Isaac Bonequi is a self-made, self-taught Renaissance man who marches to the beat of his own drum. Despite years of struggle in school and dealing with ADHD, this serial entrepreneur in his early twenties defines success on his own terms. Whereas most people his age are still trying to figure out what to do with their lives, Bonequi already owns two businesses and shows no sign of slowing down.

Early Life
Bonequi was born into a family of entrepreneurs. His father had a background in design and visual arts. He juggled photography, graphic design, website construction, and audio visual work as he built his company. His mother owned a gymnastics gym and worked hard to keep that business afloat.

Being surrounded by the arts and such an entrepreneurial spirit inspired Bonequi. But with his parents working long hours and him being an only child, he spent a lot of time alone. He had to figure things out for himself early on.

In general, things weren’t always easy with his parents. “Other people, including my parents, had a hard time with me when I was younger,” admits Bonequi. “That’s because I wasn’t able to express myself in those early days.” Though his parents saw him as rebellious at the time, it was more a comment on his extreme independence. He didn’t like others making decisions for him and felt fully capable of making them himself.

School and traditional academics were never easy for Bonequi. It’s not that he was a trouble maker or lacked discipline; he just simply had a hard time. He didn’t learn the same way other students did and had trouble paying attention. When he was fourteen years old, he was diagnosed with ADHD. This led to a deeper understanding of himself.

“The school system is built for a specific range of people,” Bonequi says. “It definitely works for some, but not for other types of people. Some need to move around, ask questions, and learn through experience.”  

From an early age, Bonequi’s interests were varied. His teachers encouraged him to find one specific focus. In high school, his parents also encouraged him to make a decision about his career and pick one thing to study. But he could not and did not want to fit that mold. Instead, Bonequi tried many things. He enrolled in an art school and completed four college-level night courses while still in high school, including a diploma in digital painting. “Succeeding in art school only showed me that my place in the real world was to be found with adults in a work environment, not in an isolated environment like high school devoid of any legitimate experience,” says Bonequi.

A Passion for Mechanics
Meanwhile, he developed another passion. When he saw the movie Premium Rush, he felt inspired to buy himself a bike and he taught himself how to fix it on his own. It came naturally because he was mechanically inclined. “From as early as I can remember, I always loved building things and taking them apart,” Bonequi says. “I wanted to know how things worked. And if I didn’t know how to do or fix something, I’d figure it out.”

He pursued this passion and began working in a bike shop. At the age of fifteen, he did an internship. He found himself staying late at the shop every night, absorbing everything his mentor shared. Here Bonequi was learning engineering principles through hands-on experience. Though he was being taught physics and chemistry concepts in school, none of it seemed tangible because he couldn’t apply those notions to life. Bonequi needed to learn by doing. By the age of nineteen, he began managing the bike shop, making him the youngest manager there.

Finding his Own Way
He continued with his schooling but never enjoyed it. In retrospect, he says school taught him certain tools, but never taught him how to be himself or how to use those tools.

Bonequi continued his studies at Dawson College in visual arts. He was making video games, but found himself bored. His classmates were all studying to get a job, but he already had one. He was very mature and independent, especially in comparison to his classmates. By the age of seventeen, he moved out and was living on his own.

He dropped out of CEGEP since it wasn’t the right fit. Instead, he tried LaSalle College in fashion marketing. But Bonequi didn’t find his place in that environment either. His classmates were younger and had a different lifestyle. Once again, he found himself learning things he was already doing. In fact, Bonequi had created a successful fashion line in 2017, years prior to enrolling in fashion marketing. As manager at the bike store, he was dealing with suppliers, for how the store functioned, how customers were treated, and how sales were approached, among other responsibilities. “This is the main reason that I dropped out of multiple institutions,” says Bonequi. “I was expecting to be challenged and ended up learning things I was already very keen and knowledgeable about.”  He came to the conclusion that he’s better off teaching himself on his own terms.

Starting his Own Business
Bonequi left formal schooling behind and decided to march to the beat of his own drum. His first business venture was a streetwear line he started with a friend.  Then he followed his passion for bikes and opened a bike store, Atelier Olympia Bike Shop & Distributor. It’s not only a physical shop open to the public, but also distributes and sells within the industry.

Today, Bonequi is his own boss and has a myriad of functions. “I have always abhorred doing the same one thing over and over again,” he says. “I didn’t want my life to be unidimensional in that way.” As business owner, he needs to have a hand in all aspects of his business, and each day, he finds himself doing different things. Like a true Renaissance man, he didn’t want to limit himself to one thing. Although his parents didn’t always agree with him, they came to see how capable Bonequi is. Today, they support him and his businesses in any way they can.

Living with ADHD
Life with ADHD was a lot better once Bonequi understood how his mind worked. Those afflicted with ADHD often get overwhelmed, so the key is to keep focus on the big picture and not get lost in details. He developed his own systems to keep himself in check. At the beginning and end of day, he goes through a mental check list of his daily and weekly goals.

What would Bonequi say to others who find their ADHD challenging? “First off, you are not alone!” he says. “It may sometimes feel like you’re the only one like that, and some even use it as crutch to not get anything done.” But the truth is, many find themselves in the same predicament. It’s about accepting who you are and playing to your strengths.

It’s similar to Einstein’s famous quotes about it being difficult to teach a fish to climb a tree. That fish will spend its life struggling and never attaining its goal. Instead, focus your attention on things you can control. Decide who you want to be and implement a system detailing how you will get there.

Defining your own Success
Many with ADHD struggle in school and with standardized learning. But not fitting the mould at school does not mean you have nothing to offer in life. Bonequi found ways to thrive on his own, and he defines success on his own terms. Blessed with an analytical mind, he’s able to objectively find the root of the problem, and generate solutions from there. This applies to both his business and personal life.

The apprenticeship he did in his teens as well as his constant self-reflection have changed his perspective in life. Doing cognitive behavioural therapy was also vital. He’s now able to identify and fix problems as soon as they appear.

His advice to others who wish to start their own business is to do what you love. Bonequi always remained true to himself and carved his own path. He also advises to keep clear short, medium, and long term goals, and to always remain open to opportunities, even and especially when there is struggle. “Struggle is good, and the more you do the hard things, the easier they get,” he says. “Struggle means opportunity.”