“You can make your life whatever you want it to be”
— Wally Amos
Wally Amos isn’t the sort of entrepreneurial hero you are used to. He’s more like the rest of us. He didn’t start a tech empire from a dorm room at Harvard. He has little formal education, much less an MBA. His family didn’t provide startup capital. He isn’t a household name and you may not have even heard of him. But you have probably enjoyed his cookies.
Wally Amos was born in Tallahassee, FL in 1936 and raised by a single mother. After moving to New York, NY to live with his aunt at the age of 12, he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. After his discharge, he went to work as a mail room clerk and secretary at the William Morris Agency, a talent agency. He became a talent agent there, and his achievements included signing Simon and Garfunkel.
Although his job offered opportunities to meet top rock and roll musicians of his day, he wanted to start his own agency. During his teenage years living in New York City with his aunt, she taught him how to make cookies and provided him with a recipe. As an adult he enjoyed baking cookies, and after a sales call with an artist, he would typically follow up with a note of thanks and some cookies.
Naturally, this pleased the recipients, which resulted in investment from high-profile artists. In 1975, singers Marvin Gaye and Helen Reddy provided Amos with $25,000 to open a Famous Amos cookie store in Los Angeles. The first store was followed by expansion, additional locations and franchising. By 1982, revenues reached $12 million. The cookies were later sold in supermarkets in a round, tin metal box.
A series of investors bought and sold stakes in Famous Amos starting in 1984. Today it is owned by Keebler and is even sold in stores in shopping malls. Current estimated annual sales of Famous Amos cookies are $12 million.
How could YOU do this too?
Wally Amos ditched the 9-5 and turned a side hustle into a great business without emptying his life savings or burning himself out. Like Amos, you can too.
- Do something you love. That advice is normally considered naïve, because business ownership eventually involves tasks that nobody loves. However, if you love solving a problem or providing a product, you will love the broader picture of what your business does.
- Amos used cookies to connect with people. Connect your business to people.
- The 9-5 offers the springboard to a great business. Hone your skills at spotting opportunity and acting on it. Opportunity is fleeting, but it is everywhere.
- Wally Amos didn’t start big and you don’t have to either. In fact, this business was almost accidental. The cookies were a gesture of thanks. People liked them and persuaded Amos into selling the cookies as a full-time business.
“Believe that you can do it, under any circumstances. Because if you believe you can, then you really will. That belief just keeps you searching for the answers, and then pretty soon you get it.”
— Wally Amos
You have an idea or product but don’t know how to turn it into a business. If you have confidence in the idea, you are well on your way. You are getting into this business to solve a problem. When you obsess over solving the problem, the answers will come. The rewards will follow.
“It’s vital to be growing through your life rather than going through your life. The object is not to change other people or situations; it’s to do the inner work they stimulate.”
— Wally Amos
Things you need are hidden within things you don’t like. In business or in life, bad things happen. People create difficult or adversarial situations for you. Regard it as a memo pad, reminding you of something you need to improve.
Maybe you have a great recipe passed down through family that you feel you can turn into a business. Maybe you want an established side hustle, called a “gig”. If that’s what you want, there are plenty of options.
YOUR GAME PLAN
It’s not complicated.
Marketing, because it brings in the customers. Start or continue that plan here.
Operations, because it keeps your customers. Start or continue that plan here.
Finance, because it is the scoreboard. Change the “score” and explore financing here.
By the way, it is harder, but not impossible to get financing in a bad economy because banks become conservative. Be persistent and learn from this small business owner. Also, headaches can certainly result from costs (such as rent) piling up with limited revenue. There are plenty of ways to get or conserve cash during bad times. For more, read here.
Learn from Famous Amos and find your own path from the 9-5 to owning a great business.