Entrepreneurs: Young, Middle-aged & Old -                                   They made that leap! 



    People find the instant Internet millionaires fascinating. Many fantasize, "I could do that too." To a certain extent, that is true. You could win a major lottery also. However for most, the three examples below will be closer to our own realities. Success, yes, but there is no "instant" associated with it. For a look at some of the major Internet entrepreneurs (the very "big brothers" of the entrepreneurs below), see "The Internet Tycoons" at Papers.


The Young Elmer

    So you think your work outside of school, say a paper route, lawn mowing or a stint at McDonalds, started early, early in life or early in the morning, whatever? Or maybe you think that for just being an adolescent you worked pretty hard?

    Elmer is an independent contractor and construction site overseer who usually runs a small crew of workers, sometimes up to 30 or 40. On a recent job for a restaurant/disco in Munich, Germany he was running a crew of a dozen or so. As is his custom, he did a lot of the work (electrical, masonry, flooring, painting) himself. As the deadline for opening approached, he picked up the pace his last ten days on the job. For instance he was on site 35 hours straight, went home to eat, sleep, freshen up, came back nine hours later, worked 22 hours straight, went home and so on.

    Elmer is 39 years old and has 33 years work experience. Of course not all of that is in construction. The first time he was a member of a start-up was from the ages of six to nine for his mother’s “two-man” cosmetic company in El Salvador. She handled the production. He did the sales. The two of them lived from those earnings.

    She would give him a bag full of cosmetic creams every morning, seven days a week. He would walk up to people on the street and smear some cream on their hand or arm. Rubbing it in, he would tell them how good it smelled. If you could not afford to buy the tube right away, he would explain that you could make three separate payments. He would not return home until the bag was empty. On a bad day that meant he worked pretty late into the night. Fortunately that did not happen too often.

    When he turned nine years old he left the start-up to work more regular hours in a bakery. He needed more free time to be able to go to school to learn how to read and write.  At the bakery at first all he did was clean. However eventually he got a chance to sell. He would go out on to the street with a basket full of cakes and sweets. He always came back with the basket empty, doing well enough so that his cleaning days were over.

    At thirteen he changed jobs to work in a dairy. He began by operating various dairy machines. One of the men on the dairy route was fired for drinking (not milk) on the job. Elmer was asked if he would like to take over the route, which entailed carrying 50 liters of milk on his back. He asked how much he could earn, and was told at any rate more than working the dairy machines.

    He started the route at 4:00 a.m. every morning, i.e. he was getting up at 3:20, 3:30 a.m. or thereabouts. After making the deliveries he would go to school. In the afternoons he would go back to his route to collect payment. (Even if customers had been up in those wee morning hours, he did not want to be paid then. He feared that, weighted down by the milk, he would be too easy to rob.)

    He saved his money in order to buy a bicycle with a trailer, which increased his delivery efficiency by a factor of four. Eventually he built up the original 50-liter route to one of 200 liters. Encouraged by this success, a year later, i.e. at the age of 15, he added a completely new night delivery route, and started saving money for a car.

    He is proud of two things. First, by the age of 15 his earnings were more than the combined earnings of three adult laborers at the dairy. Second, he never missed one single day of school the years of his milk routes. When he was 16 his mother had a second marriage to a German and the family moved to Munich.

    There he learned masonry and continued with the trade school program for becoming a contractor until he was 20 years old. He worked as a mason, then foreman, running crews of 40 to 60 workers on large construction sites. After doing that for about three years, he struck out on his own as an independent contractor. He is devoted to his German wife and to his three children. Although he does not read books, he is a strong believer in education, and is determined that his children become well-educated.


The middle-aged Wellman

David Wellman is the CEO of Absolute Convergence, a start-up in Utah, U.S., which provides customer behavior analysis. His blog on the Harvard Business Publishing website about the question of when entrepreneurs should make the move is quoted by Noam Wasserman in her article “Planning a Start-up?  Seize the Day. . . Then Expect to Work All Night,” Harvard Business Review, Jan. 2009, p. 27. David Wellman writes:

            “Well, today is my birthday, number 40, and I am just finishing year one of my own venture. I have professional investment backing, a product in its infancy, two large clients, a dozen smaller ones, and a lot in the pipe.

            I have that CEO title, and I was sweeping the floor this morning. It’s 3:20 AM, and I am still at work, pulling my second all-nighter this week. I don’t have enough people, time, or energy to deal with all the daily problems, such as making a Costco run to get more printer paper.

            Yes, the hours are arduous, my customers are more demanding than the most difficult boss I ever had, my pay is paltry, and sometimes I need to give it back. The work environment is less desirable than my college dorm room.

            But the second half of my career looks good from here!"


The aging Col. Sanders

    “Sanders took to franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, starting at age 65, using $105 from his first Social Security check to fund visits to potential franchisees.” (Wikipedia, 2009)

    Harland David Sanders (1890 -1980), renowned as Colonel Sanders, dropped out of school in seventh grade. His mother had a second marriage to a man who beat him, so he ran away from home. He enlisted in the Army at the age of 16 (by lying about his age). He spent his entire time in the service in Cuba. After an adventurous career that included stints as a steamboat pilot, an insurance salesman, a railroad fireman and a farmer, Sanders eventually wound up with a service station in Kentucky. 

    By then he was 40. He cooked meals, including chicken dishes, for people who stopped at his service station. The customers would eat in his living quarters. His cooking became more and more popular and Sanders moved to a motel and restaurant that seated 142 people, working as the chef. 

    Over the next nine years he perfected his method of quickly cooking chicken with a pressure fryer instead of a conventional frying pan. In 1935 Governor Ruby Laffon bestowed him the honorary title of "Kentucky Colonel.” Sanders was delighted. He called himself "Colonel" from then on and made a point to dress accordingly as a way of promoting himself.

    The construction of a major interstate highway badly hurt the restaurant’s business. In response to this ominous threat to his livelihood, Sanders went on the road. “Sanders took to franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurants, starting at age 65, using $105 from his first Social Security check to fund visits to potential franchisees.” (Wikipedia, 2009)

    At one point a KFC restaurant was failing badly. Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's Old Fashioned Burgers, was asked to help. Together with Sanders, Thomas reduced the menu from some hundred items down to just the basic fried chicken offering and salad. This menu not only saved that individual restaurant, but also was the breakthrough for the success of the KFC franchise. 

    In 1964 Sanders (then 74 years old) sold the U.S. part of the business for $2 million to a partnership of Kentucky businessmen. In 1965 Sanders moved to Ontario to oversee his Canadian franchises. He later established the Colonel Harland Sanders Trust and Colonel Harland Sanders Charitable Organization. (These contributed over $1,000,000 in charitable donations and scholarships in 2007.) He was active and energetic, and still wearing his "Colonel" attire, until his death at ninety of pneumonia.


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