Entrepreneurship Is On The Rise Regardless of Pandemic : NPR

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Coronavirus was responsible for massive business closings, but the numbers show Americans are still starting a business at the fastest pace in more than a decade.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With the economy still suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may not seem like the best time to start a new commercial venture. But the US Census Bureau says Americans are starting startups at the fastest rate in more than a decade. Cardiff Garcia and Brittany Cronin from our PLANET MONEY team tell us the story of twins, a bushel of crabs and a brand new business.

CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: RaeShawn Middleton and LaShone Middleton are trained chefs from Laurel, Md. They are twin sisters. And at the beginning of the pandemic, they both lost their restaurant jobs. And they began to worry as the months went on. What if those jobs never come back?

BRETAGNE CRONIN, BYLINE: And then one day they come up with this idea. They’re hungry and they decide what they really want is steamed crabs. And they don’t want to go out to get the crabs.

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LASHONE MIDDLETON: I was literally lazy and didn’t want to get the crabs and found that no one was delivering steamed blue crabs.

CRONIN: So RaeShawn and LaShone are like, wait a minute. We are trained cooks. We grew up with crabs. Maybe we can just do this ourselves and make some money with it.

GARCIA: With restaurants closed, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start a crab delivery business. They wouldn’t have to pay for a restaurant or commercial kitchen, and they could steam the crabs at home and just make their own delivery. So they set out to start a business.

CRONIN: So your first step was to speak to your crab associations, the people they’d gone to for years to get fresh crabs.

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L MIDDLETON: So we just said, hey, listen up. Are you actually a wholesaler? And do you sell to companies? And they actually said yes, they do.

GARCIA: So you decided to create an Instagram account and put up some flyers in your neighborhood. And when it was time to actually go out and announce their business to the world, LaShone recalls that he felt kind of freaked out.

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L MIDDLETON: I was trembling. I was so nervous because I thought this was ridiculous. How should I – I’m not going to start a business.

CRONIN: So they did. You went out. They put the flyers up and pretty much immediately are faced with what they haven’t done yet.

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L MIDDLETON: The last door was my neighbor. And she said, OK, put me down for a dozen. I thought are you serious? Mind you, we didn’t even have prices.

GARCIA: RaeShawn and LaShone realized they needed to find a price that would allow them to cover their costs while still being competitive. So they did a bit of market research.

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L MIDDLETON: We’d go and see. And I would ask how much do they charge for extra large? And they charge $ 99. So we thought, OK, we …

RAESHAWN MIDDLETON: We’re new.

L MIDDLETON: We’re new. We have to come cheap. So we sell them for $ 75. And on top of that we deliver. People are just like that, oh it’s a bargain.

CRONIN: RaeShawn and LaShone have found a steady rhythm. They deliver Thursday through Sunday and receive around 10 orders a week. But these are big jobs. People will ask for a whole bushel of crabs, that’s roughly 60 extra-large crabs – 60 crabs in one order.

GARCIA: RaeShawn and LaShone are saving on the purchase of a food truck and want to expand their delivery service with apps like DoorDash or Postmates, especially at the beginning of the crab season in March.

CRONIN: When looking back on the past year, RaeShawn and LaShone say that losing their jobs was really hard and they felt expendable. In a way, losing your job became an opportunity to stop working for other people and be your own boss. And they are really proud of that.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia.

CRONIN: Brittany Cronin, NPR News.

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