Door-to-door car washing at 9 years old.
I would like to share with you my first entrepreneurial experience. I was nine years old. I don’t remember how the idea occurred to me, but one summer my brother and I set out to go door-to-door asking people if we could clean a room in their house for a dollar. Yes! One whole dollar! Had we gotten a client we would have stayed an entire afternoon just cleaning a room for that dollar; but, no one was biting. Can you believe that no one wanted children that they didn’t know entering their home to clean, completely unsolicited? After getting shut down a few times I decided to switch up our approach. I thought that maybe we needed a reason to be to be there – so I invented a story about how my little brother’s hamster died and that our purpose for going door-to-door was to earn money to pay for a new one. We gained a few sympathy dollars, which for a few houses we took advantage of – I’d point at my brother on the sidewalk, which was a signal for him to wipe his face to pretend like he had been crying. However, my conscience caught up to me and by the end of the fourth block we stopped, I thought most certainly I’d go to hell for it (my Catholic faith at the time had me thinking that maybe God was watching).
I realized no one wanted our room cleaning service. Maybe there was something we can do outside instead? On the way back home, rounding out the neighborhood, it dawned on me that maybe I should ask what the client wants from us? So, I started to ask, “Do you have any work for us? We’ll clean or do chores for a dollar.” Before we were specific about cleaning a room inside the house. Our neighbor then asked if we’d wash his car, something we can do outside of his house. He gave us a bucket with some soap and pointed to where his garden hose was and said to knock on the door when we thought we were done. So, we got to work and about 30 minutes later we thought we had done a pretty good job. So I asked him what he thought, and he said that it was good work but gave us a few pointers about washing cars.
We were pretty excited about our new venture – instead of cleaning rooms we were going to wash cars. So, we went home and gathered some materials: a bucket, wash cloths and dish soap. We then started looking for really dirty cars and knocking on doors. It worked. We were getting 2 or 3 customers a block. There were so many cars that needed cleaning. When we were through with our neighborhood I wondered aloud about how we can get more customers? My brother suggested maybe we can form a car wash at a friends house who had a large driveway on a busy road. So we asked our friend and his parents rented their driveway for 50 cents an hour (to cover cost of water) and we raised our prices to 5 dollars (so that our friends and I could earn a dollar for every car we washed). We created large signs that said CAR WASH / ONLY 5 DOLLARS! And it worked! In the end, it was a pretty great entrepreneurial experience.
I didn’t know it then, but I had an entrepreneurial spirit, a knack for leadership, and that my market research skills (listening to want the client wants) wasn’t too bad. I’ve become aware that now, 25 years later, I’m still learning about being a good business developer. It’s complicated – there’s first planning, which involves business intelligence (knowing what you’re doing and why) and competitive analysis (who else is doing what you’re doing and how are they doing it and what is their purpose and is there anything we can learn from them?). Then from there, developing a business plan and so on and so forth… blah blah blah… man… good times.