Despite being a frightening and rough period of his life, Sanders credits the time spent being homeless for helping him become a millionaire today.
Today, Harry Sanders is at the head of an incredibly successful search-engine-optimization firm. However, despite having built an empire worth US$1 million by the age of 22, Sanders is never one to take money for granted and often finds himself thinking twice before buying a $3 bagel. Why? Because the years he spent years pinballing between homeless shelters and sofa-surfing with friends and family — even sleeping under a bridge on a few nights — taught him an unforgettable lesson in financial security. Although he's managed to completely transform his life in the past five years, Sanders admitted to news.com.au that he still struggles to believe in his "crazy" success.
Sanders was 17-years-old when his parents divorced. Their separation left him struggling to keep himself fed and with a roof over his head. "Nobody ever expects to see themselves become homeless but I didn't come from a wealthy background, and sometimes when it's paycheque to paycheque, a few small things can happen and that’s it," he said. "The first night of being homeless was the worst. I had no idea where to go or what to do. I spent my first few nights under a bridge, unsure of what to do and honestly feeling terrible asking anyone for help," the young entrepreneur told 7News.
"It can be dangerous, as there are territories amongst the homeless. I had no idea bout that going in, so I got into a lot of trouble at the start," he continued. "I always managed to find things to eat and would often visit soup kitchens. I would also usually ask different food outlets if they had any leftovers that they didn’t sell for the day, and most would happily give me things to eat." Sanders explained how he struggled to access Centrelink — a Government service which provides support to Australians who face financial hardship — benefits and found himself living with people with drug addiction issues when he did get government housing.
"Getting on Centrelink is so insanely tough and there are so many hoops to jump through. Every rich person who has never been on Centrelink thinks it’s just free cash going out but it’s not like that – I had social workers and the whole kit and caboodle," he said. "The whole mental headspace was tough as well – there’s a feeling of worthlessness and of being a burden." Despite being a frightening and rough period of his life, Sanders credits the time spent being homeless for helping him become a millionaire.
"Although there were a lot of negative moments, I think the experience of being homeless taught me a lot of resilience and matured me greatly," he said. "I wouldn’t be the same person if it were not for that. Going through a hardship like that also made me a lot more confident when dealing with stressful situations. Without it, I wouldn’t have been as pushed or as pressured to succeed as I had been. The determination was fierce as I knew that if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t have any backup plans."
All he had to his name at the time was StudioHawk, a search engine optimization (SEO) company he had registered previously. He had grown up "tinkering away" on websites and had discovered his passion for SEO while working a part-time job at another agency. Young Sanders realized he had to focus on his business out of "sheer necessity" and with an old school laptop and a "cheap knock-off phone," he set about building the company into what it is today. "To go from nothing to this has been a crazy ride and it’s so surreal getting on planes and doing all these things when not that long ago I was literally trying to scrape $10 together to get food from Baker’s Delight for lunch and dinner," he said.
"Making all this money now is great but it doesn’t really feel real. I have a company worth millions of dollars but sometimes I still catch myself fretting about a $3 bagel and asking myself, ‘do you really need this?'" he continued. "When I first started using UberEats I felt almost dirty thinking it was a disgusting waste of money – now I’ve got money in the bank and good things are happening, but I still don’t have crazy spending habits and I still have moments where I think it’s too good to be true."