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?”