We'd rather reign in hell than serve in heaven!
June 29, 2010 10:56 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are looking to start a small business. We're new-ish college grads (2008 and 2009, respectively) that don't want to wait for the recession/depression/Lost Decade to end, we're willing to put in the work and research, and we've got a small source of financing. Help us out! Special snowflakage included.

My cohabitating girlfriend and I are, quite frankly, a bit desperate. We're college grads (in Poli Sci and Economics) that did well in school and are now working dead-end jobs for the forseeable future, like the call center jobs we're in now. Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy to have a job at all, and it pays the bills, but there is zero upward mobility where we work and other job-related prospects just aren't panning out. I guess what I'm trying to say is, getting "more experience in the business world" isn't an option, unless it involves talking to screaming people over a telephone headset.

My dad (an MBA and a successful executive at a big corporation) may be willing to provide a small amount of seed money (<$10,000) and I have good, well-established credit for my age (24). We've been toying with business ideas, including purchasing an Epilog laser and doing engraving on consumer electronics and motorcycle parts and possibly partnering with some of our MechE/BioE friends in industry to use our tools for their industries too. We've also toyed with partnering with one of them to do small-scale custom fabrication/rapid prototyping for the DIY market. This is all in our local market (San Diego). The plus for that idea would be a decently low startup cost, and it would leverage our social network of lots of smart people looking for something to do.

That's just one of our ideas, though. One of the main things I'm asking MeFites for are some good small business ideas. We're not interested in getting rich, we're more interested in eeking out a living while having flexibility and, most importantly, being our own bosses.

I know this sounds rash, possibly even as if we're just flailing around in the dark trying to find some release from suffocating in the lower-middle class corporate world. That's definitely a part of it. We've thought about going to law school, but everyone I've talked to say it's pretty much the last thing in the world one would want to do right now unless there's a T14 school involved (there isn't). MAs don't seem to be worth the paper they're printed on, either. I feel like if I'm going to go into debt for an uncertain future, I'd rather do it as an entrepreneur rather than taking on educational debt that is looking less and less like "good debt".

I want to make it clear that we are willing to put our money where are mouths are, both in time, research, and cold hard cash. I've already written two sample business plans, talked to a finance major friend of mine who is going for their CPA who would be willing to help us out...

Are any of these good ideas? Are there any other ideas that could be deployed on a local level to make a small amount of money in this uncertain economy in our circumstances? Am I even asking the right questions?
posted by speedgraphic to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I guess what I'm trying to say is, getting "more experience in the business world" isn't an option, unless it involves talking to screaming people over a telephone headset.

If you're in dead end jobs, why can't your successful dad get you better jobs at his company? Nepotism seems all the rage these days.

But if that's out of the question, I personally think you should start an ice cream truck. Not frozen yogurt. Ice cream.
posted by anniecat at 11:29 AM on June 29, 2010

As for the DIY idea: perhaps start by moonlighting and see how it goes? Get your Dad's investment and use it to buy the equipment (but check on the resale value before you do). Try doing it part-time and on weekends and see how much demand there is. Perhaps visit the owners of DIY centers like TechShop and see what they think about your idea, how much demand there is for your service, etc.

As for other ideas, think about things (or services) that you would be willing to pay for. Gardening, bookkeeping, and other services are often done by people without as much education as you have, who do not communicate clearly. You may be able to do what are normally considered low-skill service businesses better than others in your market.

Also, talk to your Dad about what kinds of businesses his wealthy friends might pay for. Maybe they need professional organizers, dog walkers, etc. Your Dad's network might be a huge asset, and something he can give you for free.

Keep us updated!
posted by metametababe at 11:35 AM on June 29, 2010

$10,000 won't get you that far. I understand that you are willing to take on debt to pursue this dream, but you'll be much more trapped in a cycle of dead-end jobs if you have to pay the interest on small business loan every month.

Could you both live on one person's salary for a while? Treat your union like a business and send one person off to some kind of trade school while the other pays the bills. After that, the "skilled" person works while the other person trades out to get their own training. It's not instant, but eventually you could both be furniture makers, cooks, or web designers or something. Then you would have clear skills to start your own business.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:37 AM on June 29, 2010

Also, talk to your Dad about what kinds of businesses his wealthy friends might pay for. Maybe they need professional organizers, dog walkers, etc. Your Dad's network might be a huge asset, and something he can give you for free.

Seconding that -- one of the most valuable things you can build up at your age is the beginnings of a great network. I'm not that much older than you (and also have a poli sci degree!), I'm self employed, and the network I built in my mid-twenties STILL comes in handy even now. It might not seem as exciting as laser engraving, or whatever, but it will be much more flexible and useful to you in the long run, all while providing you with some experience, some money, and a flexible work arrangement.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:42 AM on June 29, 2010

You are still in your salad days. Network, especially through your dad, and start your business venture part time in addition to your corporate job that you have now. That's the best way to feel out the demand for your business ventures without setting your safety net on fire.

10k$ isn't really a lot of money, especially if you both play on quitting your jobs and providing for your own healthcare costs as you start this business.

As far as your ideas, I did read an article last week (sorry, but I completely forget where) that said there were increases in jobs in the metal fabrication fields, so I suppose the custom fabrication idea isn't that far off of the pop-news opinion of what's a good bet right now...

Also, don't feel bad about a dead end job. You (and I) graduated at a tough sucky time in the economy. I used to beat myself up over not having a more "important" job with upward mobility that would give me the hope of owning a house in a few years. I got pretty disgusted with myself until one day I just finally said to myself that it really isn't my fault that I entered the professional job market at a time when people with years of experience over me were getting laid off and entering the market as well.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:23 PM on June 29, 2010

Your job: 9-5pm
Your company: 730pm-2am

Welcome to America :)
posted by Hurst at 12:28 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I long had a dream to start a delivery service that would deliver cigarettes, condoms, beer, and snacks 24/7. Particularly in college town, the number of customer would sky rocket once stoned/drunk/stranded folks realized they could have the emergency essentials delivered to them well after last call. However, the blue laws in my state make it very difficult to get around. CA may be easier. I had planned on calling it Sin2Go, but you could name it anything you liked.
posted by teleri025 at 1:09 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers thus far, folks. Just wanted to make a few clarifications:

-We don't plan to quit our jobs until the prospect of breaking even is actually on the horizon. Quitting and living on $10K would be a pretty dumb move, I agree :) I don't have healthcare as my job doesn't provide worthwhile healthcare coverage so that's not an issue; I'd likely continue living uninsured for the time being.

-We're looking for a business idea that could, theoretically, one day, make us self-sufficient. Ideas like dog walking, etc. are cool and I can see how they'd pay the bills, but we've got the day job thing covered.

-Nepotism is out of the question, unfortunately. I already work at my dad's company in this job. I know, don't get me started. At least I'm not being unethical. :P I will however continue to see what, if anything, his network would need that I could provide.

And to reiterate, any other ideas besides laser engraving/fabrication? Off the wall is good, too. An ice cream truck actually sounds pretty fun. :)
posted by speedgraphic at 1:37 PM on June 29, 2010

I think the best small businesses come from people who have special skills or talents and see a need from their own experiences as consumers and hobbyists. It's hard to build a business from the ground up when you don't know what kind of businesses are needed. (Though I can definitely see the appeal of trying to find the niche, and then filling it.)

As for dog walking and similar ideas: I wouldn't knock this, not specifically. People who started out dogwalking now have successful doggie cares and pet stores, for example. Or thriving dogwalking businesses where they set their own schedules and have to hire people to help out. I know a previously unemployed guy who started tuning his friends' bikes as a favor, then started charging, and just opened a small store front of a store that has a flat rate for bike tuning. I know another unemployed carpenter who now spends all day every day making affordable canvasses for painters.

I know this doesn't answer your specific question (which seems to be, what kind of business could I build for cheap that'd be successful in San Diego?), but I would suggest you think about this: What are your interests and passions? What kind of business do you wish was open in your neighborhood? What do your friends have to drive across town to do that they wish they could do two blocks over?
posted by bluedaisy at 2:16 PM on June 29, 2010

Not an idea or advice, just a book rec! 4 Hour Workweek.

(And PS - as I understand it, from a few people I know who have tried and failed, operating an ice cream truck is not as easy as you'd think. Lots of territorial issues with routes, at the very least.)

Good luck!
posted by firei at 3:54 PM on June 29, 2010

In your shoes, I'd go to meetings of green business entrepreuneurs and so forth. (Green companies are growing 10x faster according to the Governor, but mostly I suggest green as a way for you to find a subset of the business community that appeals to you, so replace as appropriate.) I don't have any ideas, but being around others who are starting their own companies should help you meet contacts, get ideas, and learn from their experience.
posted by salvia at 10:37 PM on June 29, 2010

Try as many things out as you can. Time is your greatest resource, learn marketing, understand things like core competence, value-chain, market position, the 4 p's, target markets, EBITDA.
posted by inlimbow at 1:57 PM on July 20, 2010

Here are some ideas which may or very well may not be helpful :)

Food service (since you weren't totally opposed to the ice cream truck idea ;-):

Start a restaurant - I always thought this would be a lot fun, though hard work. Thinking of some new innovative concept restaurant idea would be good.

Food delivery service - I constantly dread cooking. There is definitely a market need for affordable, good food you could just have delivered to yourplace, ready to go.

Starting a health food store - a niche market but there are always people like me looking for some exotic Brazillian root required for the latest vegetarian recipe they're trying to make.

Start an internet company:

Web design contracting - This would be fun, if you like working with graphics design kind of programs.

eBay business - I know this was all the rage in the 90s, so I'm not sure how amenable the environment is now. A friend of my dad, though, started importing junk from China (e.g. dolls, giftboxes) a few years ago and now sells them on eBay; she apparently does quite well.

Other ideas:

Do you have an eye for interior design? We just hired an interior decorator to come to our house and tell us what color to paint our walls. It cost us like $400 or something for a couple of hours. People like my family always need people who have good taste to help us out. The reason I called this decorator was because I saw her website where she had photos of her work which we liked (suprisingly not too many decorators in our area have a web presence). Didn't check if she had a degree in design or anything like that. I bet you could get started by maybe doing decorating for your friends/family, build up a portfolio, and then start building a client base from there.

I've also always wanted to start a Not for Profit. Kiva.org is a really inspirational story of a Gen Y-er who started an internet-based NFP. The guy who started is a philsophy major turned programmer who set the site up in his off time. It really spoke to people and has taken off from there.

Also, not an idea itself, but an idea for getting ideas: have a look at Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono, a book on creativity and brainstorming - it's helped me think of some really good ideas for starting businesses, which I hope to be able to do someday soon, so now he does it fulltime.

I'm in a very similar situation to yours, actually, so I'm rooting for you. Best of luck, and I hope you both find a way to reign in heaven :)
posted by strekker at 4:06 AM on November 24, 2010

« Older I do not like weird Facebook link spam.   |   learn to program? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.