Without A Plan is a story of a smart and confident man whose brash and forward approach to all things, while not for everyone, quickly builds trust with a guaranteed authenticity. Listen while my next guest navigates his way from a small school in Kentucky, a tragic accident that takes his father too soon, to the boardroom of his own investment firm filled with innovative companies and technologies.

Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and I’m very excited to be joined by author Jeremy Delk to celebrate and talk about his new book, Without A Plan. Let’s dive in.

All right everyone, I have Jeremy Delk with me today. I’m super excited to get into this conversation. Skimming through Jeremy’s book, I found some commonalities between him and I, but man, I am so excited to get into your story. Jeremy, you wrote an amazing memoir, thanks for coming on the show. I want you to tell our audience a little bit about who you are, your background, and talk about those early years.

Jeremy Delk: Thanks for having me, excited to be here and to be at this stage in the process. Yeah, I mean, look, I’m a small-town kid from Bardstown, Kentucky, which is known for the bourbon capital of the world. Always had this probably inner drive to do more, see more, and be more, and that led me onto a pretty interesting journey that I talk a lot about in the book.

It’s aptly titled Without A Plan, and that took me everywhere from school in Rhode Island to day trading to New York City on Wall Street, having tea with Sheikh Mohammad in Dubai, everywhere in between. So, it’s been a ride, but this book’s been a lot of fun for me both, and punishing I think to be honest with you, but it’s been a lot of fun to tell both sides of the story, right? 

I mean, for the memoir piece, it started very much as a business book, but I really got deep and personal and shared that side of it, which I think it’s disingenuous not to, right? To see that other side.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, you did such an incredible job pulling me into your book at the beginning. You talk about those early years, especially around your father, which is growing up in auto mechanic shops and the things that your dad did and then, unfortunately, he passed away tragically.

Can you talk to me a little bit about what that was like? Growing up, you’re a young hustler learning the ways, but you looked up to these people who, in a lot of ways, they were doing things to survive, to provide for you all. What was that like growing up in that small town?

Jeremy Delk: Yeah, I mean for me — and look, I’m a genius now because I spent a few hundred thousand dollars in therapy and really unpacking all of the stuff.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Sure, yeah.

Jeremy Delk: Please don’t mistake this for having the system and knowledge in the moment but in hindsight, we had prior to my dad dying, I had in my opinion the best life. I mean, parents that love me, of course your parents shelter you. So, you don’t know everything that’s going on but this always around with family and friends and this feeling of safety. So, it was really a great upbringing, and then I love being creative and hanging out and chilling in my dad’s shop and building stuff and getting greasy.

He was into Harley motorcycles so that was all really cool, and it’s what every boy wants to do, having all these toys to play with effectively, and then when he died, it just really went awry. I mean, you have one side of complete stability then immediate instability.

I, myself and my younger brothers, two years old, my mom really hadn’t worked all that much other than helping out in the shop, doing accounting and stuff. To not losing the house but downsizing several times from a bigger house to a smaller house to a smaller house, and my mom was a young mother.

So, it was very much white and black, right? Polar opposites from what you would want, at least from a child’s perspective, to what you don’t want. And I think that forced me to vis-à-vis become the man of the house, at seven, which was hard, I think. Well, I know that was hard, but it made me grow up really quick and today, I think that is what shaped me as who I am today, very much so, and why I’m so driven and why I do podcasts and things and a lot. 

I’ve got several messages. One of them is, just get started and just get going because you’re not promised tomorrow, and I saw that firsthand.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Man, I love that man. Like I said, I was so sucked in because—and I can’t wait for the weekend, I’m going to devour your book. I had an interesting upbringing. I left Iraq in the 1990s, after the Gulf War.

My parents, we fled, we ended up being refugees but dude, my father was very much the heart of the mini community in that refugee camp. He painted, he invited people over for tea, he got along with the soldiers, he made deals, he started doing paintings for them and selling them and it ended up helping us come out of that refugee camp and come to America.

And that was like, again, when you’re young — like I was six, seven, around your age looking up at my father, I just love you had the toys, you had the motorcycles and everything. My dad got canvass from the torn-up tents around our town and he just started painting, and he would teach me about all of these things and poetry. So, in a lot of ways, there’s like a transfer of energy, right?

I didn’t lose my father at a young age. I did lose him around 2016 when I was much older, but I didn’t appreciate those days as much as I would have loved to, as much as I do now. But it’s interesting how much that transfer of energy, that transfer of power and feeling like, “Okay, now I got to step my game up.” And in your case, you were so young and so impressionable that you had to, like you said, you had to man up and start playing a role that was much different than I’m sure a lot of your peers were playing, right?

So, tell me about that growing up. What was it like for you going into your teenage years and then — because I know you talk about being interested in the stock market in high school, which is, I mean, not a lot of high school students were interested in the stock market, bro —how did your mind sort of start shifting into this entrepreneurship, this mindset of, I’m assuming, wanting to take care of your family?

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/airport-bank-board-business-534216/

Losing It All

Jeremy Delk: Yeah, so it’s unpacking a couple of things. I mean, because it’s not super profound, truly. One small kid sheltered, growing up, I think I wanted to have stability and make money, and where I saw that happening was in New York and obviously, I’m German-English. I actually look a bit Italian maybe with bald head, and maybe work there, but I had too many prospects to be in the mob. 

So, the only thing I knew about New York was Wall Street, right? When my dad died, there was a little bit of insurance money so I was going to get an inheritance of around $30,000 when I was 18, and my mom and dad had a Disney 20th Century Ultra Mutual Fund. And I had started just being self-taught. I mean, I was looking at message boards on the RagingBull online at 16, 17, 18 and looking at the Wall Street Journal, and I self-taught myself, basically, trading because I thought that was a way that I could earn money and again, keep that level where I always wanted more, right? 

Both my parents, or my mother later after my dad died, got a job at the post office. Very safe, she’s on a pension now and it worked out. She married my stepdad, same thing, and we were middle class, upper middle class maybe, the trips to Disney. So, nothing bad but that was never going to be enough for me, right? 

I very much felt like this big-fish-small-pond type of deal, and I always want to just to get out and see more and New York and Wall Street, even though I didn’t know how I was going to get there, there was something I was interested in. So that took me in, started trading and then this was in ‘98, ‘99. I mean, anyone that’s, my age, 42, I remember that like the dot-com era. 

I mean, the market was fucking killing. I mean, we were rolling, and I was a genius, right? So, I took, I quickly cashed out of JDS and QUALCOMM. I’m sorry, out of Disney and the mutual fund and started trading, JDS Uniface, QUALCOMM and very quickly, turned that thirty grand into being able to make 10, 20, $30,000 in a day.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow.

Jeremy Delk: And then I grew it to about $2 million bucks when I was 19. I mean, I bought a condo, buying up ours and just living—I was doing well and then everyone says it’s pretty impressive, and then four days later, I fucking blew the whole thing off and lost it with margin calls and what have you, which was— 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Crazy.

Jeremy Delk: Yeah, which was nuts man. I had a choice at that juncture to pack it in, go home to my mom, sleep on the couch. Small town kid made a run of it and made some money and lost it, but I had nothing to go back to, right? And that’s saying like nothing. 

I had some bad childhood experiences, other than my dad dying, but, I wasn’t going to go home a failure, right? I wasn’t going to quit. So, I had college to go through and those commitments to my mom to finish school, but I bought a condo. I bought a Grand Cherokee. I mean, I had stuff, and I had bills, and I needed to go and make money. 

So, after about four days of, I talk about it in the book, drowning my sorrows through C&C and fucking Jägermeister, I got my ass up and whatnot and made it. But that determination and I think losing all the money was one of the best things ever happened to me, and then that determination to go through and find it and just get out there and do whatever it takes. 

I packed up boxes at UPS, slung clothes at Abercrombie and rented apartments for commission. It was that last thing there that led to a conversation that led to me somehow impressing this head institutional equity trader at a small firm called Fidelity Investments, who gave me a shot.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, what a journey, right? Because you’re so young. You still — I mean, 19 years old, you’re killing it in the stock market, all this stuff, and then in like hindsight the inevitable happens, right? You climb so fast, so high and then the crash happens where there’s like a lesson that needs to be learned, something that needs to click within you to make maybe better decisions or improved decisions.

You look back and you said, “You know what? That bridge, I can go back and go hang out with my mom and just kind of do my little kid thing or I could keep looking into this unknown and figure out more of myself, figure out what is possible.” And then you kept hustling, you kept doing these different jobs. I know, I was reading it in your book that you worked at Abercrombie and like you were doing this weekend job at the UPS and then you just kept hustling because you knew what you were capable of, you just needed a way to get back into it. With Fidelity, what happened there? Like, how did you start working yourself up, and tell me about that?

Jeremy Delk: Yeah, I mean, I was renting apartments for commission. I just started talking to this guy and he even relocated, so it was in corporate housing there going to Boston. We were in North Providence Island and I was just, “Hey what do you do?” Just making small talk and he said he was in equity. 

So, like, “Oh, I know all about the market.” And here’s this fucking 19-year-old kid like, what do you know about the market? And then, I just started spewing off stocks that I knew, and I knew them so well. I could talk about trends, where they traded out during the day and this guy was just like, and that’s what you do in institution.

He’s like, “You’re not trading massive books, you’re usually in an asset class or in a certain amount of equities” and the knowledge specifically on a particular stock or set of stocks is what’s really important, and I knew that because I was day trading these things, tons and tons of times a day. 

So, he was like, “Wow, you have an uncanny feel for the market that takes years to get.” Like, “Well, it took me 18 months” and he’s like, “How did you know that?” Then we just started talking. Like, “Oh well, did this about two million bucks.” I think there’s subheading in the chapter like that’s impressive, but that’s stupid, but fucking impressive, right? 

Because I blew it up and then he starts talking about, “Hey, oh, are you naked?”— meaning, like did I have a covered position on it and things on strategies, I didn’t even know what they were until later on in life but that led to me getting a job, switching to night school because my mother wouldn’t let me drop out. 

Switching to night school, getting—I was the youngest licensed, 37 and 63 trader for Fidelity at the time. I was 19 years old, and I mean, you have to legally be 18 by the FCC. So, I don’t know if anyone’s beat me but it’s possible, I guess, and I did really, really well there. So well that I got a promotion and moved to New York City on Wall Street and that was when I was 20 years old, which was a pretty fricking cool. And again, without a plan, I didn’t know how to get there, but that was short lived. 

It was a successful career but for me, I’m an entrepreneur. Now, I think 20 years later, you see that but I was always this creative and had all these ideas and I would go and pitch these ideas to my superiors at Fidelity and I would always get them shot down, so much. Like, you hear me speak now. I don’t sound like I’m from Kentucky, but I used to have like this southern twang and whatever. 

I literally changed my dialect because I thought, “Maybe my ideas are good, I know they are, but just maybe I just sound dumb, the way I speak.” So I try to even change my inflection more like this New Yorker to go through, and what I found is that in corporate America versus being in business — which is two paths man especially when you get to where I was getting — all you got to do is not fuck up, right? 

You just hold on, you’re done, you’ll retire a multimillionaire, you’re golden, just don’t fuck it up, and I was getting a head start at such a young age but at that point, I was 21 in New York, and I just said it wasn’t for me and I made a decision. I called my mom up after she just recovered from me fucking losing everything and now, she’s like, so proud, apple of her eye, her son’s in New York City doing well, making more than her and her husband and I told her I was going to resign. 

She said, “What? Why the fuck are you thinking you’d resign?” But she knows me enough and knew me enough that when I said I was going to do something, I was going to do it. So, I founded Delk Enterprises in 2001. That company is still around. I still own 100 percent of it and that’s the main investment vehicle that’s done all my deals in the last 20 some odd years. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s amazing. Again, at such a young age. So how old were you when you started Delk Enterprises? 

Jeremy Delk: 21. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow. Man, that’s incredible and so you kept hacking away at it, doing these investments and sort of really opening yourself up to an amazing array of experiences because your whole deep philosophy of wanting more, seeing more, experiencing more. So, can you talk a little bit about how you go from this 21-year-old who is obviously very bright and very committed to kind of building up a Fortune 500 company? 

What does it take? Did you have to build a team? Again, you’re so young and so committed, you had this warrior attitude it feels like. What happened in the next ten years as we went into the recession and then sort of how did you survive that? 

Without a Plan

Jeremy Delk: Yeah, I mean, I think and this is indicative of the title of the book, came very much towards the end when we’re putting together when I was on the podcast the other day, and it is called Join Up Dots and they’re like, “Wow, we do a lot of these and there is no fucking way you can track this story” right? I think there is no logical progression of—

Hussein Al-Baiaty: There’s no plan. 

Jeremy Delk: Yeah, there’s no plan. So, I think that a lot of it was my advantage of being so young that I was naïve that I just took everything on with the maybe even arrogance that I could figure it out, number one. And I think the second is the passion and that I was walking without a net, right? I didn’t have a safety net or a backstop, so failure wasn’t an option. I could get a failure, but I just needed to recover and understand what I need to do different the next time. 

So again, it is much easier to see those lessons in hindsight, but I think for me, it was just this was my dream, this was my destiny and my passion to do it, and I truly think me falling on my ass at 19 and losing everything gave me the confidence at 21 to risk it again, right? I made $6,000 my first year in business, but I had savings, so it was okay, but I knew I couldn’t live off $6,000, but I proved to myself prior that I have the ability to earn income. 

I have the ability to make money, but I want to go do it, and something that I love and I think that’s been the anchor for me ever since, and I think it stems from this creative component of wanting to learn and experience new things like I wanted to—I was doing real estate development and then I went into building materials at a European window and door manufacturing company.

I mean, so many different things that I ventured into, and you wouldn’t think there was a logical progression to the next business but there was. It was largely from just being open and having conversations. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, and it sounds like that’s kind of been your forte, right? It is being so open to these different conversations and opportunities that, and I am naïve to just be like, “You know what? I am going to try that. I am going to take a risk.” And again, you were so young that it didn’t really matter if you are going to fail because the failing is just going to teach you something that you needed to know for the next step, for the next mission.

In today’s world, man, I mean, especially as young people in a lot of ways — not all but some — we’re obsessed with planning and perfectionism. I believe that is rooted in fears. You can plan things, but you can certainly overplan it, right? But you have this, you talk about this in your book, but you have this ability to say, you know what? Get started. That getting started. And you also, the idea of entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and you’re building an airplane on the way down. 

I love that because it is so true. I built a print shop in my buddy’s basement of his barber shop when I was in college. I was 21, 22. There was a need at the university for printing and I was like, “Yeah, I can do that” I had no idea. I was on YouTube learning how to print but I had this artistic ability. I had talents, I had graphic design abilities and so I just kind of started mushing them together and building this small little t-shirt company. 

Anyways, that ended up growing, we ended up growing it and printing for Nike and so on and so forth, but it was just like, a lot of people around me were like, “Well, how are you doing this and how are you going to get money for this?” There were so many questions that had I listened to the people around me, it would have for sure just ended it right there, right? I got the basement of that barber shop, I was like, “Here is $250.” 

I literally cashed out my financial aid and instead of buying books that semester, I went and bought, like, I spent 1,200 bucks and bought the machines I needed, right? I was like, “Dude, I don’t know if I can pay you next month, but I have to try this.” And it was just one of those moments in time where I am so glad I did because yes, I was able to pay him late the next month but I was able to pay him the 200 bucks a month or whatever it was. 

But it gave me an opportunity to go against the grain and answer those questions as I was “falling” and building this airplane, and you talk about this. I have my nephews and nieces and they want to do things and I say to them, “Just go try it.” Quit trying to plan it, quit trying to make sense of it. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. What do you say to all of that? What do you say to people who are obsessing over this perfectionism, things have to be absolutely in the right place before I “start?” 

Analysis Paralysis 

Jeremy Delk: I mean, it’s the fucking death, right? I mean, it’s the death of so many great life-changing humanitarian changing ideas, is this process by analysis and not getting started. I’ll give $150,000 in cash to anyone that calls in or emails your show that shows me a fucking business plan that was written in 2019 or prior that planned for a global fucking pandemic. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right. 

Jeremy Delk: It happened, right? There is not one. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Zero. 

Jeremy Delk: Like you can’t plan for certain things, number one. Number two, you don’t have the information because you are not there and number three, it could be the wrong plan. I got into the window and door business in early Delk Enterprises, in the retail setting. If I had a plan to be the best retail window and door business, I never would have a manufacturing facility with my own brand in Germany and Italy. 

It would have been the wrong plan, but I didn’t know that that was even on the ladder or the trajectory of what was next. So, you just have to get going because you are going to, with time and action, you are going to be more informed and armed with more information to make better decisions. A lot of times you have these plans and then you get to a stumbling block and you’re like, it’s just like butting your head against the wall. 

“Oh well, I can’t do anything else because this is what my plan said I had to do” as opposed to like, “All right, take this thing face on. How do I get around it?” And you can be more nimble.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I love that approach so much, and it is what led you to grow your business, grow your enterprise and open up, keep the doors open to these other opportunities that could lead. I think opportunities lead us to a better understanding of ourself, right? You may dip into something and you’re like, “Ooh, I don’t like that” so you dip out of it, and you might dip into something that you — I started speaking in 2011, just to some high school kids and sharing my story and man, I just fell in love with it. At first, I was like speaking, I have never done that before. And a friend of mine asked me, just like you, just through conversations, “Hey, why don’t you come to my class and tell your story? I think it would be great. I need to grade stuff anyway, so it will use up time.” But I go do this thing for 45 minutes and it changes the trajectory of what I was able to do. 

I was like, “Oh wow, I had this ability that I would have never discovered had I not had that conversation and the courage to say, ‘Yeah, sure I’ll do it. What’s the worst that can happen?’” We are a 100% right, you know planning two years, five years, or just having a planning system, not that it’s bad in having strategies and things like that but the learning process that goes along with not knowing is so profound. 

Jeremy Delk: Yes. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: So how did you — I got to ask you this — how did you end up drinking chai with Sheikh Mohammad? How did that happen in Dubai? 

Jeremy Delk: He is actually from your hood, bro. So, it was saffron tea from Iraq. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Oh wow, tell me more man. 

Jeremy Delk: Saffron, some of the best saffron in the world with camel milk. I can’t tell you man, you got to finish the book this week and then you’re going to be able to get the full story.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I know, man, come on. Yeah, yeah. 

Jeremy Delk: It’s a great story but you know, back in one of my businesses I was in animal health. We were doing regenerative medicine and Sheik Mohammad, besides being a visionary — and obviously he built a phenomenal city called Dubai — he is a huge lover of animals, all animals, especially his horses and camels. So, we were over there helping him with some regenerative medicine to help with like osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, using an all-natural approach. 

Using the body’s own ability, not just drugs to help. So, I don’t know if you read the preface of the book, the introduction, but there is a line. It is something like, “When you’re being driven in the desert, when you’re pretty sure that you’re being taken in the middle of the desert to be killed without witnesses, there are two scenarios that you can go: bribe the driver or recount your life and come to the conclusion that you’d probably do everything all over the same way” and then sing “I did it my way” with Sinatra with gusto. 

I choose number two. That was me in the car headed to meet Sheik Mohammad, and it was just phenomenal. I have been able to be his guest a few times and just such a generous and nice guy. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: So powerful. What a journey. Jeremy, man, like I said, I am super excited to get into your book. What would you say — writing a book man, it’s such a huge feat. I don’t think people understand. Like for me when I wrote mine, it was like a year and a half, two years of just recollecting, going back into those memories, and going through your book, I love seeing all the pictures. 

It is sort of an affirmation to yourself that you have lived this beautiful journey in life and you talk about that, that life is a journey. It is a process of unfolding yourself. You obviously have built such a remarkable life and you are still chasing it, getting after it, which I really appreciate. Writing a book was, for me, so cathartic. Did you feel that way too throughout writing your book? 

Jeremy Delk: Yeah, I mean especially because I think I dug in and, obviously it was Scribe. I can’t say enough about how helpful that process was from the team, especially by Scribe. I mean, I think I even dedicated a big part of it in the acknowledgements because she held me accountable to stuff and really kind of pulled through, and that’s why it’s as painful because dude. I mean, I have lived a pretty cool life, but there’s some fucking bad shit too, you know what I mean? 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, of course. 

Jeremy Delk: I kept it so honest and that’s why the “Why are you chasing it?”, right? Because man, I can tell you, I got a lot of watches and a lot of cars, but you can’t buy watches and cars to get happy, right? They’re fucking cool and fun, but I went through all of that and it was really that journey to find out what your why is, and I think that is something everyone needs to just really go through, and I share with you mine, right? 

What happened, and the shit that I did wrong, that hopefully my kids will read one day to understand that I was just chasing something — that I just internally wasn’t happy, right? You need to look into that because there was something that was missing and you were struggling. Mine was probably stemmed from my dad because I never really wanted to get close to anybody because I never wanted to get hurt again. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. Dude, that is so powerful, Jeremy. I am so glad you hit on that because in 2020 actually, I ended up selling my print shop and started a new trajectory and like literally, I sold the shop and then the year after, I launched my book, but there was like a six month period. In a way, there was like a grieving of my past self because I’ve realized the things that used to motivate me, right? 

The things that really push me and all these, a lot of it was external, not that that was a bad thing, but it was a different driver that I need to focus on was more internal, which is when I got therapy and all these things, right? Because I knew, I didn’t even realize how traumatized I was going through that freaking refugee camp, right? 

Jeremy Delk: Right. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: But until I wrote the book, I was like, “Wow, I need help and I need to help myself in so many different ways and now, the trajectory is so different. What drives me so different than obviously when I was like this young warrior mentality, right? 

Jeremy Delk: Right. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Which is so powerful, and I am glad you touched on that. So, congratulations to you, man. I mean, again, writing a book is such a feat and proud of you man. I think we all need to hear stories like yours and I am so glad you sort of memoir’d your wisdom. A lot of people write business books, not that they’re bad or anything. They’re amazing but they weave stories of other business people like Jeff Bezos, and it disconnects from their wisdom that they are trying to share. 

You did such an incredible job by weaving your memoir, your own story, your own personal life, which I love because it takes a lot of vulnerability to do that, to tell the truth about who you are. So, man, I learned so much today. What’s one thing you hope people take away from your book? 

Jeremy Delk: The biggest piece is you don’t have to have it all figured out, right? I don’t care if it’s leaving a job, starting a new business, starting a new relationship, making a new hire, developing a new product, whatever your thing is, you don’t have to have it all figured out. And this book, as I even opened up, it is 20 years of me building real businesses, all of which survived me, right? 

I have sold them onto the next and they still exist, and so they’re real businesses and I hadn’t a fucking clue what I was doing. Now, I had a vision of where I wanted to go. I built a certain level of skills along the way, that’s why all of these failures I’ve had have helped me beef up, but you don’t have to have it all figured out. And just get started because you are not promised tomorrow. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Love that. That is an important, very important, it probably is the most important lesson of all time. 

Jeremy Delk: Yeah.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Just start because it is not promised, that’s awesome, man. Thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you for sharing your stories, your experiences. So, the book is called, Without A Plan: A Memoir of Unbound Action and Failing My Way to Success. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you Jeremy? 

Jeremy Delk: Jeremy S. Delk on all socials and jeremydelk.com. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: jeremydelk.com, love it. Thank you so much for joining today, Jeremy. I appreciate you. 

Jeremy Delk: Be well, cheers.