September 30, 2014

Successful Small Business Owners are Like Roombas

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My friend and colleague, Ivana Taylor, asked me a question today: “what one habit do all successful small business owners share in common?”

As I thought about it, I realized that success comes from not just one habit. Most successful small business owners that I’ve observed cultivate multiple “success habits”. Together, the whole package is what makes them successful.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that successful small business owners are like Roombas, those ingenious little self-propelled vacuum cleaners. “What????” you say! “Like vacuum cleaners????” Bear with me as I explain.

First, watch this 3-minute video of a Roomba — then the rest of this article will make sense.

Let me explain the success traits that small business owners have in common with those quirky little Roombas:

    • Quiet persistence — Small business owners keep a low profile and go about their business with quiet dedication . They do it every day, no matter how boring their work may seem to outsiders. Likewise, Roombas go about their business quietly and without fanfare — just getting the job done.
    • Resiliency — If we encounter an obstacle, successful business owners bounce back and figure a way around it. The same happens with Roombas. Roombas bump into walls and furniture, and just back up. Or they go around. They’re designed to figure out how to circumvent obstacles, not quit as soon as they bump into something.
    • No whining — Successful business owners don’t whine or act like victims when something challenging crosses their path. Roombas are the same way. Coins and chunky objects that might clog up a bigger vacuum or cause it to whine loudly are handled with ease. Roombas “suck it up” without complaint.
    • Picking up new ideas — The most successful business owners are constantly observing and learning from their surroundings and picking up new ideas. We keep our ears to the ground for faint signals and small marketplace changes. After picking up faint signals we internalize them and make adjustments that lead to competitive advantage. While Roombas don’t pick up new ideas, they do go around picking up stuff. It’s amazing how much they pick up, even when the floor doesn’t look obviously dirty. They manage to find the smallest stuff and take it in.
    • Fearlessness – Successful small business owners give the appearance of being fearless. Maybe we feel fear, but we manage to overcome it and go places we’ve never been before. We do it all the time, because life throws new situations, issues and problems at us daily. Roombas are the same way. They are not afraid of the dark. They gamely go into nooks and crannies, regardless of what may be lurking under that sofa or behind that door or in that closet.
    • Self-starters — Successful business owners have a sense of internal self-motivation. Small business owners are the ultimate self-starters. We “drive” ourselves. Likewise, Roombas are self-propelled. They don’t need someone to tell them what to do next or when to do it. As soon as they wake up, they go off on their way, every day.
    • Appreciation for others – Yet, no matter how much we are self-starters and may operate independently, we know that no business is an island. We still need others — be it employees or service providers or partners … and most of all, customers. Roombas may be self-propelled and make their rounds independently, but they still depend on someone to turn them on, empty them, and recharge them.
    • David vs. Goliath sense — We do battle with the entire world, every day. Even if we don’t consciously think of ourselves or our businesses as battling larger Goliaths, in essence we do that without shrinking. That’s because our businesses tend to be smaller than our competitors; smaller than market forces; and much smaller than government agencies around us. Like Roombas, we don’t quit or give up just because we run into something bigger than us. Roombas are not intimidated by their own small size.
    • Reliance on technology — The most successful business owners know it’s better to work smarter, not harder. We take advantage of technology for efficiency, ultimate productivity and to avoid unnecessary manual labor. Guess what? Roombas also rely on technology under the hood for their efficient operation and productivity. Through technology they avoid inefficient human intervention as much as possible.

Yes, we can learn the habits of success from those crazy little Roombas.

20 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

20 Reactions

  1. Haha, what an odd comparison….and yet somehow you made it make perfect sense!

  2. We small business owners know exactly what it will take us to build a brand, raise awareness, challenge conventions, et cetera.
    It’s nice to know that the seemingly menial tasks we all trod through every day come together in the end to promote our products, exactly as we want them to be promoted, to whom, where and why.
    Sadly, like the Roomba, small business owners often get taken for granted, or are only pulled out when you need to –pardon the pun– “clean house.” But the reality is, we small business owners aren’t just lying in wait. Unlike the Roomba, we can’t be turned off and stowed in a closet. We’re always thinking, always writing, always promoting — consciously or not. And analogies like this Roomba post will hopefully shed some light on what we’re doing… ALL THE TIME!
    Excellent topic.

  3. Not only do I like being compared to a Roomba (love the name), but I also like the success traits that we small business owners share with Roombas! I also agree that not one success trait is particularly common amongst all owners (other than perhaps a strong desire for success)! Thanks Anita, for an entertaining and relevant analogy.

  4. Great analogy Anita. Perhaps one more is that the Roomba does not wait around after finishing the job expecting to be thanked. I think a lot of small business owners who are successful have humility.

  5. Excellent! I’m impressed with Roomba but more importantly- the small business owners imagery presented in this article.

  6. What a great analogy. I myself have a Roomba but I never considered how they could relate to small business owners. How funny. You’re right that like business owners, the Roomba may get stuck in a corner but it works and works itself til it gets righted and gets on it’s correct path.

  7. What a cute story and a great analogy. You’ve pieced it altogether so neatly. Did you just buy a Roomba? :-)

  8. Nice! Very interesting metaphor.

  9. Does the Roomba kick out cash like an ATM? That seems to be the one thing all of us running SMBs could use a little extra of. Then I could lay in bed at night and think of the hundreds of places to use the cash … like more marketing, hiring more good people, automating a few processes. I’d like the Roomba model that spits out C-notes whenever it bumps into an obstacle.

  10. How does the Roomba get the dust in the corners? It looks like a fun gadget.

  11. What a fun article!

    Hey Dale – It doesn’t kick out cash — but it can suck up the cash :) Sorry, couldn’tresist. Maybe I can reverse that and say that a Roomba can pick up cash in hard to reach places.

  12. bwaaahaaaahaaaa!

    I want me a Roomba!

    Oh, I forgot. As a smallbiz operator I AM a Roomba.

  13. @ Friendly Computer Guy — yep, odd comparison but somehow it just seemed so apt! Glad it made you laugh. Thats what I intended.

    @ Jackie — true the comparison only goes so far. I loved the imagery of the little dedicated thing that just keeps going. That’s what I say to aspiring entrepreneurs or other business owners who may be feeling discouraged: keep going. Half of success in life is showing up, and the other half is not quitting too soon.

    — Anita

  14. @ Kris, yes I too thought it was relevant. And heck — is there any reason we can’t have fun thinking about what we need to do to be successful? Business is serious, but let’s not take ourselves too seriously, right? I love a good laugh!

    @ Susan, so true about not waiting around to be thanked. Gee, I’d still be waiting years later! :)

    — Anita

  15. Hmm, sounds familiar to my recent blog post:

    Why Web Entrepreneurs Are Like Robot Vacuum Cleaners
    http://mikal.org/conclusions/

  16. Hi Philip,

    I like your point too, about making a choice between driving yourself to the wall during product development, or adjusting based on metrics and getting back to home base.

    Too bad I did not know about your post or I would have included a nod to you. If you had used the word “Roomba” and the phrase “small business” I probably would have seen it, as I now try to remember to do Google searches for my blog post titles before I publish them.

    Thanks for sharing it!

    — Anita

  17. This is a great analogy! And now I want a roomba! Thank you so much for your insight and compliments towards the small business owner. I feel very motivated to go about my day with the persistence of that little roomba. Thanks!

    Elizabeth Naylor
    http://www.dwellgo.com

  18. Anita,
    I love your list!
    I know what I need to work on.
    Thanx for the reminder…
    The Franchise King

  19. Roombas are a great example that every great entrepreneur should practice to grow they’re Small Business into a giant.
    Visit http://www.redhotfranchises.com to see many opportunities available from nearly every industry then hire a Roomba to take care of it all!

  20. No whining – I like this one. Ask me what is the best way to success I will say: stop whining. Don’t give up on first misfortune.

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