From the desk of Bruce Duffy
There are some things in life that will strike fear in the hearts of men and women. Jumping out of a plane comes to mind. Quitting a six-figure job with benefits and starting a new business venture may also fall into this category. Let me tell you a story.
I graduated from Bentley College in the early eighties, and life began to take its’ course. I landed that first corporate job, got married, bought my first a house, and had a kid or three. With a small truckload of responsibilities, I began climbing that corporate ladder, throwing elbows to get ahead and stay ahead.
By the late 90’s, my department began the process of layoffs… With a wife, three kids, a mortgage, and a car payment parked out in the driveway, I was experiencing a rather unfamiliar feeling…fear.
I grew up 200 miles and three hours away from Bentley College in Waltham, MA. My two roommates, while they did not live near one another, each lived closer to the school than I did. I would retreat back to New York State for the big holidays and summer jobs, but the three of us kept in touch, even during summer breaks. During the summer of 1979, I found out through a phone call that these two guys were planning on skydiving, and they were going the following weekend. My first thought was “Not without me you’re not!” (That was a common reaction of mine that often proved momentous. The kids now simply call this FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. I had it bad.) I loaded up the car and I was off. I wasn’t scared…
Those little kids of mine turned into three high school students, and we calculated the prospect of three college tuitions beginning just two years apart. It wasn’t long before college graduations and weddings and all the associated joys took center stage for several years.
Through it all, I battled that corporate fear continuously. The years passed and the economy happened. Layoffs and downsizing were a part of the equation. Y2K came and went. No of us will ever forget 9-11. There was the crash of 2008 and the ensuing recession. COVID happened. We all adapted, I survived, and I wondered if my fears were justified.
In the late 1970’s the Taunton (MA) Sport Parachute Center consisted of a vintage 1962 trailer on the edge of a grassy field with a dirt landing strip and two late-model Cessna 150 planes with everything stripped out of the interior except the pilots seat. With all the guts ripped out, these former two-seaters could each now hold the pilot, the jump master, and three skydivers…tight! I recall that someone literally had to spin the prop by hand to help start the engine. (I do remember rationalizing that I had the safest seat in this sardine can; I was already wearing a parachute and I was pressed against the door. There was no two ways about it – In the case of any alarm, I was the first one out the door.) I was experiencing a rather unfamiliar feeling of mild fear.
Seven years ago, a couple of friends of mine started a new business. We were all in our mid-fifties, each with different work backgrounds. And while they invited me to join them back then, I opted not to jump. (FOMO is different when you are in your 50’s.) But I did become involved in the new venture, supporting them where/when I could from the safety of the sidelines.
The two founders discovered an underserved market, they served it like crazy, and the Cape Cod Gutter Monkeys (CCGM) was born. They marketed and branded this business like it was a fortune 500 company. They serve their customers like their lives depend on it. They developed a customer-service model by building a high-quality team, answering phones, returning phone calls, showing up on time, and providing a good honest value. I watched them grow (from zero) to a multimillion-dollar-per-year company, and it was a beautiful thing. If there is a gray area located on the sidelines somewhere between Fear of Missing Out and Fear of Failure, and I was living in that place.
Now, to be honest, calling it skydiving is a bit of an embellishment. It was parachuting. Before exiting the plane, we would clip one end of our twelve-foot static line to our rip-cord and the other end to a bracket inside the plane, so our chute would automatically open upon our heroic departure.
When that little tin can reached 1,800 feet elevation and we were cruising at 135MPH, the jump master opened the door. The force created by the speed of the plane pinned the door in the open position, and the sound was deafening, so the jump master must yell to be heard! The jump master barked out the three commands. “Swing your feet out!”, and I sat upright with my feet out of the plane. “Out on the step!” means I put my feet on a nine-inch peg welded on to the landing gear and my hands grip the wing strut. “Go!” is that final command.
Oh, that parachute is a glorious sight it is when it is fully deployed above your head and there’s nothing to do but float. But picture an olive drab colored, round, military-surplus parachute, not the fancy colorful rectangular ones you see today. Not nearly as sexy as the image “skydiving” evokes.
During the rapid growth of the Cape Cod Gutter Monkeys, the owners reached out to me once again. They were preparing to expand their business through franchising. They were not interested in another high-quality employee, they were offering me a share in their new company, American Gutter Monkeys (AGM). But there were some logistical and financial considerations on my end. I would be quitting my six-figure job (with benefits), selling my two pieces of real estate in Pennsylvania, and moving to Cape Cod. The founders of the company, while they are my friends, were not just giving ownership to a third partner. No, this company was moving steadily toward $5 million in annual sales, and I needed to put some skin in the game. I was considering quitting my job just three years shy of retirement, selling my two properties, moving 300 miles, and ponying up a large chunk of my secure retirement money.
Talking about skydiving isn’t scary. But when you’re cruising at 1,800 feet at 135MPH and the jump master says “Swing your feet out”, that’s scary!
Talking about starting your own business isn’t scary. But walking into your boss’ office to submit your walking papers is… I conjured up ALL the nerve I could muster (like I was asking a girl on a date in high school) and I told my employer that I was leaving my job. I explained that I had an entrepreneurial itch and that I knew I would regret not taking this chance.
The founders of Cape Cod Gutter Monkeys invited me on board several years ago, and I didn’t jump. More recently, these same two men asked me to come on board with the newest venture, American Gutter Monkeys, and this time I swung my feet out! It’s no coincidence that these are the same two knuckle heads that talked me into skydiving more than forty years ago. Yes, more than four decades have passed since Bentley College put the three of us on the same floor in Cedar Hall. The company logo colors haven’t changed, Bentley blue and gold! And the philosophy hasn’t changed either; the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts…