As we near the end of the first calendar year of Ross Street Roasting Co. being a "real business," I've been in a bit of a reflective mood...
Right around this time of year nineteen years ago, at the age of 17, I got my start in the computers/technology profession and I got it my hometown of Prairie City, Iowa, a small farm town not far from here in Tama-Toledo. And in that small town of Prairie City was a small business owner, Paul Bolles. Paul knew me from my pre-teen years. His family lived just down the street from us and I spent a good bit of time with his two sons, playing a lot of Nintendo and riding our bikes up and down our street, jumping them through ditches, getting into trouble, etc.
So in late 1996, Paul gave me a chance working for his business, B-Executive, Inc., a computer sales & service outfit located on the town square, in what had once been my childhood barber's shop. I started out in the shop, servicing computers that Paul brought in from his service calls or that folks brought in themselves. Eventually, Paul entrusted me with making service calls myself, and I made service trips that covered a good bit of territory in my home county of Jasper County, even into Marion & Polk counties. When I drive through the area now, I can still remember a number of customers' houses or offices that I had worked in.
When I graduated high school in 1997 and spent the following fall semester enrolled at the nearby community college, I continued to work for Paul. And around this same time eighteen years ago, I was getting ready to leave my hometown for college in Kansas. The company Christmas party also served as a "Farewell and Good Luck, Brian" party. It was a bittersweet goodbye to my first business mentor who started me on a career path that carried me through my 20s. Even now that I've been out of direct IT work for almost 8 years, my work is still very much computer-centric. Paul took a computer nerd kid with a decent set of people skills and gave that kid a profession. And for that I'll always be thankful. Thanks, Paul.
And I think it's this experience of mine, growing up in a small town and getting my professional start in a small business, that's permanently biased me toward small businesses. I've worked for a few large companies in my professional life, including one very large global company. And while I don't disparage anyone who feels content working in such organizations, I just never quite fit in well in those environments. Small has always been beautiful to me.
However, I will say that one valuable thing I learned from working for larger organizations and living in small to medium sized cities, is the power and value of networking and professionalism. So I can't ignore some of the "big city, big company" sensibilities I've brought back to small town Iowa in starting this small business. I think there are plenty of things that small town folks, especially business owners, can and should learn from our faster-moving, larger neighbors.
So maybe small is beautiful, but there are tricks to be learned from the big guys...