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John Petersen

Who's Going to Wash the Dishes

Thinking back on this, it sounds so completely crazy. A few months before I graduated college, I hit a fork in the road of life that could have taken me down a path so incredibly foreign to where I am now. It stemmed from my need for uncertainty and growth and living the life of my dreams. I convinced 3 of my best friends from high school that we should buy a bar in Hawaii and move out there an run it ourselves.

What a different life that would have been. Only 1 of us had ever been to Hawaii before, but we all thought it would be a good idea. Slinging drinks in paradise.

I decided that if it was going to happen, it was up to me to pull it all together. I purchased software that would help me calculate the costs associated with opening and running a bar. That "software" was a business plan template and some excel sheet templates, but I had to wait 10 days to get the CD delivered in the mail. 2001 was a different time, but I digress :)

I ran all the numbers, put together the business plan, crunched our potential profits to make sure we could survive, found and researched several bars that were for sale in Hawaii (which was harder than it sounds back in 2001), and we found an investor who was interested in potentially lending us the money. We were serious.

Meanwhile, two of us already had full-time jobs and the other two had accepted positions upon graduation. It didn't matter. This was the chance of a lifetime (I convinced everyone), because if we didn't do it now, we'd never have the chance to drop our lives and move to Hawaii. Turns out, that part was true as two of my friends are now married and one has a kid. Maybe there's still a chance I could convince the fourth guy though!?

Having Difficult Discussions Early

We had virtually everything in place and were ready to move forward with Operation The Good Life, but it all unravelled in one meeting. We were reviewing the numbers from my financial plan that I created from the fancy excel template and everything went to shit.

The numbers were tight. Buying an existing bar in Hawaii was not cheap, and by the time we paid for all the expenses and made our loan payments, there was little money left for us. I argued that we didn't need any money because we were building a business and living in Hawaii. That was enough for me, but we tried to finagle the numbers a bit. I planned for a conservative scenario which is something I still do to this day at Firehawk. Under promise. Over deliver.

As we were trying to cut some costs, I said we could get rid of a person washing dishing. The immediate response was:

"Who's going to wash the dishes?"

I thought the answer was obvious. "We will. At least until we get enough momentum going and create a stable business. We can take turns washing the dishes and save about $30k / year that goes directly into our pockets."

Turns out my cost cutting ideas weren't so well received. "I don't want to buy a bar in Hawaii just to have to wash the dishes every night." That response alone told me everything I needed to know about this plan. My friends weren't committed to making this work, but rather the grand vision of owning bar in a Hawaii. And who could blame them. It definitely sounded better than working "the grind" for the next 40 years before you can retire.

Wash Your Own Damn Dishes

In every company I've started, I've always been the one washing the dishes, at least initially. I look at it as a game. My goal as a founder of a company is to eliminate myself from as many roles as possible through automation and new hires. By doing the job myself in the early days, I can make intelligent decisions about the future of that role.

At day 1 of NYC Dev Shop, I was the person who handled Sales, Marketing, Biz Dev, Project Management, Product Management, Customer Relations, Finances, HR and a whole slew of other stuff. Same thing at NY Tech Day. The first event was me and my old business partner. I was in charge of Sponsorship sales, Exhibitor registration, Attendee signups, Press and Investor relations, and on and on and on.

If you're thinking about starting a company today, I'd strongly suggest you think about what your own role is going to be. Do everything you can early to ensure that you understand the business completely and to keep your burn rate low. As you grow and prove that you have the chops to run a successful business, then you can start to remove yourself from the things you don't want to do.

In the beginning though, you have to wash your own damn dishes.

P.S. This story may sound a little far-fetched and made up. I buried this so far in my brain that I haven't thought about it for years, but I assure you it's all true. For some reason (probably sentimental of a life that never was), I've held on to proof all these years.

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