Category Archives: Increase Revenue

Mad Respect for My HBS Profs

Day 29 | $31,450 paid | $59,267 till freedom

Per my post last night that highlighted a $5k+ delta to my $90k debt pay-off goal, there is no rest for the weary, and I have to go find more money if I want to be debt-free by the end of June.

I just got done with night one of SAT tutor training/interviewing, and it couldn’t have gone more poorly. To quickly recap the selection process, there is a Skype interview that starts the ball in motion, followed by three three-hour training sessions taking place over three consecutive days. After that, trainees must take the SAT and score 2100, a score which could get a high school junior into a level of schools just below the Ivies.

 Only 2% of all applicants are hired on to be SAT instructors for the company with which I’m interviewing–HBS’s acceptance rate at ~9% is actually better!

The three training sessions simply consist of “teach-backs,” where the “manager of instruction” opens the 300-page curriculum at random, selects a  page, chooses a trainee to deliver a three to five-minute lesson, or “teach-back” on it, and gives them 30 seconds to prepare. If the teach-back goes well, the trainee is invited back for the second training session, and if that goes well, for the third. 

In the delivery of the teach-back, the trainee is evaluated on five areas:

  • Concept mastery
  • Boardwork
  • Personality
  • Energy
  • Interaction

The main call-out from all of these was interaction. Each of the six actual classes is three hours long, and in order to keep highschoolers interested for that long of a time, the trainee must engage the class at a rate of 80/20–the class should be talking 80% of the time, the instructor 20%. This is very similar to the HBS class format which is all about the “case discussion” rather than a lecture format, and the professor utilizes the Socratic Method to get the class discussion heading in the right direction, making sure the students draw the right conclusions from the case study, but draw them on their own. Making this connection, I took solace in the fact that I had experienced top-notch student-led discussions for two years at the West Point of Capitalism, and assumed I would be fine in that regard.

That being said, I did not completely relax, and rightfully so, seeing as how I completely crashed and burned during my teach-back.

First off, three of the six trainees were actual teachers, so right away they had an advantage over me in the area of boardwork, if not everything else. Second, and this one was my fault, I didn’t prep for the training as well as I could have. Trainees were expected to come into the first training session being intimately familiar with the 300 pages of the curriculum and all ten hours of training videos on the website. I had every intention of prepping thoroughly over the weekend, but I worked on  the landscaping business from 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturday, printing flyers, hanging them, and working on Michael’s yard, testing our timing assumptions and ironing out best practices. I also went out with friends that night from 10 PM to 4 AM, got to sleep around 4:30 AM, and woke up at 1 PM on Sunday. Oops. Out of all the stuff I was supposed to do this past weekend–work on the landscaping business, prep for the SAT  training, go out with friends, wash my cars, mow my lawn, trim my shrubs, call my parents, go to church, go grocery shopping, and cook my lunches and dinners for the week–I managed to squeeze in grocery shopping, some work on the biz, going out with friends, and stumbling through 150 pages of the  SAT curriculum and five hours of videos.

(Balance. I need to work on it. I probabaly didn’t have to go out for six and a half hours on Saturday. That being said, I might have been too aggressive in building all of those chores into my weekend itinerary.)

So right off the bat, I wasn’t looking good on the mastery front or boardwork front, but I feel that I have a decent personality and I have a lot of energy, and I thought I could do the whole engagement/interaction thing based on my experience at HBS, watching HBS profs in action.

Wrong.

The manager of instruction, Ryan, asked me to teach page 18 of the curriculum, which is all about how to employ a three-step strategy for reading through a dense and boring critical reading passage. Several students had already done teach-backs on other topics and received public feedback from Ryan, so between the five evaluation points mentioned above and the customized feedback he gave each trainee, I had a good idea of what he was looking for. Beyond the five key areas, it was also important to create a “hook” that  grabs the students, personalizes  the upcoming lesson for them, requires their engagement, and pulls them in. When I turned to page 18 to figure it all out, I broke out into a cold sweat. While it seemed that there had been obvious hooks for the three trainees that preceded me, I had nothing! Literally nothing came to my mind. I had absolutely no idea how to make this interesting.

I’m fairly good at winging things, and I assumed that I could just wing it–this had to be easier than the kinds of presentations I give and the discussions I’m involved with in meetings with executive directors and VPs of the Fortune 500 tech company where I work.

On the other hand, I was sitting right next to the exit, and a part of me really wanted to head out to the parking lot rather than up to the front of the class.

I felt the clock ticking, so I got up from my seat, walked to the front of the class, turned around, put page 18 on the desk in front of me, looked out at the trainees and Ryan, then the looking turned into staring, and I stared at them some more, and I waited for the words to come to me. Nothing came. My visions of leading with a crazy hook and being an awesome MC of a super-intriguing discussion rather than a boring instructor of a boring lecture fell apart before my eyes.

I had no hook! I still had no freaking hook. I couldn’t believe it. My armpits immediately became geysers, and I could feel my face turn dark red. “Oh my gosh, no way. I’m actually doing far worse than the girl who went second, and she completely bombed this,” was basically all I could think. And then I just started lecturing. I didn’t even acknowledge anybody in the room for the first 120 seconds of my spiel, and I still can’t really remember exactly what I said. I do know that I tried to use some big words to try to compensate for the mess I was making. 

Finally, realizing I hadn’t engaged anyone worth a darn, I started asking the class completely random questions about the strategy, questions that provided absolutely zero value-add to the lesson. I couldn’t steer the discussion worth a darn by asking follow-up questions, either. I was in a tailspin, grasping at straws, and going down fast. All the trainees’ faces had this pained look of awkward embarrassment on their faces. Nobody could look me in the eyes. Beads of sweat were gathering on my forehead. I eventually pulled out of my tailspin by just letting them do the talking, which didn’t really work since they didn’t know what they were supposed to say, and I finally took them out of their misery by abruptly ending the lesson.

To any HBS profs who might have happened across this blog: My goodness. Never, ever, ever let anybody tell you that letting or trying to force a bunch of students do the talking is an easier teaching model than straight-up lecturing. The Socratic Method is chaos wanting and waiting to be unleashed, and only the most adept professors can control it. Bravo to each and every one of you. You had my admiration and respect while I was at HBS, and now you have it ten-fold.

The feedback from Ryan and the class was about what I thought it would be–extremely negative. I wanted to hand my curriculum binder to Ryan and drive away in my car, but since Ryan had said some people might give two teach-backs, I figured there might be a slim chance that I could salvage it.

Later on, the final two people who had to give a teach-back read through a part of a critical reading passage, each taking a paragraph and leading a class discussion around it. They got feedback from Ryan and the class at the end of their turn, so it became very clear how this was supposed to be done. Ryan called me up to to lead the class in discussion on the third paragraph, and because I had seen it twice–with post-mortem feedback to boot–I managed to emulate the prior two, add some flair, and–not too surprisingly, given all the prep–I actually did fairly well.

At the end of the class, Ryan sent us all into a room and called us out one-by-one to tell us in private if we would go to the Tuesday training session. If I had been Ryan, I would have been very split on whether or not to give me a second chance. Thankfully, he did, and he said that for tomorrow’s teach-back, I’ll need to have a very clear action plan on how to attack the lesson I’m given because that’s when I’m a much more effective and confident instructor–not when I try to build the plan on the fly. I couldn’t have agreed with him more. I shook his hand and thanked him for the probation.

I’m definitely nervous about tomorrow. The only reason I did well on the second teach-back was because I had a model to follow and build upon. I definitely won’t be so lucky tomorrow, but I don’t have time to prep since I have a full day of work before training. I do want this job. Good SAT performance is important, I want to help kids do well on it, but most importantly, the job pays fairly well at  $25/hour.

Cream of the Cream of the Crop
One of the teach-backs in training today was about why the SAT is important and why high-school kids need to take it seriously. That took me way, way back to my days as a 16-year-old. When I was 16, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to go to an Ivy League school and make $100,000/year when I graduated. That was literally a goal of mine, and that was the salary I wanted.

My counselor shot that dream down, though, during the one-on-one session that all juniors were required to have with their counselors. I told her about my hopes to go to Harvard or Yale, and she advised me to look elsewhere because “only the cream of the cream of the crop go to schools like Harvard.” I can still remember her name, of course, and the lay-out of her office that I was sitting in when she delivered that tidbit of advice to me. I can even remember the visual I got in my head when she told me that line–a cup of coffee, with a little puddle of cream floating on the surface, and only the really, really white cream in the very center of that puddle was worthy of consideration to a top tier school. I remember being envious of that cream, and wondering why it was so much more special than I.

I ended up not applying to any Ivy League schools and instead went to Michigan. But that moment in the guidance counselor’s office has stayed with me today because that was the first time in my life somebody had ever discouraged me from reaching for my goals. My parents have always told me that everything will work out as long as I do my very best. I should have listened to them, instead of putting my trust in somebody whom I considered a subject matter expert.

(By the way, going to Michigan’s b-school for undergrad and rowing on the crew team is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me, so things have a funny way of working out.)

Could I have made it into any Ivy undergrad? I took some AP classes, graduated 12th out of my class of 453 students, had some decent extra-curriculars, and got  a 32 (99th percentile) on the ACT on the first try without a prep course. However, I also got a relatively lousy 1220 (85th percentile) on the SAT on the first try without a prep course, and for east coast schools, the SAT is the critical test. If I had received more positive feedback from my counselor, would I have taken an SAT prep course, scored better, applied to some Ivies, and been accepted? And if I had, where would I be now? I can’t really complain about how life has turned out thus far.

It turns out my parents were right. God bless them.

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We Have Lift-Off

Day 21 | $24,666 paid | $66,051 till freedom

Exactly one week ago, Michael called me up to tell me about the money that the city of Austin is paying residents to xeriscape their yards. Today, after having spent 68 hours and seven days fleshing out the business model, we launched a website for our company that explicitly supports this initiative.

I went to Michael’s house at 10 AM on Saturday and Sunday. The old me would have still been sleeping. We worked until midnight on the first day, clocking 14 hours of straight work without any real breaks, and we put in another ten on Sunday for a total of 24 hours over the weekend. Leading up to the weekend, we had put in about ten hours each. All told, we’ve sunk 68 man hours and $50 into the business.

You would never catch me putting in over a single hour of work for my day job on a typical weekend, let alone 24, but it’s a completely different mentality since I’m working for myself.

You would also never catch me missing a night out with my friends, but I missed the fight-watching party on Saturday night that I mentioned in an earlier post. I was supposed to go to my friend’s house at 4:30 PM, but 4:30 came and went, and so did the next seven and a half hours–poof, into nothing. 

I guess priorities change when you’re working for yourself.

The site for the business turned out far, far better than we expected it to, complete with an online design and quote process, a plethora of high-quality xeriscape images, and even an FAQ. It also includes a bio in which I had originally listed Michigan and HBS as my alma maters, and even included a link to my LinkedIn profile. A colleague at work advised me to remove HBS and the link because even if customers believe it, it looks–to use her words–“sketchy.”

That feedback gave me pause. It’s funny…it seems that HBS can sometimes be as much of a liability as an asset, depending on the career field in question. I’d argue, of course, that at least nine times out of ten, it’s a very big asset.

The site has gotten over 200 hits since we launched it at 8 PM, but I’m guessing those are just our curious Facebook friends clicking the link in our status updates.

Demand generation is going to be critical at this stage. Selling our used cars on Craigslist is about as entrepreneurial as Michael and I have ever been, so this will be a huge learning experience with a steep ramp. Word of mouth will be the main growth stimulant for the business, and we have fairly high hopes for that since Michael’s neighbors have frequently asked how much he charges for the xeriscaping work he did on his own yard. Now he has an answer–and a website and business email address, too.

I’m lucky to be friends with Michael. He’s well-paid and has made some very wise investments, so he’s probably not in this for the money. He also has a wife and kid, so any time he spends on the business is time away from his family. I believe he’s in it because he’s always wanted to do his own thing–when we worked in the same office together, we used to constantly talk about going into business together to build a hot start-up, but for whatever reason, it never went beyond talk. A low-budget landscaping business is definitely not what we anticipated, but at least we’re starting somewhere.

Impulsive

I always knew I was an impulsive guy, but my behavior over the past few weeks really highlights that. Who thinks that ped-cabbing looks like an interesting gig on one day (August 30th), and has already gone through the “interview” process, navigated multiple levels of bureaucracy to get a license, bought a bike, completed training, and started pedi-cabbing ten days later (September 9th)?

Likewise, who is pitched a business idea by their friend (September 10th) and launches the business seven days later?

Sometimes an interviewer will ask, “What’s a weakness of yours?” and the rule of thumb is to describe a weakness that could also subtly be interpreted as a strength. I think my response should be, “I’m incredibly impulsive. I dive right into a project and drive for results without understanding what temperature the water is, how deep it is, or if the liquid that I’m diving into is even water.” Good: I drive for results. Bad: I have no idea what the hell is going on.

This probably explains why I never seek out strategy roles at companies I work for.

 The good thing is that the latest venture has a very low monetary cost to start. The time investment was somewhat high, of course, and although I have only ten months to achieve my goal, I think I can afford to spend a weekend investigating a business idea that looks reasonable, at least from a high level.

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Another $500 Bike?

Day 19 | $24,666 paid | $66,051 till freedom

You know you’re on a mission to pay down $90k in 10 months when you write two blog posts on a Friday night!

Dating Then Not
So the girl and I are no longer. I called her up and we talked about it, and it seemed like the best thing to do was to end it. It wasn’t a money issue–she didn’t care about money. In fact, she probably lives more cheaply than I do. And while she didn’t want money–something I don’t have right now–she did want time, which is another thing I don’t have right now. It sucks that it ended that way, but at the end of the day, I’m not in marriage-mode right now, and I’m not going to lead somebody on for ten months in a relationship where we hardly see each other for something that’s probably not going to be very long-term, anyway.

Instead of seeing her tonight as planned, I’m going to be posting this blog (one hour) and working on the landscaping business website. At 9 AM tomorrow, I have a meeting with Michael, my friend who thought of the idea, to flesh out the rest of the business plan and launch the site.

Odd Friday Night
On the typical Friday night, I’d either be downtown with my friends or on a date. Tonight is the first Friday that I’ve spent at home in a long, long time–for as long as I can remember, in fact. Even last Friday, I wasn’t home–I was downtown pedi-cabbing. But it’s okay–I’m actually really looking forward to working on the site and planning the business. I think we have such an incredible opportunity on our hands. Michael is a really sharp guy who went to A&M and is a landscaping guru, and I think we’re going to be able to do something really special when we put our heads together. I’m energized.

A part of me definitely misses downtown and hanging out with my friends, and in fact, my buddy texted me to go smoke a hookah at Kasbah, get some Torchy’s Tacos, and go downtown. That sounded incredibly tempting, I was extremely close to saying yes, and it was only with serious willpower that I said no thanks. We’re all getting together at my buddy’s house tomorrow night to watch the fight and possibly go downtown after, so I have that to look forward to. I’ll bring the flask just in case we do end up DT. I haven’t had a guys’ night in a couple of weeks, and I’m looking forward to it.

The Modeling Thing
I met with Nicole from a local modeling agency today and while it went well, it took me to a critical decision point.

The agency has offices in Miami and Hong Kong, and they just started actively recruiting talent for their new Austin office three weeks ago. Nicole and I hit it off and we had a casual conversation for about 30 minutes before getting down to brass tacks.

She had me fill out a form with my measurements and skills. When I asked her if she just wanted my resume instead of a list of my skills, she gave me this really puzzled look and told me no thanks. When I pressed her for details on what kind of skills I should list, she told me to list whatever I can do that a potential client might be interested in when they’re casting models. I still had no idea what she meant, but I didn’t want to risk looking like a complete amateur and asking her to explain further, so I took the bull by the horns and wrote, “ride my motorcycle, run, lift weights, bicycle, hike, business.” I felt like a complete idiot.

Then Nicole told me I’d have to get some pictures taken with a local photographer, Steve, who charges about $400 for a portfolio. Visions of my $500 pedi-cab bike flashed in my head. Uh-oh…here we go again. I swallowed the lump in my throat as she went to explain that without my images, they wouldn’t be able to effectively market me to clients. That part makes sense. On top of that fee, the agency takes 20% of everything I make from their clients. That also makes sense. Both parts make complete sense if the model is awesome and gets assignments left and right. But me…? I wasn’t so sure, but I didn’t tell Nicole that. The meeting wrapped up as she she told me that she never asks anybody to sign on the spot, and that I should call her when I’m ready to proceed.

I went to the gym to work out and talked it over with a buddy who asked me how long it would take to make the $400 back. Valid question–why hadn’t I asked Nicole that?

I called Nicole when I got home,  gave her the context of the pedi-cab situation, told her I didn’t want to get burned again, and asked her to be very, very candid with me and tell me if I even had a snowball’s chance in hell of modeling in Austin and how long it would take to earn back the $400. She assured me that they weren’t taking on models just to fill their roster, and that I wouldn’t have been at the interview if they weren’t seriously interested in me. She went on to say that I have a “clean-cut/businessman/fitness/guy next door” look that will do well for commercial print in Austin, which is apparently more lifestyle/commercial than a place like New York, where “edgy” models tend to do better than guys who look like me.

She also referenced the guy who came to see her after me–I had actually passed him on the way out, so I knew whom she was talking about. She told me that she told him his look might not actually sell in Austin. He has a great face, and while Austinites encourage everybody to “keep Austin weird,” she told me his tattoos might actually be an issue that will prevent him from being picked up. She claimed that she disclosed all of this to him.

I didn’t tell her this, but I’ve never been super confident about my looks. For the first nine years of my life, I had a dark red birthmark on my face that strangers used to stare at and kids at school used to tease me about. They’d laugh at me and ask me why I had “kool-aid” on my face. I got it lasered off at age ten and  had about two years to work on my less-than-stellar self-image until adolescence struck with a vengeance, putting severe acne all over my face, in my ears, and on my back.  To say that dates were hard to come by would be an understatement! I struggled with the acne for several years until I was 16 and got on a six-month Accutane treatment. It worked like a charm and no scars were left behind, but the damage was already done; I had developed a really negative self-image that lingered for years.

I’ve finally gotten over it during the past few years just by increasing my self-awareness and by dating enough attractive girls to realize that I can’t be too much of an ogre. But to go from what I looked like during my formative years to…modeling? I’m filled with skepticism. Nicole told me on the phone to think it over and not be impulsive–nobody has a gun to my head forcing me to sign. She does want me to sign and thinks I would do well, but I should do it only if I really want to do it.

I’m going to marinate on it for a bit and maybe see how the landscaping and SAT tutor jobs go before I commit. I’m leaning towards doing it. I just wish pictures had some sort of a return policy like the bike did! 

Finally Some Incremental Revenue
On a ver positive note, I deposited $1,943 today from the roommates’ first and last pro-rated months and security deposits, and I got an extra $287 on my bi-weekly paycheck by taking my 401k contribution down to nothing. Three weeks after establishing this goal, I’m finally banking some incremental revenue!

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Creepers and Scams

Day 17 | $24,666 paid | $66,051 till freedom

The last thing I should be doing right now is writing a blog–I’m neck-deep in stuff to do, so much so that the girl I’ve been seeing for the past three weeks who I’m really into told me she doesn’t like being a “weekend friend.” Little does she know that if the landscaping business does what it’s supposed to do, it’ll be difficult to see her even on the weekends. Sadness… I tried to explain to her that my friends have invited me out every night this week, but I’ve turned them down every single time. She didn’t text back. I’m hoping to get out this weekend, but also not hoping to get out because that will mean that we don’t have any customers for the new xeriscaping biz. Catch-22.

Anyway, I’m writing tonight despite my limited bandwidth because I just had to share this. I joined modelmayhem.com because of the slightly ajar door I mentioned yesterday. I figure this site might help me get some spokesmodeling and/or trade show gigs, which actually pay fairly well. I’ve heard terrible  things about this site, but whatever–it’s worth a shot. Here’s the first message I got after joining that corroborates what I’ve heard:

Ok, thanks for the heads-up. But did that prepare me for the message I got later today? Helllll nooooo….Gladiators, anyone?

PASS! But let’s marinate on that for two seconds, can we? A free trip to San Diego and $2k …that’s 10 weekends of pedi-cabbing for a day of work. Okay,.

I did get a possibly legitimate message, though…might follow up on it.

And I was pleasantly shocked to see that the feature film was not actually a porn of any sort.

Promotion
Bad news–the hiring manager went back to HR and a 6% raise is all I’m going to see. He went back and forth with them, but couldn’t budge the offer–he walked me through the reasons, but basically what it boiled down is that my new salary puts me in the middle of my pack of peers who have been in this pay grade that I’m just now entering for much longer than I have. In other words, I didn’t just squeak into the new pay grade near the bottom, but more like in the middle, which means I was at the top of my old pay grade and explains why the % increase is not significant. The reasoning sounded fine, and I was planning on accepting anyway–I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t leaving money on the table.  

I start ramping up in the job immediately while still doing my former job since my backfill has not yet been identified. My already-busy life just got busier. And with a 6% raise instead of 10%, the delta to my goal now stands at $10.9k.

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Resilience

Day 17 | $24,666 paid | $66,051 till freedom

Word of the Week
Resilience: ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like (dictionary.com)

I’m done licking my pedi-cab wounds and I’m onto other ventures. To steal shamelessly:  “It doesn’t matter how far you fall, but how high you bounce back.”

Landscaping–I mean, Xeriscaping
On Sunday, I was pondering how much I could get for my Murano to bridge the monstrous delta to my goal that had swollen by $4.5k  to $9.3k the night before with the abrupt departure of my pedi-cabbing ambitions, when out of nowhere, I got a text from my buddy, Michael, who said he had found a job that would fit all of my criteria:

  • Fast-paced, steady work
  • Manual aspect
  • Outdoors preferred
  • Weekends only

I immediately called him. Apparently, in reaction to the severe drought that we’re currently experiencing, the city of Austin is paying people $20 to $30 per 100 sq ft to xeriscape their yards. Michael, who also works in tech, is a landscaping genius on the weekends, so this job will basically be he and I designing a xeriscape, pulling up sod and replacing it with weed barrier, gravel/rocks, and indigenous plants. I worked on the company website till 3 AM Tuesday morning, and we should be able to start promoting on Saturday.

We’ll be high-speed, low drag;  think Clay Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation. We’ll be the Redbox to the Blockbusters of landscaping. For example, I called a few landscaping firms for a quote to xeriscape my yard and I asked for estimates on 100 sq ft, 500 sq ft, and 1,000 sq ft plots. I got a quote from only one company, and that was for the 1,000 sq ft plot only. According to him, he won’t consider any projects below $5k, and the only one that potentially fits the bill is the one at 1,000 sq ft.

We don’t need to serve people who have to have their hands held and/or have massive landscaping projects–we’ll go after the guys who just need “good enough.” And with our extremely low overhead costs–costs will be primarily COGS (direct material and labor) with limited capex and opex–we’ll be able to charge very affordable prices that the “good enough” customers can readily afford.

On this night a week ago, I had just finished hustling downtown to meet with the pedi-cab guy and was pumped to pedi-cab during the coming weekend. Tonight, I just finished a meeting with my friend and I’m pumped to start promotiong the new “business” on Saturday. Hopefully I’m not setting myself up for another pedi-cabbing experience. At least the up-front costs are fairly low–the only thing we’ve had to purchase so far is the website domain. While the monetary costs are low, however, I have already sunk about 10 hours of my time into the new venture.

Tutoring
I had a Skype interview with an ACT/SAT/GMAT prep company today after work and I had to give a three-minute lesson on whatever I chose. They used tying a shoe as an example, so I chose to teach the interviewer how  to wash his car. He followed up with some questions at the end of my lesson, one of which was how this job would fit in with my full-time job. I explained to him the whole supplemental-income-so-I-can pay-off-my-debt-in-ten-months thing. The interview must have gone well because I was asked to attend training, which also doubles as a secondary screening process. If I successfully complete training–and get a 95th percentile on the SAT–I’ll not only get a job, but I’ll get a stipend, too. The problem with this situation is that I landed in the 85th percentile on the SAT when I took it  back in the day, 99th on the ACT (and 96th on the GMAT–I just got this question in the nomoreharvarddebt@gmail.com inbox, so there ya go), so they have picked the absolute worst test to give me.

Blue Steel
I sent some pics to a modeling agency that was advertising on Craigslist, got a call from someone at the company, and we set up a meeting downtown for this Friday afternoon. No idea where this will lead…probably nowhere. That being said, I’m not going to prematurely close any doors that are slightly ajar. And I don’t think there will be any requests for any gladiator action–their website looks professional and makes them look legit.

Roommates
The first roommate has officially moved in! So far, so good. It’s actually been kind of funny–she’s so quiet that I forget she’s here, and I was surprised when I found some of her food in the fridge–I had to remind myself that I have a roommate.

The second roommate is driving down from Colorado to move some of his stuff in on Wednesday, but he won’t officially move in till the end of the month. We talked over the phone and I saw his Facebook profile, but we haven’t actually met yet, so fingers crossed. I’m sure he’ll be fine. He sounds like a cool cat.

Promotion
I got my offer letter for the promotion on Monday–it’s an internal job transfer, but still handled via a letter. Anyway, the offer was a 6% raise, which was underwhelming and doesn’t help my cause, as I assumed a 10% raise in all of my $90k/10mos calculations. I talked to the hiring manager and laid out three reasons why the raise should be higher. (And no, NMHD wasn’t one of them.) He’s going to go back to HR and ask for more.

Reflection
The only other time I have ever felt this alive, this tired, and this poor simultaneously was when I was a student at Michigan. In undergrad, I was always busy and focused, always sleep-deprived, and I never had any money. The typical weekday started with class, immediately followed by crew practice, immediately followed by the library, with team project meetings interspersed randomly. These days, it’s work, immediately followed by the gym, then straight to my house to chase down leads, with interviews interspersed randomly. I have zero free-time.

 There’s something to be said about focusing maniacally on a stretch goal. When I was in undergrad, I had lots of goals: academic goals, career goals (e.g., landing a good internship and first job), and athletic goals goals regarding my performance on the rowing team.

When I graduated from undergrad, I stopped being as goal-oriented, and I feel like I lost some of my…je ne sais quoi…my edge? After undergrad, I had no need for academic goals. Even at HBS, my goal was to simply learn as much as possible, since most people end up in the middle of the boat grade-wise, anyway. Athletic goals became pointless after I stopped rowing–I continued to go to the gym, but I was no longer training with a purpose. And ever since I lost my friends during the summer I saved for a motorcycle, I have been averse to setting ambitious financial goals, other than establishing a healthy Screw You Fund, which I achieved a year out of undergrad. 

So the only goals I have are for my career, but in all honesty, I am perhaps not as career-oriented as one might expect for an HBS grad. Sure, upward mobility is important to me, and the last thing I want to do is get stagnant in a role, but unlike my dreams in high school of being a CEO, I don’t really care as much anymore. Ultimately, I do want to own my own business, but I’m not really in a big rush. Let’s put it this way: I don’t have the same focus and dedication on moving my career along as I did regarding my grades at Michigan, and the intensity with which I am approaching my career  goals today is a deathly shade of white in comparison to the red intensity with which I approached my athletic goals on the rowing team. I still show up to work and kill it every day, but the whole drive for the C-suite is…not super-strong.

But this financial goal–which I would actually consider a lifestyle goal more than anything, knowing that I can be debt-free in ten months–it excites me; it makes me feel alive again. 

My buddy was telling me stories today about his “insane trip to Dallas” over the weekend. He told me I missed an incredible time, getting bottle service and whatnot at a hype club, bypassing “a ton” of girls lined up out front waiting to get in while he went to his reserved table. He told me he would have invited me, but he knew that I was pedi-cabbing. Then he asked me why in the world I’m pursuing this financial goal, especially considering that the $42k interest is over “15 whole years,” or that I might possibly make a really wise investment in five or so years and find crazy wealth, rendering these upcoming ten months a waste.

I tried logic to explain to him how nice it will be not to pay $1,057 every month for 15 years, and that once I’m done paying this off, I’ll have an extra $1,057 a month for whatever, which might include trips to Dallas. He still didn’t get it.

I was frustrated with his lack of understanding. He thinks I’m having a terrible time and that the end goal is not worth the interim hardship. What he fails to understand is that I’m really not having a terrible time. Not yet, anyway. It’s fun. It’s a challenge. It’s something different. It gets me out of the same weekly routine of work/gym/bar. I mean, I freaking pedi-cabbed downtown! I have cool roommates! I got a promotion! I’m doing creative writing every night via my blog! I built a website for a business! I’m meeting with a modeling agency on Friday?

Do I miss bar nights with my friends? Of course I do, and this weekend, since I quit pedi-cabbing, the flask will star in a sequel. But I’m also having fun mixing it up in new ways that I suppose might be hard for some to understand.

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Cost of a Mistake and a $4.5k Swing

Day 15 | $24,666 paid | $66,051 till freedom

I brought the bike back to Bicycle Sport Shop yesterday since they have a 7-day return policy. Unfortunately, returned bikes must be in “like-new” condition, which mine definitely wasn’t. The seat post was scratched and dented up after having a trailer hitched to it three times, the crank arms were scuffed, and I had cut the handle bar grips to accommodate the bar-ends. Consequently, BSS pro-rated the return, and of the $620 I spent on the bike, I got $540 back for a loss of $80, which I consider fair. Add to that the cost of getting my pedi-cab license, which includes the criminal background report, defensive driving class, driving history report, notary for the application, and the application itself, and I’m looking at a loss of $80 + $100 = $180. I made $55 pedi-cabbing (+$72 to the first night, -$17 the second night) for a total cost of my mistake at $125.

And yes, this is my mistake. When I brought my bike back to the store to return it, the salesperson told me that the pedi-cab market was over-saturated. When I look back on it now, of course I remember seeing a bunch of pedi-cabs on every street corner without any fares, and this is before I even knew I wanted to be a pedi-cabbie! Why didn’t I factor their inactivity into my decision to be a pedi-cabbie? Such a rookie mistake.

Hopefully I won’t beat myself up over this for too long. For now, I’m replacing the pedi-cab job revenue of $4,480 on the roadmap with ($125). I now have line of site to about $81k of my loans being paid off in ten months, with a delta of about $9k.

Where will I find it? How will I bridge that gap?

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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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