A Day on the Job: 'Began riding a unicycle at age 12'
Big wheel in unicycles: 'Passion'
I'm president of Unicycle.com in Marietta, Georgia, which is near Atlanta. My wife Amy is CEO. In January 1999, I registered for a Cobb County business license. I assumed that Amy would outlive me, so I made her 51-percent owner and me 49 percent. She frequently reminds me who's the boss.
We sell unicycles and unicycle training tools, cycling gear and juggling equipment on the Internet. Our 2001 projected revenues are $650,000, way, way beyond our initial expectations.
Our business supports our family of five, plus three employees. We have a 3,200-square-foot warehouse in Marietta, and only about five customers visit us per month. It's a mail-order business. We ask many of our customers how they found us, and most say the used a search engine.
Years in position
I'm 44 and a Leo, but I don't follow astrology.
I have a BS in communications from Kennesaw State University, December 1998.
How did you get your current job?
I was riding a unicycle each day after work, for fitness. It became a passion -- I couldn't wait to get home and ride three miles, five miles, eventually 10 miles per day. People in my neighborhood would stop me and ask, "Where do you go to get a unicycle?"
I visited local bike shops and surfed the Internet, and found that no one was really focused on serving unicyclists. About the same time, my employer of 23 years, IBM, introduced a Web hosting service with e-commerce for beginners.
I told Amy that I wanted to build a Web site to sell unicycles. She said, "Okay." IBM helped me build the site, and eight months later our little part-time business was generating more income than my full-time job.
My last day on the job was November 1, 1999, but I stayed closely connected to IBM through their Web-hosting business. They helped Amy and me become entrepreneurs. We've sent thank-you letters to IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner.
How many hours do you work per week?
Usually 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Our Internet "store" is open 24-7.
What's the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?
I turn on my computer, then make coffee, then check my e-mail inbox. We get tons of e-mail, usually starting like this: "I want to get my son (or daughter or husband) a unicycle, but I don't know which one to get. He (or she) is 10 years old ..."
What time do you have lunch? What do you usually eat?
I get hungry around 11:30 a.m. If I don't eat by noon, I have trouble focusing on the work at hand. I have friends who place a high emphasis on quality time at the table. I enjoy good food but I see it as fuel to keep me going.
I like to eat a bite in our "executive dining room" -- it's a tiny 5-by-10-foot room with two chairs and a table -- and get back to work.
What time do things get tense around the office? What makes it that way?
If our orders aren't ready to ship by 5 p.m., tension increases dramatically. Our commitment to our customers is to ship with 48 hours, but we almost always ship within 24 hours.
We ship between 20 and 30 boxes per day, sometimes three times that many at Christmas. Travis, our UPS driver, picks up around 5:30 p.m., and he'd prefer not to wait while we finish taping boxes. He's part of our extended family, and we like to keep him happy.
If you're having a good day at work, what is it that makes it good?
A unicycle company ought to be a fun place to work and we strive to make it so. Amy and I are together nearly 24-hours-per-day, and somehow we get along very well. We share common problems and goals that wouldn't exist if we had separate careers.
Our initial goal was to sell 30 unicycles per month, enough to help us replace her aging car. She got a new car after just six months.
Amy was a star salesperson in Midtown Manhattan, and gave up her career to raise our three sons.
How much work, if any, do you take home?
When I had a corporate job, I could stack my papers in my desk, lock it up and leave. I rarely took work home because I preferred to reserve evening time for my family. They sacrificed evening time with me for three years while I earned a degree at night. I wanted to make up for lost time.
Unicycle.com changed all that. We started our business in our living room. We used to assemble unicycles on the couch. Then we bought a bike-repair stand and moved into the garage. Soon we expanded into the basement. Then we expanded into the garage next door, then added the garage across the street. It was nuts. It seemed that whatever part or tool we needed was somewhere else.
We were working 16- and 18-hour days. Our boys were helping us prepare and pack unicycles for shipment, and they were earning money for their efforts. Their visiting friends often wanted to work and earn, too. Soon parents in our neighborhood were stopping by to see if their kids could work and earn spending money.
When an 18-wheel truck showed up at our door to deliver an order, we knew we had to make a change. We moved our inventory to a fulfillment center (where Mr. Mosher used to work), and we continued to work 18-hour days at home. It's tough to be a good parent to three boys when you're working that much.
When fulfillment costs grew above $1,000 per month, we bought a warehouse and moved our entire business to the new location. We hired good people to help with the growing workload. Mark Scarbrough joined us from a local bike shop. Tabatha Stewart had worked with a large telecommunications firm.
Amy and I are averaging nine hours per day now. We leave early some days for our boys' soccer practice, and we take weekends off.
What does your work contribute to society?
Our goal is to be good stewards of the funds that are entrusted to us. God has blessed us with a successful business (so far, that is -- ours is a privately-held dot-com company), and we believe strongly in giving back to the community that supports us. We give unicycles to charitable organizations for raffles; they often earn many times the value of the unicycle. We've donated many of our catalog items to chapters of the Unicycling Society of America.
We're also better able to support the causes we believe in: our church, unicycling friends in the ministry, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, our nation (through United Way), and the September 11 Fund.
Do you expect to finish your working life in this career?
Our goal is to build 10 companies that each earns $1 million in revenue per year. We're building a Web site for a second company. Once we reach the goal, we're going on vacation.
I began riding a unicycle at age 12. I had a paper route at age 13 and rode my unicycle to my customers' front door, delivering it in person. I put the unicycle away at age 16, when I got my driver's license. It disappeared into the basement or attic many times, coming out whenever IBM moved us.
By age 40, I'd gained a pound a year for every year since high school. I was tired of failing at diets, so I chose the fitness route. That was four years ago and I'm still riding my unicycle almost every day. I haven't lost the passion.
If you could have two more careers, what would they be?
In my dreams, I've hit more home runs out of Turner Field than I can count. I've pitched only no-hitters, and I've won many games with just 27 pitches. My high school debate teacher wrote in my senior yearbook: "You have a talent for rearranging situations to suit yourself. I hope you always can." I've pursued many business ventures and investments and failed miserably. But I kept trying. I'll keep trying.
What's an unforgivable trait in a colleague?
There isn't one. My mission is to encourage others to believe in themselves and their ideas, and pursue their dreams. It isn't just about money. There is so much satisfaction in nurturing an idea and seeing it bloom. We started Unicycle.com with just $700 from our meager family savings. $700 was more than we could afford at the time, so I didn't tell Amy. I felt that if we lost it all, we could still survive. When customers started calling, she began to believe in the dream, too.
What do you do to relieve stress?
I head to Blockbuster for a movie! More often, I go for a long unicycle ride. Playing banjo and drums also relieves stress.
What have you been reading lately?
I love books on history and leadership. My summer and fall reading included Carl Sandburg's three-volume set on Abraham Lincoln; Ulysses S. Grant's autobiography; David Gergen's "Eyewitness To Power" (Touchstone Books, October) about four United States presidents; and Jack Welch's (of GE) autobiography ("Jack: Straight From the Gut," Warner Books, September). I'm currently reading Book No. 7 in the "Left Behind" series. (Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins' novels are based on the biblical Book of Revelation -- the seventh is "The Indwelling: The Beast Takes Possession.")
When you have one of those days on which you don't think you can face the job again, what is it that gets you out the door in the morning and off to work?
I've never had one of those days. I love my job. I wish there was more time available to balance work and family.
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