“There are two hundred million idiots, manipulated by a million intelligent men”
– Pablo Escobar
Life lessons from the world’s greatest drug dealer
Last winter I read The Accountant’s Story, a fascinating look at Pablo Escobar’s massive cocaine empire. While most people probably know about Escobar in a mythical sense, he’s the subject of a million rap songs, his actual life was far more complex and interesting than you had probably realized.
Despite being a criminal who was invested in a product that sells itself (drugs), Escobar worked harder than most people ever will. Here are just a few of the important life lessons that I learned from reading about one of the world’s greatest drug dealers:
From humble beginnings
Pablo Escobar grew up poor. His father was a farmer and his mother taught school. In Columbia neither of these are lucrative professions. The family lived in a bad area and were almost killed during riots when Pablo was a child. Eventually he, and his brother Roberto, were sent to live with their grandmother in Medellin.
Despite being from poverty Pablo never played the victim card. In fact, he decided to become a millionaire by the age of 22. Something he accomplished by becoming an appliance smuggler (there were huge tariffs on washing machines and other devices) and reforming Columbia’s entire contraband network.
Even if Escobar had never sold drugs he still would have managed to do quite well for himself.
Every business takes serious work
Whether you’re selling drugs or affiliate marketing, you’re going to need to put in an effort. There are certain products that are always going to be hot. People will do anything to get them. Diet crazes, some new video game, drugs, the list is endless. Yet most people would still strike out.
For every Pablo Escobar there’s a million losers selling meth out of their trailer park.
It’s the same with copywriting or sales. Some people can make a horrible product look good. Others can be handed a golden item and still screw it up. If you’re going to phone it in don’t expect to bask in the rewards.
If something as straightforward as “sell illegal drugs to fiends who will do anything to get them” takes work, a legal venture is going to be even more difficult.
Bigger rewards mean bigger risks
The higher you climb the more people try to snipe you. I’ve been following the Danger and Play Twitter war over Gamer Gate. While it’s brought a lot of exposure to the brand, thousands of deranged weirdos have started showing up to cause trouble.
As Escobar grew his cocaine industry he faced all new enemies. To deal with them he used a method called “plata o plomo.”
This translates to “silver or lead.”
He’d try to bribe his enemies and get them to leave him alone. If that didn’t work, he’d murder them.
In any war, even a cultural one, you can’t let the bad guys get away. Your enemy will always regroup and try to destroy you later. Look at every man who has tried to reason with the SJW and Gawker crowd. They’d try and compromise only to get annihilated.
If you have to fight go the distance and make sure you actually win. Compromise or side stepping an issue only delays the problem temporarily.
One man’s filth is another man’s god
My biggest beef with The Accountant’s Story was its portrayal of Pablo Escobar. The book was coauthored by his brother, Roberto, and tries to paint Escobar as some kind of misunderstood man. Pablo Escobar might have been a great warrior and businessman, but he was no saint. Thousands of innocent people were killed in various drug wars that Escobar instigated.
Still, the man was beloved by many of Columbia’s poorest people. He built new schools and soccer stadiums for them, earning himself a Robin Hood like reputation.
Mass murderer Charles Manson just got married. Joran van der Sloot knocked up his prison guard. And Che Guevara is treated like a hero.
Even if half the world hates you, you’ll still find supporters. You could anger a huge segment of the population and someone would still have your back. Being infamous is still better than being a nobody.
When 70% of the population hates you and the other 30% are your allies, you’re in a better position than most people. The guys who act like “Mr. Friendly” and try to get everyone on their side are the ones who get steamrolled.
I enjoyed this book a lot and got some quality lessons out of it.
In addition to learning some neat parallels between the drug trade and the information industry, I also discovered some really cool facts:
- Every year rats and mice would eat over one billion dollars of Escobar’s money.
- The drug operation required $2,500 worth of rubber bands to be purchased every month.
- Escobar’s Return on investment for cocaine was 20,000%.
If you’re looking for a good wintertime read, check this book out.