Jordan Langer is the Founder of Project Wreckless. Project Wreckless flips the lives of at risk youth, teaching them practical trade skills through classic car restoration. The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center took a moment to catch up with Jordan on his journey thus far.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
JL: Entrepreneurship is the ability to have an inspired vision for the world, and the willingness and readiness to learn, iterate, and overcome failures as you figure out how to make your vision a reality.
How did your organization come to be?
JL: Philanthropy and community give back is very important to me. After years of supporting various causes and contributing personally (time, money, effort), I became frustrated with the lack of positive impact I was seeing. I believe that no one is in a position to complain about anything if they are unwilling to do something about it themselves. I care deeply about social issues, particularly those affecting our youth, so I decided to channel my frustration into actually doing something that makes a difference. This is why I founded Project Wreckless, a capacity development program that supports marginalized youth in San Francisco – including some of the most at-risk – those who are more likely to drop out of school, abuse substances, and/or engage in criminal activity.
What is the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far?
JL: No matter how much you care, how much money you contribute, or how much time or effort you dedicate, you cannot help everyone. This is particularly challenging as Project Wreckless is a non-profit that supports under-served youth. We are working with a sensitive demographic and our approach has to be reflective of such. We constantly have to assess our program and iterate based on our learnings of what is working and what is not, and still, sometimes we have to be okay with not making the impact that we so desire on every youth participant.
How is your company changing the landscape?
JL: We are addressing the issues of our under-served youth in a holistic way through therapy, communication, and blue collar job training. Project Wreckless provides the “tools for life” through an immersive curriculum centered around the restoration of classic cars.
Our program is unique in that our youth rotate through a set of other job roles necessary for the effective operations of an auto shop. Quantitative skills learned include auto mechanics, accounting, responsible social media, public speaking, scheduling, people management, and budgeting. Qualitative skills learned include teamwork, collaboration, conflict resolution, and communication. Together, these qualitative and quantitative skills comprise the “tools for life” toolbox that Project Wreckless provides to each student. At Project Wreckless, we expect more of our youth, so they gain the confidence to expect more from themselves.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
JL: I wish I would have run Project Wreckless like a for-profit business from the start. I learned that although the business model is different from my for-profit companies, the strategy and the tools for success must be similar – from hiring, to planning, to financial modeling, to fundraising, to execution metrics.
What advice or credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
JM: Nothing is given – everything is earned.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
JL: Working alone is much harder than working with a team. There’s the obvious workload imbalance when working alone, but the more impactful missing factor is the lack of support. I value my partners for the support that they give me – both in good times and in bad. I’m lucky enough to partner with one of my best friends and my wife at Project Wreckless. Together, we have learned to respect each other’s strengths, and support each other’s weaknesses by filling in the blanks. Project Wreckless would not be what it is without our passionate Board and staff showing up every day and modeling the behaviors that our program instills in our youth. When building a team, you are not simply looking for a warm body to fill a role or to do a specific set of tasks. You are looking for a passionate player to add to your roster, who cares about your mission, who wants to level-up the current state, and who is excited to come to work every day. Hiring for culture fit is essential – without shared values around work, communication, and effectiveness, expectations for success are limited.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
JL: I find inspiration within the challenge itself. I am inspired to find a solution, to overcome it, to fix it, and to come out better as a person because of it.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
JL: Success is seeing genuine smiles on the faces of our youth, watching them learn how to resolve conflict in their own lives using the toolkit that we’ve provided them, and graduating the program more mature, more confident, and more stable than when they joined. All youth dream about what life will be like when they grow up. Seeing our youth find a path towards making this dream a reality is enough success to last a lifetime. With this being said, success is impacting another human being’s life for the better. On our last days, this is all that will matter. In order for Project Wreckless to be successful, we need to grow and scale. We need donor support to fund our program and we need community support to engage our youth both.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey.
JL: My proudest moment is celebrating the graduation of our youth. The benefit of this is that it happens every year, and every year it’s the culmination of days, weeks, and months of effort into a magical evening of reflection and gratitude. Seeing the pride on the graduates’ faces touches everyone in the room – staff, volunteers, parents, friends, family, and most importantly, the other youth participants in our program, because they become more inspired to earn their spot at graduation too.
My darkest moments are hearing the stories of our youth – their struggles, their hardships, and the sad, scary and even unimaginable things (for most of us) that they have experienced. It’s hard to reconcile with many of these realities, but this only makes Project Wreckless stronger and our fire to fill in the deficiencies more passionate.
What lesson did 2019 have for you? What do you look forward to in 2020?
JL: 2019 has been a year where we realized our need for the implementation of process, planning, and organization. 2020 is the year where I look forward to making this happen. We cannot grow and scale or impact more youth if our infrastructure is weak. I’ve learned this at Project Wreckless and I’ve learned this at my other companies, as well. The proper infrastructure will allow us to support many more youth in our community and to expand Project Wreckless’ footprint to other communities in the US.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision. Would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
JL: A goal of mine was to never have to set an alarm. Now, with a two year old and a four year old, there’s no need. I spend each morning with my boys as we all get ready for the day. Before I leave the house, I set a task list of all the things I need to tackle.
This organizes my mind and makes the goals tangible. Time is the most valuable asset and it’s the one thing you cannot make more of. I optimize my time the best I can, never forgetting what is truly important, which is my family. I come home most nights by
7pm for a dedicated two hours of play and interaction with my kids before they go to bed and I jump back into work for several more hours. I’m a night owl – for better or for worse! Time with my boys grounds me and gives my mind a much needed chance to recharge.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
JL: I want my legacy to be that of someone who worked hard to earn everything he achieved, and someone who put positive impact over revenue.