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Businessman owns five companies at age 23

Sunday, November 25, 2007 | 12:00 p.m. CST; updated 2:53 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Adam Guy stands in front of a selection of baked goods at Upper Crust on Elm Street.

Adam Guy is only 23, but he already owns five businesses. Direct Wristbands, The Upper Crust, Cold Stone Creamery, the Elm Street Ballroom and the Magic of Adam Guy run the commercial gamut from customizable wristbands to eateries to magic shows. At his core is an entrepreneurial drive, something fostered in the Columbia native at an early age by family, lemonade and some magic.

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I had an entrepreneurial spirit even when I was a little kid. One of the first memories I have of that is we lived over in the Grasslands, about half a mile from the football stadium. I would run home before the football games were over and set up a lemonade stand.

I was a magician — still am. I’ve done magic since I was five years old. I had a lot of success with my magic at a young age, performing three or four shows a week, staying consistently booked. I kind of learned business on my own as I built the little business of magic. My family always told me I could do anything I wanted to do, and they allowed me to do anything I wanted to do.

Columbia’s like a family reunion every day for me. My parents live here, my sister lives here, my aunt and uncle live here, both sets of grandparents live here. I have another aunt who’s going to move here when she retires. My family’s always been extremely supportive of everything I’ve ever done. Everyone within my immediate family is pretty entrepreneurial as well. When we’re all at home, we’ve always been able to bounce ideas off of each other and come up with promotions for people’s businesses; a collaborative effort.

As Guy made his way through Jefferson Junior High School and Rock Bridge High School, basketball became his forte. His love of the sport ultimately drove his decision to attend college at MU.

I was a point guard and a shooting guard. Never saw a shot I didn’t like. My goal at that point was to play basketball in college. That’s actually the reason why I ended up at the University of Missouri. I was a walk on for the University of Missouri basketball team for a year. We were ranked third in the country. It was really a humbling experience. I went from being in high school, touching the ball, in every play, taking 70 percent of the shots, to wiping up sweat on the floor for players who were a lot better than me.

As a sophomore, Guy traded in his basketball shoes for business sense. He made a run at a business importing silicone wristbands. Direct Wristbands became one of the first wristband companies in the nation. Today, Guy sells 10,000 wristbands daily to an international market.

Timing was right; everything just came together all at once. It was just an idea we had. My dad and I were driving in the car one day, and I had just gotten my first Lance Armstrong wristband someone had given to me. We were just talking about the wristband and how many had been sold, like 2 million. We were saying, “Man, that’s incredible that they did that. I wonder how else you could use these wristbands.” I went ahead and made University of Missouri wristbands that said “Go Tigers” on them. And landed a deal with a lot of local vendors who would sell my wristbands in their stores. I purchased 10,000 wristbands from a manufacturer out of California that had access to people in China. I ordered 10,000, and they were all gone in a week. We could make those in any color or for any organizations. Then I started investigating it because I knew I had something at that point that was really hot. I actually started researching about China; took my dad over to China with me and found a factory that would make wristbands for us. I cut out the middle-man and became the middle-man.

Guy’s entrepreneurial drive was just revving up. More businesses have followed. A year and a half ago, a family friend and Elm Street landlord, Freddie Demarco, gave Guy the opportunity to work his way into the restaurant business. Guy took him up on the offer and added the Upper Crust lunch hot spot, Cold Stone Creamery and the Elm Street Ballroom to Direct Wristbands and his magic company, the Magic of Adam Guy.

I went to him because I was possibly interested in getting into the restaurant business. He encouraged me not to open up a restaurant, and actually gave me an opportunity to purchase Cold Stone from him. And then about six months later, the Upper Crust was available for sale downtown. Since I was already right next to it, it made a good transition for me to step right into it.

You kind of get consumed by it. There is a fine line between maintaining your businesses and then also keeping some sort of a personal life. Most successful entrepreneurs are perfectionists to some degree, want everything to be perfect and want everything to succeed. To do that, it really is a hands-on thing. You have to be there, and you have to be involved. My identity probably is very wrapped up in my companies.

But the fact that I can kind of come down here and put out fires all day, it’s kind of entertaining for me. I like it. From the moment I walk in the door I get bombarded with 10 different things from 10 different people. It’s exciting; it’s fast-paced. It keeps me out of trouble.

Guy is wrapping up his degree at the University of Missouri as a senior communications major. Operating five businesses has made him pull back in school as a part-time student. But he continues his education through real-world experience.

I was in the business school, and then I started my own business and realized I was getting my MBA in the real world. I’m a firm believer that real life experience is worth a lot more than the classroom experience. Not that you don’t want to have that, but I think so many times people miss the boat. I never let schooling interfere with my education.

I don’t really know where I’m going to be five years from now, but I do know that it will be in a different place than I am right now because that’s the nature of this business. The thing about being an entrepreneur is you can never get too attached to what you have. The sign of a good entrepreneur is also to know when to let go, to take what you’ve built and sell it to somebody else and roll that money into something else. It’s all based on opportunities.

Life takes you on all different kinds of twists and turns. As a kid I wanted to be 100 different things. The things I am now were never listed in the things I wanted to be. If you would have told me that I would know how to make ice cream and how to cook and I would know how to speak words in Chinese, I would have never imagined it. You never know what’s next in life; you better be ready.


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