E is for Entrepreneur

An Anecdote From My Early Experiences As An 'Entrepreneur'

Hey guys thought I'd post a personal tale from one of my first experiences in business. There were many lessons I learned about business and about life in general during these formative years. One of the early lessons I learned in a kind of abstract way revolved around money, of course, what else right? But more specifically the spending and investment of money. I had to be resourceful, frugal, and in cases I had to be shrewd. One could say that rather than a lesson learned it was a situation I was in whether I liked it or not. Regardless, I feel that by starting a capitalistic enterprise with little initial capital to invest to begin with, was both ironic and a great learning curve for me.

This particular business venture began when I was 19 years of age. I was a few months away from going to study at university, so with the few months of Summer ahead of me and with a few hundred pounds in my pocket I decided to launch my first real entrepreneurial venture. That is to say, I bought an old jalopy of van, not a small one, but a big White LDV Convoy which to her eternal credit and despite being beat up and battered, somehow had the unerring knack of managing to overcome all kinds of physical, automotive and mechanical limitations in order to get us to our various job sites and destinations.

One such 'limitation' which literally clangs to mind was a time when a friend of mine who was working for me and I were slowly making our way through a busy town centre via a one way system which was near grid locked. The general 'Mission Statement/Business Plan' was that I would use this van to carry tools and materials so that we could tout for work in landscape gardening, patios, fascias, driveways, pebble-dashing, guttering and such like. I also knew that by getting a large van, it might come in handy on days where I might not have any such jobs lined up as I could use it as a means to generate income in another way.

'One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure'

Initially I though I might do some removal jobs, but in the end I decided to go into the Scrap Metal business on the days where I had no other work. I would strike up negotiations and build relationships with business owners, mechanics, car repair shops, hardware store owners, plumbers merchants and farmer's. I would negotiate a flat rate price that I would pay to them each week in return for all of their scrap metal, there was risk involved as there was no guarantee that there would be any scrap to collect each week but that if there was then it was ours. Fortunately we never suffered in terms of paying more to the business owner than the value of the scrap was worth. (Importance of dealing in a commodity which you can buy and sell at profit and of which there is a steady supply and constant demand; another lesson for another day).

It is a simple notion, but like anything it was hard graft, physically, and mentally, working 12-15 hours a day everyday, constantly trying to figure where the next pound was going to come from. Being a huge fan of Only Fool's and Horses, I loved that sense of wheeling and dealing , ducking and diving, living deal to deal, each day throwing up new conundrums and obstacles and challenges, talking to different people from all walks of life. Ultimately it's an experience which makes you feel really alive. Here I learned the importance of a businesses ability to diversify in order to create various streams of income (another topic for another day). So to get back on point;

We were gently sauntering our way down the high street, stopping and starting peacefully enough, but then suddenly as we set off again we heard an almighty BANG! It sounded like the sump had blown, or like a shotgun blast. My friend who was driving, and who was quite a rough and tough, altogether confident bloke turned his head sharply and looked at me with an expression of bewilderment. We then both jumped (or rather we bolted nearly head first through the windows, such was our panic and haste) out of the van to investigate further. There was nothing at all obvious at first glance as I walked down the side of the vehicle and the sense of relief was just starting to wash over me. At that moment I looked up and could see a driver in one of the cars behind us pointing and gesticulating towards the van.

As I got to the rear I crouched down and now suddenly I could see what the man was pointing at. The whole of the exhaust pipe was lying on the tarmac completely detached from “Old Bessie”, (as our sturdy vessel had affectionately come to be known). My friend and I had to laugh in nervous disbelief, if not we might have cried. We quickly deliberated our options.

Bear in mind it was the middle of the day during the height of Summer, with hundreds of people around. We had already slowed everyone's progress enough we felt, so we picked up an end of the exhaust each, and after I had swung open the van's rear doors we then proceeded to 'leg and a wing' it into the back of the van. We did this because it just so happened that we were actually carrying a load of scrap that day so we added it to our collection to make the best of a bad situation (never forget the importance of cash flow generation).

All in all it really was rather an embarrassing and humbling experience, being watched by hundreds of onlookers as you pick up your own exhaust from off the ground and launch it into the rear. LDV Convoys are fitted with a fairly large exhaust too. Back to the topic at hand.

Bessie had cost me around 70% of my capital at that time, which to me, was a risk. I could have just opted to go back to working as a labourer on a building site labouring for £40 a day which I had done up until that point. However, I thought it was a good opportunity to at least take a chance and see if I could actually run a profitable venture. It is worth bearing in mind that from the onset the aim of this enterprise was not world domination but simply to last the summer, during which time I was hopeful that I could earn enough revenue to be able to pay my employees a fair wage and to help me out when at uni with the day to day expenses associated with living as a student.

I knew that if everything went totally haywire then at worst I was going to lose a few hundred pounds and within a few months I'd be back at uni and into the swing of studying and living that life. Looking back this was definitely a nice mental buffer for me to have and one which I recognise is not afforded to most entrepreneurs who start up in business. For most start ups, failure simply is not an option. But by starting a small business with a relatively small associated costs, I was also minimising my financial risks.

I think it should be noted that despite only paying out a few hundred pounds for the van and a bit extra for insurance and necessities, that van was the initial source of all of our income, we were able to make thousands of pounds of clear profit using an old jalopy and borrowed tools. It taught me that you do not necessarily have to spend a fortune or make an overly generous outlay on a business venture in order for it to be successful. By keeping one's start-up costs to a minimum, one can sooner be in a position whereby the business is operating profitably.

Of course this is one little anecdote of a young man's fun Summer venture but it taught me that in order to make money, don't waste it, focus on actually making it. It is amazing how many businesses go bust within a year, whose main issues stem from the 'misappropriation of company capital'. Don't make that mistake, learn from the mistakes of others who have had to learn this lesson of business the hard way.

N.B. The exhaust incident proved to be the straw that broke the donkey's back. Unfortunately later that day due to the absolutely horrific screaming noise the van was now making, with ringing in our ears we decided that the time had come to retire 'Old Bessie' for good.

*Photos all sourced from Pexels

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