By J. Breaalibak
[Posted on behalf of my friend, who does not have a Medium account. Or a computer. Or a phone. — Chet]
People often wonder what trail led to the place I’m at, being the position I hold now; the head clerk of the stapler section of Office Supplize™: Where the Customer Pays Less for More, More or Less™.
Nobody has actually asked me about my trail yet, but I’m sure that they would, only they’re too intimidated or shy or busy, or maybe they see that I’m busy with a customer, or it could be that they really needed to go get a cup of coffee instead, which I totally understand. So I’ll save everyone the effort and explain how it all came down and played out and occurred and happened.
It should come as no surprise to those who know me (and also to those who don’t know me, because it’s tough to be surprised when you don’t know anything about someone) that I was an entrepreneur from a young age. When my classmates were busy “listening” and “paying attention” in elementary school, I was getting down to business.
For example, it was clear that the Hall Pass was a precious commodity in my school, because kids couldn’t go to the bathroom without one. But you could only get one by asking the teacher, who might not agree to give you one.
So I set up shop at my desk, selling Hall Passes that were certified (which is an abbreviation for counterfeit because it’s a smaller word with similar letters). No longer would the students have to ask the teacher and risk getting denied the right to go; they could simply acquire a certified pass from me instead, for the low low price of a candy bar. I originally charged $.25 per pass, but most kids in school didn’t have money on them, and I wasn’t in the credit business. But almost all of them had lunch bags, and those bags usually had some candy. This was my first experience in the world currency market, and it resulted in my rule about money:
Always find a way to take the customer’s money, even if it’s not actually money.
I didn’t actually sell any of my product and ended up losing all of my initial capital (I’d skimmed lunch money for weeks to pay for the passes at the copy shop), but it was an important lesson in starting a business and pursuing your dream. Also, I learned that business revolves around helping the people around you, like helping them get out of class to pee.
Other businesses would soon follow suit, as I expanded into the clothing market (selling scarves made from used newspapers), food (offering my own lunch bag to the highest bidder), and consulting services (advising other students in their own ventures). Once again, none of these businesses were profitable since I didn’t sell any product (although I did almost sell one of the scarves once, until I mistakenly showed the customer the merchandise before I sealed the deal). But once again, the learning I learned from these experiences was worth more than the mere cash that I invested (which was missed by my parents only when they couldn’t find the grocery money they’d set aside for those weeks).
As an adult, I’ve pursued entreneurshipness for all of my adult life. For example, I ran a food services business, providing condiments at discount prices to my customers. Every day, I would pass by my favorite diner and partake of several mustard, ketchup, mayo, and relish packets. At night, I would open these packets and squeeze them into appropriate recycled jars. When a container was filled, I would seal the lid (by closing it really tightly) and sell it on the street for $.01 less than what it cost in the grocery store. This led to another of my business rules:
Always sell better product for less. Unless better product isn’t possible, in which case you should definitely sell it for less.
My condiments were the same exact product as what was in the original jars I was reselling, but they were offered for less money to my customers. The best part was the profit margin of 100%, since the product cost me nothing to produce.
I soon expanded into other, related markets, such as jelly and jam jars (requiring only a stop by my favorite breakfast diner each day to pick up the jelly packets at the table), and salt/pepper shakers (those packets are available in many different types of establishments, although it takes a lot of packets to fill a single container).
Unfortunately, this business venture did not last long. Even though the profit margin was huge, it was difficult to find customers — it’s like they didn’t know what was good for them, paying premium prices at retail stores instead of purchasing basically the same product from me for less. Also, the money I’d pay for meals in my packet-supply establishments ended up costing far more than the amount I would make for the end product. These were both important lessons that would benefit me later in my career and led to my rule about marketing:
Marketing is probably important.
Also, I needed to find cheaper places to eat and acquire the product.
I have started many other businesses and continue to do so on a regular basis. I hope to tell you about more of them some other time. But right now, I see a customer in Aisle 6; it’s time to close a deal.
In the meantime, never stop innovating, and don’t take “no” for an answer. Remember: you can’t spell innovation without “no”. And “vat”.