Back to the Drawing Board

Day 14 | $24,666 paid | $66,051 till freedom

I Quit
I’ve had time to chill out, so you’re getting the calm, cool, collected me. If you had seen me earlier, you would have seen a raving lunatic. I was reminded tonight that I’m a terrible quitter. I’ll happily quit something when I’m successful at it, but can see that it’s not worth pursuing. On the other hand, I hate quitting something because I’ve failed, especially when I can see the potential in doing it. It’s very difficult for me to take that kind of quitting in stride.

But quit pedi-cabbing tonight I did, even though I can see so much potential in it. I quit not because I failed to make money at it, but because I couldn’t tolerate the boredom and isolation that I experienced while I did it.

Okay, So What Happened?
So I started tonight’s shift with a very positive and upbeat attitude, optimistic that I would clear $150. Last night, all the pedi-cabbies said Saturday would be much better than Friday because so many people come downtown after the game. 60 minutes into the shift, I had given only one 5-minute $20 ride, and had sat around and ridden around aimlessly for the other 55 minutes. I was making $20/hour, which is $4/hour better than last night, but you know you’re in need of job change when a transvestite taps you on the shoulder while you’re sitting on your pedi-cab in front of the gay bars on 4th and says, “Quit looking so sad!”

She/he was right. I had been sitting around for fifteen minute without any rides and was bored to tears, and it was starting to show on my face. Unfortunately, that look only feeds a negative cycle since pedi-cab drivers have to appear approachable in order to actually get rides.

It was right around the time I got that tap on the shoulder when I decided that pedi-cabbing was, sadly, not a good fit for me due to the dynamics currently at play in the Austin pedi-cabbing industry, dynamics best characterized as supply greatly outstripping demand due to the exorbitantly high price of a pedi-cab ride. There are way too many pedi-cab drivers and far too few people willing to pay for the service, and I am not the right kind of person to work in an industry with those characteristics–even if I can make $20/hour.

If pedi-cabbing work was more regular, it would be the perfect gig for me because I love biking, I love downtown, and I love being outside. However, I also like steady, dependable, fast-paced work, and pedi-cabbing is none of those. The low demand (relative to the supply) which is due to the high price prohibits any type of regular, consistent demand. Because of the high price, people consider pedi-cabs a luxury and hardly ever hail them. For every full pedi-cab, there are usually four empty ones.

Tonight, for the one ride I gave, I charged the two women the “special event price” of $10 per person, or $20 total. Today was game day, so this special event price is what all the pedi-cabbies were charging. I drove them from the Hilton to Rain on 4th street. That’s a distance of less than a half-mile. Really? $20 to ride a half-mile? Exorbitant. I enjoyed it and I didn’t even break a sweat and  I would have done the whole thing for $5. The costs of pedi-cabbing do not dictate $20 rides, nor does the supply, so I have no idea why the price is so high, especially since it appears to be killing demand.

However, the price–just like the trailer rental fees that the pedi-cabbies pay–is pretty much standard. Every pedi-cab driver was charging $10 a person per ride tonight. Last night, I met a pedi-cabbie and we were complaining about how slow it was, and he said it was because nobody who’s from Austin takes pedi-cabs because they’re an expensive gimmick akin to a tourist trap. Even the non-special event price of $5/person/ride is too high. (That’s exactly why I raced my friends on foot that one night when they took a pedi-cab. I refused to pay the ridiculous rate.)

Because of my desire for a fast-paced work environment, I’d be glad to give more rides per hour and make the same amount of money. Let me lay out two scenarios: In the first one, I transport only one group of two for only 15 minutes every hour and I make $20 on the ride ($10/person/ride). In the second one, I transport three groups of two for 15 minutes each every hour and I make $20 for the hour ($3.33/person/ride). I will choose scenario two every single time. I don’t care if I’d be working three times as much–I’m not out there to sit around or ride around with an empty trailer, I’m out there to work. Furthermore, it’s far more fun giving rides to people and interacting with them than sitting or riding around alone, which is completely isolating.

I’m not the kind of guy who can wait for opportunities to come to me. I can’t just park outside of a bar or some venue or ride around and wait for people to come to me. That passive kind of demand generation is completely unappealing to me. For example, whenever I visit a car dealership, I always think the same thing: I could never sit around and just wait for somebody to wander onto the lot so that I can pitch them a car. It’s like, for every x number of guys who meander onto the lot, the salesman will make a sale, and it will be huge, but what the hell is he doing with himself when he’s not pitching, when the dealership is dead? I need something more fast-paced.

So based on the current nature of the industry and what I know about my need for steady, fast-paced work, the only logical conclusion that I can draw is that pedi-cabbing and I are not a good match. The only way we’re going to see eye-to-eye is if the industry drops the going rate to something more reasonable so that demand picks up. And I don’t think the industry stakeholders have anything to worry about if they drop price–it’s not like supply would pick up in reaction to the increased demand and then force prices even lower because I don’t think there are a lot of guys like me who would prefer to do more work for less money just to avoid mind-numbing boredom.

I don’t know who regulates the price–whether it’s through the city or through unspoken collusion of the network of pedi-cabs, but it’s way too high. And as much as I’d love to be the Wal-Mart of pedi-cabbing–stack ’em high and sell ’em cheap–the general stigma of pedi-cabs has already been well established as being too pricey, and one guy riding around with his $3 price tag posted on the side of his trailer shouting his price out and audibly undercutting the competition probably 1) won’t be enough to change the stigma and materially increase demand, or 2) isn’t legal.

Of course, I don’t know about point #2–hell, I could be just the guy to turn the industry on its head and give it the kind of shake-up it’s been waiting for. The problem there is that other pedi-cab drivers would find out as I’d have to be very obvious about my low rate (read: yell it out loud as I’m riding down the street) in order to shift customers’ perceptions–and at any one time there are usually at least three pedi-cab drivers, all with empty trailers, within earshot of each other. Once they find out how badly I’m undercutting them, I might find myself with a few enemies and a couple of broken knees.

While very disappointed with the way this has turned out, I do take solace in that I’m not a complete failure since I overcame my fear of feeling subservient. I enjoyed the job last night–and even tonight–when I was actually giving rides, but I never got over detesting the down-time. I walk away from this venture not with frustration with myself, but frustration with the industry.

So pedi-cabbing is out. What’s next? I know that I want fast-paced, steady work, and I want it to have a manual aspect to it. Outdoors would be preferred. Weekends only, as my day job tends to run into the evenings. That being said, tutoring is one thing that has caught my eye, even though it doesn’t align with most of the characteristics I just listed. I also listed myself on mommymixer.com. Male nanny, anyone? There’s got to be a niche for that. Heck, I’ve even considered consulting, which more than one reader has suggested.

One thing is for sure: I need to do more objective due diligence in gig-searching, especially regarding jobs that are so far outside my realm of familiarity. I glamorized pedi-cabbing. I wanted it to be awesome. The depot owners hyped it up and oversold it because they need somebody to rent their trailers, and I completely fell for it because I wanted to believe it was as fun and as lucrative as they described it. Which isn’t to say that it’s not–I’m sure most guys enjoy the pace. But not me.

If you want a gently used Trek FX 7.2, black/gray, size 20″ for $500 tax-free (purchased for $519, comes with free $20 bar-ends and a $10 bell), please let me know.

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12 Comments

Filed under Increase Revenue

12 responses to “Back to the Drawing Board

  1. Amanda

    Dude. Consulting is the only way you will be able to make the money you need. Every minute you spend screwing around with some other $20/hour job, the less time you’ve spent finding people who will pay you $100/hour for consulting. Big tip on this: don’t set your rates too low.

    Tutoring is a good gig (I’ve done it off and on), but unless you can find a really niche market, you won’t be able to charge much more than $40/hour. If you can work your way into tutoring at a toney private school where you can charge $100/hr, do it.

    And don’t work for Kaplan or similar. They have you go through meaningless training and pay shit. Ask around and get your first few kids from word of mouth, and just start. You went to Harvard. You know how to take the SATs and GMATs. You know how to study. Use that to your advantage and just start tutoring. You don’t need training or some service to find one or two of your own tutoring clients and try it out. Don’t make the same mistake you did with the pedi-cab thing, where you invested in something without actually knowing if it had a reasonable chance of working for you.

  2. Brad

    Sorry to hear that. I understand with demand being so low though. Keep your thinking cap on, I am sure you will think of a new gig.

  3. Sarah

    Maybe you can teach a GMAT class at Kaplan or a similar place or hold a getting into Business school seminar.

  4. I’m also trying to pay off $85k in student loans, but I won’t be able to start my debt snowball until after I finish grad school (wish is payed for, thank god! All of my loans are from undergrad). Anyway, I’ve been trying to do some tutoring in my spare time, but have had difficulty getting the side business going. If you end up tutoring, I’m looking forward to hearing how you break into the industry (Kaplan, Princeton review vs. private tutor) and how lucrative it is.

  5. @Amanda I’ve mentioned freelance consulting, too. It makes a lot of sense, especially for a Harvard MBA. If the author is interested, I recommend creating a free website using http://about.me . It’s a good place to start and it doesn’t cost more than the price of a custom domain ($10/yr).

    Since pedi-cabbing is out, have you consider bike mechanic? That’s probably a $60-$80/hr. freelance gig. Tools are always an investment, but a lot of work (tire changes, tune-ups) can be accomplished will a minimal toolset.

    Final note, stop buying new stuff (i.e. your bike). The depreciation for a couple days use was probably $100-$250. I’ve said this before as well: Craigslist is your friend!

    All in all, you’re making a lot of beginner financial mistakes that are hindering your ability to pay of these loans. Please read this book: http://bit.ly/psK0Xe . It’ll really help you understand how to accomplish your goals, especially focusing on the “big wins”, an idea I think would help you the most.

    • It would be awesome if I could pick up bike repair and maintenance skills at the drop of a hat, but that’s actually a fairly complex trade–if I want to do it right, which I do–not an easy-to-learn gig. Thanks for the…encouragement?

  6. Prag Jain

    Joe, if you bought your bike recently using a Visa Signature card, you are entitled to return the product back upto 90 days no questions asked. If the vendor won’t take the bike back, Visa will pay you the first $500 of the amount and take the bike off your hands. I am sure other credir cards offer similar services if you go through fine print. My bike was stolen back at Stanford but Visa paid me for the bike due to these benefits. Also, you don’t have to have a fancy card with high annual fee to get this perk.

  7. I second the consulting thing. You have mentioned that you’re not into the office-consulting thing, but if you’re willing to suck it up on all these other things, why don’t you suck it up on a few months of consulting? It would even be experience for you in running a business like you mentioned.

    Back to pedi-cabbing, have you considered maybe turning some of those customers into returning clients? In Duluth, MN where I live many of the cab drivers give out their individual numbers so every weekend they get the same groups. Just a thought. Maybe you considered this already

    • I might consult…I’m definitely not above it. I just don’t know how good at it I would be, to be quite honest. The returning clients idea is an awesome one, and something I would have done if I were still doing the pedi-cabbing. And in all honesty, I hadn’t considered it. But giving my # out and building clientele is a great idea.

  8. Pingback: 4th Teach-Back’s a Charm | No More Harvard Debt

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