Arnold Kubei’s first big gamble as an entrepreneur was, he acknowledges, a calamity.
After launching his own janitorial business, amassing $30,000 in savings, and maxing out his credit cards, Kubei had secured a deal to purchase a gas station and convenience store in the east metro suburb of Maplewood. It was a huge opportunity for Kubei, an asylee from Cameroon who came to the U.S. with his mother and brother in 2007.
But the gas station dream turned into a nightmare when he discovered that an underground gas storage tank on the property was leaking—a defect that Kubei says the seller should have disclosed. Regardless, the repairs were too costly for Kubei’s budget. Without revenue from gasoline sales, the business failed.
“I lost everything. My car was repossessed. I was taken to court for not paying my rent,” recalled Kubei.
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He subsequently landed a job at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, in Moose Lake, where he worked as a security counselor. The grueling commute from the Twin Cities got to be too much, so Kubei moved on to a job with the City of Minneapolis.
After six months, he knew he wanted to work for himself. He took a leap and incorporated Metro Care Human Services. The company’s mission: Leverage state and federal dollars to find community-based housing alternatives for nursing home residents, people with disabilities, former prisoners, and other hard-to-house folk.
From modest beginnings and a handful of clients, the firm grew quickly, prompting Kubei to launch a second business, Home Sweet Home of Minnesota. That company, based out of Woodbury (where it shares offices with Metro Care), acquires duplexes and apartment buildings in the Twin Cities and then converts them into assisted-living facilities. The company offers an array of services to tenants at its properties.
“Last year, our combined revenue was $3.7 million and we are projecting $5.5 million next year. We have 45 employees,” said the 33-year-old Kubei, who now lives with his wife and two young children in the leafy east metro suburb of Lake Elmo.
Kubei talked to Sahan Journal about what he learned from his early failures and how he turned things around.
Bankruptcy isn’t forever: “The biggest catch to my story is to not give up, to not be discouraged. I failed. I went bankrupt. But I stayed consistent to my vision.
“Since I lost everything back in 2014, I have not failed on any single thing I’ve done. Bankruptcy was a learning experience.”
On navigating state bureaucracies: “One day, I got my first referral. I didn’t know what to do. But I did the paperwork and asked a friend how to bill the state. I got log-on information from the state, set up an account, went to billing training.”
A risky loan can be worth the risk: “When I was starting out, I thought, Why can’t I just open my own [assisted living] home? But because of the bankruptcy, I couldn’t get a regular loan. When I took out a mortgage for a duplex in Burnsville, it was 15 percent down and interest only.
“After COVID hit and everybody was asked to quarantine, I started investing more heavily in housing. I knew that providing housing to people with disabilities was going to be a niche.”
Once you find a business plan that works, keep growing the business: “As soon as I started making a little bit of money, I forced my wife to quit her job so she could be in the office while I was looking for more clients. Long story short, one day, she quit her job and I used the money from those first clients to continue expanding.
When we got to five staff and 30 clients, I decided to leave our small office and we moved into 2,400-square foot space. I knew we would grow into it.”