The surprising things we learned after talking to hundreds of small businesses

I like Jaywalk because it connects two of my favorite things — drinking and talking to cool people. In the course of building our MVP we talked to hundreds of small business owners (many of them bar owners) who are all on edge, all excited, and all preparing for a future that places retail front and center. In short, they’re getting ready for a huge change in the way cities work. Here are some of the things we’ve learned.

They are dedicated to their craft. I want to be a chef. I know I couldn’t do it simply because I’m not dedicated to their style of cooking. To make something consistently and wonderfully delicious on a daily basis is akin to black magic and I envy the best chefs I know. In short, whether they’re selling coffee or t-shirts or steaks, know that small business owners are in it to win it.

They have no time. Like all entrepreneurs small business owners have no time. Cooks, food truck owners, and shopkeepers have to be on 24/7. After they stop work they have to spend hours cleaning and preparing for the next day. They have a few minutes to think about payroll, marketing, insurance, and their families before they’re thrown from the lunch rush into the dinner rush. If you are selling to them you have to make your product as easy as pressing a button.

They need help. So they’re working all the time, they’re in the right place at the right time, and they are laser focused. They need advice. They need tools. They need help. There are few dozen holes in the SMB space that can be filled from logistics to purchasing to telcommunications to staffing. We’re attacking on small part of their bigger problem. In short, they need technologists to help. I think technologists who do turn their sights on small business will find themselves in a very happy place.

There is a sea-change coming in retail and restaurants. Get ready, people, because the retail apocalypse is upon us. As I wrote on TechCrunch, the world of retail is changing rapidly. Big box stores that once gutted small cities and towns are turning into wastelands while both young and experienced entrepreneurs are striving mightily to bring back Main Street. Why? Gen X and Millenials don’t drive, they want to live downtown, and the suburbs that cradled them from skinned knees to prom are changing rapidly. From Business Insider:

“We’re seeing the landscape of the suburbs change dramatically, so a lot of people who would have normally lived in single family homes are instead choosing to move into apartments and condos and that’s in the suburbs. And you’re also seeing a really big influx of people moving into the cities. So those are the two factors that are kind of changing the landscape of how Americans live.”

What’s worse? “Indeed, with their enormous physical footprints, shoddy construction, and hastily installed infrastructure, many suburbs are visibly crumbling,” writes Richard Florida. In short small retail players are in place to reap the benefits of a reborn urban core.

One example: down in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn I’ve been seeing more and more “smoke shops” appearing. While our area is Middle Eastern and hookah is popular, these shops are actually part of the vanguard of spots opened by potential recreational marijuana sellers. It’s small businesses and not Target who are poised to reap these benefits.

They are amazing people. Walk down Pearl Street in Boulder. You’ll meet a great Greek woman who runs a taco joint. You’ll meet a Japanese woman who traveled the world before settling down to sell ramen. You’ll meet people who work to live not live to work. They love food, wine, gear, and art. They want to share the best of their city with the world. But they need help. We tried to reflect that in Jaywalk and we should all shop, eat, drink, and dress local. After all, if the malls keep closing and retail keeps changing we’re going to need them more than ever.

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John Biggs is the co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Jaywalk. You can email him at john@jaywalk.me. You can download the app here. Book some time to talk to him about this here.

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