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Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneurship’

Today I put on my Brazil jersey on and went to watch the match versus The Netherlands.  Although Brazil didn’t win, I am not sure that the Netherlands won it.  Neither team played a great game, but The Netherlands missed a few opportunities to make the game 3-1 or even 4-1.  I remember being in Sao Paulo, Brazil four years and a day ago when France beat Brazil 1-0.  The pub where I watched the match was completely silent after the game…the streets where empty.  The country went to sleep to wash away a nasty hangover.  I imagine that today is a somewhat similar day. 

I will wash my sorrows away with a blog post about an inspiring man named Charles who I met as he washed windows along Connecticut Avenue. 

Photo: Reed

 

Charles is 52 years old and was born and raised here in Washington, DC.  “I was born just over there in Georgetown,” he says as he points west toward the popular historic neighborhood.  “I used to play drums over here at Dupont Circle when I was young.” 

He attended Francis Junior High School just a few blocks from where we were standing.  He grins as he tells me that he still gets together every July 17th with his friends from Junior High. 

Now he lives down near the Waterfront with his mother who he helps take care of.  His father, who died some years ago, worked at the Navy Yard making weapons.  “His picture is on the wall there,” he says proudly.  He tells me that he and his father were almost identical looking. 

Charles' cart (photo: Reed)

 

After 12 years delivering the Congressional Record, the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress, Charles’ boss retired and he decided to start a new chapter in his life as well.  His boss let him keep some small carts that he used to use to deliver the report and he thought he could put a milk crate on it and make a good cart to carry supplies.  He had often seen people cleaning windows in DC but they were always carrying all the supplies and it was cumbersome to have to gather everything up every time they moved on to the next location.  He put two and two together and launched his own window washing business. 

So seven years and 400 customers later, Charles is doing pretty well.  He is a very simple man, but he understands business very well.  You build your business one customer at a time.  And if you take care of them, they will take care of you.  As an example, one of his clients even lets him keep his supplies in their back room so that he doesn’t have to haul it back and forth from his home. 

“I take care of most of these businesses,” he tells me as he points up and down Connecticut as far as I can see.  Each place is different.  Different size windows, different service (inside, outside, or both).  He chuckles as he tells me that one of his clients is a sex toy shop with lots of erotic toys, etc. in the window.  It definitely helps break up any potential monotony in his work! 

His favorite place though is an old school with lots of windows.  Although the building is special, what he likes most about it is how friendly everyone there is.  Even the kids say hello to him when he is there. “They say hi Mr. Charles when they see me.”  

In general his services cost between $5 and $25, depending on the customer’s specific needs.  Residential service can be quite a bit more if you have to deal with screens for example.  

Charles finished the storefront he was working on and it looked great.  I asked him if he had any trade secrets he would share with me.  He gave me three: 

  1. Use newspaper instead of cloth or paper towels
  2. Add a small amount of rubbing alcohol in the winter to avoid freezing
  3. Use dishwashing detergent instead of window cleaner, it’s a lot cheaper (he buys  a bottle at the Dollar Store)

It’s not all work and no play though.  When Charles is not working, he enjoys visiting the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.  

Charles at work (Photo: Reed)

 

Note: If anyone would like to contact Charles about window washing services, let me know. 

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On Sunday I visited my good friends Tom and Tressa and their almost five-month-old daughter Tegan. We went to Fountainhead Regional Park and did some hiking around the Occoquan River Reservoir, which serves as a border between Fairfax and Prince William counties.

We stumbled across a group of people fishing. A young guy who had ventured out on a log a few feet captured my attention. He was wearing a dark shirt, extra long shorts, socks, and sandals. He deftly balanced his weight has he almost effortlessly cast his line in and out. As I approached him I thought he was reeling in a fish, but it turned out to be some branches that his hook got caught up in.

Victor reels in what turns out to be some branches (Photo: Reed)

Victor is a 20-year-old landscaping entrepreneur. For the last three years he has been growing VMR Landscaping in the Northern Virginia region; mostly in Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park. I asked him how business was doing and he quickly replied that the business was doing very well. “Especially power-washing. Right now that is a big part of my business.”

Victor loves to fish. He had caught about four fish that day, but only one was a keeper, a fish with some black coloring on its underside measuring in a little over a foot. His record was a catfish which measured up to his thigh. On Sunday he was mostly catching Crappies, a fish I had never even heard of, but the name alone makes me think that they are a disappointing fish.

All of a sudden he got a bite and started reeling in a fish, but it got away. Took his bait too. I asked him what kind of bait he used and he said that he usually used night crawlers, shrimp, liver or sardines. He is going to use my $10 to rent a boat the next time he comes out to fish…they run about $11 for the day.

Victor shared with me that he does not know his biological mother. Born in El Salvador, he moved here with his father when he was just a few years old. He says that he would like to know her. Her name is Maria Maldalena Arana, although I found very few cases of Maldalena. More common are Magdalena and Madalena…so perhaps I wrote down the incorrect spelling. The last he knew of her was that she was living in Arlington, VA around 1996. Victor thinks that he has a younger sister too. As much as I can understand his desire to meet his mother, I imagine that he must have mixed feelings about it. He must have so many questions. So many emotions.

If anyone has information about Victor’s mother, please comment here or send me an email and I will pass it along to Victor. I would also like to ask that if you live in the Falls Church/Manassas/Manassas Park area and are looking for landscaping services that you consider giving Victor a try. Drop me a note and I can connect you.

Victor caught a small fish that he threw back (Photo: Reed)

As I said goodbye Victor got another bite…this time he reeled the fish in. Unfortunately it was just a little guy. I grabbed a photo of him and the fish before he tossed it back.

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Aftermath of the 1998 Nairobi embassy bombingOn the morning of August 7, 1998, Sammy woke up, did his chores, and went about his day like any other day.  Unfortunately, August 7th was not just another day.  Not if you lived in Nairobi, Kenya or Dar es Saleem, Tanzania.  

Between 10:30 am and 10:40 am local time, suicide bombers in trucks laden with explosives parked outside the US embassies in both cities and almost simultaneously detonated their payloads.  In Nairobi, more than 200 people were killed, and an estimated 4,000 wounded; in Dar es Salaam, there were 11 killed and almost 100 wounded.  Despite being targeted at Americans, the victims were largely local citizens.  Only 12 Americans were killed.  Osama bin Laden is said to be responsible for the attacks.

Sammy working at 18th and M in DC (Photo: Reed)

Unfortunately Sammy was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He ended up under the rubble in Nairobi for three days.  He survived with only two broken legs and some other minor injuries.  Sadly he lost three business associates that morning.

In 2001 Sammy came to the US to testify in the trials against the alleged perpetrators of the horrible massacre.  He then came back in 2007 to attend a conference but ended up staying due to the violence that erupted in his home country after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential election held on December 27, 2007.

Now homeless, he has been here since then selling the Street Sense paper.  You can usually find him around the intersection where Connecticut, M, and 18th Streets come together.  His goal is to return to Kenya by the end of the year and start a street paper similar to Street Sense.  “There are almost no homeless in Kenya” he told me.  People may stay with family or in what might be considered substandard housing from a US perspective, but they don’t have hardly anyone he said that you would find sleeping on the streets of Nairobi. 

Sammy let me ask him a few questions on camera.

As you saw, Sammy plans to save my $10 and put it toward his street paper venture in Kenya when he returns next year.  If you have any interest in helping Sammy start his paper, he is actively looking to work with partners and individuals.  Drop me a note and I can connect you with him.

Despite the terrible events of August 1998, Sammy manages to keep an optimistic spirit and maintains hope for a better tomorrow.

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