New York City is amazing, but it comes with challenges. For one thing, there are 20 million people living in the metro area, and it often seems we all want to do the same things at the same time--the same events, the same exhibits, the same stores.
One New Yorker's gripe is another's potential gold mine, of course, and Bloomberg just did an excellent profile of one of the best kinds of New York hustlers (in the best sense of that word): an accidental entrepreneur who turned a headache into an opportunity.
Meet Robert Samuel, CEO of Same Ole Line Dudes, LLC, a 60-ish person New York City company that stands in line for the rest of us (all for a fee, of course). Their story is a great one about how to launch a real, growing business by turning problems into opportunities--and by not spending a dime.
Here are the 7 steps Samuel used to get going, as he described recently to Bloomberg.
1. Get the right attitude.
Almost five years ago, Samuel was "unemployed and depressed." On a whim, when the iPhone 5 was announced in September 2012, he ran an ad on Craigslist, offering to stand in line at the Apple Store for someone who wanted one.
He made $100 for that gig--but there was a potential for more. Samuel called some friends who staked out spots at the Fifth Avenue store as well, and also sold milk crates to othres in line who wanted somewhere to sit. It wasn't millions, but since Samuel described himself as "unemployed and depressed" at the time, the money was a welcome windfall.
2. Recognize the opportunity.
The business became a bit more serious in summer 2013. Why? The debut of the Cronut, a sort of croissant-doughnut hybrid that took the city by storm. Samuel posted another willing-to-wait ad on Craigslist, but Cronuts were a better deal for him. Unlike the Apple store, they were an every day sure thing, and he charged a huge markup: $60 for two Cronuts (which sold for $5 each, retail), including delivery.
"Reporters noticed that Samuel and his buddies were at the bakery daily, and his line-sitting services made the local news. He once delivered Cronuts to a customer in Baltimore, who paid for his round-trip bus ticket," Bloomberg reported.
3. Hedge your risk.
That news coverage prompted a lot of inquiries, but Samuel still wasn't sure this was a sustainable business, and he was wary of quitting his full-time day job. It was only the following year that he even launched a website--until then, he was still getting jobs from Craigslist.
But after seeing that he had a steady stream of clients asking him and his team to wait in line for "Saturday Night Live tapings, for famous speakers, for anything that created a queue," he made the move to full-time entrepreneurship.
4. Look for the next surprise chance.
In almost every business, it seems there are a series of opportunities. One might get you started, but it's the second or third opportunity (or tenth) that becomes much bigger in retrospect. For Samuel's company, that next, bigger opportunity came in the form of the smash Broadway musical, Hamilton.
Besides now having a base of clients willing to pay top dollar, so Samuel could recruit more line-waiters to his team, this also meant a marketing opportunity. He ordered yellow "Line Dudes-branded tents" that are now "a fixture at sample sales and Instagram-famous restaurants, as well as Broadway ticket lines" across New York, as Bloomberg put it.
5. Start to scale.
As the company slowly grew, it evolved from literally "a bunch of dudes Samuel was friends with," according to Bloomberg, to its current roster: about 35 "neighbors, college students, retirees, veterans, soon-to-be lawyers, single parents--anyone punctual and willing to stand in line." (His oldest line sitter is 71; a line sitter who is also a law student studied for the bar while waiting for Hamilton tickets.)
A native New Yorker, Samuel says he spent his pre-line-sitting career "working a slew of customer service, retail, and security jobs, which he credits with preparing him for the customer-facing business he now runs."
6. Develop advantages.
Okay, now this is where things start to get interesting, because up until now I didn't see much in the way of a barrier to entry. If the business were sufficiently lucrative, just about any SEO wizard out there could probably attract more customers than Samuel gets. Yet, over time, simply by being consistent, his company has developed some advantages.
For one thing, having waited at so many top attractions, his line-sitters can now get preferential treatment simply by knowing the people who work there. And, Samuel "encourages his staff to try everything they stand in line for, to bring a certain expertise to their services." He's seen Hamilton seven times himself, so "when people call, I know what I'm talking about. It can be a museum, a milkshake, or cookie dough."
7. Share the wealth.
Let's be honest, this is unlikely to turn into a massive company, at least with the current business model. But it is enough to provide for a decent living for Samuel and his independent contractor line-sitters. He generally charges a minimum of $45 for a two-hour wait. Line sitters take home 60 percent of that, plus tips.
Moreover, as Samuel told Bloomberg, businesses "know the money [his clients] spend on us. Imagine what they will spend once they get in the store. If there's a party of 10 people, that's a big tab, that's a huge tip for the waitress. One hand washes the other."
It's trendy to say that time is our most important commodity--more important than money. If so, Samuel has figured out a way to trade one for the other.