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Ed Flaherty: Rapid Oil Change

At the age of 11, Ed Flaherty started mowing lawns. His dad saw that Flaherty was starting to make money and told him, “Congratulations, you are now grown up and can buy your own clothes.” He was only half-joking.

Flaherty continued to work at his dad’s auto body shop and his dad’s friend’s auto junk yard, learning more and more about cars. When he finished high school and college, he set out to be a school teacher.

But before that came the Army. Flaherty worked at the Pentagon and got an MBA in the evening. Then he joined a consulting firm that worked with the Pentagon, where he drummed up so much business that he was offered a partnership.

But he did not want to stay in the East Coast, and went back to his native Montana to teach. After a year of teaching, the entrepreneurial bug bit him and he started a company that sold software to high school coaches. The software helped coaches to analyze team tendencies.

To expand and get more resources, he moved the company to Minneapolis from Montana. As he was selling his software and franchises around the country, he was introduced to a computer service bureau that was unloading its assets. He bought the assets for $1 plus assumed $15,000 of debt, and grew the company from $0 in sales to $1.25 million.

In the meantime, he found that service stations expected him to leave his car there all day to get his oil changed, and he had seen a different model where they did it faster and more conveniently. So he leased a gas station close to his house and started his first Rapid Oil Change. While the name said Rapid, Flaherty knew that he was not that fast.

One day, the chief mechanic of an Indy-car racing team (whose name Flaherty never found) came to his store and gave him detailed suggestions to become faster at oil changes. This is when Rapid truly became rapid. The chain grew and Flaherty soon found himself courted by the major oil companies.

He sold to one of them, took the proceeds and bought the rights to grow Applebee’s restaurants and developed a chain with sales in the hundreds of millions. It helps to be at the right place at the right time with the right smarts.

This is how he did it.

This introduction is excerpted from Bootstrap to Billions: Proven Rules from Entrepreneurs who Built Great Companies from Scratch by Dr. Dileep Rao. Copying or reproduction in any format or medium without the prior express, written consent of the author is strictly prohibited.

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