I lived in a Midwestern college town for several years post-graduation. The positives were enough to keep me around: reasonable real estate values, quality-of-life, and a populous demographic of similarly-aged peers.
This particular 150,000+ progressive metro lacked one critical thing: curbside recycling pickup. Residents had to lug their recyclables to a satellite drop-off facility to recycle. Lines. Inconvenience. Time suck.
My desire to recycle was trumped by the time opportunity cost on more than one occasion. Too often, actually. Something like 90% of my consumer waste is either recyclable or compostable. That’s a lot.
After five years of rallying citizens, a city council run (40% of the vote, thank you), and an epic level of bureaucratic resistance – I took matters into my own hands.
You don’t have to read Atlas Shrugged to know that individuals shape the future. I scratched my own itch and created a private recycling pickup service – requiring no recurring time commitment from me. It’s awesome, hands-free, and provides a valuable service to the community.
Here’s how I did it:
Note: I am not a professional programmer or designer, just a hack at both. I am a BIZ GUY who knows how to delegate effectively. (Quit trying to do everything, read I, Pencil or the E-Myth and start getting things done.)
When I build products, I strive for a sexy UX (user experience). Speed, pleasure, and minimal required brain power.
Web-based signup and billing. A recycling firm should notbe sending out paper invoices, collecting checks, and generally fucking around with an archaic business model. CurbCyclers went paperless, and only paperless.
Minimal Time Commitment. Why work a few hours everyday when you can work a few full days each month?
Maximize Profit. Throw away convention and do what you want.
How to Do It
Step 1: Design a UI (user interface). I created a free account at http://gomockingbird.com and built a low-fidelity mockup. It took me around 15 minutes. Cost: $0
Step 2: Design actual website. I hired an undergrad art student to make my mockup look pretty. He was technically capable on Adobe Illustrator, but had no coding skills (no need, read on). I paid him $15/hr and we collaboratively completed the design in 6 total hours. Cost: $90
(**Important: I prefer to work one-on-one with designers. This creates a real-time feedback loop. Things get done better, infinitely faster, and both parties are more satisfied. Many primadonna designers won’t do this. I don’t work with them. I work with collaborative teammates. Mutual respect is key.**)
Step 3: Turn the design to a live website. I sent the finished design to HTMLburger. They sliced, coded, and delivered the design back to me as a functional WordPress theme. WordPress is a blogging platform and super-easy CMS (content management system) that anyone can use to manage web content. Cost: $226
We now had a beautiful website to accept customer signups, with under $350 invested. See for yourself: http://CurbCyclers.com
Note: I immediately sold operating rights for the business to two ambitious college students. They worked one day a week, brought in a full-time salary for two people, and enjoyed a secure recurring income. They sold the business upon graduation, and other operators now exist in the space. The site is up in an archived format, and the signup form is no longer valid.
Citizens now have access to curbside recycling pickup, save a bunch of time, recycling rates are way up – and now healthy competition exists in the space.
What are you doing to improve your world? Are you smarter than your local government? Make it happen.
Today we’re going to talk about the critical qualities of exponentially growing a business, why YOU are the bottleneck, and how to overcome it:
The Keys to the City:
1. Minimize your capital burn rate. Seriously. All hype about #leanstartup aside, Net profits are net profits. Live in a smaller house. Eat out if its cheaper (time+groceries). Cook at home if its cheaper (healthier perhaps?) Spend less than you make. Minimize expenses until justified.
2. Defuse time burglars. Remove unnecessary demands on your free time. Big-ass yard to mow? Remove unjustified obligations: bullshit networking (no-value glad handers) volunteer hours (just send a check), etc. Being part of your community is important – online and locally – but sacrificing your time lower than your potential is a travesty.
3. Get rid of your TV/cable. Any content worth consuming can be done by choice. Netflix, Hulu, etc. Passive consumption sucks away your best years.
4. Surround yourself with positive people. Some ‘friends’ live in fear of your success – dump them. Find people you admire, and befriend them. A rising tides raises all ships.
5. Take time for YOU. Go for a run. Take a bike ride along the river. Zone out, and your mind will tune in.
6. Drink tea. Trust me. Green, white, or yerba mate. A little bit goes a long way.
7. Crowdsource (friends, 99designs). Many minds are better than one.
8. Outsource (oDesk, Mechanical Turk, etc) This is a worldwide economy. Guns and butter. Leverage your strengths, hire the rest.
9. Scale by Design. (AWS, EC2, etc). You don’t have to own every damn power pole on the street to turn the lights on in your house. Plan your business infrastructure accordingly.
Being an ambitious trout has one main advantage: random opportunities.
You may have heard the word serendipity before, but probably think of a yoga studio. It’s much more than just hippie commerce.
I define serendipity as: “finding something wonderful while looking for something else”.
Enter something wonderful…while looking for something else.
In 2007, I co-founded a company importing industrial LED lighting. I was the sales/sourcing guy. We were bringing in some crazy stuff. Things you’ll see in 20 years, never realizing the billions of dollars of savings and environmental impact they had. You know about Zeppelins, we had Boeing 777s.
It failed, but I made millions in experience.
Let’s learn how this fits into serendipity…
This story begins at Messe in Frankfurt, Germany for a week-long trade show. I was 5 days into a 3-week round-the-world jaunt. Iceland (seriously), China, Taiwan, and Japan were all waiting.
Then I got hit by a train.
A train-shaped stomach flu, as it were.
Puking in my hotel room eight stories over Frankfurt, I had to call an audible. No amount of drive could salvage this trip. I was toast. $6,000 of round-the-world airfare was toast. It was time to go home.
From my hotel room, I booked a return flight. Frankfurt to Heathrow to Minneapolis. One-way: $834. Round-trip: $812. (or something like that)
“Round trip it is!”, I said to myself. I booked the return leg for the following September, 8 months away. WTF, I’ll never use it. (or so I thought…)
I tried not to puke in the cab. Cabbies aren’t janitors. Mission accomplished. A quick skip from Frankfurt to London, then over the Atlantic.
I was wearing a suit jacket and jeans as I shuffled through Heathrow airport in London. I looked like a cross between Alf and Joel Goodson in “Risky Business”. Risky business, indeed.
Maybe it was my green complexion, the suit jacket, or the wink to the boarding attendant. “Excuse me, sir. You’ve been upgraded to First-Class.” A quick swap of boarding passes and the roll through the gate now stopped in seat 4A. My new neighbors were wealthy Saudis. I slept flat across the Atlantic.
Serendipity at work.
Maybe it was the wink, perhaps the suit jacket; but try both when you fly. I have since, and results trend toward favorable. Suit coats and smiles. Always.
I returned home, slept for four days, and made it into the office the next Monday, to a few surprises.
Sales are easy. Profits come when you actually deliver product. Sales, Product, Paid. That’s the typical sequence. All or nothing.
Our orders weren’t getting fulfilled. Problem.
My first day back, one of my co-founders (the financier) broke the news that he was getting a divorce and that our cash and credit were effectively frozen.
No way to get product to fulfill orders. The delays made sense now. Facts weren’t being shared.
Don’t cheat on your wife. Duh.
In the mad dash to line up new financing, our customers were wondering where in the hell their product was. The import-export game is not a simple process when you’re transporting millions of dollars of physical goods halfway around the world
The writing was on the wall.
I probably first saw the writing when I borrowed my co-founders car three months earlier. A love note tumbled down from the sun visor. Not from his wife. I wanted to get some burritos, not un-earth secrets.
He didn’t know I knew. I knew. “None of my business”, I told myself.
Your co-founder may as well be your spouse. Remember that.
It all came full-circle.
Great outcomes in business only occur when you’re 100% infatuated with what you’re doing. Whenever serious doubt creeps into your mind, a psychological seed of dissent has been planted. When that seed grows to a sapling, you need to cut it the fuck down or move on to another forest.
I had checked-out mentally. We all agreed to pull the plug.
I slept for another week. It was March.
Summer came round, and one of my college roommates called. We swapped stories about life, women, and business. Jay was a veterinarian now, living in Wisconsin making sure its cheese-producers stayed happy. Happy cows may be in California, but they’re also wherever Jay is.
Jay mentioned a break-up. I mentioned similar. We needed to go do some stagging. As European mutts, we knew what we had to do.
This post covers a lot, including cavemen, getting laid, and getting paid. You’ll want to read the whole shebang, even though it opens with obscure sandwiches…
When I was a young’un, my favorite lunchtime snacks were green pepper sandwiches, no joke. Slabs of green bell pepper on buttered white bread. That may sound about as appealing to you as Elvis’ favorite food, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but I assure you it made perfect sense to an 8 yr old.
I demanded making these with green peppers, not red, yellow, or orange ones (their colorful, identically-tasting cousins).
“Why not red, yellow or orange peppers?“, you ask.
I had made a wild-ass assumption. A wrong one. As a youngster, I ate some hot chilies (that were red) – and got my first taste of ‘painful’ food (read: small child unprepared for liquid hot magma)
As a result of the mouth-fire, I immediately wrote off all non-green peppers as evil. Red peppers embodied danger after that, shape had no influence. I was avoiding pain, and seeking pleasure. Green means go and red means no, right?
I was a stupid kid. I made an erroneous assumption, though it seemed logical at the time.
Crazier yet, we still do this as adults. A lot.
The Bullshit Assumptions
The color of a pepper has absolutely no bearing on its ‘hotness’. The heat of peppers is actually measured in Scovilles, a measure of their mouth-searing ability. One of the hottest peppers in the world is the habanero, and it’s green until nearly over-ripe. A habanero is a harmless baby bell pepper until you bite into it.
I was around 12 years old when I finally broke the illogical assumption that green peppers were ‘mild’, and that red peppers were ‘hot’. Not a total mind-fuck, but I started questioning the norm all the time after that.
Imagine living a false assumption based upon a single data point. I perceived the world different than it really was, after a single negative experience. Would you quit a new exercise regime after the first session because exercise made you ‘sore’, not stronger?
Pretty dumb, right?
Humans do that shit all the time. We make fast and false assumptions. How do we un-do instinct?
Cave Logic & Getting Paid
We’re genetically pre-programmed to jump to conclusions. Lessons are learned quickly when survival is the only goal.
We’re not sleeping in caves anymore.
We have goals beyond “live through tomorrow”. Space exploration, athletic performance, hot girlfriends, and getting rich are our current pursuits (mine anyway).
Eagerness to tackle scary situations is no longer a liability, but an advantage.
What got you killed for thousands of years, now makes you a winner. Today’s winners are not afraid to say “What the fuck?”, and make things happen.
The challenge is reprogramming thousands of years of survival instincts in a cosmic afternoon.
Today, we pay $11 for a cinematic glimpse at excitement. And the star of those movies? They’re the ones who weren’t afraid to take a risk, leave their tribes, and move to Hollywood.
Confrontation-seekers like actors, oil barons, and UFC fighters wouldn’t live long as cave-people, but are debatably really friggin good at being modern-people (read: more successful than average by most measures)
Confrontation and struggle is a good thing. Hear that?
Modern achievement is based upon engaging with uncertainty, not avoiding it. Fear today isn’t a choice of life-or-death, it’s a choice of life-or-mediocrity. Remove the soma from the water and do something epic.
Not questioning assumptions creates a pretty safe existence. It’s also pretty fucking boring.
Men and women with the highest survival rates 10,000 years ago – the fire-tending and scavenging cave-hiders (‘Looters’ in the Ayn Rand sense), are likely at the bottom of socioeconomic classes today. Today’s cave-hiders are risk-averse wage earners who seek monotony and security.
Fear of the unknown = low achievement.
Get it? Our instincts are actually working against us, and the ones with a few screws loose are getting all the glory.
For the first time in history, being a little crazy is a solid attribute.
Getting Laid in the Shade
Ever notice the hot girl with the ugly boyfriend (or vice versa)? Wonder how in the world they ever got together? Odds are, the grinning bastard didn’t have the assumption in his mind that he couldn’t get her. Instead, he just went for it. 10,000 years ago, avoiding interaction with another tribe was security and survival. Today, your survival and success depends upon engaging with people outside your tribe.
Maybe you’ve changed, maybe the world has. Sometimes you’ve got to try some wrong, dawg. What sort of Caveman-esque danger avoidance has created false assumptions in your life today? It’s not life-or-death anymore, we just think it is.
Getting Rich with Sweet Skills
Is computer programming that hard to learn? Did you put forth three hours effort in the 7th grade and give up? Or, have you visited HacketyHack to see how easy it can be to learn Ruby? Test and re-test your assumptions. Times change, you change. It’s never as hard as your mind makes it out to be.
Think I’m full of shit? Prove it to me. Prove me wrong. I dare you. Test the assumption. Pushing past comfort zones can be uncomfortable at first, but the entire world waits beyond.
I broke down tonight. “Just while I’m eating, just for a bit”
I’m dumber. I watched TV.
You see, the main reason I dislike TV is that I’m a whore for efficiency. Please note that I am the only person you know who uses the term ‘time burglar’. For instance, “I cannot believe you play Guitar Hero, what a fucking time burglar”.
For those who don’t know, I’m in a race I take quite seriously. I’m in a race against time. I am trying to do as much as I possibly can while spending my brief time on this planet.
TV just can’t feed me information at the rate I want to devour it. “What, I’ve got to wait through 3 minutes of ridiculous consumerism to find out if the Mythbusters can make a glider out of a crash dummy and plywood…lame!”
Newspaper…Wall Street Journal for instance (the only print paper I’ll read).
As I browse the Journal, “Let’s see…….don’t care, don’t care, China’s screwing somebody again, Hank Paulson looks like an alien, someone invented a better toilet.”
Done. In 5 minutes I learned more than you did all semester between bouts of ‘Runway’, Guitar Hero, and hanging out at some overhyped bar.
Anything not on the bucket list…is on the ‘fuck it’ list.
Have you ever been having a group conversation with a few people, noticed some distinguishing traits, and thought, “I wish people were like Mr Potato Head”
You know one person has a really great personality or work ethic, but if they were able to swap traits with another to make two, well-rounded individuals, the world would be a better place
High School athletics for example…….
I’ve coached some kids with excellent heart and work ethic, but frankly they just don’t have the genetics to excel at an elite level. I’ve also coached some incredibly talented kids, who are total douche bags as people. Mr Potato head could provide balance to the Universe.
Your neighbor’s dog……
Remove the bark incessantly for no friggin reason chip, and replace with the nice dog who only barks when a stranger is breaking into the house chip. Voila, a likable Mr Potato Dog.
And yes, the inevitable ‘Perfect Mate’ Mrs. Potato Head…….
Well, If (Woman 1) could just have (Woman 2)’s (insert body part) and had (Woman 3)’s love of (Activity you Enjoy), I would just be in heaven.
For example: (Names changed for anonymity)
If (Scarlett) just had (Ann’s awesome legs) and (liked building treehouses), I would just be in heaven.
In fact, I invite you all to think through this scenario. Just remember to put me in all blanks.