Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year! Goodbye, 2013!

This is the time when most people or companies write lengthy retrospectives and make bold, grand, crazy resolutions. Believe me, I'm tempted to do the same. But for me it's tough for two reasons:

  1. This year went by in the blink of an eye.
  2. I'm too busy to be sentimental.
Still, I'll indulge in a little sentimentality...

The biggest event of 2013 for me had little to do with this business. This year we welcomed child #4 into our home. Baby Anna Sophia arrived in September. I remember precisely where I was when I learned of her impending arrival -- I was on the VRE platform in Manassas reading about a meteor that hit in Russia. My wife called. She was, to put it lightly, "concerned."

And then the rest of the year happened. It seriously went by in a blur. I took a LOT of time off to help my sick, pregnant wife deal with our three other beautiful little terrorists. I won't say I did it gladly -- the business demands a full-time attention span and then some -- but I was very thankful that this company allows me to be closer to the kind of guy I want to be.

Anyway, in September she arrived. She was beautiful. And now she even smiles at me and giggles and coos. And to see how our other kids dote on her and love her...oh man, you've never seen a more beautiful thing. 

But back to the business...

Tomorrow I'm going to look at the "metrics," the numbers that tell me how we did this year. I know right now that we didn't do as well as we'd hoped, but there are still some fumes in the gas tank. I know we did better than last year, we helped more people than any other year (more than some years combined), and that we're within spitting distance of our big gross revenue goal. Still, it could have been much better.

We lost some people this year. It's a high-turnover kind of industry, which is to be expected, but some of the people had been here a long time. Some left in good circumstances, some not. I guess it's natural in business, but I'm not used to it yet.

We paid off our trucks, which is awesome, but we now need more trucks. We found an amazing new HQ. We won the Angie's List Super Service Award for the fourth consecutive time, and we now have more visible Yelp reviews than we've ever had. 

On the whole, things are good even though we're in the midst of the normal deadly slow slow season. We have the best crew we've ever had, with most of the guys buying in to what we're trying to do here. We have plans, we have strategies, we have the wind in our sails. We have something better than a "sure thing" lined up for 2014 -- we have an epic battle where victory is by no means certain. That is far more interesting, in my opinion. It's quite possible 2014 will be our breakout year -- the year we cross some invisible line between fighting with all our might for mere survival to a comfortable, reliable number of jobs that not only pay the bills, but allow us to put money away, pay guys bonuses, and hell, maybe even get a health care plan.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible that we've overextended ourselves, and that we're going to crash hard. There are literally hundreds of things that could go wrong, things that could lead to bankruptcy, lawsuits, or the simple, inexplicable dissolution of fortune that leads MTB to an impoverished, ignominious end. These ephemeral fears keep me up at night -- nameless worries that haven't materialized but still terrorize me by their mere possibility. Talk to any small business owner -- they know what I'm talking about.

I want to give thanks to everyone out there who has given MTB a shot. I don't have the numbers yet, but we helped somewhere over 2,000 people this year. We received somewhere around 7,000 requests for help. SEVEN THOUSAND. I work hard and hope for the day when we can help every single person who put their trust in us by filling out a work request form. 

And we have a record number of "brand ambassadors" out there recommending us, telling their friends about their awesome experience, or writing reviews. I'm incredibly indebted to you. I wish for -- and daily kick myself for not creating -- a better system of tracking people in our "tribe" who recommend us or refer people to us. This simple (but heartfelt, I assure you) "thank you" doesn't begin to express my gratitude for you folks who speak well of us. This is a life-and-death struggle for us. (Seriously -- livelihoods are on the line. I just had a meeting, of sorts, with one of our long-time guys who constantly struggles to make ends meet. No jobs means he can't feed his family). So while an off-hand mention at the proverbial water cooler may be forgotten quickly, it is literally keeping someone clothed, fed, and sheltered.

That's small business.

I was going to write a bunch of stuff about my resolutions for the New Year. I started making a list, thinking I might have one or two areas I can improve, but I ended up with 30 game-changing, life-altering things that make me wonder what I've been doing with all my time. I'll get to those throughout January.

Again, thank you for using MTB, or even just following our story. I, and all the ridiculously hard-working guys here who do mighty deeds for people every day, sincerely thank you.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Air B&B's -- what's your experience?

Cleaning out the idea archives, I came across this article about a guy's experience buying and renting an "Air B&B." If you don't know what that is, it's basically a service for people needing short-term lodgings. There are quite a few in the area.

It's a neat idea -- if you have space to rent, you just go to their site and set up a free listing. Here's their short Getting Started Guide. You won't be able to retire on the revenue, but you could bring in some extra cash.

I'm interested in hearing about people's experience hosting AirB&B places as well as from those who have use them.

For hosts: Is it profitable? Has it been a good experience? A pain? Do people treat your space like a Ft. Lauderdale Spring Break bacchanalia, or are people mostly respectful?

For users: Have spaces been clean, comfortable? Do you have creepy landlords "asking if you need anything" every five minutes?

I'm genuinely curious. Not sure if I'd do anything with the information, but considering DC is becoming quite the boomtown, this might be one of those "good ideas..."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Five-star Yelp review from Deborah D.!

Thanks for the great review, Deborah! I agree -- our guys aren't creepy. ;-)

I can't say enough good things about these guys.  I don't normally write reviews, but they definitely deserve it!  They were on time, friendly, professional, and best of all, knew what they were doing!  The price is about mid-range but after experiencing the move from hell a couple years ago, I decided never to go cheap again.  I chose My Truck Buddy because two friends used them and had a great experience (individually).  If you are looking for quality movers at a decent price, go with these guys without a second thought.  Very nice guys and fast!  The amount of moving time was within the timeframe I was advised of, and everything went very smoothly.  The guys were professional, sociable, diligent, and not creepy (as I've experienced with past movers)!  I will never use or search for another company again!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Employee Appreciation Shout-Out: Sean

Just wanted to note a mighty deed by Sean today. Actually, it's just one of many. He is universally respected for this kind of thing.

He woke up to a 100+ degree fever. He knew we were short-handed, so he manned-up and headed-out. When he met us at the office, he was a little "droopy," but otherwise ready to go. This is awesome because we were on a "Big Truck Job," one of those where we take a 26-footer out to who-knows-what. We rent big trucks when the job is bigger than a 2-bedroom apartment. In our experience, the chances for anything over that size to go sideways exponentially increases. Bigger place = more stuff.

So, when Sean boarded that beast, he knew that he could be facing a monster of a day -- and he has four consecutive Big Truck Jobs after that over the next few days. It's enough to make a lesser man weep.

He didn't weep. He was obviously struggling today, but it was only "obvious" if you know him. He never complained, he never took the easy way when possible. As the crew leader, it more or less naturally falls to me to carry the items from the truck to the lift gate at the rear. It's a fast pace, but relatively easy, particularly if you're unloading into something with multiple levels.

I asked if Sean wanted to swap roles -- he would bring things to the end of the truck, I'd carry. He refused. Not only that, he was always volunteering to take the heavier things. Whenever I work with him, I wonder if he thinks I'm the old man who needs to be taken care of.

And despite his state, he still did "the little things." For example, when we were maneuvering a kid's twin bed into place, he had the high end, and the other end was on the floor. As I bent down to grab my end, he twisted the bed a little so I could get my hand under it for the initial lift.

It's hard to explain how thoughtful that is in this industry. Maybe I've been out of the field for too long, but things like that go a long way to building an awesome workforce.

Thanks, buddy.

New Yelp 5-star review from Cathy G.!

I'm currently in a battle with Yelp over a bogus review ("We don't fact check," they say...), but Yelp isn't totally bad. Well, no, Yelp is evil, but people who write reviews on that site are almost all good and generous and articulate.

I get twitterpated when we get five-star reviews.

Like this one! Thanks to Cathy G. for writing a thoughtful review of our company. Thanks especially, of course, to Truck Buddies Ara and Sean for earning it. (More on Sean in the next post...)

We needed help unloading a u-haul into storage.  We hired two moving guys from My Truck Buddy and we were thoroughly impressed.  Right from the start of calling and asking questions about the business to shaking hands to say thank you at the end, it was an amazing experience.  The movers were on-time, kind, courteous, and super friendly.  They move quickly and efficiently when they could have gone slower and we wouldn't have fussed even though we were paying by the 15 minutes.  They moved our piano with such ease and caution.  We will be hiring them again when we move from storage into our new house!  And I wouldn't be surprised if they had high scores in Tetris!
I don't know how the guys fare at Tetris, but you could say I sort of majored in it. Who would have thought all those hours in college would have been such great preparation for this job? ["Everybody. --Everybody]

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Space Shuttle Fly-By -- What Movers Can Do

Back in April 2012, the Space Shuttle Discovery got a lift to the Dulles Smithsonian Air & Space museum. Before it completed its final journey, (assuming it's not retrofitted and tricked out for some sort of asteroid-interdiction mission, which I'm not ruling out), it circled the Capitol for a bit. Our old office was right on the periphery of the flight path, giving me an unassailable excuse to not work for a bit.

I came across this old footage when I was archiving some video for 390 other video projects I'm working on. I'd always meant to cut it up, add a blues track and turn it into a royalty free advertisement courtesy of one of our gigantic government agencies, so here it is!

I offer this as a testament to what men can move. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when they discussed how to move this beast across the country.

"Hey -- so what if we have to land the shuttle in California, but we need to launch it from Florida?"

***Thoughtful pause around the conference room***

"How about if we grab that sucker with both hands and bolt it to the back of a 747?"

Everyone sits up at once, the room erupts into chants of "U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!"

Monday, December 16, 2013

New 5-star Yelp review -- thanks, Allison!

It's so nice to be getting reviews like this in the dead season. They're very encouraging. Thanks, Allison!

I have never written a Yelp review and probably never will again, but this company was so amazing. I was super nervous about moving and Leon and Charles made the day super fast and easy. They were very professional, but also friendly and didn't try to overcharge me or drag out the time at all. I was SO impressed.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Unfortunately, we're movers, not time lords...

In the winter, our slow season, we are almost reduced to standing on street corners in foam costumes, flipping signs to generate business. We will gladly accommodate everyone we possibly can, but we're restricted by the limits of space and time. We only have so many hours in the day, and so many guys to meet the demand.

So please, if you're even thinking about moving in the near future, or know somebody who is, make sure you or they book well in advance to secure your first preferred move dates and times. We often have weekend cancellations or reschedulings, but they're fairly rare. It doesn't hurt to call, but just be aware that procrastinating to book movers could mean you have to settle -- something we do not recommend.

The box rental business: our backup plan

In case you didn't know, we have a cardboard box rental business as well. It's called Rent Our Boxes/The Box Buddies. It's a nifty add-on service we provide, but it doesn't make any money (yet -- it's a work in progress). If, however, that business fails while we still have inventory, we are going to make the most epic box fort that has never entered the imaginings of any toddler boy.

Fort Truck Buddy: the BEFORE picture

Except now that we're mature adults, there will be whiskey and Nerf guns.

New Dad Survival Guide: the Mindset

Boy, a lot of this is true. I'm a dad four-times-over now, and yeah, there are definitely changes. I've had entire conversations with people where I had no idea what we were talking about because I was simultaneously tracking three highly mobile little Tasmanian devils, while interpreting the nearby cries of #4. It is almost impossible to do anything else while the kids are present -- my mind automatically switches to track-and-monitor mode.

An interesting thing in the article: it says that testosterone levels drop for about the first six weeks so as to make us more "nurturing." I suppose that's true. While it's been highly--highly--irritating to be completely unable to do anything but care for the new one when I'm home (and too tired to be effective while at work), I've definitely been at least 37 percent more cuddly. But now we're at the 6-week mark, and just like that, the wife and I were able to have a whole conversation about finances while at the dinner table with all the kids around us.

I said to my wife through the din, astonished, "Honey, we just had a conversation."

Anyway, it's a good read. It's full of science and stuff.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thanks to Stefanie for the awesome Yelp review!

Yay Stefanie! Thanks! I'm glad we could help.

The fellas from My Truck Buddy made what should have been a stressful day really easy. They arrived on time and were in communication with me prior to their arrival. These guys worked hard and worked fast. My usual hand-wringing and gasping was not required as they handled all my things with care. As stated on the website in NUMEROUS places, My Truck Buddy is not a packing company. So if your stuff isn't packed, you're gonna have a bad time. Luckily, I'm not a total idiot so my stuff was neatly packed and ready to go. And go it did! The guys themselves were friendly and professional. I will definitely use MTB again in the future and recommend them to my friends.

Stefanie F. (12/12/13)

Still haven't gotten a Christmas tree? Consider encasing fire ants in carbonite.

Your daily cool: a man pours molten aluminum down a fire ant hill, digs it up, and creates "art." This is a two-fer -- you can get rid of that terrifying fire ant problem, and have a small, permanent Christmas tree.

Now, I've never heard of any of our customers dealing with fire ants, but I believe preparation is key.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Four ways to make your showers more productive

The shower is by far one of the main locations for idea generation for me.

Four Ways to Make Your Showers More Productive.

I came up with the original idea for My Truck Buddy in there. (It's changed a bit, but still...) I really should look for a waterproof phone case so I can capture all my ideas in there...

Survey! What is, or has been, your favorite place to live in DC?

Hey there--the learning curve for all of us simple types at MTB World HQ is pretty steep (What's a Joomla?) so we thought we'd start doing something revolutionary, at least for guys: asking.

One of the first things we want to know is where our customers actually, you know, live. Or better yet, what's their favorite place in DC. If you've moved and like a previous location better, which one is it? And why?

If so inclined, please take a moment to fill out the following form. We'd greatly appreciate it! And just so you know, no, this isn't a gimmick designed to drag you into an endless cycle of emails and newsletters -- we will NOT contact you after you submit the form (although you'll get a quick "Thank you" auto-response.)


Monday, December 9, 2013

UPDATED: Scrape ice off your vehicle's roof, please

Here's your morning PSA (since I know that if your power's out and your home from work, you must be reading this blog...)

I just spent the last 45 minutes driving to work through an icenado. No, the weather has calmed down, but I'd say at least 50 percent of the vehicles out there were carrying a load of ice and snow on their roofs. When they get up to speed, that ice sheers off, gets some air, and seems sexually attracted to my windshield. Fortunately, traffic was light so I was able to dodge all of it, but still...

So, please, do yourselves and your neighbors a favor -- scrape ALL the ice off of your vehicle. Not just the stuff obstructing your vision (and you people who don't do even that? What are you, base jumpers or something?)

UPDATE: I was chatting with an hold high school buddy yesterday. (Perhaps "old" isn't a good term to use for him -- he just turned 40, which may be relevant to this story...hah!) He said he hurt his back. We'd just been talking about chopping wood because that's what men do, so I asked him if that's how it happened.

"No," he said, "it's really embarassing..." As it happened, he was driving down the road when a large sheet of ice sheared off the car in front of (or near) him. It landed squarely on the top of his vehicle. Apparently it happened so fast he barely knew what happened. So, did he panic and drive his car into a guard rail? No -- this is my buddy D., the guy who back in high school shepherded me through many a vehicular problem. He is, in my world, the Original Truck Buddy.

No, D. just flinched. Unfortunately, the body not being what it used to, it caused some sort of pinched nerve or other malady. He's not down for the count, but he's going to have to go to the doctor or chiropractor twice this week because of it.

The lesson -- PLEASE clear the ice from your ENTIRE vehicle!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two productivity pro-tips for fathers

People often ask me how I do it all. "You have four kids! That's insane!" Hah. We know people with eight and they're just warming up.

My method? Here's 1000+ words:

Me and baby E.A.S. at the helm.

A breakdown:

  1. Noise-canceling headphones. If you're easily distracted like me, you need to tune the world out. I like to just turn them on for silence, which works pretty well even in the midst of three simultaneous emotional meltdowns. When I need to power through, I like house music. Sometimes bluegrass. I find myself River-dancing on occasion.
  2. A baby wrap. If I'm on baby duty, the wrap is indispensable. On occasion, when the work doesn't require a lot of brain, I'll wear a backpack with a kid on my six as well.
    • Wait -- what's that under-30 millennial or perpetual adolescent? I've handed my whats over for safe-keeping? I'm what-whipped? Let me tell you something about the world, son: this wrap is standard issue for men. You know what I'm doing with that baby strapped to my chest? I'm building an empire, son. I'm taking risks. I'm putting my whole livelihood, and that of my family, on the line. I'm doing it in the midst of a domestic warzone that would leave you weeping for your momma and the safety of a wrap just like this one. Sit down.
  3. (Bonus) A stand-up desk (not pictured.) Got little ones with no respect for property rights or any comprehension of what liquids to do laptops? You gotta get yourself a stand-up desk. Aside from the security benefits, it's great for your back -- particularly if you're carrying a heavy front load of infant. And it poises you physically and psychologically for battle. 
  4. (Bonus)Wine or something stronger (not pictured). Because of course.

There's a friendly pro-tip for all you folks out there trying to build empires with little ones setting the place on fire. That's a freebie.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Want to (help us) do some good?

From now until Christmas, and hopefully beyond, My Truck Buddy will be accepting charitable donations of non-perishable food, clothing and toys for people in need in our area. MTB has been blessed in its short history, and by "blessed" I mean that we literally couldn't have gotten as far as we have without a whole lot of very good people helping out. We want to return the favor as much as we're able to.

We plan to take boxes on all of our trucks to collect donations. If you'd like to contribute a couple of cans of food, old coats, toys, please let us know. If you're moving with us or plan to, just set aside these items and we'll take it from there. If you're not moving but would still like to contribute, let us know and we'll schedule a pick-up.

Specifically, we're looking for:

• canned meats (corned beef, spam)
• peanut butter
• jelly
• tuna
• canned vegetables (corn, green beans)
• individual fruit cups
• cereal
• pasta
• instant potatoes
• Macaroni & cheese kits
• gift cards— Safeway or Giant, in $10 and $20

Again -- clothing and toys are good, too!

Questions? Feel free to contact us. And thanks!

Monday, November 25, 2013

For some: paradise. For others: Hell

I'm getting soft in my old age, so this is no longer what I would call "awesome," but, once upon a time it would be. I can guarantee it never would have been, nor will it ever be, my wife's idea of "awesome."

Check out this tiny house situation.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Benjamin Franklin's Evernote To Do List

I love this. I am constantly trying to tweak my day to yield maximum possible productivity. Between four kids, an epic daily commute, and the demands of a logistically intense job, it's essential that I keep on top of things.

I've tried "winging it." It doesn't work.

I recently started using Evernote, and while it's not the ultimate productivity enhancer, it's part of my essential toolkit.

Anyway, check this out. At first glance it's amusing, but then you realize one of the greatest minds in history structured his day. While individual structures will vary, it's still neat to see how he did it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to turn a blah balcony into a BLAWSOME balcony!

See how I turned "blah" into "awesome" there? We are multi-talented dues at MTB World HQ.

Check this out from Apartment Therapy. I'd say it applies to about 90 percent of our clients.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wow! Three 5-stars in one day!

I just noticed that we got three five-star Yelp reviews in one day. Thank you! I suppose one day I'll be jaded and take these for granted, but I'm not there yet. Not even close. I'm astounded and humbled that people take the time to write the reviews, and, of course, I'm amazed that we have a multitude of the kinds of guys that earn them. Special thanks to Chad, Seton, and Morgan for writing the reviews, and to Tarik, Damien, Darion, Ara, Sean, Erik and Prescott for earning them!

At 119 visible (as in "not archived or banished") reviews, this is definitely a new record.

From C.A.:
I used My Truck Buddy for a move on Saturday, November 9.  They were very accomodating on less than a week's notice.  In fact, one of the managers noted that they were all booked up, but offered to put himself on a moving team so that I could be moved when I had planned.  
The move itself couldn't have been better.  The guys were extremely friendly, moved everything quickly, and did not damage anything.  I was moving from one apartment to another in the same complex, and the entire thing took under one hour.
In researching moving companies for my small move, I couldn't find movers at a better price point than MTB.  Most seemed to charge for transportation time and have at least three-hour minimums.  I was surprised at how low MTB's quote was, and was even more surprised when the actual move came in under that quote.  I would've spent more ordereing pizza and beer for my friends if I tried to make the move myself.
As a side note, their website was very well written and entertaining.  While not a big deal, I was able to tell right away that the company was run by smart, professional people.  My actual experiences in the move confirmed this, and I would recommend this company to anyone.
From Seton:
No exaggeration on the Stars.
They were on time, fast yet careful, thorough, deliberate and completely open to all my usually ridiculous requests.  I just purchased my first home, and have thus dealt with a lot of service providers.  MTB was and remains far and away the best.

From Morgan:
Thank you so much to MTB for the awesome job!  I actually saw their high ratings on Yelp and they were they first folks I called.  On time, efficient and really nice guys.  They even moved a massive plant that I was sure would fall apart one piece.  I highly recommend this service to everyone.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Another 5-star on Yelp

We got a couple of 5-star reviews on Yelp recently. Yelp archived them almost immediately, of course. One in less than two hours (okay, maybe it was four hours...) and one in less than 24 hours. Meanwhile, a totally bogus 1-star review (either a disgruntled former employee or a competitor wrote it) has remained for about a month. Gotta love Yelp.

This is my second time using MTB and it was fantastic this time around.  The guys were friendly, fast, and didn't break a thing.  The price was competitive.  I wouldn't think of using anybody else to move.

I used MTB for my first 'real' move this weekend - and I could not recommend them enough!  I was originally trying to be economical (read - cheap) by hiring movers via craigslist but when they stopped answering calls a few days before the move, I knew it was time to find a legit company.  I was referred to MTB by another company that was not available to do the last minute move and the experience was professional, pleasant and efficient, from start to finish.  I never once worried about them being a no show!  The estimate took a few minutes over the phone, confirmation was sent via email, the movers showed up on time, and they both took great care to ensure that none of the items, nor the properties, were damaged during the move.  While I hope not to move again for a very long time, I will certainly give them a call next time I need movers, and you should too!  :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Learning from those who serve

It’s Veteran’s Day. One thing I like about living in the DC area is that we see and appreciate those working in the armed forces more than just this one day per year. On any given day you might see someone in one uniform or another just on your commute to work (particularly if you live or work in the Pentagon area). And even if you don’t see someone in uniform, you’ll likely see official badges hanging from the lanyards around the necks of people in suits on their way to one of the agencies that supports our service men and women. (I swear I saw an access badge of some kind with the CIA logo on it the other day. How about some OpSec, people?)

It seems there’s a debate about when, if, and how to thank our service people. (Isn’t everything controversial these days?) More often than not, the sentiment behind the gratitude is sincere. However, according to one former Marine who works here, that can often be an uncomfortable situation, particularly because there may be some question as to whether they’re just saying it. So what to do? Well, our guy says to buy him a beer if you really mean it.

Done. Do the right thing today: buy a veteran a beer.

We’ve had a lot of great people who have served come through here. Just off the top of my head, there’s Tyler, who now straps himself into jet fighters somewhere in the world. He’s one of those “skinny guys” I occasionally talk about -- he looked maybe 115 pounds “soaking wet,” but if there was anything he couldn’t lift, or if he ever had to tap out, I don’t remember it. There’s David, a Naval officer who’s always Facebooking from some port or another. I have to give him a slight bit of grief -- he was a no-show on his first day, back when I was much more forgiving about such things, but he turned out to be a rock star. He had this annoying habit of proposing great ideas for improved operations, policies, services, etc., when I couldn’t possibly find the time to getting around to implementing them. There’s Joel, one of our current crew leaders who is also one of our former Marines. He’s solid, reliable, and is another one of those “north stars” of our little operation, keeping us on the right track ethically.

I should mention Jeremiah, too. I’ll keep it brief so as not to make him uncomfortable, but what I like about him is his commitment to the best principles of the Corps. I have no illusions that every single service member is a sterling example of honor and integrity, with an unwavering sense of duty. For some, they serve their time and move on. Not Jeremiah -- he strives to live it even now in civilian clothes. Or better yet -- in the MTB uniform.

That’s why I asked him to take a crack at writing the first draft of our crew leader manual/field guide. I had hoped that he could take the best parts of his training and translate them to a civilian context. What he gave me blew me away.

I’m not trying to turn this into some sort of paramilitary outfit, but I love -- and NEED -- parameters, guidelines, and standards within which we operate in order to ensure the highest quality service. Let’s face it -- the reality is that this industry can attract some people whose personal habits and worldview are antithetical to the high standards I require.

Jeremiah took much of the material (perhaps literally) from something called “The Fundamentals of Marine Corps Leadership.” It’s filled with leadership traits and principles. I’ve kept just about all of it. My reasoning: it works great for the Marine Corps, so it ought to be good enough for this little outfit. It might seem strange to base the underlying principles for a moving company on the leadership manual for a branch of the military, but hey, it works for me.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t a leadership trait or principle in the “Fundamentals” that wouldn’t apply here. The leadership traits include: Justice, Dependability, Initiative, Decisiveness, Tact, Integrity, Enthusiasm, Bearing, Unselfishness, Courage, Knowledge, Loyalty, Endurance. I could (and perhaps will) blog about how each of those apply, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how that would be so. Who doesn’t want their movers to be fair (just), dependable, to take initiative in unforeseen circumstances, have tact, etc.?

I would never dream to compare what we’re trying to do with the Marine Corps or any of the other branches. It’s not even close. But I recognize “good things” when I see them, which is why I’m trying to incorporate the best of our armed services into MTB’s culture and operations.

A simple “thank you” may suffice, I suppose, but I’d like to think that emulation takes it a step farther. Nonetheless, thank you for your service, veterans. Next round’s on me.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Staff Highlight: Jimmy

As bored readers of this blog know, I gripe about the burn-outs who apply for jobs at MTB quite a bit. I almost never write anything positive. (I probably wasn't hugged enough when I was a kid). It's a shame because there are a lot of awesome guys doing excellent things right in front of me every day. Observe: Jimmy.

Jimmy is a long-time veteran of MTB and the "MTB universe." It's no exaggeration to say that we wouldn't have come as far as we have without his help and example as a moral and ethical North Star for the organization.

Surprisingly enough, I don't have a good picture of him. (And I'm working from MTB Southern Command today). However, I was on a date with the wife a couple of years ago down at the National Harbor, and I saw this mural. It stopped me in my tracks because not only is the guy standing on the left a spitting image of Jimmy, the guy on the right is the spitting image of another guy who used to work here (Robert). (When I showed them the pic they said the guy at the piano looked exactly like me.)

Jimmy came to MTB early in 2010. Since then he's worn a number of hats. He started as a labor guy (crew member), but I quickly realized he had his act together and would make a great crew leader. He worked in that role for a number of months before tragedy literally struck. An apartment manager told him and the crew that they couldn't park in the convenient spot outside the apartment building, but instead had to park in the busy road about 100 yards away. While he was loading and securing furniture, a driver came up the road, lost her bearings in the sunlight (I think she was texting), and nailed the back of our truck.

The way Jimmy told it, he was standing on the back of the truck (not on the lift gate, thankfully), when the car slammed into it at about 35 mph. He went flying, but as he went through the air everything went into slow motion. He watched as the metal bed frame rails started to fall into other items in the back of the truck. "That's no good," he thought. It's a credit to his commitment to the job, his carefulness, and his concern for our customers' goods that he was worried about damages as he descended and bounced off the lift gate, landing in the street, bloodied.

That began years of pain and more painful physical therapy for him, although you'd have to know him well to tell he was in pain. He's too damn tough and proud to whine about a little slipped disk or anything like that.

He was out of commission for awhile, but as soon as he was reasonably better, he got back to work. It didn't last too long, and if I'd fully realized how much pain he was in, I would never have let him work as a crew leader as long as I did. I'm actually ashamed of that.

We tried keeping him as just a driver/crew leader for awhile, but it turned out to be impossible for Jimmy NOT to help load and secure the truck. No matter what, he'd start with simple things like moving a box to a more secure location in the truck, but by the end of the job he'd be helping schlep armoires down three-floor walk-ups.

Fortunately, the company had grown to the point that I NEEDED someone to handle giving estimates, schedule crews, and manage the calendar. It was an office job. I had my doubts that I could actually pay for the first salaried position at MTB, but I wanted to keep Jimmy on board, and he needed a change. So, he became our operations manager for awhile.

It was somewhere in this time that he came up with what has become our First Principles. We were texting each other about one of the crew leaders who always hit the alarm button when the most minute little things came up -- for example, when he couldn't find a screwdriver on the job. Exasperated, Jimmy texted me: "It's not that hard! We are movers. We show up on time. We work hard and fast. We're friendly and careful. It's that simple!"

Jimmy's First Principles are so foundational to MTB that I stenciled them on the wall of our old HQ. When we had to move, I cut out that section of the wall and put it up in our new place.

If it's never happened to you, I hope that someday you get to consciously experience such a definitional moment, such a paradigm shift, if you will, as I did at that moment. He wrote that about three years ago. I'm still unpacking the profundity in that text. It's become what I call our First Principles.

Eventually we had what seemed like an excellent opportunity: to purchase the DC franchise of Rent Our Boxes.  Jimmy was the natural choice to run it, so he became the General Manager of our sister company.

The franchise has never been a money-maker. Right now we're trying to figure out how to keep it afloat. It's a perplexing challenge because Jimmy has not only kept it alive and well, he's rocked it with all our Rent Our Boxes/Box Buddies customers. Under his management, the franchise has broken revenue records and come close to doubling 5-star reviews on Yelp. There is NO ONE better at customer service. People love him. Even when he's stressed out, overwhelmed by 15 deliveries in a day, frustrated by the enormous chunks of cash taxes and credit card fees take out of the business, and yes, still feeling the pain from his injury, customers never know. They. Love. Him. And rightly so -- his integrity is never under suspicion, his attitude is always great, and he GENUINELY cares about doing right by our customers.

Part of the reason I'm writing this now is to make up for a failing on my part. When I purchased the box franchise, I intended for him to learn the business, manage it, maybe expand it, and then I'd work on it with the same intensity I do with MTB. That never happened -- MTB is more than a full-time job. I've never been able to (or had the strength to) work on ROB the same way I have with MTB. It's led to an unfortunate situation -- he feels like the "bastard stepchild of MTB." While his HQ has always been in our building, (his desk was right behind mine for the last year), he has felt like the forgotten or ignored cog in the machine.

That couldn't be farther from the truth. We'll never be able to measure exactly how his presence has enhanced the overall morale and esprit de corps of the operation, but it most certainly has. In darker times, when back-biting and gossip were rampant, nobody ever questioned Jimmy. (Well, for a short while some of the new guys complained that he was just "sitting in the back of the truck," but they didn't realize he wasn't supposed to be lifting at all, and when he did, it was while suffering excruciating pain.) When guys bitched about hours or each other, Jimmy was never a target. They all looked up to and respected him. If I can risk getting a bit mystical for a second, he radiates integrity, peace and humility.

(Unless he reads this -- then his head will get too big for his office).

He came into my office the other day to discuss concerns about the financial viability of the box franchise. It wasn't our first conversation about it. He said, almost defeated, he didn't think it was going to work out. It was time to throw in the towel. Time to move on. I agreed and made plans to go over the numbers and see if we could manage a controlled descent.

The next day he came up again and said "Let's hold on a minute. I'm not ready to give up yet."

That's Jimmy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sometimes you have to smile and step aside

Yesterday, Operations Manager Jeremiah stopped by my office. I knew right away that he must have had something important on his mind. Two reasons: 1. He’s not a chatty guy -- if he wants to talk about something, it’s because it’s important. 2. My office is up some stairs and down a relatively long hallway. That’s by design -- I’m not a chatty guy either. It takes a slight bit of effort to reach my Fortress of Solitude.

“I have never been more optimistic or hopeful about the future of this company than I am right now,” he said.

I waited.

“Really?” I finally said. “That’s it? No sarcasm?”

“I don’t do sarcasm,” he said. It’s true. I can’t think of a single time when he’s ever been sarcastic. I’ve known him for a little over two years.

“So what’s the ‘but’?” I said.

“No buts. I’m really optimistic about things.”

This threw me. No sarcasm, no qualifying remarks -- just unadulterated, pure positive sentiment. I honestly didn’t know what to say.

He noted how morale is up, the guys are optimistic and really buying in to what we’re trying to do here. To say I’m pleased would be an understatement. It’s very good news, particularly as we head into the slow season, a time of extreme financial challenge, among other things. Our mission is to serve people who wouldn’t normally use movers. That means relatively lower prices, which means we have to do a lot more jobs. Overhead doesn’t change much even if job volume goes down.

In years past, that created a certain “tension” at times. Guys tend to compare notes -- “How many hours are did you get?” So, it’s nice to see this circumstance as we go into our tough months.

It reinforces for me, once again, the awesome -- and often unpredictable power -- of a positive attitude. I’d like to say that the new attitude around here derives from some sort of plan I’ve concocted, or my naturally cheery disposition, but that can’t possibly be the case. Every time something goes wrong, I’m polishing my resume and considering getting legal representation. “We’re out of paper towels?!? That’s it, I’m outta here!”

It also reminds me of a time about two years ago when, in stressful, chaotic situations, I’d announce the new evolution of my managerial philosophy: “I don’t care.”

Oh, the Metro made you late? “I don’t care.”

Oh, you don’t like the distribution of jobs and hours? “I don’t care.”

Oh, you don’t like your crew leader? “I don’t care.”

Someone took me aside and frankly told me how destructive that was. I was being selfish. I’d always tried to be compassionate and empathetic, but I started to realize how much “mindshare” that was taking up. It was KILLING ME to “care” all the time when I was trying to comply with all the regs, put out personnel fires, and, of course, make money. Every single day I had 20 hours worth of things to do and about six real working hours to do it -- if I was lucky. My answer: evict all my psychological tenants.

“I don’t care.”

Fortunately, I was knocked out of that mindset when one of the Buddies showed me how that attitude was producing the exact opposite of the intended effect: lower morale, degraded productivity, and frustrated ambition.

It’s hard to say what, if anything, I did differently, but something seemed to work. I doubt I had a lot to do with it, actually, other than making some good hires, making some tough decisions about “subtracting” other team members, and setting some standards.

What’s really amazing me is how the culture of MTB has taken on a life of its own. For the last several months I’ve more or less been sidelined with my wife’s bed rest and the eventual birth of our fourth child. If I was REALLY lucky, I could get two or three hours of work time in. It was nearly impossible to be an influence of any kind on the business. Nonetheless, the guys took over, nurtured the seeds of the positive culture, and have apparently created the environment of opportunity and innovation I’ve been struggling to create for seven years or so. When I got back from “paternity leave,” I came back to an office buzzing with activity and much-improved efficiency, and I feel like I have almost nothing to do with it!

Heh. That’s probably an indictment of my managerial craptitude…

At any rate, as I’ve always said, our guys are our biggest asset, particularly in this, the tail end of our startup phase. Eventually we’ll be able to offer a much wider array of services. Until then, we have to rely solely on the superior character and attitude of our guys. Glad to see it’s working.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Modern Manliness and the Perpetual State of Low Expectations

I know that someone, somewhere, is going to be offended by this one...

As bored followers of this blog know, I’m constantly searching for a few good men. We see a lot of guys come through here who are, according to their birth certificates, “men,” but few who embody the qualities men are moved to emulate. (Quick note: I’m not talking about anyone who is currently on the MTB workforce -- we have one of the best overall crews we’ve ever had.) Instead, we get a lot of “guys,” shall we say, who talk big but need constant supervision -- sometimes literally to the point where I have to issue bathroom instructions. (“Don’t pee on the toilet seat” is something I’ve had to say to my kids and to former employees…)

Ron Swanson: unofficial spokesman of MTB. 

So, I’m constantly thinking about how to identify good men and lead them. Leading them is particularly challenging -- in order to be a leader of men, you have to BE a man. Preferably a good one.

Naturally, the question is then “What is a good man?” It’s a simple question that, unfortunately, inexplicably, is difficult to answer these days. Or is it?

This article sparked the question this morning: Modern Manliness and the Perpetual State of Low Expectations. I came across it in some news aggregator or another. It’s actually a riff on something in the Wall Street Journal that sheds a little more light on the “manliness void.”

The author (and I) want to be clear:

“I’m not talking about some fabricated, fake ‘machismo’ where dads need to be calling their sons sissies if they don’t like to hunt or fish. I’m talking about a re-establishing of what qualities and characteristics both men themselves and the women they want to end up with actually esteem in adult males.”

Unfortunately, some variation of the “machismo man” seems to be the standard by which men are measured these days, either as some grasping attempt to define true manliness, or as an easy straw man to take shots at.

As Kay Hymowitz says in the Journal piece, “Today's pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn't say.”

“He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can't act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisors and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.”

If I was sitting around a bonfire with the guys (like I was this weekend!) and was pressed to provide a definition of what a “true man” was, and I had to give a definition on the spot, I’d say what my dad said a few times: a man is someone who has integrity. “He says what he’ll do and does what he says.”

Obviously it’s more than that, but this “defining manhood” thing is a regular theme in my life, and something that benefits from, enhances, and finds expression in, this business. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again -- this kind of work separates the men from the boys. It’s not just about strength (I’ve also mentioned that some of our best guys are some of the skinniest. Those guys are often like ants -- they can lift something like ten times their body weight. It’s spooky.) This work, properly approached, fosters perseverance and persistence in some of the most grueling situations. It DOES challenge you mentally -- an advanced degree in geometry wouldn’t hurt. It challenges you morally -- a lot of cash goes through here, and there are always opportunities to hide damages or other screw-ups, especially when you aren’t sure if YOU caused a knick or a ding. (By the way -- my guys are instructed to bring any damages to a customer’s attention upon discovery, whether they’re sure they did it or not. It’s much better to own up to it immediately than to have a customer discover it later on. If the latter happens, it doesn’t matter if you knew about the damage or not, you just LOOK guilty.)

Hymowitz raises an excellent point:

“It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers.”

There is AMPLE opportunity to “pass a test” in this business. In fact, we’re making it the focus of our winter re-tuning project to identify and reward guys when they go through all those rites of passage. Their first all-day “ambush job,” their first 5-star review, their first Angie’s List ‘A,’ their first sleeper-sofa-up-a-three-floor-walk-up, etc...

Creating leaders is an increasingly important goal of MTB. In the past, I would have characterized it as a “quasi-goal” or something, but every day I realize how important it is to have LEADERS here, leading. No, I’m not in the charitable non-profit business -- I do this to support my family (one thing I would unapologetically say is a core principle of true manliness). Having a solid crew of competent leaders helps the bottom line. But even if there wasn’t a direct link between that and profitability, I’d pursue it as a worthy goal in itself.

More on this soon.

Question: how do you define a “man?”