I initially wrote this post six months ago, when I was still living in Thailand, working slowly towards the end of my stint at Slumber Party Hostel & Bar. Then I was heading back to Germany and the lessons I learned during my time there, were taking a backseat. But now I figured it would be a shame to keep the knowledge and these little pearls of wisdom to myself, if they could potentially be of use to other people, maybe even the current generation of Slumber Party employees. The one’s who probably have no idea who I am.
Truth to be told – during my two years at Slumber Party I was never really happy. In a way it was the right place for me to be, but it was not the right place for me to stay long-term. That was a feeling I had for a long time and it confused me, because I enjoyed my time immensely, yet I felt like I was never supposed to stay. So in a moment of complete honesty and clarity, I told myself and later Edmund as well, that I had to leave Slumber Party rather sooner than later.
It was the right place to be because I learned and grew a lot, more than in all my previous years in Germany combined. Edmund wasn’t so much of a teacher or mentor, who would sit me down and methodically teach me how to run a business or what it takes to be an entrepreneur. No, we were way too busy for that and yes, also mostly too drunk. What he did was leading by example and by simply observing him, the way he leads, works and thinks, I already got most of the knowledge I have now and soon you as well I hope.
It was also the right place for me to be, because I had the pleasure of meeting many of the most admirable and hard-drinking individuals, one can only wish to meet as a backpacker, as a hostel manager and as a friend. So, while the main portion of this post will focus on the lessons I’ve learned, I want everyone I’ve met at Slumber Party to consider this as my belated “Thank You” for the great times we’ve shared and hopefully continue to share in the foreseeable future. Without you I wouldn’t be where I am now and I wouldn’t be the person I’m now, and for the that you have my gratitude. And my sword. And my bow. And my axe.
Edmund was kind enough to write a little introduction and a short back story of how my end at Slumber Party basically started. So without any further ado, I give you the intro by serial entrepreneur and sushi lover, Edmund, and the lessons learned by yours truly.
“It’s 10:45 at night on July 12th 2016, my business Slumber Party Hostel has just been rated one of the top 3 party hostels in the world, the excitement in the air of our bar is palpable, everyone is partying like crazy and the vibe is intoxicating.
I jump on the bar to make an announcement.
“The last three and a half years has been the craziest journey. I could have never imagined that this little dream of mine would grow into what it has become today, there are so many people I would like to thank for our success, my wife, our present and former team members, all of you our amazing guests that have supported us all these years, but mostly I would like to thank this guy (I point to Benni). Get up here on the bar. This guy has been with me through all the bullshit, from sleeping on the floor, to not having a penny to our name to what we are today. Benni, first off thank you for being by my side and for your unwavering loyalty. I’d like to make you a partner in the business, because you deserve it (we shake hands and crowd cheers) OK LET’S GET FUCKED UP!!!!”
I get a text from Benni the next morning: “Can we meet up?”. I assume this is to talk about the partnership I have just offered him and I am excited for the meeting. We meet in my office Benni walks in and is a bit somber and says:
“For a long time I have been thinking about what my future is here and last night’s announcement has kind of forced me to make a decision about it. I have learned so much here and appreciate everything you have done for me, but I think it’s time for me to move on. I do not see Slumber Party as something I want to do forever. In reality you really have to blame yourself, because you have taught me everything and I am ready to go and start my own business.”
I was a mix of totally shattered and amazingly touched by this, I was so sad to be losing my friend and right hand man, but on the other side, I was so deeply touched that Benni was ready to do his own thing and that I had played a part in fanning that entrepreneurial flame.
A few weeks later I asked Benni what he had learned from working with me and he said: “Let me write it for you”, so below is what Benni wrote me.”
Just do it!
I was baffled when Edmund first told me, that he wanted to open a party hostel, despite having no training or experience in running a business like that, simply because he wanted to. He just did it, and figured out everything in the process. “Just do it!” for me was either the slogan of Nike or the funny meme with Shia LaBeouf. I’m from Germany and we like to precisely plan and organize everything way ahead before taking any action, so Edmunds approach of throwing all of that out of the window was completely new to me. He simply opened the hostel and learned as he went along. If he would’ve hesitated or procrastinated, Slumber Party would not exist today.
This mentality stays with him in all kinds of tasks. I’ve never seen Edmund more frustrated, when someone was supposed to do something, and it wouldn’t get done or for no good reason it would take longer than expected. At first I thought that he was simply impatient, but the more I worked with him and worked on myself, I realized that a lot of people were just lazy or would give in to procrastination. If you can do something now, then do it now. Everything else is just an excuse.
The grind is real
In any less ambitious hands Slumber Party would’ve failed and succumbed into nothingness within weeks after its opening. At the very beginning there were more things not working, than things that were actually working. Main parts of the hostel were still under construction, there was no schedule (although for a long time it was just Edmund and me, so a schedule was obsolete) and we were, for a lack of a better description, absolutely drunk most of the time, so money was missing and taking inventory wasn’t something we took very seriously. In short, we had no idea what the hell we were doing.
The reason why we didn’t fail is because as I mentioned above we learned by doing and worked insane hours, making sure that we improved every aspect of the hostel. Looking back at it now, it still surprises me that we made it work, despite of all the flaws. Or maybe we made it work, because of all the flaws and this time gave us the practical experience we needed for the future. But the fact still remains, that we worked very hard to the point of physical and mental exhaustion to bring the hostel, now hostels, to where they are now.
Love what you do
This taught me that the road you put yourself on by starting your own business will be filled with so many obstacles and hardships, that you have to devote many, many hours of hard work to it. When I lived in Germany I would work my 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and that was it. It is nothing compared to the insane work you put into your own business and for a long time you don’t even see any results, in form of positive reviews, a growing stream of customers/guests and of course – money.
The reason why we kept going is because at the end of the day, we loved our work. We loved hanging out with the guests, having a good time (read: getting drunk) and hearing how our new friends had such a great time. That is the biggest reward of all, if you know that your hard work paid off and the guests tell you so. And this is also the biggest difference between working for a large corporation in Germany and working for and with an entrepreneur on his new business: I had the feeling of making a difference. My work had an actual impact on the business, which is something I’ve never felt in Germany.
Edmund once wrote in a post or a comment on Facebook, that “when you treat your employees as if they would make a difference, that they soon will”. By now I’ve heard this quote many times from different people, but the first time I’ve heard it from him. No matter how awesome and great you are, you can’t do everything alone. You can start on your own, but if you want to be more successful in the long run, you have to work together with people you can trust and who love working for and with you.
He told me, that the most important lesson he learned as a leader is that you have to take responsibility for everything that is happening in your business. Every mistake that one of your employees makes can be traced back to you. Maybe your instructions were unclear, you didn’t train him/her well enough or whatever the reason might be, it is your business, so you have to take responsibility for it. You can of course yell at said worker, and tell him how much he sucks and that he/she needs to fix the problem ASAP, but what happens is that your behavior and attitude will do more bad, than good. He/She might fix the problem, but will he/she be happy? Relieved maybe, but surely not happy. No one likes working for an asshole who treats you like a piece of shit. They won’t be working for you in the long run and in the end you will be left alone with your business, and as I already mentioned, running it on your own might be too difficult.
Whenever Edmund and I, or anyone else in our team for that matter, had a problem, regardless of how it happened, we fixed it together. This is the kind of leader everyone wants to work with. Not someone who points fingers at anyone but himself, because this attitude accomplishes nothing but destroying the relationship between a leader and his staff.
The little things count
Having a kick ass team is great and important, but you can’t run a business on love and affection alone. You need a constant stream of customers or guests, who are willing to pay good dinero for your quality service or product. And Edmunds belief for providing the best service possible was always to go above and beyond. Do whatever it takes to make our guests happy. At the beginning I was a bit surprised that he would drive guests to the bank, if they needed money, or to the doctor, if they felt sick. He would do things for our guests, that didn’t have anything to do with the hostel, but he would do it anyway, because that is exactly what makes the difference. Because no one expects us to do it. Because we don’t have to drive them to the doctor or the bank.
Because 99 out of a 100 hostels wouldn’t bother doing those things, we would be this one hostel, that spends a little more time and effort to ensure the happiness of our guests. Those were the little things that made our guests go: “Oh wow, not a single hostel has ever done that for me. This is awesome!” That is the difference between a great business and any other business. To do just a little bit more than the rest.
This approach also applies to the hostel itself. Backpackers like their little comforts and luxuries while traveling, so we provide them with as many as possible. For example, the beds in the hostels have outlets, reading lamps and curtains, so you can watch porn with no one noticing. Then there is also free breakfast and a free ride to the beach in the morning, and a free barbecue or free drinks during the evenings. All those things and more are not huge, they don’t require a massive amount of time and work, but they are the small things that the guests appreciate, even or especially when they don’t expect them.
Never ever be satisfied
Whenever we would get a 91% rating on Hostelworld or a 4* review on TripAdivsor, Edmund would ask what went wrong. For a lot of hostels, this rating would be great, but as I already mentioned above we strive to be better than those. Where are the other 9%? Where is the fifth star in that review? If the review said, that everything was great, but the toilets were not as clean as they should be, then Edmund would tell us to pay more attention to the toilets and make sure they are pristine. If the rating for security was low, he would tell us, that we need to make sure to point out all the security cameras and mention that we have security guard patrolling throughout the night-time.
91% is a bullshit rating. 93% is not good. 95% still not good. 100%, this is good. This is what we should strive for. Anything lower than that, and we failed somewhere. It means that we need to enquire what we can do better and then do it better.
Know when to follow intelligently and when not to follow
If you read this, you may get the impression that I idolize Edmund, but that is not the case. He is still very young and has a lot learn. One of those things is to be more punctual. By now everyone who has worked with him knows the difference between Edmund time and the actual time. I always made sure to bring a book with me, because I may had to kill a few minutes before Edmund arrived. Sure, he has a lot of different projects going on and he is very busy, but whenever someone comes late, it gives the person who’s waiting the sense that he or she is less important than everything else. And if you want to get in business with someone, you have to give your potential partner the feeling that he or she is the most important person for you right now. That also means not grabbing your phone and sending messages to anyone but your potential partner, when you do finally arrive. Something that Edmund does as well occasionally. Actually, he does it quite often to be honest. I was just trying to be polite. Although, that was six months ago, so I don’t know if he improved in those regards. Someone could give me a quick update.
So, in many ways he was my leader and in many of those ways I tried to follow him as intelligently as I could. Just like Napoleon Hill mentioned in his book ‘Think, and Grow Rich’, “an intelligent follower has many advantages, among them the opportunity to acquire knowledge from his leader”. But that doesn’t mean you should do or should adapt everything your leader does or tells you to do. You shouldn’t be a bland copy of him, because you would copy his mistakes as well and then no one learns anything from them. No leader, no matter how great he is, is perfect. So make sure to know when to follow intelligently and when to bring a book along while patiently waiting.
Finding Your Why
As a follow-up question to my first draft I sent to Edmund, he suggested to answer the “Why” I wanted to start my own business and after thinking about it, I am honestly still not entirely sure. I assume after working with an entrepreneur for so long, it was inevitable that some of his entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off onto me. There is just a strong desire I feel to accomplish something on my very own. Which is the main reason why I left him and Slumber Party behind, so that I can pursue my own goals. And even though I still don’t know what this “something” might be, I think having a strong desire for something is at least a good start.
It makes sense that “Desire” is the first chapter in ‘Think, and Grow Rich’, because it is the foundation for everything that follows on your way to achieve your goals. Writing this article was a great way for me to think about and recapture everything that I’ve learned in the years of working with Edmund, and to organize and structure this knowledge. What I would have to do now is to effectively put this knowledge to use and be wise enough to learn more along the way. There is still so much to do and so much to learn, and I’m looking forward to everything the future may hold for me.