When it comes to how far Sean "Diddy" Combs can go with his money-making exploits, the hip hop mogul himself is unsure about the prospect. "I don't know," is the simple answer he gives Forbes' J.J. Colao after being asked whether he thinks he could be hip hop's first billionaire.
But when it comes to evaluating others' chances to achieve the type of entrepreneurial successes that he has, particularly the younger generation of Americans that comes from low-income areas, the $500 million man is much more adamant.
"I think especially with kids from the inner city, they're natural born entrepreneurs because they have to figure out how to survive. So they have it in their DNA," the music icon told Bloomberg Businessweek before the annual National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge ceremony. "An organization like this can show them that they have it inside of them and can show them how to relate what they're learning in school to their street smarts and street savvy."
The National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge is a yearly competition that hands a $25,000 cash prize to the most impressive of young businessmen and women. The contest is held by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a non-profit organization that just recently received a $1.2 million grant from MasterCard and a $250,000 donation from Combs.
For those kids who, like Combs (a Harlem, New York, native) , aspire to make it from the inner-city into the world of entrepreneurial success, the three-time Grammy award winner said that it all starts with looking around communities and asking, "what would you want?" he told Forbes. He also told BusinessWeek that he is the "poster child" for taking the type of street smarts that are unique to the environment in which he grew up and applying them to business.
And if he didn't say it himself, his résumé may well have. The artist was born in a public housing project in 1969 and grew up in a single-parent household after his father, who was a cohort of the infamous New York City drug dealer and "American Gangster" Frank Lucas, was killed.
Since then, however, Combs founded Bad Boy Records at the age of 23 in 1993 and has gone on to diversify an impressive portfolio that includes his Sean John clothing line, a profit-sharing agreement with Diageo's Ciroc vodka, the Blue Flame talent agency and the soon-to-debut Revolt music channel that is set to hit airwaves this month for Comcast and Time Warner Cable customers.
And while Diddy shows an unapologetic affection for the inner-city entrepreneur, he also provides a bit of advice for every aspiring businessman and woman.
“I know it sounds a little cliché, but common sense will answer a lot of your questions,” Combs told Colao. “A lot of people get so caught up on trying to be a business mogul instead of being practical, an actual consumer.”
Combs also told Forbes that another key to his success was closing his eyes to dream, but opening to see what was needed to build a bridge between those dreams and reality. Back when he was in his early twenties, those open eyes were looking at improbable odds of fortune. Today, they're looking at a personal net worth according to Forbes of $580 million.
Despite the jaw-dropping numbers, though, Combs says that he defines success, not by the amount of dollars he is away from achieving billionaire status, but by the amount of people he is able to affect and the large scale of investment his able to make in the next generation of talented young entrepreneurs.
"The way I define my success is how many people I'm able to affect their lives in a positive way. I have people that I pay, over 1,000 employees. And from a kid coming from Harlem, if I could do it, then hopefully that inspires somebody else to do it."
Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images