Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
A massive bag of dicks
It brought me zero pleasure to see my June 2022 prediction on last-minute grocery delivery services (Last minute grocery businesses are a massive bag of dicks) reach its inevitable end. The last one standing, Milkrun, closed its doors in April.
They faced a lethal cocktail of delivery expenses, skyrocketing warehouse rents and customers that self-select for impatience and lordly entitlement.
As I wrote at the time, I really hoped they’d make it against the odds. They did not.
But amid all the bad news, let’s look at why I really admire Milkrun founder Dany Milham and his behaviour through what must have been a horrendous time. There are lessons here for all of us.
(I have no insider knowledge here, I’m just going on what’s appeared in the media.)
From the start, Milkrun drew an honourable line in the sand by paying their staff properly and legally. While the rest of the home-delivery sector pays below minimum wage piece-work rates. To staff who literally risk their lives every night to cycle stuff to the homes of the more privileged.
Respect to Milkrun for that. But then things started to get sticky. There would have been a point where they realised they weren’t going to make it.
Doing the right thing in a super-stressful situation
Coming as they must after endless long days of soul-killing conversations, the decisions at that point are a window into the morals of those involved.
A popular founder approach in that situation is to take what they can for themselves, and leave staff and creditors with a swag of unpaid obligations and entitlements.
Milkrun did not do that. They ceased trading, but left enough money in the tank for an orderly shutdown. Its 400 staff got severance pay and creditors were paid what was owed.
A month later the brand has been bought by Woolworths. Word on the street is they paid $10M. A modest fraction of the $75M investors put in, but a good result under the circumstances.
They did the right thing in a super-stressful situation.
An elite group of trustworthy, honourable human beings
I’ve seen this sort of thing before.
When I was a junior AV technician, the business I worked for would rent gear to a company that built sets for events and trade shows. It was owned by two partners. One of them was an ex-roadie for big Australian bands, a hard man who spent his formative years dealing with daily pain and treachery from some of the country’s worst evil bastards.
Events were in a boom period, they were real pros, and their company grew to massive size. Huge facilities, lots of staff, a shining success story. Then they went under. Owing us money.
This happens sometimes in our industry. Life goes on.
The dust settled and all the post-mortem admin was finalised.
A year or so later, the ex-roadie turned up to talk about a project for his new company that he’d just set up. He told us he would personally pay us back the money from the old company that went under. Which he did.
He didn’t have to do that. We’d written off the debt, he had no obligation to pay us, and we would have done business with him anyway because it was in our commercial interest. I was just an employee at that place, but it really struck a chord with me.
To this day, I would happily give him the access codes to my bank accounts because I know he is in an elite group of trustworthy, honourable human beings. His new business went on to be a major, enduring success and he’s a revered industry icon.
The most genuine way to build a personal brand
Doing the right thing will cost you now, but it’s like saving into a bank account that will pay off many times over years down the track.
I’m confident that Dany Milham and whoever else was steering the ship will do fine in the long run. Yes, they did evaporate lots of investor cash, but let’s have no tears for the investors. You shouldn’t invest in any business run by someone else if you can’t afford to lose the lot.
You see a ton of advice on building your “personal brand”. Most people take that to mean: put out shitloads of self-focused, quantity-over-quality stuff on your socials.
Here’s the most effective thing you can do to build a genuine personal brand.
Do the right thing, when you didn’t have to.
You don’t have to tell people about it. Quite the reverse. I see businesses that do some good things, but then they post the shit out of it, and the air of self-congratulation is nauseating. If you and your actions are worthy, others will spread the word.
People speaking highly of you when you’re not there is a much stronger sell than you telling everyone how wonderful you are.
When we’re investing in side-projects, we’re not really making that call on the business idea. Most of them look plausible in PowerPoint form, and who the hell really knows what’s going to work? For us, 90% of the decision is backing the founder because of their track record and because we know we can trust them to do the right thing. By us and others.
And the biggest test of doing the right thing is when everything’s on fire and your whole livelihood is at stake.
Good on you, Milkrun team. Hope you’re doing as OK as is possible right now.
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