My Dirty #Entrepreneur Secret

Originally posted on LinkedIn

I was raised in an entrepreneurial family. My father was the ultimate salesman – selling mobile homes – or more commonly referred to as trailers at the time.

After a decade selling new homes for other companies, in the late 80’s, he and my mom started “Peacocks’ Mobile Homes” from a shared office space (now known as co-working space). Tracking down repossessed, mostly shitty, trailers my folks would find buyers and sell this inventory that was then owned by banks.

Margins were great. Buyers were desperate, coming out of the 80’s depression. They made money on spiffs – on both the financing and sales of these homes.

I didn’t realize what they were actually doing until much later in life, but they taught me about bootstrapping before it was a cool term. We thought of it more as survival.

Eventually, they started another business focused on manufactured homes – the fancy trailers – and land development. It got me through college. Ultimately, I took over the family business, selling it to a national home builder. But that’s another story altogether.

But the roots always remained planted in trailer sales – as they would take trades as down payments for these newer, fancier (safer) models.

And sometimes, the trailers still got repossessed.

I remember one home in particular. I was probably a freshman in high school working for the family biz. One of my jobs was to help clean out the trades or repossessed homes that showed up on our lot.

(Admittedly, I did prefer moving and delivering furniture for my mom’s adjacent business).

This home was repossessed – it was obvious by the clothes, dishes and trash still in the house. (Remember, these things have wheels, it was literally towed away …)

Armed with plastic gloves, a water hose, a Walkman and a mask, I started the clearing process.

Trying not to reflect on the unfortunate events leading to this home being repossessed, or my more than occasional gagging reflex, I made my way to the master bedroom at the end of this 14’ x 70’ home on wheels.

And I was floored. A corner of carpet, near the single pane window in the 4 inch thick wall, was cut out. Replaced with soil. And a marijuana plant.

It was a seminal moment in entrepreneurship. Here are the lessons that came into focus that day.

1) Other people’s loss can be a profit center.

2) Find the niche no one else is looking at to maximize profitability.

3) Everyone can be an entrepreneur – just find a place to let your roots grow. (Even if it’s in your floorboards).

I realize #1 might be callous. If you respect the process, however, you can actually help people along the way. In my folk’s case, they were able to help hundreds of families find affordable housing who otherwise could not afford a place to call their own.

It took me more than a decade after that to realize the true value of what I learned. After three other companies of my own, and 20-years in water, we continually apply the lean start-up lessons learned in my teens to our latest water right management startup.

#Startuplife is not always glamorous. It oftentimes requires shovels. Trowels. Masks. Garbage bags. Gloves. And the occasional (often?) shower.

But more importantly, it requires the ability to look around corners in addition to seeing the obvious.