Thinking Outside of the Box
In 2002, I was on top of the world. With an MBA and a decade of experience as an enterprise technology consultant, the world was my oyster. Though I had everything an employee could ever want, I ultimately discovered that I hated working for big companies. Specifically, I hated working in an environment that moved so slowly. I had ideas. I had energy. I wanted to change the world. I wanted my work to have meaning. More important, I wanted to make a positive impact … and I wanted to do it fast.
Fueled by my ego and not a business plan, I left my secure job in the corporate world to embark on an eco-friendly, entrepreneurial idea. I wanted to tap into an under-represented market of quality, used cardboard boxes. I wanted to be the “middle man” in the moving box industry. I’d buy boxes from people who recently moved into their homes, and then turn around and sell those boxes to people who were moving out for less than the cost of new boxes. I wasn’t sure how to scale the business, but thought that I would figure that out when the time came.
It was a great idea, and one that quickly gained a lot of traction. Before I knew it, I had a retail store, built a massive customer base and landed a nice spread in Entrepreneur magazine. On any given Saturday, I had customers lining up around the block. I felt like a business rock star, and in theory, things looked great. Did I mention that I didn’t have a business plan? Well, I didn’t. Instead, I let my ego make all of the decisions. After all, I graduated college with honors! I had an MBA! I worked for one of the most prestigious consulting firms in America! I didn’t need a stinkin’ business plan.
Well, maybe I did. After three years, four retail stores and thousands of boxes sold, I had somehow found myself with zero money in the bank and US$300,000 in personal debt. When I started out, I had significant equity in my house, my wife and I drove expensive cars and we took exotic vacations. And then one day, seemingly out of the blue, I found myself with no cars, a useless delivery truck and no money for my mortgage, let alone a vacation. After three years of working 16 hour days, seven days a week, I was forced to close my company. I was completely broke, and I had nothing to show for it but a bruised ego and an enormous debt to service.
Building a lucrative business and then watching it flounder was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I didn’t become an entrepreneur to be in debt, and I surely didn’t borrow money just to lose it! This experience taught me that ideas are great; some are even sexy, innovative and garner a lot of attention. However, ideas alone do not a business make. They are only the first step (and often the least important) in building a business from the ground up. A scalable business plan, profitable execution and a growth/ reinvestment model are critical for starting a business on the right foot. I was way off.
Since this traumatic experience, I’ve implemented the necessary steps to get my business back on track. Today, we deliver eco-friendly moving kits to any address in the US in one to two business days, guaranteed. And guess what? We do it profitably! Why? Because I embraced my mistakes, created and stuck to a plan, and decided to build a business from the ground up, all with the future in mind. It’s amazing what can happen when you let go of your ego and think outside of the box.
Marty Metro is the founder and CEO of UsedCardboardBoxes.com. E-mail Marty at firstname.lastname@example.org.