Airbag Industries

Stamped.

Last week I had the opportunity to be the guest on The Conversation. The show description reads:

Greg Storey joins Dan Benjamin to discuss being an entrepreneur, running a business, design, development, consulting, pricing work, working with local and remote teams, being true to yourself, and more.

It’s the second time I’ve been on the program and answered questions about what it’s like to start and run a web design business, what it’s like to work at Happy Cog, how do I deal with clients and their RFPs, etc. All fine questions that I am glad to discuss, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been asked what I don’t like about being a business owner.

The toughest part about my job (aside from worrying about cashflow) is that it’s hard to tell if I’m really doing a good job or not. As I don’t report to anyone the only real metric I have to rely on is the bottom line. It’s a horrible way to validate performance on the job—I may as well be shlepping time-share property in Acapulco—but that’s what I have to work with. I receive positive comments from clients, peers, and co-workers but none of them are able to see all that I do in order to provide a truly comprehensive review.

The Rocket Scientist, as supportive and wonderful as she is, says that just looking at how far the company has gone in the last five years says it all. I listen to her feedback but I also know that with the right amount of initiative a monkey could start and grow a banana business—It’s just a matter of how much failure you are able to endure and find a way to fight through the setback. Take a punch and get back up fighting. How many times do I keep getting up before feeling like a sucker?

I keep thinking that once I can go thirty, sixty, ninety days without any problems then I’ll know that I’m doing it right, but the longer I’m in business it’s clear that thinking is impossible. Especially in the client services business.

When I was in high school I got a job at the local grocery store to bag items and provide carry out service for customers. On my first day the assistant manager called a fellow bagger to the front desk. She introduced me and ask that they train me.

My training was nothing more than a on hour tour of the entire store (front, back, upstairs, and outside) because my “trainer” just wanted to slack off as much as possible. He never told me how to do my job or told me anything about what I was expected to do. This type of training continued long after I was hired and the curriculum resulted in most new hires being completely useless. It was amazing to watch relatively intelligent people turn into mouth breathers as soon as you put them in front of a pile of objects and asked them to neatly arrange them into bags.

Months later I decided that I had had enough of having to compensate for new employees poor performance and volunteered to start and run a better training program. I didn’t expect additional pay, I just knew that with the right training I could improve performance and thereby customer satisfaction, their own job satisfaction, and I wouldn’t have to work twice as hard. It worked and all I had to do was provide a few goals, criteria for success, and some hands on training without the pressure of working in front of customers.

One day I got called to the front office by the store manager, John Jacobsen. He was 6’8″ and played college football for USC. He was known for being stern and grouchy which resulted in most people being a little terrified to be in his presence and I was one of them. As I approached he came out of the office, threw his hands on my shoulders, looked in my eyes, and said, “Greg, you’re doing a great job with the training, I appreciate that you took the initiative and I’ve just put in a raise for you. Keep up the good work.”

It would have taken a crowbar to remove the perm-a-grin and the overwhelming sense of pride that I was doing a great job. There are a lot of moments of joy to be had in this world but a job well done ranks at the top for me. I don’t yet know how to get that kind of validation as a business owner but I’d give my left arm to have that kind of feeling again.

In the meantime I am a cog at the top of the machine, but I am a happy cog.