Years before I entered the oil industry or online business, I took my first swing at entrepreneurship.
My product was cinnamon flavored toothpicks.
It might not sound very exciting, but the kids at my school thought it was.
I believe I was 7 or 8 and I had a hit on my hands!
This was the mid 90’s and flavored toothpicks were a thing. I used to see them for sale at gas station counters. (I still see them from time to time) I would see people keep them in their mouth like a sucker until the flavor went away.
Randomly one day I was at a friend’s house and his uncle showed up and started talking about how he made his own flavored toothpicks. He would buy this liquid cinnamon extract that you had to get from the pharmacist, because it was so strong. He would dip some toothpicks in the extract and then set them out to dry. The result was a toothpick with a cinnamon flavor that lasted much longer than what you could buy in stores.
When he told us this story a light bulb went on in my head. I just had a gut feeling that kids at my school would be so interested in these flavored toothpicks that they’d break off a little bit of their lunch money for them.
So I set out to create my product – and by set out I mean I asked my mom to drive me to the store. I told her what I needed from the pharmacist and she was a little skeptical, but the pharmacist said I wasn’t the first person to buy that stuff for flavoring toothpicks.
I got to work preparing my product.
A few days later I started handing out free samples at school. The feedback was great, by the end of the day I had a ton of orders lined up for the next day.
I didn’t know anything about marketing or psychology, I just had a hustler spirit.
Within weeks I had created the latest trend around school.
It didn’t take long for competitors to start popping up. Then right when I had my system optimized and everything was rocking along the feds shut me down.
During my short run I learned some valuable lessons.
It’s funny how similar the childhood ecosystem is to the adult world.
The Original Has an Advantage
The copycats will always be compared to the original.
People love the original. There’s a reason why entire regions of the country refer to any soda brand as “Coke”. Coca-Cola has a great story behind its’ company. What’s Pepsi’s story? We copied Coke…
I had the original brand. I set the standard and I set it high.
Everyone else’s toothpicks were compared to mine. They fell short.
Even if it was close, kids would’ve preferred mine because it was the original.
You can’t tie the original and take over, you must far exceed the original.
Remember that when you think about copying someone’s ideas.
Quality is Everything
So instead of dipping the toothpicks in the extract for a few minutes, I soaked them overnight. Then I would take them out and lay them on a paper towel to let them start drying. I had a system where there was always a batch soaking and a batch drying so I was never low on product.
I created a foil pouch to store them and keep them fresh. Also, this allowed me to sell them in packs of 5.
I could sell at any price, because demand was so high.
I started selling them at 50 cents a pack at first. Remember, we were all just kids and back then a quarter could buy some cool shit.
I eventually bumped the prices up.
I’ll never forget when this girl Alicia offered me $5 for a pack one morning. So I sold it to her and didn’t mention how much lower everyone else was paying.
By the time we had recess she had found out. She walked straight up to me in the 32º F weather and slapped me as hard as she could. (I’ve always had a way with the ladies)
She didn’t, however, ask for a refund. Because my product was that good!
There’s a reason why people will pay 3 grand for an Apple laptop, but you can’t convince anyone with basic computer knowledge to pay more than $300 for an HP.
Quality over everything.
Haters Gonna Hate
There are always going to be those people who can’t stand to see anyone else having a better time than them.
If you don’t have any haters than chances are you are pretty boring. When the haters come out, I take it as a sign that I’m on the right track.
Two of my good friends became competitors. They didn’t say anything to me about it. Didn’t ask if they could join in or how I was making them. One day on a field trip I saw them selling their own toothpicks.
I took a look at their product, which was terrible, and just looked at them and laughed.
They didn’t know about the cinnamon extract I was using. Apparently they tried several formulas to match my “recipe” and couldn’t figure it out. They mixed cinnamon powder and Tabasco sauce to mix the flavor and hotness of mine. It tasted horrible and the cinnamon flavor went away in minutes. Plus they didn’t make the foil pack.
Copiers are always lazier.
The real haters were the faculty at the school. I never quite found out why, but the principal decided to ban toothpicks from the school.
I think the extra attention came from my competitors because they were very vocal about their bullshit “secret sauce” and the teachers didn’t like that they wouldn’t say what was in it.
There’s 2 valuable lessons here:
- It only takes 1 bad company to harm the reputation of an entire industry.
- While having haters is a good thing, the wrong haters can ruin you.
Don’t watch the haters, watch your back.
People are more predictable than we like to believe.
The same principles that were true when I was a little kid selling flavored toothpicks are true in business as an adult.
Sometimes I like to sit back and reflect on experiences from my childhood.
Think of a memorable experience and analyze all of the details that you remember. Now that you are older and wiser, you can extract information from those experiences that you never noticed before.
We don’t always need a book or documentary to learn something new. Our lives are full of lessons that we have taken for granted.
Until Next Time,
What do you think? Do you agree, disagree or have any thoughts to add? Let me know in the comments below.
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