The Life Lessons Learned from Can-Crushing

April 22, 2019

Guest article by Department member Jeremy Veatch.

It all started with a can. An aluminum soda can, but not one; thousands.

I was 10 years old, in fourth grade, and the St. Louis Cardinals had just lost the World Series (I’ll buy a high quality beverage to the first person to guess my age.) My first business was a can crushing business with my Uncle Joe. I can still see black trash bags filled with them piled in my garage. This was before the embedded ties in trash bags, so the cans would spill out over the top. The sticky, black syrup of the ‘New Coke’ and Dr. Pepper leaking, dripping on the garage floor sticking to the bottom of your shoes. My parents couldn’t park their cars in the garage because my first business had taken over.

My Uncle Joe had a CPA firm in Tucson where I grew up. He bought tons of soda (growing up we said ‘a grip’ of soda)…a LOT. Of. Soda. We made a deal that he would give me the cans and I would store and crush them. Then, we would take them on a Saturday and recycle them, collect the money, and share in the spoils!

But somehow each time we made our recycling run, Uncle Joe would treat me to lunch at Carl’s Jr. and I ended up with all the money from the recycling in MY pocket. Besides many lessons in generosity through the years, I also got my first taste of business.  

I learned so much with that first can-crushing business. Uncle Joe treated me like his business partner. He would share about his business challenges and wins. He talked openly about partnerships and working with others. Hiring employees and running a profitable business. I saw that through business I could be used to impact others by helping them make their businesses easier to run. I am still amazed at how Uncle Joe talked with me about business like I was an adult.

Now, why do I call it a can-crushing business and not recycling? Because can-crushing is exactly what I did.

Uncle Joe’s one-line verbal contract said all I had to do was ensure every single can was crushed. No problem. Except when you are 10 years old and wait until the night before to crush onethousandthreehundredandfortyseven cans. #planning.

The lessons I learned back then I still use in my day-to-day business. I realized quickly that if I wore my dad’s shoes and jumped just right, I could crush four cans at once. #efficiency. And if my little sister Joy would set them up for me while I was jumping, I could really crank. So Uncle Scrooge was right: work smarter, not harder.

Now I’ve passed my can crushing business on to my kids. They’ve already changed the name to ‘Cans for Kids’ (the second generation already changes things!). And every Saturday at about 7:15am we come down to The Department and they collect the recycling (did you know we have a recycling program at The Department?). They are so cute as they work their business! They grab the two giant rectangle blue bins from under the large kitchen counter, put on their gloves, and get onto the floor to sort out the plastic bottles from the aluminum. (We’ve already extended to two products now!)

I have a four-step money management system that I teach them (see this video to hear from Finn explain those four steps). As they recycle, they get to do good by recycling, and learn how to manage money. They are also learning about diligence; 7am comes early on a Saturday! They’re learning about disappointment as well: One Saturday there were no cans or bottles to recycle; somebody else had already grabbed them.  

My hope is that they will remember the time with me as fondly as I remember being with Uncle Joe. He taught me so much and all through one little can. Also, please recycle…it saves the planet and helps my kids!

Happy Earth Day.

Jeremy is a founding partner at Ironwood Venture. Ironwood works directly with CEOs at small and mid-sized business to accelerate growth. Ironwood removes the angst of running a business by creating a roadmap for the future, generating predictable profits and growing a healthy sales culture.

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