Monday, February 27, 2006

One Smartie at a Time

Way, way back in 1968, I started a courier/messenger company in London, Ontario. To cover the costs of running the dispatch office, I thought it logical to contract with an oil company to operate a service station on their behalf. The profits on gasoline sales would, I hoped, cover the costs of the office. The profits I had expected turned out to be meagre at best, so to make a few more pennies, I filled the office shelves with various confectioneries like potato chips and candy. More on that later.

I was an ambitious guy. Before really knowing anything at all about what I was doing, I decided that if one service station was good, two would obviously be better. I had asked my younger brother to join me as partner in my enterprises, and before long he ran one service station and I the other. Our contract with Arrow Petroleum stated that the service stations had to be open to the public from 7:00am to 11:00pm Monday through Saturday, and from 9:00am to 9:00pm on Sundays. That amounts to, if I remember correctly, 108 hours per week. That was our work week. My brother, at age 18, worked 108 hours at one service station and I, at age 23, 108 hours at the other. I was already married and, as you might imagine, neglected my home life. My brother was still single. He didn't have a life. No time. No energy. No money.

Eventually, even in our piss and vinegar years, we just couldn't keep up the pace. Although we really couldn't afford it, we hired some help to run the service stations during the evenings, when our courier company wasn't in operation.

I was naive in the extreme. Although I had already had two small businesses before the adventures described here, I had no real business training and, true to my optimistic nature, trusted everyone. I trusted suppliers to honour their commitments, customers to pay their bills and employees not to steal from me. Why not? Everyone was honest and honourable, right? Even the fact that in an earlier business, my very first business partner had stolen from the teen-age night club we operated together, didn't dampen my faith in humankind. People are basically decent, I thought.

I still think that people are basically decent. I am, even now, probably way too trusting. Still, I have been defrauded, stolen from, lied to, so many times that I should know better.

One of the earliest examples of employee theft still makes me shake my head, so many years later. Once my brother and I had hired some people to operate our two service stations in the evenings and on weekends, I got quite an education. I won't bore you with all the details here. There are far too many stories to tell and you won't sit still that long. Well, maybe just one story... that's not too much, is it?

At the service station under my command, I started getting complaints from customers that the packages of Smarties we sold from our confectionery shelves seemed not to have as many of the little coloured candies in them as usual. I thought first of complaining to the wholesaler from whom we purchased our confections. It didn't make sense though, that someone there would deliberately remove a few individual Smarties from each package, so I decided to investigate further. I opened a couple of fresh Smarties packages and counted the number of candies inside. Then I counted the contents of some packages that had been on the shelves for a while. Yep. About 1/4 of the candies that should have been inside were gone. Stealing entire Smarties packages would have been too obvious, so our thief got creative. Stealing a few candies from each package wouldn't attract any attention, he thought. Had he only taken two or three candies from each package, we would never have noticed. He got greedy. He took too many. We eventually tracked the theft to a young fellow who worked for us in the evenings, and he was fired.

Life is like that.

Our governments are stealing Smarties from us. Our liberties are disappearing one by one. We don't notice the loss as quickly that way. We're still mostly free, after all, right? By the time we notice that our Smarties box is nearly empty, it will be too late to do anything about it. It may, in fact, be too late already.

When I fired the young Smarties thief, there was a pretty good chance that the next employee might not be a thief. When we elect new governments, what are the real chances that they, unlike their predecessors, are going to keep their hands off our Smarties, our bank accounts, our investments, our homes and businesses?

None. Governments don't recognize that the Smarties or anything else you 'own' are yours in the first place. Property rights aren't completely enshrined in our constitutions (American or Canadian) and whatever we think we own can be taken away, either through taxation or outright seizures on various pretexts.

Think about that the next time you munch on a Smartie. If Smarties aren't available where you live, substitute M&Ms.


  1. I think it is a real pleasure to be an entreprenuer it gives one enormous freedom and power. I admire you for the very fact that you are an entreprenuer. I would need some tips from you Mr.Pedde.

  2. Thank you, Vishnusaran. I could certainly give a lot of advice about what not to do. Seriously, though, a lot of being an entrepreneur is:
    1. Recognizing opportunity.
    2. Learning from mistakes. Most entrepreneurs make lots of them.
    3. Tenacity. Not quitting when most rational people would simply give up.
    I could write a long book just on all the mistakes I have made over the decades.

  3. An equally erroneous assumption to the religious one, that people are no good, is the Libertarian/Objectivist one that they are basically good. Honestly, most fall somewhere in between, with power being the most corrupting influence on them.
    You never know what you're getting until you've networked with someone awhile. It would be great if there were some kind of electric Truth Machine or digital Manifest-ometer that would keep folks from lying to you when it was switched on, or tell you what was really "inside the cargo holder", but that technology is still science fiction.
    Politicians come mainly from the Lucky Sperm Club of OMFR who never had to really work for what they have, and this is why they know nothing about those of us who do:
    Virtually absolute power sees to it they don't care to learn, either!

  4. I have so many questions regarding entrepreneurship.

    1. How/why did u decide to start a courier service?

    2. From where did u get money for that?

    3. How to get Equity Investors invest in our project?

    Please explain me. I'll get bwck to you once am clear on these basic questions.

  5. Vishnusaran, these are very good questions and I will try to answer as best I can:

    1. I decided to start a courier service because I saw an opportunity. After my first year at university, the only job I could find for the summer was driving a taxi. I noticed that the cab company I worked for often got calls to deliver envelopes or parcels that needed to be delivered very quickly. The only alternative at that time in London, Ontario, was to use a cartage service which you would call one day and they would deliver your item the next day. I thought that a service specializing in virtually instant delivery of important parts, legal documents, etc., would prosper. I offered delivery anywhere within the London, Ontario city limits within 60 minutes. If the delivery took longer than 60 minutes, there would be no charge. It took a while, but the service became popular, then essential, and now we have many customers who have been with us for decades and, of course, many competitors and imitators.

    2. I had no money. My brother, who was my partner for about 17 years, had no money. We scraped by, ate only when we could afford it, bought nothing, went nowhere. Eventually, we started to make profits. When we were sufficiently established, we got bank lines of credit when we needed it.

    3. Getting equity investors other than from immediate family or friends is often very difficult. Most often investors like this are not entrepreneurs themselves and they can't 'see' your dream the way you can. If they do invest, in return for offering funding for a new enterprise that has few if any assets, they will usually want a controlling interest, often as high as 80 or 90% of your company. If you start a smaller business of some type, it is often better to build it up slowly until it has real profits and real assets. Then, you are likely to get funding more easily and you will not have to give up as much.

    I hope this helps.

    I don't know what things are like in India now, but I remember seeing on TV, on the crowded streets of Calcutta and elsewhere, individuals pulling hand-built, two -wheeled carts cobbled together from bicycles or car parts. I thought to myself that someone should design and build a lightweight cart like that, and sell it to people who have to make their living by moving heavy loads by handcart. I realize that these people will have little or no money, so the key would be to 'lease' the carts, essentially by taking a reasonable percentage of the profits of the operators. They would benefit by having something that is easier to pull, allowing them to do a better job. This sort of enterprise may have long become too archaic and impractical, but if it still exists, I am sure that it would succeed.

    There are opportunities everywhere. All you have to do is recognize them.

  6. Ted, I agree that the libertarian position can be naive, but I would still rather trust any indivual, one-on-one, than any gang... regardless of whether that gang calls itself 'the Government,' or the Cribs.

  7. Next big thing in India after BPO is KPO. Where in we can earn millions of dollars. Am observing the industry. If not in this boom will catch up in the next one.

  8. Vishnusaran, you are right about BPO and KPO. Still, to be able to take advanatage of trends like that, you have to be positioned with either capital to invest or with the knowledge or skill to contribute in a meaningful way.

    India has highly educated and talented programmers, for example. (You are a programmer, aren't you?) When I needed some web development done for my own software company, I didn't have anyone on staff with the necessary skills to produce what I wanted. I spoke to some developers outside of my company and got a lot of negative feedback about what I wanted. "It can't be done," or "It would take too much work," or" Why would you want to do it that way?" This doesn't pertain to the web interface that the user sees in his browser, but to the administrative tools, entirely web-based, that allow resource management, posting of new products, automatic royalty and commision calculations, etc. Now, one of my staff, without any knowledge of HTML or ASP or any other programming language/system, can manage the webistes in question easily and seamlessly.

    One of the websites sells e-books ( and a new e-book can be added to the list, to the site-search, to the server for purchase and download, etc.

    So, who did all this for me? A company in New Delhi, India. They simply said to me: "Tell us what you want." I got exactly what I wanted from them, on-time and at very reasonable cost. And, I never met anyone in person. Everything was done by email, IM, and eventually FTP transfer.

    I ma currently looking for ambitious, motivated programmers who would bebinterested in taking over development of some unfinished programs I have for eventual sale over the internet. No salary, but eventual sharing in royalties on sales of the programs, largely via the internet.

  9. I really enjoyed this post! I love glimpses into your personal history.. very enjoyable interesting anecdotes!

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Exactly Mr.Pedde am a Project engineer involved in design and development of my project. Please give me the technical and functionla details if interested i'll take the task to completion.

    I would like to thank you for your time and your suggestions.

  12. Vishnusaran, I will write you an email directly in a couple of days with some more details. Thanks for your interest.

  13. i am familier with c,c++,VB,C#,COBOL,JCL,REXX [working for 2.5 yrs in mainframes],java,asp,html,VBA,XSLT.