Lessons in Perseverance From My College Keg Business
When I tell people about One Degree Capital, I often hear things like “Oh, I’d love to start my own business doing ‘XYZ’ someday.”
To the outsider, it often looks easy to own a business. The reality is that business owners face challenges and surprises all the time. It takes a lot of perseverance to overcome them and be successful.
My lessons in perseverance came to me early in life. I started my first business as a sophomore at Miami University, where I discovered an opportunity to help solve a disturbing problem in the community.
The two-lane, windy highway between small-town Oxford, Ohio (home of Miami of Ohio – go Hawks!), and the nearby City of Hamilton had been nicknamed “The Highway To Heaven” because so many college students died traveling that road. Students regularly drove to Hamilton to pick up kegs of beer for parties from local distributors. Sadly, many drove under the influence, which added to the trouble.
After reading yet another sad story in the local paper, I realized there was a need to help the fraternities get their kegs of beer back and forth from the distributors in Hamilton to their fraternity houses in Oxford – safely.
As I started my business I thought: I’ll just deliver kegs from Point A to Point B. I envisioned walking across campus with everyone shouting out “Hey, Look! It’s the Beer-Man!” I couldn’t wait to get started. This will be so easy!
WRONG! I soon learned a valuable business lesson: There is always one more challenge waiting around the corner. Always.
My company flyer showed we had the campus 'stamp' of approval.
Challenge #1 - Competition
A few local merchants in town did not appreciate my entrepreneurial drive and saw me as a threat to their “beer fiefdom.” And they weren’t messing around.
I would regularly receive phone messages along the lines of “Listen, you (insert expletive here), we are going to blow up your truck if you keep delivering beer to the fraternities. That’s our business!” Thankfully that never happened. But one Saturday morning I did go out to my truck to find all four tires flattened.
I learned that I had competition – and that is a good thing. If there is no competition, you probably don’t have a strong business offering.
Challenge #2 - Responding To Critics
Not everyone appreciates a good business idea, and a keg delivery service is no exception. I once received a letter summoning me to the Dean of Student Life’s office (I was pretty sure it wasn’t to place an order for the weekend). I soon learned someone (my dear local competitors no doubt) had made up fake posters and put them up all over campus claiming my business would deliver beer to anyone… at any age. Of course not!
I could have allowed myself to get all riled up and launched into a shouting match with my competitors, but I knew that would solve nothing. So I met with the Dean and explained my business model. After hearing me out, the Dean actually thanked me for providing this service as she realized I was keeping college students safe by preventing their temptation to drink and drive.
This incident taught me to “solve the problem” and not go into a frenzy when met with a challenge.
Challenge #3 - Diversification
It took a while, but by my senior year the competition had found their knock-out punch to end my “keg running” operation. They lobbied the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to require my business to carry a $10,000,000 surety bond for my delivery service.
Fortunately for me, I had taken the time to diversify my business in the meantime. Instead of just one college, by senior year, my business served eight campuses in the region and had expanded into t-shirt sales and party supplies to support campus events. My keg runs from Oxford to Hamilton were now just a small part of my overall operation. The importance of diversifying a business’ revenue stream is a valuable lesson that I still use heavily today.
Probably the most important lesson from my first business was to always be positive, and I hear the same sentiment from other business owners as well. You will never persevere if you have a negative attitude.
Ask one of your favorite successful business owners to share their story with you, and I am sure you will get an earful of challenges they face: unrealistic customer demands, equipment malfunctions, employee needs, money issues… the challenges faced by business owners today are as diverse as the businesses themselves. But the successful ones know to approach each challenge with perseverance.
Perseverance - I'll drink to that!