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034: From Communist Romania to the American Dream with Andre Popa

Andre Popa is a contractor and remodeller who co-founded the firm 11dezign with his wife Tami. Andre was born in communist Romania, where his father spent over a decade in prison for standing up to the regime. Following his release, his family immigrated to the United States without any money or resources and eked out a living through dumpster diving and scavenging. These experiences fostered his entrepreneurial spirit, allowing him to carve out the comfortable, successful life he has today.

In this episode, Andre relates his personal story with all of its ups and downs, and explains how a trip to the hospital compelled him to view money as a tool for optimizing happiness rather than for achieving financial success.


Show Notes:

  • What was Andre’s childhood like in Romania?
    • His father was imprisoned for 14 years for standing up to the regime, which meant that his family was also bugged and followed even after his release.
    • Family could only get pork once a week, not much time for play or relaxation.
  • What was Andre’s money mindset like due to this environment?
    • He learned to make money whenever he could, such as buying candy and stickers and reselling them to his classmates.
    • He and his family would scavenge food that grocery stores threw away for being stale or expired but was still edible.
    • It made him realize that he was always going to be fine in America as long as he could find a trash can and be willing to dive in.
  • What were Andre’s teenage years like?
    • Family was one of the few white families in a lately Latino southern California neighborhood.
    • Would be picked on for being an outsider and had to learn to fight to defend himself.
    • Experiences taught him leadership skills and how to pick himself from failures.
    • Would also distribute newspapers and even sell puppies!
    • His family was always able to find opportunities.
    • By the time he was in high school, he was offering his services as a contractor for household maintenance tasks.
  • Did he have a plan at that time?
    • No, he was more focused on the moment.
    • Tried out different activities, including a stint in acting.
  • How did he get into his current line of work?
    • Bought his first piece of real estate when he was 25, and a year later his first restaurant.
    • Real estate would make up the bulk of his income over the course of his career.
    • Started getting attention for his remodeling work, building a client base.
    • Got his contractor’s license, allowing him to add actors, athletes and other celebrities to his clientèle.
    • He and his wife Tami loved working on their own projects most of all.
  • Why did he get out of remodeling?
    • As the stakes in his business rose, including costs and regulations, the work became less fun and more stressful.
    • Ended up resenting his work.
    • Andre and his wife mutually decided to quit, but he nevertheless persisted and leaned in for a while.
  • Does Andre believe he’s earned optimizing for happiness at this level of his career, or is that something he feels everyone should do regardless of where they are?
    • Absolutely; we only have this life to live, so we should maximize happiness whenever possible and avoid getting ourselves stuck in joyless ruts.
    • Recollects a massive panic attack he experienced early on in his career, one so bad he thought it was a heart attack or stroke.
    • Rather than treat his anxiety with medication, he took a thought-based approach centered around hypnotherapy and changing his mindset.
    • Realized that thought creates our reality; need to break out out negative thought cycles.
  • Does Andre believe poverty is a choice or a matter of circumstance?
    • He believes it’s 100% a choice.
    • There are circumstances, but we can choose how to deal with those circumstances.
  • How has he instilled strong work ethic in his own children?
    • Through homeschooling, exposing them to positive adult influences.
    • One of his daughters has her own travel blog at The other wants to travel to Mars.
  • How does Andre give back with his work?
    • Made sure to overpay and even overfeed his employers to make sure they get the most out of their work.
    • Speaks highly of Walter, who builds homes for the underprivileged in Mexico and instills culture and possibilities in children despite their circumstances.
  • Who has been the most impactful person in Andre’s journey to do well and achieve financial success?
    • Tony Robbins
  • Who has been the most impactful person in Andre’s drive to do good?
    • The Dalai Lama
  • What are some of his regular mindset and personality-development practices?
    • Meditation is crucial; he practises it a few times a day to stay focused.
    • Listens to several audiobooks.
  • What book does Andre recommend to those seeking a more successful path in life?
  • What is the best piece of advice related to happiness Andre has for our listeners?
    • Fight. Always remember you have options and choices. Decide that you are a badass and can accomplish what you want to.
  • Places to find Andre:

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‘Back when we began in 1960, our main focus was to get youth involved in missions. Today, we still focus on youth, and we also involve people aged 9 to 90. We currently have tens of thousands of staff (called “YWAMers”) and we work in thousands of teams and locations.

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About the author, Dorothy

Dorothy Illson is the founder of Needle's Eye Media, a full-service Facebook advertising agency. She's also the host of Do Well & Do Good, a podcast dedicated to telling the stories of people who have created financial success and leveraged it to increase their positive impact on the world.

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