3 Rules for Small Business Success I Learned from My Cab Driver

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I met Ruben while my wife and I were travelling in Mexico.

The host at our Airbnb knew Ruben, knew that we spoke little to no Spanish, and knew that he spoke perfect English.

rubens_taxi

The ten second rundown of his history seems straightforward. Born near Mexico City, worked in the US for about a decade, moved back to Mexico, drives a taxi, has five kids, and runs a grocery store with his wife. It’s the history behind all of those bullet points that is – as with all of us – the real story of Ruben’s life.

By any reasonable measure, Ruben is a successful entrepreneur. He’s one of the most senior drivers in the Mexican city of Tulum, with over a decade of experience under his belt. His family’s grocery store – which he and his wife started after she was turned down for jobs due to her age – seems to be thriving. His children are growing up with parents who stress the value of reading and hard work.

Ruben-02

Ruben’s path wasn’t straightforward, but it was driven by just a handful of rules – Ruben’s Rules. After spending just a few hours with him, it was clear that this was a special person – a person who knew what he wanted to be in life and how he wanted to live. Here are Ruben’s Rules for small business success, as best I can describe them.

Be Good

The number one rule is to be a good person. We were sitting in traffic outside Cancún when a woman carrying a baby in one hand stepped out into the road at a red light. She had two hacky sacks that she juggled in one hand for a few seconds before approaching the cars, asking for money.

Without hesitation, Ruben reached into the plastic change holder suction-cupped onto his windshield and pulled out a few pesos. He was the only one in the line of eight cars that gave her anything. He may have been the only one to even make eye contact.

“Some people don’t give anything, but I know I’ve been lucky,” he said to us. That was all. Just a few words, but they encompassed a whole worldview.

Earlier, we pulled into a gas station to top up before the trip to the airport. Ruben knew the man pumping gas, as well as a random man on a bicycle who came over to shake his hand. When we finished up, the attendant gave Ruben a bag of toasted coconut sweets and he dipped three out, giving two to us.

“He’s a good man,” Ruben said as we pulled onto the main road. “I don’t have many friends, because I do not drink. I am only friends with good people.”

Ruben knew that the people you interact with influence the kind of person you become. By only surrounding himself with good people, he could make it easier for him to be good. By being good to other people, he could help them be good. This virtuous cycle keeps his world full of positive interactions.

Find Your Balance

Step one to a prosperous investing strategy is to diversify. The more risk you spread out, the less you rely on any one piece of your investment puzzle to be successful.  Ruben spreads his risk out, but he also spreads out his attention.

He helps his wife run their grocery store, goes fishing when he can, raises bees and sells their honey in the spring, and he always carries a book with him. It’s a set of habits born from a lifetime of trial and error – of wanting to try new things.

When he was younger, Ruben worked in the US as a fruit picker, grounds maintenance worker, and as a handful of other jobs. But instead of settling in one place, he moved around, discovering new ideas and people as he did so.

In the mid-90s, he went to Florida for a season because he wanted to fish. Later, he moved to Princeton to see what life was like in the Northeast, near New York City. After he decided to start raising bees in Mexico, he traveled to Cuba to learn how to do it better.

Ruben balanced his desire to succeed with his desire to be a well-rounded human. He works long hours, squeezing in fishing when he can, but he’s always finding a way to create that balance in his life. The book on the dashboard, the rod in the trunk, the bees back home.

This is a difficult lesson for many people – especially those driven to succeed. The single-minded pursuit of success may be what divides the top 5% from the rest of us, but it’s also a shortcut to a heart attack.

Don’t Give Up

I have setbacks, but my life has been a cakewalk compared to the nonsense that Ruben has gone through. He’s seen violence, he’s been hurt by bureaucracy, one of his kids has to be homeschooled, his wife couldn’t get hired, he’s been in jail for three nights over a driver’s license, and the list goes on. No matter what life has thrown at him, Ruben has continued on his path.

His outlook on life is similar to that of some of the best investors in the business. When the market is dropping like a stone and the cash you’ve poured into a stock seems to be disappearing into the air, you have two choices. You can panic and sell, turning your paper loss into a real loss. Or, you can believe in your investing premise and realize that some things will be out of your control. If you’re in it for the long run, minor dips are just that – minor.

It can take years for hard work to pay off, but that’s kind of what makes it hard. Most people can manage a sprint, no matter how hard they push themselves. It’s the people who finish the marathons that have to put in the real work.

Capterra and Ruben’s Rules

At Capterra, we’ve tried to make all of these rules a part of our daily life. When we hire people, we look for good people – not just people who are good at their jobs. We know that we can all be better when the people around us are better, themselves. When we work with software buyers and vendors, we do our best to make their lives better.

We give ourselves a chance to try new things and to achieve balance. If you want to try selling, give it a shot. Need a vacation? Make it happen. If things get too heavy at work, we can always find some time to set aside for relaxing. It’s not about creating an environment that’s a nonstop party, it’s about finding a way to keep each day feeling like a new chance to learn and to grow.

Finally, we give ourselves the time necessary to achieve by planning for setbacks. We’ve adopted OKRs (objectives and key results), which build stretch goals into the mix, allowing people to fall short without failing. As a business, we spent over fifteen years working to make things better for buyers, vendors, and employees – there have been plenty of setbacks.

Using Ruben’s Rules in Your Business

Everyone has to make their own decisions about what their business needs. The rules that keep Ruben’s life on track are going to take on a different meaning for your business and your life – you’re a different person.

What your business needs is a set of Matt’s Rules, Linda’s Rules, or Kermit’s Rules. A set of guiding principles that you can turn to when there are setbacks. It’s a system that lets you regain your footing when the world is shifting under you, and it helps you find your way when the path is unclear.

It’s simple. First, talk to the people you trust, the people you work with, and the people you love about what’s really important. We all want to make money and grow, but what legacy do we want to leave behind — how will we be remembered? Once you have those keys in mind, turn them into guidelines for behavior.

A good key to these sorts of rules is to leave room for interpretation. A rule like “never lie” sounds great until the axe murderer shows up at your door, asking where your cousin is. Rules should spur the right actions without being restrictive or overbearing.

Finally, let everyone in the business know about the rules. Maybe you make a blog post about your culture or put up a poster or just have a big meeting. It’s important that everyone understands no just what the rules are, but why they’re there.

Every business is going to have a slightly different take on these rules, but everyone can benefit from having them in place.

Do Good, Find Your Balance, Don’t Give Up.

If you’re ever in Tulum, look Ruben up – he’s taxi #03.

For more small business tips and insights into how Capterra has learned its lessons and overcome hurdles, please swing by the rest of our Knocking Down Doors blog.

Looking for software? Check out Capterra's list of the best software solutions.

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About the Author

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Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is a former Capterra analyst.

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Great article Andrew.

I received it via email and saw your question about small business rules we follow and immediately thought of my own guiding principle for my team. It sounds, at first, kind of negative (especially in light of your wonderful story of Ruben and his clearly unfailing belief in the good of other people and in his kind acts to those around him) but figured I’d share in any case.

I remind my staff at all of our meetings that “no body cares about them”. And not them personally, but our clients don’t really give a hoot about us or our process. They want to know if the problem they have can be solved by our product. They don’t want to know necessarily how we go about solving that problem, all the work that goes into the solution, etc – they want to know when it can be solved and how fast. We try to always keep the mindset and focus on this fact (as negative as it sounds) because it’s actually made a huge difference for our sales. I think it’s helped all of us really focus when we are talking to clients about solutions, not features and about results, not the process. We grew 500% in 2015 and part of this success, I believe, came from the way in which we approach connecting and communicating with our clients.

Making the client feel at the center of our work makes them feel cared for and that we are working hard to solve THEIR problems.

I elaborated more on this in a post on my own blog, if you want to read more. (http://www.regpacks.com/blog/nobody-cares-about-you-will-grow-your-business-by-500-percent/)

Thanks for sharing Ruben’s story. Next time I’m in Tulum (a good friend lives there!) I will look him up!

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