April 4, 2014
Entrepreneurs are often described as a bit crazy; those of us who have embarked on an entrepreneurial journey can tell you that “crazy” comes in handy. Some entrepreneurs take crazy to another level; however, when it’s combined with fearlessness, that’s when big things can happen. Colin Grussing, founder of 52 Businesses is that type, the kind that leverages crazy and fearlessness to do things that have not been done before. He’s currently at the beginning of a journey to start 52 unique businesses this year — yes, that’s one business, every week.
Joe Corbett: Tell me quickly about who you are what your background is.
Colin Grussing: I’m from Lafayette and studied Mechanical Engineering at Yale. I moved to New Orleans right after college and worked a bunch of odd jobs (feature film, antique store, yard work, designing a medical device, helping my dad start a Buddhist retreat center, and working for a jeweler in Aspen). In 2008, I started my first business selling green man suits. I got very lucky; it blew up immediately. I have since started 6-7 other businesses, including selling motorcycle sidecars and bear coats.
Corbett: What is the origin story behind 52businesses?
Grussing: I never wanted to get a job and I always liked the idea of working on several projects at once. I’ve been keeping a list of ideas for a long time and as I started each new business, it got a little easier. Then I saw that movie “Julie and Julia.” It struck me how that format magically makes things more interesting. I don’t like cooking or writing, but you do it every day for a year, and now I’m paying $10 to watch your movie. Combine all of this and you get the beginnings of 52businesses. My first thought was that I’d start a new business every day for a month. As more people got on board, particularly Jason Seidman and Max Walters, 52businesses as you see it now began to take shape.
Corbett: Some have called this model “insane,” including me — obviously 52businesses isn’t seeking to run 52 unique businesses itself, can you give us full details on how this works and what you define as success for 52businesses?
Grussing: The original plan was, in fact, to “run” them all. By that, I mean automate and outsource. We have a fulfillment center and call center, so it’s not too hard to add a new business to the existing infrastructure and eliminate most of the management. However, as we fleshed out the idea, it became obvious quickly that there were better solutions. When we start businesses around our own ideas, one of two things will happen. In some cases, they will be fully automated and outsourced from customer service to accounting. In other cases, we’ll start with someone in mind to run them after. Originally I had a negative view of this, like we were creating “one job” rather than “a business.” But now I am proud that we are helping other people make “dream businesses.”
Corbett: What’s the current state of 52businesses, what are you working on now?
Grussing: We are just starting Week 3. We just finished up the week for business #2, Touracle. If I get any sleep, when I wake up, we’ll start working on Week 3, a non-profit with Saints punter Thomas Morstead. Touracle is an app we created in the Destination Hackathon put on by Codemkrs and The Idea Village. The inspiration behind it is that tourists want to get an authentic experience and locals want to show off the best experiences that their city has to offer. Through our app, locals can create tours that show off their favorite aspects of their home town. Visitors can look through these tours, sort by price or duration, or search for tags like “cheap beer,” “dancing,” or “craft cocktails.” The app leads them on the tour designed by the local. At the end they are given the option to tip their tour maker.
What’s more, is that we’re interested in trying to improve the tourism industry, but not necessarily “disrupt” it. So, with that in mind we’re also offering tour companies the ability to sell their tours through the app (through no additional cost to them). Our hope is that it serves as just another way to book tours, giving those tour companies just another way to interact with their clients directly. At the hackathon, we took home the “Innovation Award,” whose judges included a Microsoft executive and the CEO of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation. We spent the rest of the week building out the business model, talking to customers at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, and we’ve since ordered a version 1.0 that will be completed by the end of this week.
We could not be more excited for Week 3. This is not your typical non-profit started by a celebrity because their publicist and financial advisers recommended it. Thomas Morstead is truly passionate about giving back to the community and making New Orleans, his home, a better place than when he found it. He’s incredibly humble and unbelievably authentic; we’re truly honored to be working with him. I, personally, am sad that we’ll be unable to remain involved in the day-to-day operations, after this week.
Corbet: You guys are working out of an enormous blue bus called Bob. How does this mobility play into creating your strategy?
Grussing: Bob is a member of our team and a metaphor for the project as a whole. We love the idea of being mobile and finding the perfect spot for each business. For Touracle, we parked right outside of the Hackathon for the weekend, and then outside of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. And this week we’re parked on Freret Street, a newly revitalized [area], through the efforts of their small business coalition. We’ll have several events all over the city this week and Bob will always join so that we have a place to be productive. Come visit the kicking contest, where you can help raise money for Thomas Morstead’s (potential) new charity! Down the road, we look forward to possibly even being able to travel, in order to help those outside of Orleans Parish. Whether it be just downstream, to St. Bernard or all the way up to Arkansas (where my dad’s Buddhist retreat center is), it’ll be great to hit the road [to] potentially help anyone start their own new business.
Corbett: Does being located in New Orleans play a significant part in your model? Do you have any plans to hit the open road with Bob and explore any other entrepreneurial hubs?
Grussing: We believe that New Orleans is the perfect place for this project. First, the tech/startup/entrepreneur community here is thriving and we believe that it’s only going to continue growing. We want to do our part, in continuing to bring recognition to those that are already succeeding, and assist those who haven’t begun, in whatever ways we can. Additionally, New Orleans is an extremely open-minded and progressive community (regardless of what many people think). Everyone is happy to get involved, help in whatever way they can, or point you in the direction of those who’re able to do so.
As for leaving the city on an extended to trip to help anyone across the country? We know Bob has always wanted a sister. Perhaps someone out there would be interested in helping us create Betty the big pink bus, whose mission would be to travel the country–driving [in] her brother’s NOLA footsteps (or tire tracks).
Corbett: What’s the best advice you can give to anyone starting just one business?
Grussing: Start something small before you start something big. You can learn so much when the stakes are low that will apply to future projects. Test the business model with low risk using some of the tips/hacks we’ll teach. Iterate if there is potential or move on if not. But more important than anything else, is just to start. Take that first step–it’s the hardest. Once you realize your own potential, the sky is likely the limit!
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