Small Business War Stories

Small Business War Stories was a weekly show recorded in person with small business owners. The show released over 150 episodes spanning three years and over 15,000 miles. We discussed different topics and get the triumphs, struggles, and funny stories from our guests' everyday lives. Hosted by Pablo Fuentes, an entrepreneur and musician based in Austin, Texas.
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Sep 13, 2017

We often underestimate the impact that a small business can have on their community while in reality, small businesses are the main driver of job creation in the United States.

One small business has less impact than a major corporation, but as a whole, small businesses create more jobs, create a positive atmosphere within their communities, and create local role models for kids to look up to.

One coffee shop in Clarksdale, Mississippi is a perfect example of such a business.

Cali Noland and Ben Lewis of Meraki Roasting Company have combined their passions for education, community and business to use their local coffee shop to help teach kids necessary job skills. 

With a poverty rate of 40% in Clarksdale, this program is filling an extremely important need for this community. These kids are learning necessary soft skills like time management, that will ultimately help them secure and keep a job in the future.

We get into this program and much more in the latest episode of Small Business War Stories.

Sep 6, 2017

Great business people are able to adapt, think on their feet, speak and captivate an audience, and collaborate and communicate with a variety of people in a variety of situations.

These also happen to be the exact types of skills you learn in improv.

Improv training is fantastic business training. The skills necessary to stand on stage and improvise any topic thrown at you, is an extremely transferable skill to business.

Jonas Koffler of the improv and training group Four Day Weekend, has been helping businesses learn these skills for the past 20 years. What started as a limited six week run at a local theatre, has grown into a 20 year successful business where the group has now worked the who's who of Fortune 500 companies, toured with the USO, and performed for two different U.S. presidents.

We were lucky to sit down with Jonas Koffler, and get his story, company background and advice as part of Small Business War Stories.

Aug 30, 2017

Starting a photography business is simple, but making it successful and profitable is a real challenge.

Between existing full-time photographers and those doing it as a secondary part-time job, there's a tremendous amount of competition in the market.

But many photographers have managed to succeed by carving out a niche and building a sustainable lucrative business.

We spoke with Dan Mitchell about his journey from budding school teacher to full-time music and events photographer.

His modest beginnings started with uploading a video he created with his cellphone of a friend's open mic performance. That was compelling enough to be contacted about the possibility of making money from creating similar content.

Fast forward to today, and this self-taught photographer has built a growing business specializing in music, portraits and special event photography.

We are excited to share with you our interview with Dan in today's episode of Small Business War Stories.

Aug 23, 2017

The Shack Up Inn embodies the intersection between music and cultural tourism.

A stay at one of their sharecropper shacks immediately immerses you in the history of plantation life while also immersing you in the live music scene at the birth place of the blues.

The Shack Up Inn started nearly 20 years ago as a single sharecropper shack on a plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Tourists interested in seeing what a plantation looked like started asking about renting the shack.

Fast forward to today, The Shack Up Inn has 19 shacks, can accommodate over 100 people, and has its own live music venue that has featured legends such as Robert Plant, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello.

In today's episode of Small Business War Stories, we spoke with Guy Malvezzi to learn how they got their start, why music tourism and much more.

Aug 16, 2017

Claire Flowers was in software sales and after years of suffering through poorly made shoes that would get caught in sidewalk grates and fall apart weeks after buying, she was inspired to design her own shoe.

Now, it turns out, getting someone to manufacture a single shoe is not so simple. It's not like getting a tailored suit. Large manufacturers have no interest in doing one-off business like that and no one overseas will do it.

This is what inspired Claire to start Claire Flowers Shoes. She wanted a woman's shoe that feel like a Nike, looks like a Jimmy Choo, and wears like a work boot.

We sat down with Claire to talk about how she went from idea to full fledged business and much more in this latest episode of Small Business War Stories.

Aug 9, 2017

In the early 90s, Mark Baier was working as a stockbroker, playing music for fun. Having finally made enough money for the first time to buy new music equipment, Mark excitedly purchased a brand new amp.

He was unfortunately disappointed. The new amp didn't sound anything like his old second hand amp.

After comparing the electronics between his old and new amps, he realized that in order to have a new amp that sounded like his old amp, he'd need to build it himself.

Knowing nothing about electronics, he taught himself 1960s electronics via his local library and then went to work.

This incredible story was the modest beginnings of Victoria Amps. We get Mark's full story and much more on the latest episode of Small Business War Stories.

Aug 2, 2017

Like many entrepreneurs, Mike Dalle Molle and Jordan Gurren started out working for someone else. 

Although they loved the work, they felt like there was not a lot of creative freedom. They had to do what they were told.

After receiving a lucky break where a local restaurant asked them to design a shelving unit, which led to designing an entire restaurant, they leapt at the chance to start their own custom furniture business.

They were only 23 and 24 years-old at the time. 

Now, less than three years later, they have a 6,500 square foot facility with 8 people on staff, cranking out amazing furniture every day.

For such young men, they have a lot of perspective and a ton of drive.

On this latest episode of Small Business War Stories, we take a deep dive into how they got their start, how they learned and adapted along the way, and what the future holds for Goodwood NOLA.

Jul 26, 2017

Brooke Worthington got her start in the jewelry-making business after first creating pieces for her friends and family as a creative outlet.

Others took notice and she started selling her custom-made jewelry at a local store in Nashville. One thing led and another, and her business started to grow.

Recently, she opened her own retail store in Nashville, where she sells both her own works and an assortment of curated items from other lines.

What began as a hobby is now a thriving business. 

In this episode of Small Business War Stories, we talk with Brooke about how she got her start in the jewelry business, and how she continues to evolve and learn.

Jul 19, 2017

St. Louis is a BBQ town.

Outside of St. Louis, what we know as "St. Louis Barbeque", is a pork spare rib cut where the ends of the ribs are trimmed so they're all the same length.

However, within St. Louis, BBQ is much more than just a cut of pork. 

We take a deep dive into the St. Louis BBQ Tradition with owner and operator of Pappy's Smokehouse, John Matthews.

Pappy's Smokehouse was started over 9 years ago and now has multiple locations and lines out the door. What started as John, his business partner and 3 employees, has now grown into a 50-plus person operation.

We speak with John about how he started, how he hires, markets and much more on the latest episode of Small Business War Stories.

Jul 12, 2017

Matt Eich knew he wanted to be a guitar maker. 

After attending guitar-making school, he worked various factory and manufacturing jobs for 10 years before he was able to start Mule Resophonic Guitars, a custom handmade resonator guitar business based in Saginaw, Michigan.

Everyday, for 5 years, he started work at 6:30am. Get up, do the work, learn, rinse and repeat.

He had to make a lot of mistakes along the way and have incredible discipline to get to where Mule is today with a 12-month customer backlog.

For him, building a guitar for someone is a personal experience. The customer is involved in every step along the way. People who buy a Mule aren't simply purchasing a thing, Matt and his team are putting their soul into the guitar's creation and connecting the consumer with their art.

This is their passion and their story. This and more on the latest episode of Small Business War Stories.

Jul 5, 2017

There are a ton of benefits to urban farming. 

Local food, farm to table, 100 mile diet, all of this is possible with urban agriculture. Further, urban gardens are often built over abandoned spaces in cities, converting them into green space, helping increase the beauty and value of the neighborhood.

However, there are also many challenges with urban farming. There's potential contaminants from city water runoff, zoning laws that must be overcome, laws about owning chickens, bees, and other farm animals, as well as major space constraints.

We get into all this and more on the latest episode of Small Business War Stories featuring Mel Millsap of Urban Roots Farm.

Jun 28, 2017

CD and digital sales are declining as music lovers turn to streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, yet vinyl records sales have grown 260% since 2009.

We are in the midst of a vinyl revival.

Third Man Records, a record label founded by musician Jack White, has been on the ground floor of this renewed interest in vinyl. 

Vinyl, more than any other medium, has a timeless appeal, it's tactile. Ben Blackwell of Third Man Records, says that people have a strong connection to what vinyl means in their lives, it's a lifestyle. 

To help us dig further into why people have started buying vinyl again, the background of Third Man Records, we spoke with Ben Blackwell, who shared some amazing stories in today's edition of Small Business War Stories.

Jun 21, 2017

Small businesses can give a lot to a community and in turn, those communities help support those businesses.

Community involvement helps further distinguish your business from competitors and helps create customer loyalty.

At Mother's Brewing Company in Springfield, Missouri, owner and operator Jeff Schrag sees it as their responsibility to the community to help local non-profits move further with their missions.

By donating free beer to various fundraising events and charities, Mother's has established itself as a community-minded brewery. They hate to say no to anyone and this unique perspective paired with a fantastic product has helped Mother's establish itself as a must-visit location for beer lovers.

Today, we are happy to share with you our interview with Jeff Schrag of Mother's Brewing Company's as the latest episode of Small Business War Stories.

Jun 14, 2017

Many of us dream of ditching our desk jobs in favor of a workshop. Working with our hands, crafting something out of wood or some other material. Something physical, something real.

Seth Lee Jones worked at Whole Foods for 6 years while on the side building up his business as a guitar maker. Eventually he had to leave his day job because he had enough people beating down his door with requests for guitar work.

He now builds builds 25 to 30 custom instruments a year and a handful of acoustic guitars.

The journey to becoming a full time luthier or guitar maker, is not an easy one.

Today, we are happy to share with you Seth Lee Jones's story as the latest episode of Small Business War Stories.

Jun 7, 2017

Nearly a quarter of the U.S. population consists of people under the age of 18.

Kids, more than any time in our history, are influencing the spend of household income. Kids influence an estimated $500 billion in household spending.

Further, spend on kids products is growing rapidly. Products targeting children between the ages of 4 and 12 are now responsible for $40 billion in revenue.

Children and their parents are savvy consumers and there's great opportunities for those entrepreneurs looking to build a kid-focused business. To help us explore this topic further, we spoke with Maggie Tucker of Magpies Baby and Magpies Girl to discuss how she has built two successful kid-focused retail businesses.

May 31, 2017

There's something special about vinyl records.

The feel, smell, look and sound all seem richer and more authentic than digital music.

In 2016, stores sold 13 million records, the highest volume of vinyl sales in the past three decades. We are in the midst of a vinyl revival.

Vinyl record pressing companies can barely keep up with the demand. Most pressing companies are relying on restored equipment from the 70s and 80s, which is slow and error prone.

However, Hand Drawn Records is modernizing this process. They are using the first pieces of modern technology designed for record pressing. Their presses are controlled by computers, reducing error rate and speeding up the pressing process 3x. 

Today, on Small Business War Stories, we are joined by John Snodgrass from Hand Drawn Records to discuss how they are revolutionizing the vinyl pressing industry.

May 24, 2017

Selling to small businesses is different than selling to large corporations or consumers.

A small business has a unique set of needs.

These businesses do not have purchasing experts on staff or vendor managers whose sole responsibility is to make deals happen. Instead, the decision maker at a small business is typically wearing many hats and hearing your sales pitch might be a stretch for them.

The good news is that with small businesses, a lot of the time the sales cycle will be much shorter. There are fewer people involved with the decision and less red tape to work through. 

However, establishing trust is extremely important. Small business owners can be loyal to a fault. Also, while the majority of businesses in the U.S. are small businesses, sourcing and reaching this long tail of potential customers in a cost-effective way can be very difficult. 

To help us dive into the secrets of marketing and selling to small businesses, we talked with Alison Burns founder of Precision Payments. Her company has been successfully selling their credit card processing and merchant services to small business since 2013.

May 17, 2017

Nearly 100 years ago, Detroit was poised to become a major American industrial city. Cars, new factories and an eager workforce helped put Detroit on the map.

A lot has changed since the early 20th century.

After some very rough years, small businesses are helping to restore economic viability and community in Detroit. The once booming factory scene is being replaced by a booming small business scene.

We are very lucky to have spoken with one such small business owner, Alicia George, owner and operator of Motor City Java House.

She began working with Motor City Blight Busters 17 years ago to help revitalize and develop commercial destinations in her neighborhood in Detroit.

In 2003, inspired by the idea of having a local community coffee shop, she started work on opening Motor City Java House. It took over five years to open, relying on the help of volunteers and the local community to help raise money for renovations.

She would raise money, then do work and then have to stop. But her patience paid off, she's now operating a thriving business with no debt and is an amazing example and a positive influence for her neighborhood. 

May 10, 2017

Brand marketing and storytelling are essential components to creating a great company brand that will grab people's attention.

With the growth and adoption of technology, we have more potential mediums than ever to reach people with our brands.

However, the downside is there's a ton of competition and we really only have about 10 seconds to grab someone's attention.

Our stories need to be concise. Effective storytelling is about staying out the way, being authentic, being patient and keeping it simple.

Today, on Small Business War Stories, we talked with David Rice from Flow Nonfiction about how he helps big brands tell stories of their philanthropic work in a way that does not feel contrived.


May 3, 2017

In 1985 David Williamson and his brother were struggling to make their used car sales business work.

After failing to sell a 1947 Dodge pickup truck multiple times, even going as far as to offer it for as little as $300, they got the bright idea of trying to sell just parts from the truck.

They listed an ad for truck parts in a motor news magazine, and what had been an impossible vehicle to sell, became a hot commodity. They ended up selling parts from that old truck for $3,000 and realized there was a lot of money in just selling parts.

Those were the modest beginnings of CTC Auto Ranch; now they are one of largest classic car junkyards in the country. Starting with just 80 cars, they now have over 4,000 classic cars and sell parts all over the world.

Today, on Small Business War Stories, we talked with David Williamson from CTC Auto Ranch about his start and success in the classic car junkyard business.

Apr 26, 2017

Lots of people dream of leaving their day job to turn their hobby into a full-time career.

We spend much of our lives at work, so why not do something that we love?

With families, mortgages and other bills and responsibilities to consider, it can be a very tough decision to make and one that perhaps is not realistic for everyone.

Today, on Small Business War Stories, we talk with Celeste Austin of Savvyroot, who left her career in the dental industry after 8 years to start a designer handbag company. 

She started the company as a side business after she taught herself to sew. She would work from 7 AM to 3 PM at her regular job and then work until 5am on her side business in order to fill orders.

It's an incredible and inspiring story that takes a ton of guts to pull off, but in Celeste's own words, her original career "didn't give her life."

Apr 19, 2017

Imagine this.

You’re super excited. You’re following your dream, starting a company and launching a product that you are thrilled about. You’ve raised money, have customers lined up, a website built, and everything is lined up to build a great company.

Then, 18 hours after you launch, you get hit with a cease and desist letter.

What do you do?

This is exactly what happened to Henge Docks, a company that designs and manufactures high-end Apple accessories. To find out how they managed to survive this ordeal, we spoke with Matt Vroom, founder of Henge Docks, about how he coped with receiving a patent lawsuit within the first 24 hours of operating as a business.

It's an amazing story and one we are excited to share.

Apr 12, 2017

Let's face it.

Small business hiring can be a real pain.

As business owners, we have 500 things to do each day with only 24 hours available to get them done. Dealing with finding new employees can be a real drag on top of your regular work load.

Small businesses often lack the bells and whistles available to larger entities. We can sometimes get ourselves into trouble with not having a standardized hiring process or not being well versed in HR law.

To help sort out some of these issues, today on Small Business War Stories, we talk with HR extraordinaire Jessica Miller-Merrell of Workology. We discuss the bare minimum you should be doing to hire effectively as a small business owner, what pitfalls you should be aware of, hiring contractors versus full time and much much more.

Apr 5, 2017

Recently, there's also been a renewed interest and fascination with analog media. Young people are rediscovering vinyl records, cassette tapes, and even typewriters.

But even outside of those interested in antiques and nostalgia of a past era, typewriters are still more widely used than you might think. 

The New York Police Department still relies heavily on typewriters. There's also those of us that prefer the limits imposed by a typerwriter. You're not going to accidentally press a button and send a document to your entire company on a typewriter. No one can hack into your typewriter and steal your private information. 

But typewriters are complex works of art and as such, they need maintenance and repair. Yet the number of people with the knowledge, skills and desire to fix these machines is rapidly dwindling.

To dive deeper into the dying art of typerwriter repair, today, on Small Business War Stories, we talk with Steve Munoz from Duncan Munoz Business Machines, the last surviving typewriter repair person in Central Texas.

Mar 29, 2017

The fitness industry is exploding.

One in five Americans are heading to the gym or at least have a gym membership. Fitness trends like Crossfit, Soul Cycle, pilates and yoga are now mainstream and available in most cities.

More and more folks are quitting their 9 to 5 and chasing their passions by jumping full steam into the fitness industry.

However, starting a gym is not just about passion. The bottom line is, it's still a business and most small businesses fail within the first 18 months.

How do you insure that your gym succeeds and does not become a statistic?

Can you turn your passion into a financial success?

To help us answer these questions (and more), we talked to Brian Hassan of Flagship Athletic Performance, a successful gym enterprise in San Francisco. Brian has succeeded by combining his business background with his passion for fitness and he has tons of awesome advice for anyone flirting with the idea of opening a gym.

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