Working With What You Have

A friend of mine once bought a warehouse because his company needed more space for inventory and production. When he arrived to take possession, he found the previous owner had not removed their inventory, so he was now an owner of 500 or so interior and exterior doors of various shapes, sizes and materials. With his entrepreneurial spirit in full command, he opened an Amazon store, researching appropriate pricing and posting a handful of matching doors every few days. Slowly, he sold thousands of dollars of doors, even though he’d never been in the door business, and profited nearly the whole of his down payment for the building. He could have chosen to sell them wholesale to another dealer, but he realized that he had warehouse inventory skills and a shipping clerk who was already shipping out his other goods. This flexibility allowed him to make something new for as long as he had it, and profit from the good fortune. 

One of the most resilient ways of forming a company is by looking at the resources available to you and figuring out what sort of company you can make that would respond to some market need. This month’s Found Art and Zydeco remind me of the sort of bootstrapping, entrepreneurism that makes early company formation fun and inventive. This same spirit comes into play during economic downturns and corporate mergers, acquisitions and transitions.

Zydeco bands always include an accordion, but instead of making polka-like music, they sound much more like blues with an amazing percussion section. A modified washboard called a frottoir supports the drums and often sets the beat. Spoons or a bottle opener stroked along the original tool for washing clothes offers a unique sound that builds the foundation for South Louisiana's folk music.

Can you imagine Clifton Chenier playing without this glorious invention of ingenuity and using what you've got? Can you imagine The Quarrymen (John Lennon’s first band) covering “That’ll be the Day” without Pete Shotton on washboard?

I have a few artist friends who often take walks and return with treasures found along the way. They pile up at home, in the studio, on the porch or in storage, until the artist is seeking material to express just that right thing. Or the thing speaks to the artist about what it needs to say to the art world.


This found art finds its way into a gallery or collector's home transformed from a neglected fragment into an expression of mood or form unique in the world.

Looking at your company's assets -- the people, the equipment, the talents and treasures -- in the same way sometimes leads you to a unique opportunity to profit from what you have, instead of gathering resources to fulfill a vision of what you should have.

The Zydeco/Found Art business takes advantage of its assets in a unique way, recognizing that it's rarely replicable, but seizing the moment can make for a wild ride, a beautiful creation and something wonderful for the people who make it, as well as those clients who buy it.

Take a moment to look around your company. What talents aren't being used? What equipment could be used for something else? Have you got a washboard sitting in the corner, long ago replaced by a washing machine, but you just couldn't let it go? I bet there's a reason you're holding on to it.

Take a moment today to imagine what sweet thing it could become. Sometimes you find your company’s future in the back closet of your mind.

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