John and I have both been involved in side hustle startups of varying size and complexity. And we’ve learned a lot!
You probably already know that there is a long and noble history of companies that were started in a garage or hangar or on a kitchen table.
The aviation industry has these stories, too!
John and I both got our entrepreneurial starts in other industries – I was “Higgins” (remember Higgins from Magnum PI?) for some mountain county estates, John was a data processing and networking guru in our first startups and side gigs.
But, you can benefit from what we learned and avoid the same horrifying mistakes!
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Transcript of Conversation – Side Hustles & Startups – Our Stories
Paula Williams: Welcome to this week’s episode. I am Paula Williams.
John Williams: I am John Williams.
Paula: And we are ABCI, and ABCI’s mission is…
John: To help all you ladies and gentlemen out there in the aviation world sell more of your products and services.
Paula: Absolutely. Now, one of the interesting things about aviation and about some of the folks that we work within aviation is that a lot of the companies that we work with or that we consult with are startups or side hustles of people who are involved with aviation that want to start a startup or a side hustle. I think aviation lends itself really well to startups and side hustles because there are smart people in this industry. Small businesses are much needed because there are so many weird little niches of service and products that are needed.
John: But we help these folks grow into small to medium and sometimes larger.
Paula: Right. A lot of the businesses in aviation that have become household names started in somebody’s garage or somebody’s kitchen table. So, that is like a noble tradition in the United States, and a lot of industries in aviation are no exception, right?
Paula: Alright. So today, speaking of startups and side hustles, and a lot of folks in the last year or two have been kind of thinking either they have some time on their hands because they have been furloughed potentially, maybe they do not want to go back to work after having a taste of freedom or whatever. There are lots of things and lots of reasons that people are kind of interested in startups and side hustle right now —
Paula: — besides the fact that it is always good to diversify your income and have a little bit of control over your personal life and revenues and everything else. So, there are lots and lots of reasons that have come up more in the last year than —
John: Yes, well, there is a — let me say a right, but there is a better way to do it and there is a lesser way to do it.
Paula: Exactly. So today, we are going to talk about some of John and my adventures in startups and side hustles. So, I am going to start with the simplest version that was barely even a company.
This is when I was sixteen, I had just learned to drive, and my dad had some friends that had horses, big properties, dogs, and all kinds of things, houses and stuff, and they wanted somebody to come to a couple of times while they were out of town and take care of their dogs, horses and maybe clean their house and other things like that.
So, I kind of built up this side hustle scooping poop. It was terribly glamorous, what with cleaning toilets and the whole nine yards.
But the really cool part was that I got to play with dogs and play with horses, and I got paid for it. So, for a sixteen-year-old, this was just total heaven, especially when my other job or my regular job was as a waitress at the Denny’s.
So, this was just so much more fun and so much more money. There really was not a whole lot to this business because I think my dad set up an LLC potentially. I do not remember all of the details, and this was a million years ago and things were simpler.
And I think we bought some kind of insurance or a bond or something along those lines so that people would feel comfortable with me having the keys to their million-dollar house, right?
John: So, are those two of the dogs you sat with?
Paula: No, I do not have any pictures.
John: So, you did not have photos. Because I was wondering if they look like Magnum PI’s dog.
Paula: Exactly. I got to be Higgins! One family actually did have a couple of Dobermans, and I love Dobermans. They are actually really, really cool dogs, and they were always just so happy to see me.
We would play all afternoon, and then I take the horses out and just make sure that they got some human interaction and got to hang out with a human for a while so that they would not be completely feral when their owners got back. Just cleaned them up, clean up their enclosures, areas, and everything else.
Cut their nails, brushed everybody, and made sure everybody was having a good day. In some cases, they wanted their house cleaned. In some cases, they had a maid or somebody that took care of that so I did not have to do that.
But I made a few hundred bucks for a couple of weeks of work, and I just dropped by a few times a week to play with the animals. Do you know what I mean? What could be better than that, right?
Paula: So, that was a really fantastic side hustle for me at the time. And one of the things that it has in common with a lot of the aviation side hustles that we are seeing now that was nothing aviation about this, but it was a luxury market. These were high net worth people. It was high-value property. There was a lot of trust involved, and I was sixteen at the time.
But these were dogs and horses that I knew because we hung out with their families and everything, so they would just give me a tour of the house and say, “This is what we want to be done between now and when we get back, and we want the yard cleaned up two or three times a week. We want the barn cleaned up two or three times a week.” Everything else is taken care of or not, or whatever I needed to do, and that would be it.
So, what was great about this, and I am going to go over the do’s and do not’s looking back on it as a starter person than I was then. What did I do right and what should I have done better? So, what I did right is that I would write a checklist. While I was going through the house with these people, I would write a checklist of what they want to be done — a very detailed checklist. And then I had them initial it and say, “Yes, that is everything we want you to do.”
And I would ask them a lot of questions about, “Do you want me to do this? Do you want me to do that? Where are the supplies for this?” all of those kinds of things. “Where do you want me to put the garbage?” all of that stuff.
Took very detailed notes and would check everything off as I did it, and then I would leave them very detailed reports.
Every time I drop by the house, I leave them a master report kind of at the end an executive summary saying, “This is what I did on Tuesday and Thursday. I took the dogs out. We played for an hour and a half. Played with the horses for an hour and a half.” Great day for me. “I cleaned the house.”
That was not quite so great, but — And just would basically do a very detailed report about what I saw, what was going on, and so forth, and I totally overkilled every job and I always made sure that I left cookies for the day that they would get home.
So, they come in the door there would be a note from me saying, “Welcome home.” and have a plate of cookies and their entire report about what was going on. So, that was what I did well, I think. At least they seem to enjoy it and I have got asked back a number of times to the same houses.
What I did not do well is that I did not market the service at all.
I had a little logo and I had a dot matrix printer, and I would print out my little forms and things on this dot matrix printer but nobody ever saw my logo other than these five families I was working with, right? So, I did know about marketing.
I did not even ask for referrals. It does not occur to me to say, “Who else in your neighborhood is going on vacation that needs some help?” I did know sales beyond our personal family and friends, and that is it. So, all there was to it. It was barely even a business, but it gave me a taste for it.
I said, “I like this so much better than my actual job.” which was being a waitress at the Denny’s, which somebody is always looking over your shoulder. They are not trusting you with their multimillion-dollar home. They are not giving you a lot of credit for what you do. They are not giving a letter of appreciation for what you do.
So, that is really where I kind of got a taste for running my own business. And ever since then, I have been looking for a way to create a side hustle or a business, and then thirteen years ago, we started ABCI. So, that is my story. Now we are going to talk about John’s, and he can tell you what he did and we will talk about the good and bad with that.
John: Oh, when I was sixteen, I was in New Orleans, and a junior achievement was the extent of my business activities. Fast forward about years, I have gone to IBM schools to the extent that various companies have paid around half a million bucks for my education in IBM world mainframe. Then I chanced upon a conversation and some folks in DOD and out encouraged me to start my own company asset. But I do not know how to do this, and they say, “Well, you will figure it out.”
And so, I did. I put it together, and then they offered me a contract. And now, since I did not have a marketing person, I did not have an accountant, I did not have an attorney, I was the guy for all that stuff, plus I had to do the work. But I did not know any of that stuff. So, I took the contract on a Friday afternoon, I took the day off, and I went back to the house, and I did not go to sleep for the whole weekend reading the contract. So, I go on Monday morning, they signed it, I signed it, and after I sign in and they sign, you will realize, of course, “Oh man —
Paula; “What did I miss?”
John: — what did I miss?” Jeez. This is the first year of a multi-year contract. I said, “Oh, yes. I knew that.” I did not know that. I missed that part. It was a five-year contract, one year [inaudible]. Great. And what I had to do was maintain specific software packages on seven geographically and test different mainframes for DOD, and I was like, “Okay, I like this.” and I did. I met a lot of travel, travel expenses, reports, plus actually doing the work, and I did all that.
And the next year, they refunded and it was great. And see, one of the reasons I did that is because working for a job, they do not really pay you what you are worth, and when you work yourself, you set your own prices. Well, you have to as a contractor or consultant sets your price higher because you got to pay for all the stuff that the current company would have been paying for you, plus you got to give yourself a raise.
In my case, I had travel expenses, so the number was way out there and I did not even expect them to go for it, but they did. But as it turned out, at the end of the year, I probably made a 10 to 15% raise over what I have had before.
So, it was not all that much because of all the stuff that has to come out for insurance hospitals, all that stuff, and that was an education and I did well. Then, I set up automated reports to the house. I program my computer to go out and actually interact with each one of these seven mainframes, download stuff, format it, and print it out. And then I gave them reports weekly.
John: And then I would travel with these guys because there was not a thing as Zoom or any of those things and remote access. Yes, they sort of had it but the clearance required to have that was too high.
Paula: So, this was the 80s or 90s?
John: Yes, 79 or 80, somewhere in there.
Paula: Oh my gosh. So yes, way before there was any of this. They barely had VPNs then and no such thing as virtual assistants, right?
John: Yes. And see, what I jumped in were both feet because I was the breadwinner. And now I started my own business and I am still the breadwinner, right? So, that was quite an interesting thing. So, I worked for three years. Can I wait until the end of the year and tell me they are going to refund or not.
And in the third year, “Well, we are not going to refund this project anymore. Our funding got changed.” — the government is. They still needed somebody to do it but they were going to have to take it in-house and figure that out. Then I had to get a job because I did not do any marketing.
Paula: Okay, so that kind of leads us to the pros and cons of your checklist. It is probably different than mine.
John: Oh, yes.
Paula: But what do you do well that you would do again and what do you think you should have done differently looking back?
John: At the end of the first year, I want to hire some people. But I was not making enough and the process to get a contract with DOD is painful, and I did not want to go through that. So, I said, ” Oh, let us do it.” So, I knew then that I had a problem and I could not afford these people that do that sort of thing. Back then we are expensive as they are today.
So, I missed that part. We did not do any marketing and I did variously and send other things for the government just because I was there and I knew what to do. I talked to a few other consultants there and they were having troubles with other software. I said, “Well, try this.” I did and it works. They said, “Is there a parm for that.”
And I said, “Listen, I have been to all these IBM schools. I know how they write so I know some of the back doors and software, and my knowledge is way also. It does not matter anymore. And yes, it works.
John: So, marketing was the thing I did not do.
Paula: You had one client, and no matter how happy that client was.
John: That is right. When I decided not to refund, they were not unhappy with me.
Paula: Yes, they just —
John: They did not get the money —
Paula: — made a different decision.
John: — from the appropriation to fund it anymore.
Paula: Yes, and that is not in your control. You were done.
John: I was done. Well, I got a job.
Paula: Yes. I think there are some commonalities there, and some of the things that we learned from our experience doing this and other startups have been a couple of others since high school for me and probably since that for you.
John: Oh, yes. I started a couple more after that, but I still missed the marketing piece. Somehow, I just did not understand that.
Paula: Yes. I think there is a myth out there in the world that the only thing you have to worry about when you are doing a start-up is providing a really good product or service. And if you provide a good enough product or service, that business will happen kind of magically.
John: Yes, it is the old adage that builds a better mousetrap and people will beat a path to your door and only if they know about it.
Paula: Yes, that is true.
John: They do not know about it, which is marketing. Then they are not going to come to knock on your door and want to buy.
Paula: Exactly. Right. And I think a lot of people, especially if you are coming from academia. If you are coming from the industry. If you are coming from someplace where you have always gotten a paycheck, and somebody is always covered your overhead, you are sometimes surprised at some of these little bits and pieces that can kill you if you do not pay attention to them. So, what we have done with our company — with ABCI is we have put together a start-up bundle of services that we wish that we had had in the different startups that we put together over the years.
So, this would have saved us from some of the pitfalls that we just fell through over the years because we did not do marketing. We did not know any of these things, and these are the things that we learned as I went into sales and marketing later in life. And I worked in marketing with Wells Fargo for a number of years, and that was very enlightening.
And then we also did several seminars, books, and other things. We are kind of self self taught other than the GKIC world, the Perry Marshalls of the world, the Dan Kennedys of the world, a lot of the great thinkers I would say of the 90s and 2000s. And we are still doing our book club and we are still doing three or four different seminars a year about sales and marketing, and we always incorporate those things into what we know about the aviation industry.
John: And I have been to more sales school than you can shake a stick at over since I left that company. But I have not learned anything about marketing up until I met her. Even in business school, they go through marketing stuff but they assume you got a budget of Coca-Cola, and we do not and most of you guys do not.
Paula: Right. A start-up usually has to be super careful with their money. And so, that is kind of where we came from with this startup bundle is how can we use their resources the most carefully and invest the most sweat equity on your end, so we are doing a collaboration of things that you can do to help build your sales and marketing system as you are building your business so that you will always have enough customers. So that you always have revenues. So that you can continue your business, be successful and not die as we did, right?
Paula: Okay, so we will go into more detail about what is included in this bundle. But it is basically everything that we wish that we had had, and it does take an investment on your part of the money and of time. In order to be authentic and in order to be cost-effective, we have you do an awful lot of the work, and that works out really, really well because you are your brand if you are a startup. In a lot of cases, people trust you because of their experience with you or because of what they see about you, and you become the face behind the brand.
And all the really, really good small brands that we have ever worked with has at least one person in the company that is willing and able — usually one of the founders, to be the rock star and the spokesperson of that company and willing and able to put themselves out there and really represent themselves as that company and build that credibility for that company. So, we will go into more detail about that. Next week we are going to talk about different ideas for startups and side hustles that you could start tomorrow depending on your resources, your skills, your proclivity or use your whatever, right?
Paula: All right. Okay, so thanks for joining us.
John: Go sell more stuff.
Paula: The industry and the business.
John: Yes. They do. We all do.
Paula: Right, and the industry needs small companies starting up all the time with great ideas. So, we are looking forward to working with you.
John: Have a great day. Stay healthy and happy.
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