was building who I was as a human being; my character, my integrity and my professionalism. When I sold those 300 bottles that day, I told my brother that I was starting a vape company and asked if he wanted in and he said yeah.
I took $40,000 to put into Charlie's Chalk Dust, and within weeks it paid back. And now, we just closed out 2018 with over $21 million worth of sales.
Learning from mistakes
I wouldn't trade my life experiences for anything. The mistakes that I made in the past have given me the opportunities to become the man that I am today.
I get choked up and inspired when I tell my story because I don't often do it. But when I get a chance to share with others, I get to look at myself and think about how bad I really was. Like, that's my story? And to see what it all led to now? That's fucking cool.