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Smart Advice from your Neighborhood CEOs

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The casual drunkard has a friend in Jen Lane. After years of bartending, she gave it all up to produce BarFly, Portland's most entertaining monthly reference guide to the bar and tavern scene. Few people represent our town's hard-livin', go-gettum spirit like Jen--so listen up, chump, and learn from the master.

How did the idea for BarFly come about?

BarFly started out as a book, The Barfly's Guide to Portland, which I self-published in 1998. I was on unemployment, pretty bitter, and determined to start working for myself. I started doing a lot of my thinking at various happy hours and the idea came to me to put out a book that would lay out the best happy hour deals in town. I sold the book through bookshops and bars, and it did really well! I really enjoyed the experience, and got to thinking if I did it as a periodical, and sold ads, that maybe I could make my living off it.

Did you have any previous business/ classroom experience?

Before starting BarFly, I had absolutely no experience in publishing. I didn't even know how to use a computer! With the money I made from the book, I bought a Mac, and self-studied everything from graphic design to marketing. I read everything I could find on the magazine business, including Bunny: The Story of Playboy. I'm not big on porn, but Hef's really been a role model for me, 'cause he started it on his kitchen table.

Was getting startup capital a pain?

I maxed out a couple of credit cards making ends meet. BarFly's sole means of support has always been from advertising. I did all the work by myself for the first three years, enlisted friends to help with distribution, and learned to live below the poverty line. I'm still scraping by, but now I have business partners and a couple of employees, so my life is a little easier now.

Every business owner has "a dark moment of the soul" when everything feels like it's going to fall apart. What do you do when this happens?

Depression and me go back a long way, so "dark moments" are an everyday thing. Besides self-medicating with marijuana, Bombay Sapphire, and one-night stands, I write long, maudlin journal entries, sift through my press clippings, and employ pals to give me pep talks. And I remind myself that at its worst, at least I'm not bartending anymore. Now, I only have to dump my own ashtrays, and clean up my own puke--there's a lot to be said for that.

One nugget of advice for the person who wants to start their own business?

Be prepared for it to consume your entire life. The biggest asshole you'll ever work for is you.

Mike Thrasher has his fingerprints all over the music scene in Portland. If you've been to a show in the past month, chances are pretty good that Thrasher played a part in bringing that show to stage. As the biggest music promoter in town, Thrasher has been integral in the PDX music scene for nearly a decade.

Did you plan this career or just fall into it?

I fell into it. I'd always wanted to work in music and figured I'd end up in a record store or something along those lines. I got a job at EJ's and convinced the owner to let me change the format from a topless bar. Instead we started doing rock concerts, mostly because the place was failing and it seemed like it would be fun. I had no idea it would eventually lead to my own promotion company.

What are the best and worst things about owning your own business?

The best thing about being self-employed is having the ability to do what you want and try new ideas. The worst thing is that the buck always stops with you and a lot of hours need to be put in to realize your vision.

In hindsight, what would you have done differently?

Started earlier. I wish I would have gotten into this field in high school. I also wish I would have started with an existing company and been able to learn from their structure rather than have to build my own.

One bit of advice for the beginning entrepreneur?

Get up early. Work long hours. Pick a field you are passionate about, where you will enjoy the long hours.

Is your name really Thrasher, or did you change it for business purposes?

My last name is really Thrasher. My father is a mortgage banker named Doug Thrasher. I guess it suits my business better than his. I used to have to show people my driver's license on a regular basis.

You can write a business plan, apply for a start-up loan, and do everything else the self-help books tell you to do to get your small business going. Or you can be like Cheryl Wakerhauser, exquisite pastry chef and owner of Pix Patisserie, and do none of that.

Seriously? No business plan?

It takes a minimum of two weeks to write a business plan, and then a few months to apply for and get the money for a loan. I wanted the money now. I applied for every credit card that came in the mail, and worried about paying it off later. I'm not saying that's the best way to go, but it worked for me.

You must have been pretty confident.

When you're just starting out, you gotta keep telling yourself, "I believe in it." I took my pastries to several shops trying to sell them wholesale. People would look at me like, "huh?" But if you let the first five people who say "no" make you give up, you're not going to make it.

Have you accomplished what you set out to do?

I had a series of goals. The first was to get open. Then it was not working 12 hours a day anymore. And then, getting out of debt was the next one. And I got out of debt a little while ago, which was nice. And now...

Get rich and famous?

No, I don't want to be rich and famous. I just want to have fun. When you have all this debt it's like, "Okay I gotta make what people want to buy," but that's not a big deal anymore and I do what I want to do.

Sounds like a dream...

There is stress from other things, though. If you're working for someone else, you can learn from them. I learn by reading books or signing up for $2,000 chocolate courses in California. But then again when you're working so many hours you get a lot of practice.

Brian jokingly says that his occupation is "odd jobs." Yes, he is a jack of all trades, but what he really does is find ailing properties, fix them up, and manage them. Recently, Brian purchased the Falcon Building, an old apartment complex on N. Albina and Killingsworth. He plans to transform the Falcon into mixed housing--different age groups, different incomes, different walks of life all living under one roof. Plus, he's renovating the basement into an artist commune. Hell, he may even put a martini bar in the old boiler room.

How did you get started buying real estate?

I recognized that 80 percent of the wealthiest Americans made their money in real estate, so I decided to move in that direction by buying properties. I tried to save any extra money I had, and finally, partnered with my brother, was able to buy my first duplex on 52nd and Division for something like $59,000. We sold it a couple years later for a modest profit.

What neighborhoods are most desirable in your opinion?

My strategy is to find the fringe. It started with buying around Lloyd Center before they renovated the mall, and then moving primarily north. But this is the first time that I've not known where the next fringe will be. I guess St. Johns. Everybody's been talking about it for 10 years, but now that the in-close neighborhoods have been picked over, maybe it'll become more desirable.

Less than one year ago, this ambitious duo woke up and smelled the bleach. After working office jobs at a property management company, they came to their boss with a proposition: Let us form a cleaning service and take over the company's accounts. They walked away with about 85 percent of the accounts--and with all the luxuries of making their own hours, good money, and no boss. And, as Amy says, it wasn't even that hard!

How much did you have to invest to get started?

It cost between $50 and $100 for the business license, and to register with the state. It all happened within one week. We probably spent between $20 and $30 per week on supplies. You don't need a business loan or an office space--it's a very low-cost startup. At the same time, we were lucky to start out with a large client base. Once we did it, I was almost mad, like "Why didn't we do this a year ago?"

Have you been expanding beyond that?

We haven't really needed to acquire more clients, but we have just by word of mouth.

It all sounds incredibly easy; what's been the toughest part?

Disciplining ourselves. At the beginning there, we would slack a little. Taxes are more of a bitch. There's no 1040 EZ.

And the biggest reward?

Setting your own schedule is both the biggest downfall and the biggest reward. Once you can discipline yourself it's nice not to listen to five bosses telling you what to do.

Do have to clean up mad gross shit?

The worst apartments we do are those that have been abandoned or where tenants have been evicted, because they obviously don't do anything. But we've been lucky. It's almost therapeutic; you just turn on the radio and you get to work. It's rewarding to go to a gross apartment and then when you leave it's sparkling clean.

If you're Jennifer Lyons, co-owner of Bella Faccia, starting your own business is easy. All you do is wake up one morning, decide you want to open a pizzeria (because the pizza in Portland is not nearly as good as the pizza in Connecticut), walk down the street, see a commercial space you like, call the number, ask your friend to be your business partner. Voila! Business started!

"The thing about business is knowing what you suck at," says Lyons, who had previously never made a pizza in her life. "I'm not ashamed to find people who do something well to do it for me," she says. Lyons first order of business was to hire a great pizza cook. Lyons attributes some of her early success to faking it. "You have to project yourself as successful even if you're not, because success breeds success."

It seems to have worked. Bella Faccia is doing quite well thankyouverymuch, and Lyons has since opened Pizza A-Go Go.

"You need to be passionate about what you're doing, constantly looking at the bigger picture and not getting bogged down by daily disappointments," explains Lyons. "There will be plenty of times a door is slammed in your face, and you have to look for the next one."

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