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  • Writer's pictureSimon Barman-Jenssen

Stepping stones

Updated: Oct 1, 2019

There are a million ways to get from A to B, but in the end, all roads lead to Rome.

From taking you first steps to choosing your best friend. Deciding where to work or debating where to have dinner on date night. Every choice we make is a step forward but in the end we might end up in the same place, even though we chose differently. Thats why I won't say for certain that the stepping stone I have chosen to write about is the one that made me who I am today. I can only say that I see it as relevant, but certainly not the only decider.

Playtime => Paytime

When telling this story I have a tendency to exaggerate the facts a bit. Usually it goes something like: "I started my first business at the age of 10". Yeah, sounds great. In reality it meant selling waffles to my neighbours. And if I where to actually base my exaggerated version on facts, it should have been: "I had my first bankruptcy at the age of 10". I'll explain.

The whole thing started when som neighbouring kids started a kiosk. Their stock was a concoction of junk that they found in their backyards. If I remember correctly they where selling sticks. the once with leaves were worth more. But it all seamed a lot of fun, and I wanted in! It was a great slap in the face when they told me I weren't what they where looking for.. Those bastards. I told them that I'd start my own joint. This ment war! And that was the birth of Smarties Café.

Named after my favourite chocolate, it was only fitting that we'd sell something I loved. Waffles. Waffles with jam and sugar. And when I say we I mean me and my big sister. She was the cook, even tho I treated her as a servant. Brotherly love and all. But If I were to run a business I need employees. I had way to much on my hands. you know, with all the money counting and serious meeting with my dad about investing in a double waffle iron and stuff. "We need to meet the demand!". He took the whole thing seriously and it was only a matter of days before we ran our competitors out of business.

A week passed and everything was still fun and games. We had built small play house out of pallets and plywood. My mom had painted a big S on the front and we were open for business 2-3 days a week. I had even hired a friend of mine to do the serving and I loved every bit of it! I wanted to expand and explained everything to my dad. I was shocked when he told me that our project started to become to expensive and that we had to slow down. Expensive?! I was making money left and right (I didn't pay my employees). How could it be too expensive? Thats when my first big business lesson came. I didn't know how much the ingredients were... Apparently we weren't making money at all. We where loosing it big time. It didn't help that my sister drank the waffle mix and my server ate half the servings as well, but it didn't matter. We had to close.

I learned three important lessons from this experience. 1) You got to spend money to make money. I had no idea that we actually payed for the ingredients, and even if I knew, we weren't selling nearly enough to make up for it. Thats the second lesson. 2) You have to be realistic about the price/cost calculation. If I remember correctly, we sold the waffles for 10kr (€1) a piece. and if we add the depreciation, it brings the price down to 5kr (€0,5) per waffle. Seen that we sold 20 waffles a week, it all accumulates to approximately 100kr (€10) weekly. not great. Not nearly enough to cover the cost of ingredients, let alone my salary. which leads to the final lesson. 3) Is there a great enough demand? In this example there was not. My poor neighbours would have to endure waffles every single day if I were to make any real money on this entrepreneurial endeavour.

In retrospect, I'm glad that my parents had the patience to let me drive my first business into the ground. I learned about the value chain and the basic principals of revenue streams, all from goofing around as a kid. As I stated at the beginning, I don't know how much this experience has affected who I am today, but I think there is some link between this and the fact that I was hired sales associate and marketing consultant five years later. Ironically, that business went bankrupt as well. I'll save that story for the future.

But the fact is that the way we play as kids reflect who we are and grow into. My uncle had a similar experience when he was a child. The only difference is that he sold rocks to tourists, and he made real money. If you see him today, you would see the resemblance to who he was as a kid. A market minded business man who knows the value of a product versus demand. My point is that don't take who you are for granted. You might have taken your first step towards your future at an early age. Even if not reflected on, these experiences can make a big difference. How big this difference actually is, is something I can't answer. But to me, this stepping stone has proven fitting to who I want to become.

- Simon

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