Business 1.0

My sister and I started a web design company when we were 16 and 15 years old, respectively. Our entrepreneurial instincts, however, began manifesting themselves quite a bit earlier.

The setting was our semi-rural home in Calhoun, Georgia. Three bedrooms, three acres, three miles from Dad's office. (A wonderful house. But I digress.) Jamie had become dissatisfied with the paltry income she could make by doing chores around the house, so she decided to explore other business opportunities.

Unfortunately, there aren't many income-producing opportunities available for eleven year-old girls. The traditional childhood business, the lemonade stand, was an impossibility because we lived in a fairly rural area. So she did what any eleven year-old child would do: she complained to Dad.

Dad has never passed up an opportunity to teach us financial skills -- on one occasion when I had $40 burning a hole in my pocket, he issued me a one-year $40 note at 17% interest, just to teach me something about bonds. When Jamie complained about her lack of income, he suggested that she start a car-cleaning business.

So she did.

One of the important aspects of starting a new business is developing a corporate identity. Jamie, a shrewd corporate branding strategist even at the young age of eleven, carefully cultivated a corporate image that can be best described as "cute", with elements of "fuzzy-wuzzy" thrown in for good measure. She named her fledgeling business "Teddy's Car Cleaners"; Teddy was one of her stuffed bears. She commandeered the whiteboard near the back door of our house, so all visitors to the house would see that Teddy's Car Cleaners could make their car beary clean (inside and out) for $5 (vans $7), no checks please.

The cutesy corporate branding paid off. Business started to come in -- first as a trickle, then with increasing volume. Of course, Mom and Dad were the first customers, but in short order, a few of their friends became regular customers as well.

Invariably, successful businesses attract competition. In this case, the upstart was Benjamin's Car Cleaners (named after my stuffed bunny. Creative, huh?). In business, competition leads to price wars, and this market was no exception. Benjamin's Car Cleaners started out with an aggressive $4 for inside and outside car cleaning, and a mere $6 for vans.

Of course, there are other ways to compete in business besides by having the lowest prices or the best service. One alternate method is to hire all the key people away from competing firms, depriving them of their talent and manpower. Ever the shrewd CEO, Jamie decided on this strategy. She offered me a job, promising to pay me $5 for every car I washed. I took the job, and she once again had a stranglehold on the market. Teddy's Car Cleaners became a two-person operation; business continued to grow, and the future looked all bright and rosy.

Unfortunately, it was about this time that Jamie got old enough to start doing babysitting jobs. She quickly lost interest in car cleaning, and Teddy's Car Cleaners languished.

Since Teddy's was my sole source of income, I wasn't about to let the management run the business into the ground, but I didn't have very many options to remedy the problem. The board of directors consisted of Jamie and Dad, since I was a mere employee with no equity position in the company. Faced with this dilemma, I chose a bold plan of action, full of intrigue and boardroom drama: I staged an employee buyout, for a grand total of $9. The old CEO, enthralled with her new babysitting jobs, was more than happy to cash out of the business, and I was thrilled to be able to rescue Teddy's from the brink of dissolution.

Of course, shortly after the buyout, the new management also lost interest in the company, and Teddy closed his doors for good. Nonetheless, before its demise, the company turned a sizeable profit, and while the final CEO may not have lived out his days sipping celebratory martinis on Hawaiian beaches, he certainly spent a few minutes sipping celebratory lemonade in the back yard.


At 6:04 PM , Anonymous Kathy said...

This was my first big laugh of the day. Thanks....I needed that.


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