Ob Lugo (a.k.a. OB the Barber) comes from a family of business owners. Ob recalls subconsciously thinking it would be the norm for him to do the same. “It wasn’t something that was unreachable,” he says.
Ob has been cutting hair since 1998, beginning with friends and family, which helped develop his skills. He eventually got a job at a small barbershop in New Haven, where he realized, “Out of 10 of us who worked there, six or seven of us now have own barbershop.”
A Sharp Idea
While serving time in prison, Ob was able to focus on his determination and future dreams. “I wrote down everything I wanted to do when I was doing time—I still have that plan. But I didn’t include the sequence of events,” he notes. “I knew if I ever wanted to do something, I’d have to educate myself. One thing I learned from my time in prison was that when you pair any skills you have with more knowledge, you enhance them.”
In prison Ob also read an introduction to business book a few times and did the accompanying business course on his own. “Once I began to understand that your business and your life are the same, I kept reading,” he says.
“That was the beginning of me changing my life. I was able to see how the patterns of business and real life collide with each other. I realized that if I conduct myself with ethics and grace, then my business is going to be successful. I’ll have good relationships. I’ll have good understanding of people. I’ll be able to live better,” Ob continues. “I realized that if I treat myself like a good business owner and I no longer act like a liability my business will flourish.
Independence and Opportunity
Ob was one year out of prison and in the process of building clientele for his barbershop business when he reconnected with Daryl McGraw, who was Director of the Office of Recovery Community Affairs for the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services at the time. Since then, he founded an organization that mentors men in the criminal justice system and is now Senior Reentry Analyst at Central Connecticut State University.
Ob recalls, “I went straight to Daryl’s office and I said: I remember you visited the prison one day and told us to come see you if we ever needed help one day. Well, I’m here.” The two became friends who checked in periodically. “When Daryl came across the ENet program, he knew who to call. He already had me in his back of his mind,” says Ob.
The ENet (Entrepreneurial Network) is an accredited entrepreneurship program at Goodwin University designed to give people who have been in trouble before a second chance to learn how to create their own businesses. The program is spearheaded by Matthew Connell, Program Director of the Business Administration Program at Goodwin University.
When he learned about ENet, Ob says, “I was interested because I was so interested in changing my life.” He adds, “It was the frosting on the cake. It was a way to organize all these wild ideas I had all my life about how to own a business. Because of my background of with family of business owners, I knew my idea wasn’t farfetched—but I also knew it wasn’t organized.”
The first ENet program ran from November 2019 to August 2020. Ob opened his business Look Sharp Barbershop in June 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He credits the guidance and mentorship he received from ENet Director Matt Connell with helping get his busines up and running.
Ob spent a year and a half searching for a business location—and appreciates that Matt was on hand to tour buildings and provide feedback. In terms of finding his location in East Hartford, Ob credits destiny and resilience.
During the pandemic, before barbershops could reopen, and while he was still looking for a location, Ob set up his barber chair in his home.
“One day my daughter’s friend needed a haircut—and I didn’t know he had 20,000 friends! He was a very popular kid in East Hartford! His social media post helped me build clientele, and soon I was doing three haircuts a day,” says Ob. “During that time, I learned how to work wearing a facemask and gloves. I focused on cleaning and being very sanitary. That helped when I opened my barbershop—I’d earned a reputation for cleanliness and people appreciate that.”
Living the Dream
In August 2020, Ob became one of 11 graduates in the first ENet cohort to complete the program and virtually pitch at a live event.
“I’m still in the midst of this whole chaotic, beautiful dream,” he admits.
Ob’s biggest takeaway from the ENet program was confidence. “I gained the confidence to say that I’m organized, that Look Sharp is a legitimate business,” he says. “And not only that, I gained the confidence as a businessman. Because of the program, I got the experience of turning the lights on for the first time in my own business,” he adds.
“Everything happened because, even though I didn’t have the money at first, I had the confidence. And because Goodwin gave me that boost of confidence,” Ob emphasizes.
“People like me don’t know how to open a business. We have a lot of questions. If we don’t have someone we can call with those questions, those questions become thoughts, and those thoughts become something that may not actually happen,” he explains.
“But with Matt, I knew I was able to reach out to him with my questions,” Ob adds. “I still can. So, even though I don’t always know what I’m doing, I have people who know what they’re doing. And I know I can count on them.”