In 1999, I started YouCanSave.com out of a one-bedroom apartment in Citrus Heights, California (a Sacramento suburb). My goal was to sell As Seen On TV (infomercial) products at a discount. If someone saw an infomercial at 1 AM for the Ab-DOer, Nads Hair Removal Gel, the Perfect Pancake Flipper, or the Orbitrek Elliptical Glider, my hope was that they wouldn’t remember the 800 phone number to call when they woke up in the morning, ready to buy the product. Instead, they would enter the product name into a search engine (back then it was AltaVista, Lycos, Excite) and find my website listed above the actual manufacturer website. I also promised to deliver the products much faster than the typical 4-6 weeks advertised in most infomercials.
My college roommate, Brett, saw the potential with my business. He was a born entrepreneur, stuck in an office job at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture). He was making decent money, but wasn’t having fun. So he bought half the company from me, quit his job, and we upgraded our corporate headquarters to a much fancier office — Brett’s garage, in Foster City, California.
By 2000, we were operating out of a small warehouse, and by 2001, we had outgrown that warehouse, and moved into a huge office space with a 20,000 square foot warehouse.
Moving day was hectic. To add to the stress, four new employees were scheduled to start working the next morning at 6 AM. The office was looking great, the artwork was hung, the phone system worked perfectly, the computers were properly talking to our network. All that was left to do was to build the 4 desks (from Office Max) for each customer service representative to use when they arrived tomorrow morning at 6. I wanted everything to be up and running smoothly so the employees didn’t feel like they were walking into some half-ass company that didn’t have its shit together. It was 6 PM. I figured a couple hours, max, per desk, and I could have them all built by 2 AM. So I volunteered to stay and finish building them, and I sent the rest of the guys home.
By 11 PM, I was still working on desk number 1. Crap. I knew this wasn’t my strong suit. I knew I was a crappy desk-builder, but I had no idea it would take me five hours on one desk. At this rate, there was no possible way I’d have them ready in time. I was in over my head. Luckily, I was in the bay area, where Craigslist was born. I knew I could hire a handyman and have him arrive within 30 minutes, and I’d pay him whatever it took to finish the job.
So I posted the “handyman needed” ad. Nobody replied. I began to realize… handymen don’t seek jobs on craigslist at 11 at night. They look for jobs in the morning or afternoon. Odds are they are asleep at night. I tried again, and again, no response. Shit.
What does a creative entrepreneur do in such a situation? I thought about who would be on Craigslist at 11 PM?
Escorts! So in the Erotic Services section, I wrote a quick ad: “Seeking an escort who is also good at building furniture from Office Max. I have 4 desks that need to be built by 6 AM. I will pay your hourly rate, plus will provide free pizza and drinks!” San Francisco escorts typically charged $300 an hour. Several responded, but none believed that I really just wanted to hire them to build desks. They all figured there had to be a catch. They asked if they needed to build the desks naked, or if they had to have sex with me on the desk, or what the catch was. I told them that I, in fact, didn’t want any kind of sex, and that they could wear baggy sweatpants and a sweatshirt, but that it was crucial to have the desks complete by 6 AM. An Indian woman (she called herself Desi) agreed on $200 per hour. She emailed and told me that she used to build IKEA desks with her dad, ever since childhood, and she loved making furniture. Perfect.
I drove to Union Landing, a shopping area a few minutes from our Hayward warehouse, and withdrew $1000 from various ATM and Credit Card accounts, then I called the 24 Hour Pizza Place and ordered a few large pizzas and 2-Liters of soda. Desi showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, still not really believing why anyone was crazy enough to pay up to $1000 for an escort to build desks at midnight. She gave me a hug, I could smell her vanilla scented lotion. She looked stunned as I walked her to the customer service office where the desks awaited her hard labor.
We played music, ate pizza, and I caught up on some marketing related emails. By 4:30 AM, she was finished. I thanked her, gave her $900 (thank goodness she worked fast!) and got home to my wife by 5. The employees showed up an hour later, and everything went off without a hitch.
Later that day, my co-workers complimented me on doing such a good job putting the desks together. I took all the credit 🙂
Categories: Stephen Newman