Where to begin?
When I thought about writing this short miniseries, I wondered how it might come across. I noticed something from within me when I was very young.
I was just different.
Every time that I saw an opportunity to make money, I pounced on it. I had a feeling at an early age that I couldn’t breathe if I didn’t have something to focus on that allowed me to put a little bit more cash away in my piggy bank, or I guess I should say, my shoe box since that's where I kept it at the time.
My first story touches on my teenage years when our school removed the vending machines from the lunchroom. As you can imagine, this caused an uproar from everyone from every grade. It didn’t matter if you were the bully or the kid that got picked on, that day…everyone was on the same team.
At first, I really didn’t care. I wasn’t much of a soda drinker, so it wasn't a big deal for me. However, throughout the day I realized just how big of an issue this was for all of the students in school. Heck, I even overheard teachers saying, "That’s bullshit."
This got me thinking, and luckily, study hall gave me the opportunity to get to work.
Giving the People What They Want
While in study hall, I started to calculate what time I left to get to the bus stop in the morning and how much time it would take to walk down the road to the convenience store and back.
With that done, I did the math on how much I could make by flipping the soda I'd buy at the store for a higher price than what I paid. Considering the high demand for the limited supply of soda I'd be offering, I estimated that I could probably make 50 bucks a week just filling my backpack with cans of soda and selling them at school.
To me, this was a no brainer.
I went home, and I used a piece of paper to sketch what this potential revenue stream could turn into for me. Now I admit, you shouldn’t count your eggs before they hatch, but I couldn’t help it. I've actually held on to this bad habit all my life. I imagine what every scenario could be, complete with my “good, better, best” numbers for potential profit margins.
All things considered, $50/week was a pretty sweet deal at the time. I was 13 years old and minimum wage was $5.65. If I put in 40 hours per week at a full-time job at minimum wage, that would net me $225. I figured that I could make quarter of that while also being at school–somewhere that I had to be anyway. I was going make this happen.
In the first few days of putting my plan into motion, I sold out my supply before the end of 1st period, and I realized that I could corner the market. I went home and started figuring out how can I get more soda to school. There was a ton of money to be made, and I needed some help to do it.
Scaling the Business Up
I had a couple of neighbors who I went to school with, and I wondered if I could convince them to fill their backpacks with soda in the mornings. I would, of course, break them off a piece of the profit. However, I was putting up the money, so it would be a small percentage.
I picked up my house phone (yes, I was hustling before the internet), and I called them up. I said, "Hey, meet me on the corner at 7 AM. I have a business idea."
One of my neighbors, who knew I had a reputation for turning a profit, asked if he could get his brother get in on this, and I just started smiling.
The next morning, I woke up and brought my neighbors along for the morning journey. I told them how much money I could pay them simply to fill up their backpacks with soda every morning for me, and they were in.
Of course, I didn’t want to carry around soda. I needed to be flexible to focus on the big picture and make the sales. After my team was excited about the amount of money that I already agreed to pay them, I threw in a free soda for each of them. With that, I never carried a backpack or soda again.
Within 72 hours this went from an idea in study hall to building out a full-fledged business model complete with a structure and multiple revenue streams.
At the end of the first week I profited over $500.
Remember when I told you that minimum wage was $225/week? Let me remind you, I’m 13.
Keeping Things Close-Knit
Because I turned this into a weekly business, I didn’t want to risk it being shut down by the school's administration, so I knew I couldn't scale it any larger, even if it would have made more money. I could have easily brought on more people, bought more soda, and made more money every day. But I was smart. I didn’t take the opportunity to turn that $500 into $1000 the next week because I knew the risks that come with it.
If I went big trying to hit a home run, the odds were good that I would get caught, and my business could get shut down. I would lose that insane revenue stream that I created from nothing. I built structures that allowed me and my entire team to be successful. Why would I risk that? Without letting dollar signs cloud my vision, I made the decision to turn down more money upfront and bank $500 a week without lifting a finger.
I've stayed true to way of thinking as I grew up, which has helped me to be extremely successful in business. I am always looking the long-term game and couldn't care less about immediate future. I'll always take the opportunity to bet on myself, let my natural talent take control, and ride that horse as long as I can.
Thinking as a true business man, I knew I had to find a way to protect my soda operation. I needed a sort of "security blanket" that could shield it from being shut down. At the same time, I was ready to move on to something new, but I knew that I couldn't start a new business that would compete in the same market as the people that were buying soda. I had to get creative.
These issues were on my mind when I was walking through the school one day. About 20 feet down the hall, I noticed a group of people talking, and it hit me….teachers.
But that's a story for another day.
About the Author
Mike Speer is a digital marketing executive at Michael’s Wilder. He shares his experiences with entrepreneurship, creative marketing, and balancing a hectic work schedule with his life as a devoted husband and father.
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