A business acquaintance from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce (not a pirate) asked me to meet a friend of his in Astoria who was opening an ice cream store. ACTUALLY, he just wanted me to help him hang a big ass mirror (a pirate thing to do). We hung the mirror and that was that. I was curious. I was also introduced to the owner.
She created one of the best Fudgesickles ever made. Best of all it was dairy and gluten-free and non-gmo. And it was excellent.
The day I came in she was a hot mess. It was the end of April and she was sweating, seemed to be overwhelmed and exhausted readying the store. She wasn’t sure what to do next and didn’t look like she was ready to open any time soon. I offered to help and told her to get the place opened because it was already warm out and she is in the business of selling ice cream.
Apparently, those were the words she needed to fire up the determination to open her new ice cream business. And she did just that.
I stopped by the second time a week or two later at 11:00am and she was already tipsy. She was having something which resembled a very soft opening. This is when you just open the store and don’t announce it publicly or through the media, you just open and see who wanders in the place.
This was a very different woman than I met the week before. She smelled of alcohol–but seemed very happy. Good for her. She was very nervous and that is good because it shows she cares about what other people think.
She asked me how much I charge for design work and I said: “$220 per hour.” The wind blew right out of her sails. This number was, of course, completely out of the question. Most small business owners seldom set aside ANY budget for marketing which is one of the single most important aspects to driving sales and an audience to any business. It’s a common oversight which sinks 50% of all US businesses in the first year. ANOTHER 25% of them with be out of business by the fifth year. Those are the SBA figures.
It’s as though they think that the business will just take care and sell itself, somehow, magically, mystically so the marketing budget idea gets shelved to deal with at a later date. That later date never comes so many business are sunk before they truly start.
She later told me that she spent everything she had and borrowed money from friends and family to launch her dream business. I felt bad for her but her fudgestickles® were really good.
We all have a right to chase our dreams, don’t we? I recommended she work with a PR acquaintance to launch an official Grand Opening day. They did. It went well. 15-20 people were there.
Then the winter hit hard as it does each and every year without any interference. In an ice cream business, that’s the time a stroke hits leading to a certain death. I started to visit her more often and then on a daily basis to keep her spirits up and show strong support. I asked her to make coffee, sell pastries, hot tea and hot soup and warned buttered bread. It carried her partly through the freezing weather but her anger and bitterness of the winter months were quite noticeable, except for Christmas. She decorated and sold a delicious Egg Nog ice cream from Jane’s Ice Cream out of Kingston NY. After the holiday season she reordered five 2.5 gallons boxes because she sold out. One box would’ve been a far more wise decision. No one really wants egg nog after the holiday season.
The next year she had an opportunity to brand and sell her Fudgestickle, nationally and internationally. She was approached by a young local woman who’s mother was a regional officer at BDO.
“People who know, know BDO.” They are a huge international accounting and business advisory firm headquartered in Belgium with offices in over 100 countries.
They estimated the sale of her business to be $10,000,000. – 20,000,000. based on the brand name selection, quality and goodness of the product, brand identity and the fact that dairy-free, gluten-free, non-gmo frozen dessert brands were really a hot topic in 2015. Bobby Flay’s former CFO came to the store, tried the Fudgestickle and said: “This is fantastic. It’s the best fudgestickle I’ve ever had. Focus on just selling this one thing first.”
The next thing I know, the Fudgstickle woman was baking cookies and purchasing high volumes of marajuana, boiling it down to a potent extract to add to cookies and ice cream. The bad part was that she was doing this with the daughter of the regional manager from BDO. Her mother is totally against drugs as you can only imagine.
I don’t know exactly how many milligrams were in each cookie or ice cream serving but it was a lot. She gave me a one ounce of ice cream to try when I went away for vacation. She said: “Remember, Breuk this is medicinal. Only have a little tiny bit. Then wait. It’s very, very strong.” I tried a bit but who the hell eats a fingernail of ice cream and has had enough? This just whets your whistle. The one ounce serving wasn’t enough of this delicious, creamy coconut base frozen dessert. However, I kid you not, two hours later, I was high for three days straight.
I addressed the ice cream lady in a mature concerned and semi-confrontational manner, seriously with the legalities and adverse effect it could have with the prospective BDO opportunity. Her response was: “I’m able to put $80. in my pocket with each dozen I make of the cookies. And I need money now, not in a few months from now.” Ouch. Yep. That was her reply.
I asked her to please consult her therapist to see what the therapist might advise. Weeks later, after asking her a few more times, Sweet Janes admitted that her therapist said she was self sabotaging the entire business and an amazing opportunity. “No shit, Sherlock,” I thought to myself. We lost the deal because the mother DID find out and the relationship was severed due to lying, unreliability and overall untrustworthiness.
PIRATES SAY: “Shiver me timbers.” I said: “Fucken, fuck in, fuck.”
Okay, I thought but Don’t we all learn tough lessons the hard way? Yes, we do. That, and ‘Lighting never strikes the same place twice’ prompted me to continue.
The next year a prominent local business owner comes into the store to meet the ice cream woman. The prominent business woman says she has an investor who invested in her business and will write a check for $250,000 for the ice cream woman to launch her Fudgestickle business. She asked: “What does he get for the investment?”
The ice cream woman handed the conversation to me–now introducing me into the conversation as “her marketing guy”. She didn’t actually have the answer on her mind. I quickly and casually answered: “15-18% of the business. We already have all the contacts we need at Wegman’s, Whole Foods and are still working on the buyer at Trader Joe’s.”
Prominent business woman said: “Perfect. Get the shares from the corporate book, write up the arrangement, an easy to follow business plan and that percentage offering and consider it a done deal. We’ll meet again next week.”
I was all smiles. Score! The ice cream woman’s eyes were glazed over. After the woman left, we celebrated and drank gin. They were dirty gin martinis. It’s a pirate thing to do. Pirates drink.
The next week, I had all the makings of the simplified business plan, crystal clear and contracts together except for the corporate book with the seals and shares. Once we have the check, we’ll get the proper attorneys to review the pre-memorialized papers and close the real deal.
The ice cream woman never called or contacted her back. I asked her: “Why?”
She said: “Why are we giving them 15-18% of the company?”
I said: “So you can get caught up with some loose ends, we’ll solidify the packaging and launch the brand the right way.”
She said: “But why are we giving them 15-18% of the company?”
I said: “So we can solidify the packaging and launch the brand.”
She said: “So. Why. Are. We. Giving. Them. 15-18% of the company?”
I said: “So. We. Can. Launch. The brand.”
This exchange went on even longer. I’ll spare you the details. Sweet Janes never offered anything else for the $250,000 and was almost resentful that she was giving up something.
Um, I thought this was business we were doing. No, I was wrong. It was pirating going on. Pirates often get caught in drama and lose. Many pirates are NOT the smartest fish in the sea. The only think of pirating.
I can’t even begin to offer a smart explanation but having worked with her for two years, I can say she would rather have 100% of nothing than 85% of something. She’d bite off her nose to spite her face like a true pirate.
She trusted me as I told her I could triple her business. I did it in the summer of 2015.
One slight problem was she is a very emotional woman. Emotional people make emotional decisions and that, in and of itself is terrible in business. Furthermore, she carried these erratic emotions into her business like a superpower. Erratic emotions were given to her customers, her employees, her vendors at various and unpredictable moments. Her energy was also deeply pervasive toward her customers sometimes used as a business tactic. It seldom produced savory results.
In 2016, she begged me to return to NYC and run the business through the summer. I moved back to Queens (from beautiful Cape Cod) early April 2016.
She planned on returning to full time, salaried work as a relocations expert. After a mere 18 month in business, she had had it. She was happy making $70,000 per year.
I told her to ask for $80,000. She ended up getting $75,000.
Upon my return, I told her that she would have to relieve the current employees of their duty and service if we were to triple the business in 2016. She didn’t want to do this.
These young women were loyal to her and had stayed and supported her business through the fall of 2015 and the winter of 2016.
The problem was their inexperience. It was the first job they ever had. There were other reasons I wanted a swap out the employees. To triple the business we would need a more professional staff and the high school students she had employed there would never be able to cut it—mostly in up selling.
She insisted that her 18 year old niece had grown into bigger shoes to fill the role of manager. I chuckled falsely assuming she was speaking in jest.
This was one of those emotional decisions I spoke about earlier. Of course the high school student (at 17 year old) was not ready and worked the relatively slow winter without creating much of a fan base. She would pout when she wanted and genuinely fiercely independent.
As you may have guessed, it turned out to be a business inexperience disaster. So I told the ice cream woman that if her niece stayed, I would only be able to double the business instead of tripling the business. This suited her just fine.
This costly business decision of keeping both of the teenagers ended up costing the ice cream woman upwards of $7,000-8,000 per month for 4 months consecutively. A move only a pirate would make.
Pirates have codes. One such code is to keep people around you because they seem loyal.
She asked me “Why?” The way she said it, it was a solid and reasoned question.
My answer was “Because, I need to train the new employees in 50 ways to handle the customer interaction and your niece only learned 20 things. This is only her first job. She comes to work with HER MOOD which is not the mood of the brand. if she is in a good mood, customers get a good experience and when she is in a bad mood they have a poor or bad experience.”
I paused briefly and waited for that to seep in and then continued:
“The gap between the 50 new customer interaction skills and the 20 they already learned will derail the new employees, lowering their application of the techniques. In short, they would learn the skill set but then NOT APPLY the techniques to the business. Your niece will negate and derail my system into her own acquired COMFORT ZONE.” The ice cream woman got exactly what I meant.
I continued to explain this premise a few different ways after it had sunk in. She sat and spoke with her niece at length HOWEVER, she stuck with her initial ‘intuitive‘ decision. So instead of making $45,000 per month in June 2016, she made only $37,500. which still seemed fine for her.
It’s an $8,000 she’ll never recoup. July was expected to be an even better month and we were averaging $1,500 per night but I was looking for a 300% increase over last years numbers and we were only hitting a 220+% increase—good but not great.
At this point, I had had enough. I wanted more than $1,000 per month and asked for $2,000. She declined to pay my LLC and insisted that I go on payroll. She said she was worried about workers’ compensation and liability issues in case I got hurt, fell off a ladder or whatnot—which didn’t make any sense. IF I were a paid employee she would be required to fork over money for worker’s compensation but as an independent contractor, I would be responsible for my own (WC).
It was a little power/ego struggle or what I’ll call: a CONTROL DRAMA. All peppered pirates have control dramas because money comes second to personal power in their pirate code although they’ll never admit to it.
PIRATE CONTROL DRAMA didn’t make much sense but neither did 1) blowing a $10-20 million dollar deal for that whopping $80 per week in hard and immediate cash for pot cookies or 2) being offered a check for $250K and not being able to part with 15-18% of the business or 3) keeping your niece employed so your business loses $35,000 so you prove that you can stay a loyal pirate aunt instead of a business person.
If I say Control Drama or power struggle then everything seems to make a little more sense. It doesn’t make the decisions she made any less idiotic but it certainly makes more sense. Blimey, pirates.
I severed this relationship mid-July 2017 and have never looked back. Suffer fools, gladly.