Tomas Gorny: When I was living in Germany, I was 17 years old and had learned the language. I decided that the PC industry is growing, so I started a PC distribution company. We were buying different PC components from vendors, assembling them to computers, and then selling them to businesses and individuals. What I started noticing was that people were discriminating against me because of my Eastern European accent. On top of it, I was very young. It would have been unheard of for somebody of 16 years of age to go into business. You had to be 28 to 30 to be credible and to be considered legitimate. I wasn’t just young but I was perceived as this stupid and young Polish guy. But what I also noticed was, because of that, people were significantly looser with their words around me. I told myself, “I can use this to my advantage.” Because I was purchasing from vendors, I was able to navigate through those companies very smartly. I was able to make some of the best deals of my life because people weren’t paying attention.
With that, I learned a very valuable lesson. One of them was to never underestimate anybody in your life regardless of their looks, demeanor, accent, and dress code. The second lesson that I have learned, which I think is far more important and which stuck with me for the rest of my life, is that we are who we are – not despite of our weaknesses and obstacles, but because of our weaknesses and obstacles. My experience would have been different if I didn’t’ have this particular accent.
Sramana Mitra: Adversity is what teaches you.
Tomas Gorny: Right. Because I had run into that obstacle, I personally believe that I had to work twice as smart and twice as hard as anyone else to achieve the same result. As a result of that, I was significantly successful than any of my competitors. That ended up shaping my personal DNA for the rest of my life and shaped the businesses that I started afterwards. We can succeed regardless of our obstacles. Our obstacles can propel a lot of our success.
Sramana Mitra: What year did you come to the United States?
Tomas Gorny: I had already decided early on that Germany was a temporary place I was going to be in. I was going to America, the land of opportunities. In the early ’90’s, America was perceived as the land of opportunities. I wanted to be there. I ended up coming to America in 1996.
Sramana Mitra: Did you come to America as a student?
Tomas Gorny: No. I knew I wanted to come but I didn’t know where and how. I was intrigued by Beverly Hills because it’s a wonderful place to be. At the age of 17, I decided to buy a ticket and come to America and visit. I stayed for four months. I ended up going back, winding up my business down in the next couple of years, and coming to America in 1996. When I came to America, I came with a few dollars and whatever I got from the sale of the business. I brought enough money to survive for probably six to eight months with no credit. Then I hired an immigration lawyer in LA and I started my first business with somebody else. We started in 1996. This business wasn’t doing as well, so I ran out of all my money.