Name: Jeremy Malman
Business: Worth Motorcycle Company
When Jeremy Malman was accepted to a highly competitive Ph.D. program in Southern California, he was elated. But nearly three years into his clinical psychology coursework with at-risk adolescents, he was disillusioned. Not by the kids – Jeremy loved helping teens who were struggling at home, in school and in life. In fact, his frustration stemmed from a deep desire to support this underserved population in real, meaningful ways. Academia wasn’t cutting it, so Jeremy took a year off from school to figure out what was next.
When it was time to go back, Jeremy balked. “Maybe I’ll just open a motorcycle shop,” he told his wife. Years earlier, he’d spent seven satisfying and rewarding months learning how to fix bikes.
“You’ll get bored,” his wife, Skye, told him. His response?
“Then maybe I’ll help kids by teaching them to work on bikes.”
Her response? “That’s the best idea you’ve ever had.”
That was all it took. Jeremy was about to start building a unique business, on his own terms.
Jeremy, it’s a huge shift from working on a Ph.D. to running a business. What gave you the courage to take that giant leap?
At the time, I was frustrated. My academic peers didn’t seem to share my complete, unwavering commitment to making things better for kids. When I thought about what I really wanted to be doing with my life, I remembered how grounding it had been to work with my hands, fixing motorcycles. There’s nothing esoteric about it – you turn a screw, it tightens. Do it wrong, someone could die.
But I’d been in school almost all of my adult life. I didn’t want a job. I wanted to do something meaningful. I’m someone who gets bored so quickly, sometimes it feels like a disorder! But when I had the idea for Worth Motorcycles, it just seemed right. Easy. Seamless. There was no long-winded explanation required. And it’s been a pretty rad experience ever since.
What happened after the idea for Worth Motorcycles dropped into your head?
I found a business partner. I guess I wanted another person to legitimize my idea. He’s not involved anymore, but, back then, we would meet a couple times a week to talk about business planning, strategy, marketing and branding.
This friend was a motorcycle guy. I wasn’t. I grew up in the suburbs of Long Island -- I’d never changed oil in my life. I mean, I loved motorcycles, and I raced BMX bikes when I was younger. But I figured I’d be behind the scenes, developing the program for the business. I never imagined I’d be on the front lines working with bikes like I am today.
Worth Motorcycles is a “non-profit organization that teaches at-risk youth the art of vintage motorcycle restoration.” That’s a niche within a niche within a niche!
We’re a 501c3, which is the gold standard for a non-profit. Believe me, when the IRS granted us federal tax-exempt status, it was a big moment.
Today, I have nine or ten volunteers who work with up to 14 participants, who range in age from 14-22. The kids come to us through schools and non-profit organizations that support at-risk youth through vocational training and mentorship. Our apprenticeship is based on a 48-52-week commitment, which is way more than most programs require.
These kids aren’t attending school. They’ve been in foster care or juvenile detention. They have never succeeded at anything in life. Here, they succeed. But it’s not really about building motorcycles. It’s about building the idea you can succeed.
Jeremy, what’s been your steepest learning curve as a small business owner?
Managing money, for sure. Until I started working for myself, I’d always avoided making money the center my life. That mindset definitely made things chaotic. For a while, I was spiraling in chaos – no systems in place, nothing written down, just kids and bikes everywhere. It was a mess!
I knew I needed help. So, I hired an outside accounting/bookkeeping agency that specializes in working with non-profits. Relinquishing control and recognizing my limitations has been a big mind-shift for me. I’ve grown up a bit, I guess.
It hasn’t been easy, because this business is my baby. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that getting help from other people only increases the likelihood of success.
What life lessons have you learned from being an entrepreneur?
We teach our kids if you focus on something, you can succeed. That philosophy helped me start this business without knowing anything. Running a business is hard, but I have no intention of ever working for someone else. I can’t imagine asking for permission to go pick up my son from school. Plus, I’m a control freak.
Maybe more importantly, I’ve learned if you haven’t broken anything, you haven’t really tried. Failure is the precursor to true success. That’s a good thing for business owners to remember. You’ve got to be willing to break stuff.
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