Snafu, a newsletter about selling

Snafu: life as an entrepreneur

Published about 2 months ago • 5 min read

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Everything worth doing feels like an April Fools surprise at the beginning.

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April Fools’ Day was a big part of my childhood.

My dad once made me a beautiful french toast breakfast. It was only after chewing on the toast for several minutes that I discovered it was made out of a sponge.

There have been many moments throughout my life as an entrepreneur that feel like a game of April Fools – like someone is going to jump out and shout “surprise!”

I’ve learned that everything important feels like that at the beginning.

Here are three short stories from my most formative business adventure to date. (If you’d prefer some accompanying visuals, check out this video.)

A fateful email

In 2016 I had lived in San Francisco for seven years. I was a self-taught dancer and routinely took classes at the dance studio, ODC.

I ran events about behavior change, and I was preparing for an event for 175 people in ODC's theater.

There was a little corner store, a New York-style Bodega, housed within the same building.

Five weeks before my event, I approached the manager of the Bodega, explained that I was running an event.

I was told that the Bodega would be shutting down at the end of the week.

In a bit of a panic, I sent an email to the Executive Director of ODC explaining my predicament. Weeks passed. And then I got an email back introducing me to the owner of the Bodega, who proposed we meet the following day.

When I walked in, the owner handed me a list of the assets - coffee machine, $20,000; tables and chairs, $5,000. He told me “Let me know what you want. I’ll get rid of the rest.”

Three weeks later, Robin’s Cafe opened in time to provide sandwiches and coffee to my attendees.

Your turn

You never know what’s possible with sufficient motivation and a condensed timeline.

Create the constraints to execute big goals in a very limited period.

Considering asking someone out on a date? Do it right this moment.
Have a dozen sales calls to make in the next week? Make them in the next hour.

We’re capable of much more than we think. All you need is enough motivation and a very tight timeline.

Espresso to the face

A few weeks into running the cafe, I got a call saying that the espresso machine was not draining.

Together with my girlfriend and an employee, I went to the restaurant and found that the drain had backed up.

With no plumbers available, we hatched a plan to buy an air compressor and pump air through the drain pipe.

At first, the air compressor didn’t work. Then, it dislodged the pipe from the wall. Until, finally, the air compressor connected...

There I am, looking down at the drain pipe when a horrific concoction of spoiled milk and espresso grounds hit me, the wall behind me, and ceiling ten feet over my head!

My girlfriend and my employee fell all over themselves with laughter! But the cafe was open for business the next morning.

Your turn

Sometimes, in order to build something remarkable, you do have to get punched in the face!

It can be worth looking foolish in order to accomplish something you believe in. The short term downside is some brief humiliation, but the long term upside can be life changing.

What’s one thing you can do today towards a goal that others might regard as foolish?

Selling Robin’s

After three years I wasn't especially interested in continuing with the business. I love cafes and restaurants. And I’d rather pay for my tea and avocado toast than manage a staff of 15 and the needs of hundreds of customers a day.

I gave myself a year to either sell the restaurant or shut it down.

I started by talking to business brokers - men whose job it was to help people like me sell their businesses. They quoted me less than I thought the restaurant was worth and took 20% regardless of who found a buyer.

One day I Googled “Restaurants for sale” and guess what came up? Craigslist advertisements for restaurants for sale in San Francisco!

We wrote an anonymous ad with beautiful pictures of our location and the menu and proceeded to post it – for free! – on Craigslist. Within weeks, I got a handful of inquiries.

Nine months later, one of those people bought Robin’s Cafe and continues to run it today.

Your turn

I learned that when you follow a thread of your interest, you never know where it is going to lead you. Just because other people do things a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s the only way that task or project has to be done.

People say “That's just how things are” but that doesn’t mean things have to be that way. If the status quo doesn't make sense to you, take your intuition seriously.

What is one commonly held belief that you don’t think is necessarily true?

3 Things I’ve Loved This Week

Commencement address I like: Looking backwards to connect the dots by Steve Jobs at Stanford

It has been my experience – in life and in business – that the only way to connect the dots is by looking backwards.

I watch this short talk every year or two.

Journal I use everyday: The Morning Pages Journal by Julia Cameron

I’ve been writing in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way Morning Pages Journal for years. I have more than a dozen filled journals on my bookshelf. It isn’t much more than a glorified notebook, but I like the form factor – it feels good under my hands.

I write 1-3 pages every morning and am a lot healthier and happier for doing so.

Book I’m re-reading: Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein

Many of Heinlein’s books outline a fictional hypothesis like “What if the earth was being invaded by alien parasites?” or “What if someone wealthy incentivized a human breeding program in the 1900s?” He then builds out an elaborate universe around that idea.

Heinlein is best known for Stranger in a Strange Land and coining the word “Grok,” but I’ve always loved Time Enough For Love. The book follows the life, loves, and adventures of the oldest living human, Lazarus Long.

While some of Heinlein’s writing reflects the biases of his generation, the stories are nonetheless entertaining and thought provoking.

Support Snafu

This newsletter is free and I don’t run ads, but I do spend dozens of hours researching and writing about selling each week. Here’s how you can support Snafu.

30-day sales course - Each day for a month, you'll receive an email with a short video, an article and homework. The course also comes with a money-back guarantee! Want to be the first to know when the course is live? Join the waitlist!

​Attend Responsive Conference - This September in Oakland, CA, we are hosting an immersive 2-day event about the future of work. This is my one big event of the year and I'd love to see you there!

Books by Robin - I've published two books - so far! If you’re interested in learning to do a handstand, check out How to Do a Handstand. If you’re building a company or want to improve your company’s culture, read Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

Thanks for your consideration!

Until next week,

Thanks for reading!

I appreciate you being here. Do you have questions, thoughts, or feedback? Just reply and let me know.

This newsletter is copyrighted by Responsive LLC. Commissions may be earned from the links above.

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Snafu, a newsletter about selling

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