My First Job: From Boy Scout mulch sales to startup co-founder | Crain's Boston

My First Job: From Boy Scout mulch sales to startup co-founder

  • Tom Rose as a child with his Boy Scout troop. | Courtesy of Thomas Rose Sr.

    Tom Rose as a child with his Boy Scout troop. | Courtesy of Thomas Rose Sr.

  • Tom Rose as a child. | Courtesy of Thomas Rose Sr.

    Tom Rose as a child. | Courtesy of Thomas Rose Sr.

  • Tom Rose | Photo courtesy of Testive

    Tom Rose | Photo courtesy of Testive

Along with his MIT classmate Miro Kazakoff, Tom Rose started test-prep company Testive in 2011 when he realized his high-priced tutoring service could be partially automated, making it better and cheaper for students. The company now has offices in Boston and Durham, N.C.

My first job, or perhaps better described as my first venture, was when I was just 7 years old. I loved drawing mazes. Everyone who saw or solved my mazes seemed impressed. I was emboldened by the positive response, so I decided to print up a booklet of the mazes and sell them door to door to my neighbors. Knocking on doors was scary because I was so small, and I didn’t know what to say. Plus, my initial yield calculations were way off because I forgot to account for the fact that most people wouldn’t be home. Eventually, I made a sale, probably 5 cents, and that kept my spirits up for another 10 houses or so, which was enough to make another sale.

As a kid that was the first time that I ever did anything independent to generate money and put it in my own pocket. My parents weren't involved at all—I don't think they knew that this was even happening. I think if they read this article they would be surprised.

What I got from that moment was [the idea that] I can create something that doesn't exist at all and that can put value into the world. I think that's a nontrivial spark. Not everybody actually really goes through that phase. Of course obviously the problem with that business was, it's not scalable at all. What people were actually doing was they were giving charity to a little kid. So that was my first lesson in sales: people buy for their own reasons. The product that I thought I was selling was a book of mazes. The product that I was actually selling was making people feel warm and fuzzy by giving a quarter to a little kid running a lemonade stand, essentially.

I didn't realize I was learning this lesson at the time. But basically, hustle makes up for coherence. Even though my process was totally incoherent I made money doing it. You just knock on enough doors and eventually it works.

Later in life I was a Boy Scout. And one of the things that we did was raise money to go to summer camp and one of the ways we did that was by selling mulch. We basically went door to door delivering fliers, offering at the same price as the big box stores. The Boy Scouts are a nonprofit, obviously, but we actually turned a profit even counting labor. We were actually adding real value. We basically became a wholesale distributor in bulk on a pretty large scale. It was basically the same business as the mazes. The driver of the whole business was sales. And the way that we did the sales was door to door. This time people actually wanted the product that we were selling.

The thing that I learned there, which I'm still high on right now, is the magic of profit. There's this moment at the end of the day where I'm sitting behind a spreadsheet and I've added up all the hours that people have spent doing work on this project and all the costs for the mulch and the truck and the delivery. And there's some left over. It's like, everybody's got something—the people that were working, they're all going to summer camp, the people that bought something, they're all happy. You know everybody that was doing it was compensated in some way. Everybody's happy and when the dust settled there was a pile of cash sitting there That's what business is. Once you get a little taste of that suddenly you're like, OK this is definitely something I'm going to spend a lot of time on.

I learned that a combination of initiative and hustle could make people happy and put a few bucks in my pocket. I’ve had many jobs since, and they have always involved the same initiative and hustle. My job at Testive today is no different.

March 17, 2017 - 5:29pm