Of all the businesses in the world, why did I chose tobacco? And for that matter, tobacco ma-chines? Mine wasn’t a planned choice. I found myself in the middle of my first contract and made decision after decision to stay in business. It was a long string of tiny choices to make things possi-ble, to look for the way to keep going, one small win at a time, or one avoided bankruptcy at a time (yes, you read that. More on it in a bit).
So here I am 10 years later, wondering what I would have done differently. Where there were any things I wish I’d known when I started out, rather than tested them on my own business skin? You might be thinking about a tobacco business of your own. And reading this might just be some well spent 3 minutes. One for each thing I’d do differently if I started over.
1. I would’ve dared more
I played safe, calculated how much I can lose and then made my move. That was good, after all this is not an industry for the particularly daring. It takes years (I’m not going to say 10, but that’s a good reference) to be acknowledged as a presence. And there’s good cause for that, too. When the get-rich-fast fantasy is so appealing, many get lured in. No wonder the players already in wait patiently for the gold rush to fade and the committed to stand out. Those are the long distance run-ners cut for tobacco. That said, I would’ve dared more, let myself let impressed by the already established names and had more confidence. It would’ve helped me figure out faster whether a tobacco business is something I want to continue or not. It turned out it was, but I could’ve known that sooner.
2. I would’ve been less impressionable of “the tobacco” business
To be frank, I knew nothing. So I let myself be impressed by the industry at large, impressed that I was an outsider looking for a way into a closed world, with so few sources of information and knowledge. I learned everything the hard way, bankruptcy breathing down my neck at times. You know they say you’re not an entrepreneur until you went bankrupt three times. I never did, but I was very close several times. I know those chills. But every time I decided to stay the course.
Going back to my do-different list, as a rookie I created an entire image of the industry in my mind and I’m now certain that was a beginner’s mistake. There is, in tobacco, just as much good and bad as there is in any other industry. The work is just as beautiful as any other work you would choose to do. It’s hard work, too, but anything that generates pleasure for the consumer is hard work. We may deal with tobacco machines every day, but our output ends with the consumers, and is judged instantly.
3. I would’ve cut more.
It almost feels as hard as being mean. I should’ve been “meaner.” But sometimes being clear-cut is healthier. Let’s say a customer is supposed to bring you a tobacco machine for maintenance. They give you the parameters, but not the required materials or consumables. The trenchant thing to do is to let them know what you need and do nothing until they provide it. I was always supportive and looked for ways to make things possible. Let’s find a way to get over this obstacle, let’s figure this out. Not the best of calls. I would now let people work their way out of the tight corner they got themselves into in spite of my instructions.
All my three lessons point to the same thing: stand your own ground. Call me old fashioned, but I love it when results do the talking. As much as I love to love the work, not the money. If you’d be-come a lawyer because serving the law is worth it, or because of all the people you would help, rather than the money, than you’re my kind of client and partner. Not that the money isn’t good. It is and it matters. But they’re a consequence, not the goal.
So let me share some of my wishes as I blow the candles on the cake: I wish for partners I would love to be in tandem with. I wish for growth and plateau. Growth only is never good. I wish for smoking to be less disparaged than it is today and more savoured as a moment of pleasure, as it used to. I wish for entrepreneurs like you to go into tobacco for the love and passion of doing something beautiful you can call your own. I wish to make a profit out of doing good things. And wish you for the same kind of success.