There is a tiny dry cleaner near my office, right next to the place that I get coffee every morning. It’s run by an elderly man who spends most of his days taking in laundry and hemming clothes for his regular customers. He has been there a long time. His shop is immaculate and he is always well dressed. It’s snowing in New York this morning (3rd time this week) and when I passed his shop today, he was out front with a big bucket of rock salt spreading it around to melt the snow and ice on the sidewalk. He had a big snow shovel nearby.
On the face of it, there is nothing remarkable about this scene. Lots of other small business owners were out doing the same thing (and a bunch weren’t, as we can all see from the sidewalks). But I was struck by two things: First, the sheer incongruity of the fact that he must keep a big bucket of rock salt underneath his work table inside his otherwise pristine little shop. Second, while he is in the business of cleaning and altering clothes, this is what he has to do for his customers to make sure that they can get to his shop safely. And this is what he has to do to make sure that no one is hurt in front of his shop.
He, like most small business owners, is an entrepreneur. And like any good entrepreneur, he does WHATEVER is necessary to look out for his customers, even when it means doing things that are totally incongruous with his core skills. This is a fundamental value of every good entrepreneur and early stage company I’ve ever observed. They are willing to go well beyond their core areas of expertise to help their customers be successful. This is part of how they earn the loyalty and trust of their early customers, and part of how they keep them in the long run. I’d even posit that every good early stage company should have some kind of a salt bucket – a symbol of the things that they do to help their customers above and beyond the core experience of their product.