No posts in a long time. We are still around and still alive.
New Websites Launched.
2 New Entrepreneurial Projects.
There has been a ton going on. I need to get you caught up!
When we first started the company the goal was to build Scrubadoo.com, our first business, into the “Zappos” of the medical uniform industry. We concentrated solely on the online retail market. Specifically taking advantage of a variety of search engine marketing strategies (SEM) to draw clients in and then offering the unmatched service to keep them here and hopefully tell their friends about us.
This plan worked to an extent but the growth was not as fast as we would have liked. After about a year of live selling we decided toadd a more traditional approach to sales and call on larger clients. We essentially decided to move away from only selling through Scrubadoo.com and search out those larger purchasers by knocking on doors. Combining this strategy with the continued focus on unmatched customer service worked wonders. Today larger purchasers make up about 50% of our business and over the years we became in house experts at SEM which has allowed Scrubadoo.com continued growth.
Despite some success, we have still not been 100% happy with growth and just this year decided to make another change to the strategy of the company. Instead of just concentrating on our one business, Scrubadoo.com, we decided to roll out new business lines and take what we have become experts in (SEM, customer service, direct sales) and apply them to new industries. The new move was centered around the idea that we weren’t a “medical uniform” company, we were a sales & customer service organization and we can really be selling any product. The new strategies success is still up in the air as chefadoo.com and the other new businesses are still very very new (and in some cases still in alpha testing!).
Ego, the word in itself tends to carry with it a negative connotation. In fact, sometimes I honestly think that “ego” gets a bad rap. There are a ton of blogs, stories, and examples of the negative side of ego, so I wanted to take a different approach and concentrate on the positive. Like anything else too much of it is probably not good, however there are undeniable benefits of having a strong ego, especially for entrepreneurs.
While I know you can be “self confident” without having a big ego, there is certainly some commonalities between the two. If you asked me what are some of the most important personality traits of a successful entrepreneur, self confidence would be very close to the top of the list.
Ego may not be as high on that list but sometimes it can come in handy. You take so many bumps, lumps, and set backs as an entrepreneur that if you don’t have an ego (or strong sense of self confidence) you would give up long before you even make that first dollar. In the early stages there always seem to be more doubters and negative feedback than supporters. It isn’t until you start seeing a little success that the masses tend to jump on board with you. For these early stages you need the confidence, and ego, to push on.
I think anyone who has known me for any short period of time will quickly realize that I am a very self confident person. Vary rarely am I afraid to voice my opinion and when I do I tend to think I am correct. At the early stages of our company this ego of mine allowed me to make decisions quickly leaving no room for doubt. Some were correct, some were wrong. None have proven to be catastrophic and regardless of the outcome this decisiveness has allowed us to move forward. To many organizations of all shapes and sizes get bogged down in over analysis and with people unwilling to step up and put a decision on their shoulders. Sometimes you need that big ego to step forward and, right or wrong, move the company forward. Mistakes you can learn & recover from, but if you never try anything you will certainly never succeed at anything.
Here at ScrubSquared we have a very small office. It is approximately 300 square feet that is broken up into two separate rooms. Despite the size, on average there are 3 people working in the office. We tend to all sit at one big table together in our front room. When someone needs to have a serious phone conversation they go to the other room and sit at a semi-private desk. Needless to say there is not a ton of privacy. In general I love the set up, it encourages all kinds of interaction between everyone in the company.
However, there are obviously times when private conversations need to happen. To make this happen, we recently implemented a “walking” strategy. Let me explain with an example. We recently had 1 on 1 feedback sessions with all of our employees. Rather than the “corporate” standard of sitting across from eachother at a desk we took a stroll around the block that our office is on.
It was great!
First of all, on a nice day in Minneapolis it is great to get outside while the getting is good (when it snows up here we may have to bring the walks to the skyway). Secondly, I think it helps break down some of the walls a normal session may have allowing both sides to be more open with feelings, feedback, and thoughts. There is something about walking and talking eye to eye as opposed to across a desk that made the conversations some of the best feedback sessions I have ever had. It worked so well that it is now going to be a policy. Even when we move into a larger space, with more privacy, we will take a lot of our important 1 on 1 talks outside for a stroll.
Give is a shot, see if it works for you.
If you missed phase one you can check it out here.
On to phase 2!
Before we get into the heart of our process a quick excerpt:
I received a surprisingly small number of applications from friends and family. Right when I started the process we actually received one application who was referred by a trusted friend. I interviewed the applicant because he came from such a trusted source. I had actually yet to even post the job at the U or on Craigslist. While I was not blown away by the applicant I thought he would do “good enough.” Without interviewing anyone else I actually offered him the position…..
Within a week, for reasons I will not bring up, we rescinded our offer and the hunt continued. Once we posted at the U and on Craigslist it became obvious we would have a plethora of applicants to choose from, one benefit in an otherwise terrible economic business environment. Lesson learned on my part. Don’t settle, and don’t hire the first person that comes in your door that is “passable” as you never know who else will come your way.
Once we got through that bump, we could move on to the search and phase 2!
With all of the applications we actually ran into what became an unexpected problem. Many of the applicants from our Craigslist posting were way more experienced & qualified than I had originally expected. In my head this was great. I was all excited and happy and I became positive we would hire an allstar with all kinds of relevant experience. It really made me change my focus from what we really needed at this point to what kind of employee with crazy cool skills could we get. I lost track of the fact that we didn’t need a ton of experience or an MBA. All we needed was someone who fit culturally, was smart enough to learn new things, and would put in the effort needed to learn those things.
Fortunately, all I really lost was the time spent on these applicants, many of whom I am very sure would have done well here. I ended up offering phone interviews to about 8 people from the first round of applicants and then face to face interviews with 4 more, all from the Craigslist pool, all of whom were overqualified. After the interviews and taking some time to reflect on everything I finally realized that I had gone off track and didn’t need the MBA or the experience at this stage in the company. I decided to get back to the core of what we needed and re-worked our job positing at the University of Minnesota. I was sure a recent, motivated grad would fit the bill.
Like Craigslist, we had a significant number of applicants from the U. We offered phone interviews to about 8 more applicants and interviewed 3 or 4, all of whom had way more impressive resumes than I did when I was their age. After the interviews I again had time to reflect. We had interviewed 2 “kids” with undergrad business degrees and two from the liberal arts side. All of them seemed smart and motivated. It honestly came down to our three core needs: cultural fit, ability to learn, and willingness to learn. If they had those three I figured we could train them on anything they would need to know.
We ended up hiring Eva. She is now four weeks in. So far so good as she has surpassed expectations in the first four weeks.
ScrubSquared was lucky yet again.
Takeaways from the hiring process:
1. Keep in mind the stage your company is in and hire to that life-stage of the company.
2. Don’t rush to hire. We went 3 years without anyone else full time on the business side, what was two more weeks? I rushed into a stupid decision and it could have cost us.
3. Take the time to truly distinguish the needs for the position. It will help you when decision time comes.
4. Culture fit is incredibly important, especially at a small company. I can’t imagine how tough it would be had Eva not ended up fitting culturally. This is my new #1 for any hire.
Vacation is such a crazy thing when you are an entrepreneur. The lack of it was something I never considered prior to starting scrubadoo. I have learned the hard way there is really no such thing as a “true” vacation when you are an early stage start up. Here art scrubadoo there are things that need to be done every day and until recently I was the 1 and only employee on the business side.The result: I have worked every day for the last three years no matter if I was on vacation or not.
Just a quick (extreme) example: I actually got married last July, my wife and I went to the Cayman islands for our honeymoon. Even then I wasn’t able to get away from the business. I would wake up every morning at around 7:00 am and work for several hours while she slept in a little bit. It was the last thing I wanted to do and my wife, while a little annoyed by it (more because I couldn’t truly relax than anything else), was incredibly understanding and supportive.
This is just one personal example of the difficulty of vacationing while starting a company. Over the last three years I have learned more tricks and gotten better at minimizing my obligations while on vacation. Here are a few tricks:
1. Take advantage of technology. While on my honeymoon, I still needed to call clients in America. We are a bootstrapped start-up with a small budget. I took advantage of Google voice. As long as you are calling a US number it is free to use no matter what type of phone you are calling. We also manage the majority of our transactions online, so as long as I have a laptop and internet I can get a lot of work done.
2. Plan ahead. No matter if you are going to be gone for a day or a week, there are things you can knock out ahead of time to minimize your daily work requirements while you are away. I always check in and make sure all of my accounts are 100% in order before I leave to minimize the possibility of a “fire” while I am gone.
3. Hire. We recently added our 3rd employee, someone that would work on the business side of things and manage the day to day operations. While my vacation time was not the primary reason to make the hire, knowing it would be easier for me to get away was certainly a consideration when making the decision. You can only go so long without taking a break, three years without a true day off is a long time.
4. Mary an understanding woman.
To be honest, I don’t think there is any one answer of how to make it easier to leave, even with employees and others that can handle the day to day operations. This company is my baby and it is tough to leave
Here at Scrubadoo we recently went through the process of hiring our first full time business side employee. It was 6 weeks of time consuming, stressful work. This hire is also the most important next step for the company. Here are a few thoughts and takeaways from our process.
How we got the word out.
I first wrote as detailed a job description as possible. This was an extremely difficult task as how do you write a description for a “do everything” job like this. After we had a usable description I took the following steps.
- First, I sent it out to any and all personal networks I have in Minneapolis, including alumni clubs. I felt that these networks may provide the most reliable/trustworthy applicants. Unfortunately, there were very few applications received from this outlet.
- I then moved on to Craig’s list. It is free to post on Craig’s list and you certainly reach a huge audience. From Craig’s list we received at least 75 applications. They were from people that were over qualified, under qualified, and everything in-between. These applicants made up a large portion of the people I ended up interviewing.
- We also posted the job at the University of Minnesota. The timing happened to coincide with graduation, so a new grad seemed like another great option. This route probably made up about 25% of our applicant pool.
From these three sources we received the applicant pool that made up all of our interviewees.
This post is the first in the “new” phase of my entrepreneur blog. I am going to do my best to post more regularly. The goal is one post/week. The goal is to just talk about whatever is on my mind and then mix in things like “The Hire” (which will be finished shortly). Check back regularly for updates. As always I will be as direct and frank as I possibly can be.
I am not sure if I owe any follow ups from prior posts, if I do, I apologize.
In my dealings with suppliers etc, I run into so many things major corporations do that are so dumb, I decided to start calling it “stupid company tricks,” when I write about it. Two examples of how poorly gigantic companies are run:
- UPS is a joke. We have become a rather large client for UPS. I pay them more than twice as much as I pay any of our employees including myself! Despite this, I have trouble getting a return call from our account rep. Essentially, UPS had been incorrectly billing us for months, we found the error and they acknowledged it. The total was about $1,000 (less then we spend in a week with them). This was over a year ago. I still do not have that money. What makes it worse is that my rep is terrible at communicating with me. On multiple occasions he has said the credit will be take care of “today.” What a Joke. FedEx, feel free to give me a call.
- For my second rant of the day I would like to point out the stupidity of US Bank. We work with several different Banks, but US bank is our day to day bank. A few days ago I went in to the same branch I always go into to deposit a corporate check. Done, no problem. I also happened to have a personal check for $5.00 I wanted to cash. I do not have my personal account at US Bank, but asked if they could cash my check for me. The teller’s know me, I am the only signer on the business accounts, and I had all kinds of ID’s with me. I was denied. They wouldn’t cash a $5.00 check for me. I almost closed all my accounts and took them somewhere else. What a Joke.
It continually amazes me how companies that have issues like these grow to be multi-billion dollar enterprises. Aside from that, we are still trying to hire an office manager, launching several new websites, and all kinds of other stuff to continue to grow the business.
Entrepreneurship and building a company has not gotten any easier. Some days it beats you down and you wonder why the hell you put yourself through the roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship. I mention this because of a quote that really spoke to me from Steve Jobs that was in the most recent Fast Company that I will leave you with.
“Building a company is a marathon…There are times when you run a marathon and you wonder, Why am I doing this? Butt you take a drink of water, and around the next bend, you get your wind back, remember the finish line, and keep going….”
We have recently begun a search for our 3rd permanent employee. First I tried to send a job description out to friends and colleagues locally. We did not have much luck so, three days ago (on Friday) I posted it on Craigslist.
Needless to say, hiring a complete stranger is incredibly nerve-racking. Bringing someone new into the company is like bringing someone into my family. They will quickly learn everything there is to know about our company.
Over the weekend we have already received at least 30 applications. We are going to do some phone screening and have any applicant we decide to interview in person fill out a few forms so we can collect more information and really do our diligence on this hire. Unfortunately, we do not have an HR department nor do we have these boiler plate forms.
I started Googling in the hopes of finding something usable (and free) and I came across an unexpected site with some great resources. It turns out that Office Depot provides a slew of corporate forms that are all free.
What a great resource for a start-up.
Oh, I am sure I will let you know how the hiring goes!
I was recently asked if I would recommend that college or MBA students try and launch a venture while they are in school or just graduating.
First let me say that the school itself will tend to provide a ton of FREE resources. It could be anything from professors to office space. Aside from these, here are four more reasons the earlier you do it the easier it is:
- While you probably don’t have a lot of money you also typically have no real financial obligations, no mortgages, you can probably go back home and live if you need to. You may have student loans but if you are “self employed” or make under a certain amount most banks will allow you to claim hardship and postpone payments for a long time (I actually did this for the first year after Darden).
- When you start a company there is a good chance you will fail. As you age you tend to take on more responsibility, wife, kids, etc. When you are young if you/your company fails you can bounce back and the only person you really effect is yourself.
- The longer you are at a corporate job the less likely you are to start your own thing. You get comfortable with a paycheck and typically as you age you become more risk averse.
- Entrepreneurship is a great story & learning experience. If you do fail, having an entrepreneurial endeavor on your resume is amazing. You will have learned more than most of your peers would at the entry level position. I truly believe it will make you a much more attractive candidate for any position.