A few years ago, I went to Memphis, where I met some talkative taxi drivers. The good news is I was paying the drivers by the mile, not the word.
While talking nonstop, their experiences reminded me once again of the difference between a small businessperson and an entrepreneur.
Let me introduce you first to John, 57, a taxi driver for 40 years. He swears he has it all figured out. "I rent this cab 12 hours a day for $85, after that it's pure profit," he said. "I average about 400 bucks a week income.
"One of the other drivers claims to make $90,000 a year driving a cab, but I don't believe it," John continued. "I know all the tricks."
His clear implication, of course, was that no one could make more than he did, what with all his experience.
I asked if he uses a cell phone to build up a following of local passengers who could then call him direct, which is a trend among cab drivers that I have both observed and read about.
"No way," John said. "I get all the passengers I need from the company."
When I inquired if any of the other drivers in the area use a cell phone in their work, he said only the guy who claims to make the $90,000 a year.
As we reached our destination, I asked if he would accept my credit card.
"Nope," he said, "I never take those cards. The company wants a $40 deposit for one of those gadgets to take the cards. I accept cash only."
Then I inquired if he would pick us up after dinner and take us back to the hotel. "No," he said. "I don't make appointments because a better fare might come along, and I don't want to turn it down."
I don't know if a better fare came along that night for John. But I know he didn't get any more business from us.
Contrast John's entrepreneurial style with Chuck's, the cab driver who picked us up the next afternoon. He has been driving a cab for only 14 months, and he openly displays credit-card decals on his back window. Almost before we were settled in his cab, he was passing out his business card with his cell phone number clearly written in big letters. When we mentioned that we wanted to have a quick meal at one of the fine downtown Memphis restaurants before we headed for the airport, he offered suggestions of where we might eat.
"Why don't I just stop back by in an hour or so and take you to the airport," he offered. "It will save you the hassle of trying to get another cab." We gladly agreed.
As we came out of the suggested restaurant at the appointed time, he was pulling into the parking lot. When we got back into the cab, Chuck said if we had 10 minutes he would like to show us a couple of interesting places in downtown Memphis.
He drove us by the motel where Martin Luther King was shot, and the Peabody Hotel, with its famous parade of ducks through the lobby each day. After our quick tour of Memphis, he whisked us to the airport.
When I told Chuck about John and his attitude toward running a cab business, he laughed.
"I talk to these guys all the time," Chuck said. "I pay $10 more a day and use my cab for 24 hours. It's like my personal car. The company pays all the maintenance, insurance and tires, the whole deal, I just pay for gas."
At the airport, I gave Chuck a nice tip and wished him well. As he drove away, I found myself thinking about the exciting business possibilities in his future. I envisioned this entrepreneurially minded cabbie renting cabs from the cab company for $95 per 24-hour day, then charging other drivers $85 each for two 12-hour shifts.
I'll bet he would even throw in free cell phones so he can become his own dispatcher. As his loyal customers call in for their scheduled appointments, he can get either take the fares himself or dispatch his hired drivers.Entrepreneurially speaking, which of these two taxi drivers is most like you? Are you like John, who is still doing business in much the same way as he did when he drove his first hack 40 years ago? Or do you run your business like Chuck, the entrepreneur-cab driver who may one day own his own cab company? Then he'll employ drivers like John who probably still won't believe that he makes more than $90,000 a year.
Stephen W. Gibson is affiliated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.