Business ownership is a “one day” dream for many people. It definitely was for me, starting when I watched Jack and Elizabeth Egle build Saxbys Coffee — where I worked as a barista during my junior and senior years at Georgetown — into a successful coffee shop and a well-loved part of the Georgetown community. Jack and Elizabeth had never run a coffee shop prior to Saxbys, but I saw them connecting with countless people, solving problems and overcoming challenges every day — and they seemed to enjoy themselves all the while. Gradually I realized that I, too, would love to have my own business “one day.”
Four years after I graduated from Georgetown, my business partners, Eric Rodawig (COL ’07) and Ken Martin (MSB ’07), and I had the opportunity to take the reins from Jack and Elizabeth (and their business partners) as the owners of Saxbys. I’m happy to report that every day I experience the achievements, challenges, solutions, relationships and all the other reasons that enticed me to run my own business initially. So, how did “one day” come so soon for me, and how can any aspiring entrepreneur make his or her dream into reality sooner rather than later?
First and most importantly, the business opportunity you create or find for yourself must be one that you’re passionate about, that you enjoy spending your time on. I enjoy pouring every coffee I pour, slicing every bagel I slice and becoming friendly with every coworker and customer that I meet; that’s what keeps me happy to keep putting my time, energy and focus into Saxbys.
Any entrepreneur must also have a strong knowledge of how to run his or her business before setting out — or you must partner with people who do. I’m able to manage Saxbys because I spent two years learning to be a barista, serve customers, run the cash register and lead other employees. When I was preparing to step into my ownership role, Jack and Elizabeth taught me how to work with vendors, order products and perform the many “back-end” operational tasks that keep Saxbys running. I partnered with Eric and Ken, who are experts at accounting, budgeting and business management. Together we’ve formed a team with the right collective knowledge to operate a coffee shop successfully.
No business runs perfectly all the time, and business owners must possess the steady confidence that will lead to success. This has been the hardest lesson for me at Saxbys; I’m still learning that every hiccup — even ones that would seem disastrous like a malfunctioning coffee brewer — has a solution, whether it comes from a clever co-worker or handy repairman. The important thing is to remain steady-handed so that you and your co-workers can solve the problem.
If you like the idea of running your own business, be sure to keep exploring. Take a job as a waiter or barista. Work in an office, warehouse or factory, or sign up for a class that could help you develop a new skill or knowledge area. Chat with someone who works in a field about which you may be interested in learning more.
Finally, keep your eyes and ears open as you explore. The right “one day” business opportunity may present itself before you expect it.
Jim Hilson (COL ’08), a former opinion editor of The Hoya, is an owner and manager of the local Saxbys Coffee at 3500 O. St NW.