The Window Cleaner, Part 2

See Intro here, and Part 1 here.

After working with Pulte Homes for almost two years, things in the industry were very grim. The bottom had fallen out more than a year earlier. I had survived a few rounds of lay-offs, but even if I stayed afloat in the growing tsunami it was clear there wouldn’t be any upward mobility for years to come. So I started thinking about what I might move onto. I had dreamt for a while of having my own business. But what sort of business could I start immediately with very little capital? Biomedical patents.

No, actually window cleaning. Working with contractors in my homebuilding job had convinced me that many if not most the service businesses of the world are inadequately managed. There are too many technicians and too few professional managers at the helms of these companies, even the multi-million dollar ones. This general belief, coupled with the specific fact that residential window cleaning is such a Ma and Pa business, led me to think that by applying sophisticated business principles I could do well and really grow a window washing business. My ultimate plan was to develop a complete window cleaning business system and franchise it. You think I’m crazy, but there is a window cleaning franchise with more than 250 locations in the U.S., and I decided I could do better. Who’s crazy now, nerd?

So I ran the plan past my wife, Rebecca. She was understandably skeptical and hesitant about me quitting my job for this cute scheme of mine. Window cleaning? Really? Some friends and family were skeptical, too (I have since made these people ex-friends and estranged family), “Your ambition is window cleaning? Like on the White House windows or NASA rocket ships?” Nope, just homes in Albuquerque.

Ok, fine, I would have to prove it to Reba before quitting my well-paying job. So I bought a Thule bike rack from REI to turn my Toyota Camry into a ladder-transporting beast, updated my supplies, and was off. After getting home from work each night, I went door knocking. My first target was the large, wealthy, gated community just across the golf course from our apartment complex.  So I ran across the green and snuck into the neighborhood. Mistake #1. Then I did an estimate for the lady who looked at me suspiciously and asked me how I had gained entry to this guarded enclave. Mistake #2. Then I actually took the phone she handed me, telling me someone wanted to talk to me (the phone with the security guard on the other end; the one she called while I was excitedly walking around her house to give her the estimate she duplicitously requested) Mistake #3.  Her soul was as dirty and foul as her windows.

So I moved onto greener, less-gated pastures and quickly won two jobs. The first was for $230 and I did it in three hours. How you like me now? Reba was impressed. The next was a monster for $740! Then I bought Reba a Jaguar. Not really.  I just made her one out of dollar bills. But seriously, when you get out there hustling for your own enterprise and you start making some sales and taking ALL the profit for yourself, it’s like a vampire tasting blood for the first time. I’ll go a step further. It’s like a vampire tasting Bella’s blood for the first time- the best stuff there is. All salesmen know a bit of this feeling, but when all the upside from the sale is yours alone, it’s magnified significantly. So I did this for a month or so, hustling to the jobs after work (this was fortunately during the long daylight hours of June). Mind you, this was before I invested in business cards or a fancy van. I would knock on someone’s door, and if they were interested but not willing to commit right then, I would leave them a yellow sticky note with Rebecca’s cell phone number (with a Georgia area code) written on it, since I only had my official work phone. Then on job day, I would pull up in my Camry, with a 24 foot ladder strapped to the top by motorcycle straps. After I cleaned his windows, one client admitted to me that when he saw me roll down his driveway in my family sedan he wondered what he had gotten himself and his 300 dollars into. But when he saw my exceptional quality, his concerns were tenderly squeegeed right away with his hard water stains.

With this initial success, Reba allowed me to quit my job. Do you know the only feeling that rivals your first success in your own business? It’s the sensation you experience driving away from a job you hate for the very last time.

Total freedom.

Until you start missing the money.

And miss the money you will. Luckily we had some savings from those golden 9 months of two incomes (Have I ever told you Reba worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car after we got married? Ask her about it someday.)

So now I was on my own. I would be a self-made man, or a self-starved man, but it was all up to me. I would eat only what I killed, but I would also eat ALL of what I killed for a change. No longer did I have a $10 million CEO doing the killing for me, throwing me a piece of comfortable, secure, but stifling gristle to chew on. But remember, gristle tastes better than air.

Before we get into the next phase of Clarity Window Cleaning, let me pause here to advise any aspiring entrepreneurs out there. There are 3 things you need to know about starting your own venture.

  1. Don’t do it.

Actually I guess there’s only that one thing.

No, I’m kidding. If you have the itch—I mean you REALLY have the itch—and the stomach for it, and if your spouse is possessed of a very hardy constitution, then do it. Go west, my son. But understand these two immutable facts about start ups:

  1. Don’t do it.

Ok, just that one still, I guess.

But seriously, the two unavoidable axioms are:

  1. Relative to what you are anticipating, your costs will be at least twice and your profit will be at most half.  Don’t start counting the money on the nice Excel spreadsheet you made up.
  2. Getting enough business to survive and then prosper will be five times harder than you anticipate.

Just trust me here. Always harder than you think. Never easier than you think.

“Hey Christian, what about me though? I’m already an expert in this field and I’m very handsome. So, say, out of ten times, how many of those will starting a business be harder than I thought?”

Answer: 10

“Ok, geez, well then out of ten times, how many will be easier than I thought?”

Answer: negative gagillion

You know, there is a reason people become orthodontists and tax attorneys, and don’t you forget it.

But now that we’ve covered the bad, let me tell you about all the good; and there is a lot good. And I’m going to tell you about that right n……………………………………….…ext time on Deal or No Windows! Ba da da, Da da da DUN!

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11 Responses to The Window Cleaner, Part 2

  1. Davis says:

    “Don’t start counting the money on the nice Excel spreadsheet you made up.”

    I have several businesses for which I’ve built a model. According to the spreadsheet, each of these is worth well over a million dollars. I am accepting offers on all of them.

  2. Candice says:

    I love the entrepreneurial spirit. or at least I love that others have it, so they can employ me.

    Great post.

  3. Layne says:

    I love the substitute Truck you had. It’s amazing what you can make those little cars do.

    I remember living in Provo with our only car being Jami’s corolla with a ski rack on top. I moved a sleeper couch on that ski rack. And yes, I got some looks along the way.

  4. Merri says:

    That’s hilarious! I’m going through the same thing with getting my business established in Utah. Just like a lot of good things that end well, it’s probably a good thing we don’t know exactly how it’s going to be during the tough stretches or we may not have the courage to take it on.

    Can’t wait to hear the “rest of the story”.

  5. Braden says:

    I’ve always admired you and Reba more than I can say for having the gumption to do this, Kook.

  6. Ben Pratt says:

    Laugh out loud line: “But when he saw my exceptional quality, his concerns were tenderly squeegeed right away with his hard water stains.” That’s beautiful.

    I appreciate the “Don’t do it.” Starting one’s own business is one of the Dumbest Things it is possible to do, yet people do it and do well for themselves. Except for all those who end up in the streets.

  7. LaSkew says:

    Good post Chris. Who knew that window cleaning could be even remotely interesting? There are those of us that will pursue success by walking the well paved, lighted, and signed path that has been laid by millions before us, to a moderate level of achievement at best. While others make another way machete in hand through an uncharted territory. Those types usually find themselves broke, then broke, then broke again, and then sometimes a CEO of a start up gone huge. I predict you’ll make it big.

  8. Norm says:

    “Her soul was as filthy as her windows.”

    Coming from the owner of a window cleaning business I assume that is pretty much as strong of language you could have used.

  9. The anticipation for Part III is killing me! Get posting, commrade.

  10. This was awesome. Except the stab at orthodontists (Zack’s about to start his residency). “Then I bought Reba a Jaguar. Not really. I just made her one out of dollar bills.” Seriously awesome. That line reminds me of the three carat diamond necklace Zack’s adorable dad gave his mom…no wait, it was a three diamond CARROT! As in a carrot pendant he designed himself with three diamonds in it. Sort of a beautiful joke to carry around with you, if you will. He really is the sweetest man alive so I mean him no harm.

    I am also dying as I envision you taking the phone from the filthy-of-heart lady with the idea that “someone wanted to talk” to you. I will laugh all night about that one.

    I do have tons of respect for you both for going for it. I am doing photography as a small business right now, and it’s really hard. I’m sure glad I’m not the breadwinner, but rather, the have-to-take-out-less-loans winner.

  11. Christian says:

    Uh-oh, I thought Zach was going to be a dentist. Believe me when I say I can’t tell you how many times I wish I had had the grades and sense to go to dental school. Those guys have it made.

    Danica, I want you to know what it does to us around here when you disappear and cause us to lose hope, only to reappear and get our hopes up again.

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