Front of the line
How to start a profitable company with no money. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
One person’s gripe is another's potential gold mine
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, so let’s talk 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.
A little over a decade ago, Samuel was unemployed and depressed. But 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 clearly a potential for more. Samuel called in some friends who staked out spots at other New York City Apple Stores as well, and also sold milk crates to others in line who wanted somewhere to sit.
The money was a welcome windfall, and Samuel got a bit more serious about line-sitting 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, and it turned out that Cronuts were a much better deal than iPhones.
Unlike the iPhone, they were an everyday sure opportunity, and he charged a huge markup: $60 for two Cronuts (which sold for $5 each, retail), including delivery. (They’re now $65; inflation!)
As Bloomberg put it in an interview:
“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."
That news coverage prompted a lot of inquiries, but Samuel still wasn't sure this was a sustainable business, and by then he’d also landed a full-time day job that he was hesitant to quit. He didn’t even have a website; he was still just 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," as he told Bloomberg, he made the move to full-time entrepreneurship.
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 a smash Broadway musical: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.
With a base of clients willing to pay top dollar, Samuel recruited more line-waiters to his team, and ordered small, yellow “Line Dudes” one-person branded tents (and now, t-shirts and hats), that also served as marketing.
“The wait was four, maybe five, days. We were charging $5,000 to get you two tickets. But compared to buying one resale ticket, we were the best deal in town,” Samuel told The Guardian, adding: “I feel like I need to cut [Lin-Manuel Miranda] a commission check.”
(You can see a photo of what the tents look like there, if interested.)
Now, they’ll also wait outside trendy New York restaurants that don’t take advance reservations, to put their clients’ names in for a table. An example, from their website:
We have also recently been requested for Clinton St Baking Co brunch, where we go about 2 hours before your preferred arrival and provide your name and cell number to the hostess.
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.
But, over time, simply by being consistent and making contacts, his company has developed some advantages. Theaters, restaurants, and other long line attractions recognize that if his clients will spend hundreds or even thousands for someone to stand in line, they’ll probably be big spenders once they get inside, too.
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.
Today, his oldest line sitter is 71; a line-sitter who is also a law student studied for the bar while waiting for Hamilton tickets.
He generally charges $25 an hour, with a two-hour minimum and add-ons for things like having to wait in the middle of the night, or for inclement weather. Line-sitters take home 60 percent, plus tips.
"[C]onvenience has taken over society," he said. "You can get people to literally do everything for you. They can watch your kids, they can watch your pets. They can clean your home, they can pick you up from A to B, bring you your food. ... You can get people to do just about anything, within reason, as long as it’s legal and you want to pay."
7 other things worth knowing today
A gunman entered a Colorado Springs LGBTQ club and immediately began firing with a long rifle late Saturday, killing at least five people and injuring 18. Police praised "at least two heroic people" inside the club who "confronted and fought with the suspect and were able to stop the suspect from continuing to kill and harm others. (NBC News)
Bob Iger is back. Disney re-appointed Iger as CEO on Sunday night, effective immediately, after previous CEO Bob Chapek came under fire for his management of the entertainment giant. (CNBC)
Piles of snow, in some places taller than most people, buried parts of western and northern New York as a lake-effect storm pounded areas east of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario for a third straight day Saturday. Some areas got as much as 6 feet of snow. (AP)
Over the past week, some of the top law schools in the United States have pulled out of the U.S. News ranking system: Yale (which has been #1 every year since the rankings began in 1990), Harvard, Georgetown, Columbia, and Stanford, among others. “I have a big agenda as dean, and this is a part of it,” Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken said. “I want Yale Law School to drive the conversation about the future of legal education—and U.S. News stands in the way of reform.” (Slate)
The World Cup is underway, or else as I like to call it, Bill’s Quadrennial Socially Acceptable Excuse to Go to Bars In the Middle of Otherwise Normal Workdays and Watch Sports. Most of our readers are in the U.S., so I’ll just point out that the United States plays Wales at 2 p.m. ET. (The Sporting News)
This is the nice thing about Twitter; you can find videos like the reunion of a newborn chimp and its mother, and your day is just a little bit better afterward. (Twitter)