I started Fire Dawgs Junk Removal in August of 2011. Strapping in for the journey with me was a good friend that I originally met while on active duty in the Air Force. We were stationed together at Eielson AFB just north of Fairbanks, Alaska from 2004-2005. As young, single Airmen we had traversed the challenges of military service together representing our country as military firefighters, known in the armed forces as “Fire Dawgs.” We worked hard while on duty, and played hard when off. Serving your country is an adventure on its own, but add in the beauty, cold and unknowns of winter in Alaska, and it’s another adventure altogether.
When we separated from the Air Force, we both went our separate ways but stayed in touch. In 2011, we were once again working together as firefighters at the same fire department, this time as civilian firefighters. A lot had changed since our active duty days; he was married with a little one on the way and I was engaged to be married. We were looking to start a business on our days off shift and had lots of big ideas, dreams and ambition. We had served in the military together, were both starting families and so we naively thought, “We could ‘Crush It’ in business together!” Ah yes, the old friend together in business story. (See “Should friends start businesses together?”)
We knew we wanted to make more money that we both loosely believed would lead to a better quality of life in the future. However, we never got specific as to “Why?” we wanted to run a business. Fortunately for us, we already had trust, grit and a strong work ethic that allowed us to push through with the business despite not being very thoughtful early on. We did write a business plan so we thought we had a good road map. I can tell you though, answering “Why?” might be one of the most important questions you can ask if answered truthfully. Keep in mind, your “Why?” might not be just one thing, it might be a number of reasons. Had we spent some time really exploring that question and its ansewers, we might have made better decisions as we grew the company. I say that because when faced with tough decisions, or deciding on strategy, we would have been comparing it against our “Why?”
We didn’t though and, as a result, we got knocked down A LOT, made a mountain of mistakes and learned a lot of expensive lessons. I understand, you might be thinking that struggle and failure will provide perspective and that it did; however, there are also just bad decisions that we’d all like to avoid. With the benefit of hindsight, I can look back at some of those poor decisions and honestly say that some of the corresponding mistakes that followed those decisions were avoidable had we been comparing the decisions against our answers to:
“Why in the HELL are we putting ourselves through this?”
Business is hard. There were lots of days that I woke up and simply wanted to go back to sleep. There were days when I dreaded going to work because it meant that I had to deal with the mess that I had created. There were days when I was in the office at 5am and didn’t leave that night until 8pm. Days like that SUCK. Nobody wins when you have to go through one of those days. Your family misses you, your spouse is worried about you, your team might be worried about your stress level or you might be a miserable person to be around. So, if we have to go through a day like that, then we better have a good answer to “Why?”
In 2013, my wife and I welcomed our first son into the world. We had our second son in 2017. By then, my “Why?” had become very clear. I wanted to own a business so that I could teach my children about business and hard work. I wanted to have something to pass down to them if appropriate or if they were interested. I wanted to have extra income so that I could go on trips with them. I wanted to teach them about Leadership. I wanted to teach my sons how to be good men… in all of that, I had established FAMILY as my “Why?” and had a bucket of corresponding answers to support my “Why?”
Now, when children or family are your “Why?” it can also be a slippery slope for business owners to justify putting in 80 hours a week only to have their family never see them. As I write this, I have a picture next to my computer of me holding both of my boys in front of a fire truck at my fire station. It’s a reminder that any time I spend AWAY from them had better get me close to spending even more quality time WITH them.
After 7 years in business, I’ve managed to create a series of processes, checklists and systems that allow for my team to run the business on a day to day basis. It still requires my leadership and guidance; however, it no longer needs every hour of my day. As a result, I have additional income from my business and spend even more time with my family then some of my friends who work Monday-Friday jobs and have the weekends off. I’m still far from the metaphorical mountaintop but I have created some balance and the future is bright for our small business.
Although my original business partner is no longer in the company, and I now own 100% of the company with my wife, he and I are still on the same fire department together and remain friends to this day. We often reflect on the early days of the business with nostalgia, as though we were lucky to get through it. It’s through that reflection where I can honestly advise any aspiring entrepreneur to answer one simple question before you embark on this trying journey:
Why in the H E double hockey sticks do you want to start a business?