What This Is About
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result. For years, I’ve done some version of the same thing:
- Real estate brokerage/agency (and some mortgage, too)
- Marketing for Realtors.
- Beautiful product videos
- Agency work of all types.
- Sales Consulting for startups.
All of it was an agency at its essence. All of it was hard work; there was a lot of time to put in before it worked out and a good bit of risk. Some clients didn’t reveal the key detail that would have made it possible to change them. One client was slippery and changed compensation agreements right before the finish line, cheating me out of lots. Most clients were good.
If I’m honest, I liked a lot of things about the work I did. But at some level, it got personal; my clients paid for a recommendation and some execution, and there would be confounding factors that we’d try to compensate for.
The work was personal. The upside was capped. It wore me out, and I made hundreds of thousands doing it.
And, if we’re honest, I want to stop simply funneling money to Big Tech. Google/Apple/Microsoft don’t need the cash.
The real “why.”
As a father, I watch my kids grow up and get thrust into a world I don’t completely get. Sometimes I think they are fortunate, and we are headed towards the promised land that we’ve always wanted. Sometimes I think we’re headed for a dystopian hellscape.
In either case, I know that while I was in high school, I had 3 different paid jobs (At different times). And many, many other jobs, gigs, and things). Those jobs were good for me. I don’t know that that would be possible for them. I don’t know if even a summer job would be particularly likely, even though they’ve both been honor-roll students.
I don’t know if going to college – and what it is right now – is a good choice or a bad choice. It’s certainly a lot of debt. We have a weird world.
What I do know is that my kids could benefit from learning how to deal with people. And they could benefit by learning some lessons:
- That no job is beneath them.
- That there’s dignity in all work
- That all work matters; there’s nothing too humble.
- That excellence and competition matters
- That it’s never too late to start.
- That speed is king.
- That there will always be Karens to fight, and the only winning move is not to play.
- That we have a ton of control over what we do.
- That we can start and build something from nothing and make it into something.
- That work is fun.
- That grit matters.
So I’m going to stop doing what I’ve done and build an empire of dogshit.
Tomorrow is day one; let’s try and keep everything at day one as long as possible. It worked for Jeff.
What Is The Endgame?
The first thing we do when building a business is to define our relationship with it.
I don’t want to hit “max growth” or even be responsible for the world’s dogshit. Hell, I don’t even want to be responsible for all the dogshit in the Tri-Cities.
Let’s start by thinking through a few moves ahead. The business is mature at 350 homes on a route that’s as tight as possible. If I can do all of this in a few neighborhoods, I will. That will keep the operation as low as possible.
350 homes * 90 month = 375,000 per year gross.
There would be gas and other expenses and (eventually) labor; let’s call that 60%. That leaves me with $150k in revenue as a moderately passive business.
First, let’s look at our Total Addressable Market (TAM). The Tri-Cities, WA has:
- 220k population.
- About 68,000 households.
- 63% homeownership rate that is 44,200 homes
That yields a spot where 49% of those own dogs, or ~21,000 households here in the Tri-Cities.
We want to quickly build to 350 of those to pay us an average of $90 a month to keep their yards clean and dogshit-free. That would create a “real business” that makes $31,500 per month. Over $350k a year.
Now let’s look at the cost of delivery:
An average person can probably do 28-30 homes in a day on a route.
This means that they could cover 150 in a week. Lett’s say we pay them $20 an hour * 40 hours. This is $800 a week or $3440/month.
The business would pay for gas, boot covers, and a periodic trip to the dump. This would be $1500 monthly +/-.
150 homes – what one person should do – would yield ~13k in gross income, paying a fair wage.
This means I could even pay $25/hourly at scale to get people that had some grit and were willing to do it in the cold.
We’d rely on that cash to acquire customers, process credit cards, and have a sustainable business that can afford to be generous with everyone, clients included. We could even help out Popp or some other things.
Once we get to 350 customers, we don’t need more. As long as that can be “cruise control,” we can work there. This would keep it at a deliberate size and allow us to keep the staff small, and allow us to be generous towards our competition and compensation.
Two businesses are doing this in the TriCities. We can more or less leave them alone. I don’t care to collect the whole world’s dogshit, or even all the dogshit in the tri-cities; I want to teach my kids what’s possible.
We need to win business. There’s no need for me to harm them in, go after their business. I don’t need to grow beyond about 350 houses. I don’t want to have a layer of management. They provided me with the validation of demand. They are mostly doing a good job, but they aren’t serious marketers.
There is room for 5 or 6 more at a minimum without hurting anyone; the business is straightforward to see up.
What we plan to do with the profit from this business is to use it to buy a couple of trucks and, hopefully, a small shop. We want to go up the chain of value and try and manufacture tiny homes, something we’re all really stoked about (even though we live in a bigger one).
We’ll maintain flexibility. Whatever we do will be built on an empire of dogshit.
It’s hard to build a small business. There’s a very clear war on small businesses that’s been going on for a while.
And it’s seriously harder when we’re fighting amongst ourselves. We have to be a community and we can’t make everything a “ride or die” issue. Not when we have a government that loves, loves, loves to see us divided so they can encroach a little more, make regulations and
Different businesses may be in different positions to fight. They may put energy in different areas. They may have their hands tied: some of ‘em may have franchise (or insurance) agreements they can’t break. Others may have a nosy neighbor that’s ready to turn them in to the health department.
Some of ‘em might simply make choices we wouldn’t make.
That’s OK as long as:
- They aren’t forcing you to do anything or interfering with your rights.
- They aren’t breaking promises they made to you.
We’re all doing our best. No putting a small business on blast. It’s not the country we want, and people will let you down sometimes.
We are all lucky to be alive, lucky to be in this country and lucky to be here in the Tri. When a business is in the position where it makes you fill in a form, wear a mask or comply with some regulation we don’t love. Remember: that owner survived through a year where giant corporations were enriched and little businesses were bled to death.
So let’s be gracious. Let’s turn the temperature down and make a better community.
Why Big Businesses Have Advantages
You already know this.
But let’s rehash:
It’s a lot easier for a bigger corporation to comply because they have the scale that makes it so that a small team can figure out the rules and how to apply them across many different stores. They don’t have to pay an expert for every store or shop.
A small business owner may have just one shop. That owner has to comply with a million different regulations in an environment where they are surrounded by enemies.
Someone at a business like Red Robin has an expert they hire to figure out a policy.
And so even if something is off, their regulators know that they can fight it, so they generally pick on smaller businesses that are easier to harass and fine.
The last thing we ever need to do is to make it easier for them to win.
Let’s really be in this shit together, OK?
I can’t imagine running a retail sporting goods store. Or, rather, I can. It sounds extremely hard.
Having to compete with Amazon and the manufacturers for specialty items.
Having to order and stock stuff that may not sell. Having to…get people in the door. It’s a brutal business on a good day.
You throw COVID into the mix and I can’t even imagine what that balance sheet looks like.
It’s enough to make someone bitter, isn’t it?
Except here in the Tri Cities…one business that I’ve rarely shopped at is doing things right.
Sporthaus. I don’t know the owners. I’ve only been there a few times, but I’m gonna tell you, that it’s hard to run that business and harder still to keep it positive during these tough times.
They’ve been closed, I think, since COVID put everyone on House Arrest.
But here’s what they are doing:
- Putting a positive message into the world.
- Sharing gratitude.
- Recognizing people like Truck Drivers that don’t get tons of recognition.
Kudos to you all. This is why you shop local, and this is the world we want to make.
So Covid-19 is a real thing. It’s sweeping the nation. Going viral, as they say. And we have to deal with it now.
So here are a few places we can start in the TC. We live here and let’s be proud of how we handled all this stuff.
- Hope For the best And know that this, too shall pass. Plan on a big and happy future. Plan and dream, and act as if this will be a blip on the radar. It’s been seen before.
- Go Out As Little As Possible: We are not doing this for ourselves, but for everyone else in our community. Stay in. Let the chaos pass around us.
- Do Your Job Well: We do better when we are working. Not spending. We make value when we do our jobs. So let’s do our jobs well.
- Make Art: Is it the time to start a creative project/blog/photo album? Heck yes it is. We want projects to focus on rather than things to be afraid of.
- Get Real Info Before Reacting: A lot of people thought this was overblown. Other people are talking about how our community is doing a bad job. These are unprecedented times.
- Be kind to each other: We can disagree politically. But would a little kindness hurt? No, the Republicans don’t want to make everyone starve, and no the Democrats don’t really want to be on welfare every day. Let’s be nice.
- Tell Jokes. Even Jokes About Corona. Laughter is the best medicine. The more we laugh the faster we get through this.
- Be Cool: Some people thought this was all a joke 10 days ago. They are coming around. Let’s not shake our fingers and judge people, that’s uncool.
- Don’t Cancel Your Services/Contractors: Someone that may have been coming to clean your carpets or your homes or whatever may now have to work around kids. But that’s a better deal than having to go without food. Let’s let people work and make it work.
- Pay Your Contractors Early: A lot of small businesses are really going to struggle. Delays in payment now can add unnecessary stress to people’s lives.
- Show Up For Your Jobs: If at all possible, do the work you were hired to do so that when the panic is over, we can have one less back order to fill.
- Buy Gift Cards: Help restaurants stay open and make a bet on their future.
- Stop Gossiping. I know, I know, this is like telling the Tri-Cities to stop breathing, but we gotta knock that ish off anyway. So why not start now? Be a nice change.
- Get Takeout Twice Per Week: There are healthy options, I know.
- Apologize To Someone: We were all slow to come to grips with what’s going on here, and so it’s a good idea to apologize to someone.
- Offer Advice: If you are having success getting customers, share that info online. We’re in this together.
- Keep an Open Mind: We’re all learning as we go. We want to keep an open mind to ideas and opportunities while we’re here.
- Offer To Shop For Someone At Risk: If you’re low risk, let’s be there for the people that are at greater risk. Offer to shop for someone.
- Be Nice To Our Health Professionals: Look, they are in a tough spot. The whole region has less than 25 WHO test kits. They didn’t cause it, and now it’s time to deal with this.
We’re gonna get through this.
We’re gonna be able to make our community great. When it’s over, we want to be proud of the way we reacted.
The future is bright, and we’ll get through this together. If there are losses, we’ll bear ’em together. If it’s not as bad as we thought, we’ll be in a better spot for next time.
Also, If you’re a small business owner and you need help during this crazy, I’d love to chat. I’ve got some ideas that can help us get some business NOW and I can help you with the set up without any upfront cash. Feel free to email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org