Growth hacking is currently fashionable, yet it precedes the Internet by centuries. Entrepreneurs have been seeking ingenious shortcuts to spur their growth and defeat their competitors since the dawn of commerce.
By looking backward, modern entrepreneurs can co-opt the hacks from a pre-digital age that remain relevant today. These clever ideas often come from unusual sources, including: a teenage runaway who started a laundry and an immigrant restaurateur who left school at the age of 13. That’s right, the growth hacks described below were created by High School dropouts.
Jump The Starting Gun
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.” Chinese Proverb
In the 1930’s, when Max Fleischmann (of yeast fame) brought his yacht into the Santa Barbara harbor, the local laundry trucks did the sensible thing. They lined up on the dock and patiently waited for the ship to arrive so they could get their “share” of its dirty laundry. This approach made sense to everyone; everyone except a young man named George Page, founder of Mission Linen.
George was an impatient man. As a teenager, he left his farm to sell some family pigs. However, rather than return home, he pocketed the money and used it to travel to California.
When young Mr. Page saw Max Fleischmann’s yacht come into view, he jumped into his rowboat and reached the ship before it entered the harbor. The surprised Captain, no doubt impressed by the young man’s drive, invited George on board. By the time the yacht anchored, Mr. Page had closed a deal which gave Mission Linen the exclusive right to clean all of the ship’s laundry, thereby shutting out all his competitors waiting at the dock.
86 years later, Mr. Page’s legacy lives on. Mission Linen is remains a vibrant, growing company, with over 50 commercial laundries in five states.
Lessons: (i) Hijack your industry’s supply chain, rather than conforming to it. (ii) Err on the side of action, because “Now” is seldom too early for an entrepreneur.
Old-School Tell A Friend
Anthony Athanas was born in Albania in 1911. At the age of four, he and his mother rode a donkey nearly 80-miles to the nearest port where they boarded a ship to New York. At 13 he dropped out of school to work full time in a local restaurant. By 27, he purchased his first restaurant. His fruitful career culminated with the opening of Anthony’s Pier 4 in 1963, which perennially generated more revenue per year than any other restaurant in the United States.
Many factors contributed to Anthony’s Pier 4 success, including a clever hack. Anthony knew that the most common question riders asked cab drivers was, “Where’s a good place to get a meal around here?” In order to persuade the cabbies to promote his restaurant, he treated them with respect, dignity and bit of free food.
Not only were taxi drivers invited to the restaurant’s grand opening, Anthony threw them an annual party and he offered them year-round, free coffee at the front door his restaurant. Thus, when they off dropped customers, they grabbed a cup of coffee for the road.
Courting these seemingly invisible influencers proved to be an economical and brilliant strategy — one that is now used globally, in nearly all major cities. Ever get pitched by a cabbie to attend a particular show or restaurant in Vegas? You have Anthony to blame.
Lesson: Court market influencers with an inexpensive, yet significant incentive. Identify people on the ascension of their careers who aspire to be known as a thought leader and treat them with respect.
Read Part I in this Growth Hack series HERE.
You can follow John on Twitter: @johngreathouse.
Image credit: Courtesy Pier 4