September 18th is National Cheeseburger Day. That’s just a random act by whoever publishes the “National Day” calendar. But did you know that September 18th has a real historic hamburger fact associated with it?
Sometime in the late morning of Friday, September 18th, 1885, after the warm rains had stopped, two young brothers from Canton, Ohio, sold the first-ever hamburger. Charles and Frank Menches went on to become wealthy owners of several diverse businesses. But it’s the story of their first “side hustle” as carnival concessionaires that begins our series highlighting how you, too, can become a Side Hustle MVP.
Charles Edward Menches was born on June 10, 1859. Six years later, on July 16, 1865, his brother Frank A. Menches came into this world. Their Franco-Prussian parents migrated to Canton to start a new life in America. They embraced their adopted country and taught their boys everything they needed to know to excel. Both boys demonstrated athletic aptitude, agility, and prowess.
By 1880, at the age of 21, Charles had a “successful season” with the Stickney circus. A year later, he “performed a fine trapeze act” during a “big picnic” for the Germinia Ternverein at the Stark County fairgrounds. In addition to his circus acrobatic seasonal gig, Charles ran a cigar store.
While Charles used his body to entertain, Frank chose a more competitive route. In July of 1885, the younger Menches brother took first prize at the Canton Bicycle Race Sweepstakes. A year later, he would win the gold badge at the bicycle race at the Fireman’s tournament in Salem.
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Despite his retail business, Charles’ first love was the circus. He loved to perform, and he was good at it. But his antics on the high wire and flying trapeze had two drawbacks: poor pay and dangerous conditions. Neither suggested the job had what it takes to build a sustainable career or long-term business. The cigar store may have been boring (and dangerous, judging from the number of times it was robbed), but at least it provided a steady and reliable (albeit modest) income.
The little store, which Frank would later join, did provide the brothers with valuable experience in counter sales. Charles used this knowledge as he searched for a way to transition to a safer and more lucrative circus side hustle. He learned much from his fellow carnies. Most importantly, he learned where the money was.
Performers didn’t make the money. Charles determined two groups of people made the money: the folks who ran the circus and the concessionaires. Charles wasn’t yet in a position to operate his own show (that would come later), but he was in a position to go where the money was. He began selling concessions and brought his brother Frank on board with him.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s “Look before you leap.” Before you create a product, before you start selling anything, make sure there’s a market with an ocean of money filled with people willing to spend.
That’s how the Menches brothers earned the “M” for their Side Hustle MVP.
M is for “money.” What do you need to do to earn your “M”?
Though a misquote, the adage attributed to Willie Sutton—“I rob banks because that is where the money is.”—offers a lesson to anyone looking to start a successful business: Go where the money is. If you want to quickly set up a thriving side hustle, you’ll need to go where the money is.
First, understand this common mistake budding entrepreneurs make (even and sometimes especially if they have significant business experience). It’s oh so tempting to see the “M” as meaning “market.” They make the mistake of assuming “market” and “money” mean the same thing.
These two terms are not synonyms. Assuming “market” means the same as “money” can be an expensive lesson for entrepreneurs. It’s a lesson the Menches brothers, fortunately, understood very early.
Charles already knew the market: circus and exhibit attendees. It represented a big market, a captive market, and a market flowing with ready-to-spend cash. Yet, while he delivered his performance product to this market, he found he didn’t make the money others made. Instead of focusing on the market, he correctly zeroed in on where and how the market spent the money. Following the flow of cash revealed the profitable advantage the food concessions business had above the acrobatic performers.
Yes, finding a market is important, but it’s only the first step. Your true objective is to find how that market spends its money.
Which gets you to another mistake often made. The size of the market doesn’t matter. The size of the sale does.
For example, if you need to gross $100,000, you have several ways to accomplish this. You can make one sale for $100,000. You can make a hundred sales for $1,000 each. You can make a thousand sales for $100 each. You can make ten thousand sales for $10 each. Or you can make a hundred thousand sales for $1 each.
Do you see how the ticket price influences the market size requirements?
When you review the “money” analysis template utilized by Charles Menches, you’ll notice one thing that may strike you as odd. He already had a full-time operating business. Why did he select the “circus” market rather than the “cigar” market? Obviously, he had a passion for showmanship. That gave “circus” an edge. But that represented an entirely new business; thus, a certain level of risk that didn’t exist with the “cigar” alternative. Merely expanding his cigar store had an advantage since he was already in that market.
What likely broke the tie? Well, it might have been his passion (which is not a bad reason). In keeping with the “money” imperative, and because it’s a more objective measure, it could very well have been the availability of the market. Intuitively, Charles may have already known the price point of any product he sells in either market would be similar, so it became a matter of determining which market had more money (by volume) and which market held the most captive audience. This is where “circus” won out.
Ironically, this process reversed itself decades later. As the Menches brothers wound down their carny business, they sought a way to continue selling concessions (by that time they had opened other novelty food manufacturing businesses). They discovered another captive audience on the cusp of becoming a national trend: moviegoers. Just as Hollywood was about to explode, they built a luxury movie theatre in Akron during World War I. Once again, they had a market contained within walls that had no choice when it came to buying their treats.
Returning to passion for a moment, there’s a critical lesson here. When searching for your ideal side hustle, you might not want to start with a completely blank slate. You could, but that makes the process take much longer. It’s better to start with a “hint.” Like the Menches brothers, you don’t have to have a specific product in mind (and you probably shouldn’t). You’d benefit, however, from having a general idea of what direction you’d like to go in. It could be an industry. It could be a demographic. It could be a technology platform. It could be a physical geography. Pick a broad area to begin your search for the money.
But there’s more.
One more mistake frequently made, especially among inventors who wish to start their own business, is to start with a product. Now, this may be a successful strategy, and there are plenty of examples where this works, particularly for novel ideas and inventions. In general, however, most folks look to side hustles as an opportunity just to raise supplemental cash, not to create new markets.
But this problem surfaces in full-scale business, too.
“When starting our company, we initially tested a handful of different service offerings, all with the end goal of increasing revenue for clients,” says Ryan Turner, Founder of EcommerceIntelligence.com in Austin, Texas. “The uptake at the beginning was very poor as we lacked focus, and in the eyes of potential clients, we had no clear area of specialization. The first six months were slow due to this, and I felt a lot of frustration, like we were going around in circles without making progress. We couldn’t clearly articulate the benefits of working with us.”
This product “launch” morphed into a market research effort to identify the source of spending in the market.
“After speaking to a number of successful brands as potential clients, we finally identified where the money truly was in this market,” says Turner. “We realized that the biggest eCommerce brands all generated a huge percentage of their total sales from the email marketing channel. It was often their #1 or #2 revenue driver. We saw that when servicing ecommerce brands, the real money would be made by taking away all of the headaches they experience in their most profitable digital channel: email marketing. So, we focused on this exclusively. For the last four years now, we’ve specialized in email marketing for eCommerce brands as our primary service and have never looked back.”
Launching a product or service often puts the cart before the horse. If you find yourself searching for the low-hanging fruit without any restrictions on the type of fruit, you’ll discover the path much quicker. The Menches brothers didn’t look just for a point-of-sale solution. They considered all options. That they had retail experience merely gave them the confidence that they could handle the operational aspects of food concessions. And if you’ve ever tasted a scrumptious burger, you should be forever grateful for their decision.
But don’t get ahead of yourself in the story. At this point, Charles has merely decided on the form of his business. He hasn’t determined his product yet. That comes next. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t the hamburger.)
In the meantime, can you benefit from a checklist that provides a guide for you to “find the money” for your side hustle? Click this link to receive one for free.