Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Being an Entrepreneur

This morning, I received an email from SOHOBLOG, where I am subscribed to a newsletter. It is a blog about entrepreneurship, a tool helping people to successfully run a business. And today’s email contained this story, which I decided to share with you.

Personally I grew up in a family where entrepreneurship was the backbone of the family economy. And it has been like that since around 1892 when my G.Grandfather started a little business making horse saddles and reins. I must admit that the bug of being my own employer did not grip me before later in life, but it sure has stayed with me ever since. And it has always been about small business, which I consider to be the most important ingredient to society.

Now here is the story:

Last weekend I was sitting with my wife at one of those strange coffeehouse chains. We didn’t like the coffee, the service, or the atmosphere in general. My wife and I started talking about the magic of small coffee shops; and how—in these harsh economic times—starting a coffee shop business is a real challenge. It was then that I thought I should tell the readers of this blog my own family’s story of small business and entrepreneurship.

During the Second World War, my grandfather fled the German-occupied area of Poland and crossed into what was then the Soviet Union. After the war had ended, he arrived in Tel Aviv. With all his family lost and with not even one penny in his pocket, he started washing dishes and cleaning floors at a well-known but rather small coffee shop in the center of the city. A few years went by. He managed to save some money, and when the coffee shop’s owner wanted to sell his business, my grandfather offered a bid. He had to take out a loan and find a partner, but eventually he managed to purchase the coffee shop.

At this time he was newly married to my grandmother, who also came to Israel from Poland. Boy—did she know how to cook! Both of them decided to expand the coffee shop’s menu, and they started serving home-cooked meals that were quickly known all over the city. Another few years went by. Again my grandfather (and my grandmother) managed to save some money. This time he suggested to his partner (who wasn’t really fit for the coffee-shop business…), that he buy his share. Again he had to take out a loan, but this time his life dream was fully completed. He owned a coffee shop! Not bad for a refugee who only a decade before had lost all he had.

With two little kids (that is, my mother and my uncle), my grandparents expanded their now coffee shop / restaurant business. Now it was a very famous venue in Tel Aviv; during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s it was a home for the local bohemia: actors, singers, painters, journalists, and even politicians found a cozy and familiar place that was practically their office, living room, and kitchen. With my grandfather hosting, my grandmother cooking, and my mother and uncle orchestrating the business while serving coffee, it was a flourishing family business.

Years went by and I was born. As a young boy I enjoyed coming to the coffee shop and helping my family, especially my grandfather. I also liked sitting in the kitchen and watching my grandmother cooking her magical food. My family taught me the virtue of hard work: for every penny I earned for small chores I was given two more—this was the family’s motto: one must learn to earn his money. And more importantly: pursuing your dream requires hard work.

When I was a freshman in college, my grandfather passed away. He was working until his last days. A few years after, my grandmother also passed away. It was than when my mother and uncle decided to retire. Understanding the hard work that owning a business of your own requires, I decided that after graduation I want to be a salaried employee, and so I started working at a large firm. The coffee shop was therefore sold to a group of young investors who opened a fashionable though soulless bar.

After few years in that large firm, I started feeling unease, but couldn’t really tell why. It took me some time but eventually it hit me: just like my grandparents, I too have the soul of an entrepreneur. I decided to quit my comfortable job, completed a PhD degree, and established my own research firm. Today I am working harder than ever, but I am as happy and fulfilled as I have never been. And looking at my two small children I sometimes wonder: which one of them, if any, will catch the entrepreneurship bug?


  1. Very interesting. I did not know you were from Israel. I knew you lived in Norway but thought you had transplanted from Germany. I enjoyed reading the story. Now I'm thinking you might be thinking of owning a coffeeshop. There seems to be one of those on every street corner in this area. When we lived in Texas, there were snow cone and cool beverage houses on each corner.

    1. Well, you got that wrong. It is the writer of the story which is from Israel, not me. The story was in the newsletter from SOHOBLOG.

  2. Excellent story and so true about life.
    For years I had always loved to cook and wanted my own restaurant. Eventually a small restaurant became available on our village. So without a second thought, purchased this ongoing business and quit my job. Expanding the menu and hours set out on a ten year adventure of long hours and satisfying hard work. But alas it was time to pack it in, slow down a bit. So the next 6 years of relaxing factory work did the trick until the call of the open road hit us both. So lets just sell it all, purchase an Rv and away we go. That was 2006 and we are still living our dream.

  3. That is one bug I never caught. I never wanted to own my own business. I was always very happy being the best employee I could be. Thank goodness there are both kinds of folks. Great story and nice to know he found what it was that made him happy.


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