Death of the Bootstrap Entrepreneur

Across the span of more than three decades, I have had the pleasure and the honour of interviewing countless demolition company founders.

Whether they came directly to demolition or jumped across from an allied business, all those founders have shared a common theme. Each of them started with precious little in the way of money and experience but, through a mix of grit, determination, sheer bloody-mindedness and a liberal sprinkling of luck, they each hauled themselves up by their bootstraps and went on to create a successful career and business.

In the modern age, however, grit, determination and bloody-mindedness is no longer enough. And any luck that is available tends to be of the bad variety.

By accident or by design, we have engineered a business structure that has made entrepreneurship so tough and so complex that the age of the bootstrap founder has been forced to the very brink of extinction.

There was a time that a wanna-be demolition man (or woman) could pick up a used excavator with which to start their business. It might have been noisy and smelly; it might have belched black smoke into the atmosphere; and it might have required a set of spanners to be on constant standby. But that old machine would allow a person to learn the ropes; to establish a network of customers; and to earn enough money to eventually fund a new machine that was a little less smelly.

Not any more. Such machines have been effectively outlawed in the name of emissions control. And while I certainly have no desire to inhale black smoke, that shift has erected a barrier to entry to the industry.

It doesn’t end there. Back in the day, that bootstrap entrepreneur might have called upon friends and contacts to help carry some of the workload as the business grew. Like the founder themselves, those friends and contacts often came with little or no experience. Also like the founder, they learned on the job.

Learning on the job has also gone the way of the dodo. Those friends and contacts would now require a competence card or two before they would be allowed anywhere near a working demolition site. They would require another if they wanted to operate a machine; and another if they wanted to operate a bigger machine.

Rather than creating a system whereby a willing young (or not so young) worker can make their way in the field of demolition, we have created a system that is front-loaded with costs and obstacles in which workers (or their employers) must pay before they are allowed to earn.

And then there is perhaps the greatest obstacle of all: accreditation and regulation: The regulation, legislation and accreditation that has been heaped upon the shoulders of the sector. Before a fledgling demolition business can even think about walking, it is laden down with costly bureaucracy that benefits no-one but the bodies that leech upon the industry.

In the days of yore, a founder might drive a digger during working hours and then deal with paperwork and admin during the evening or at the weekend. Expansion would mean the addition of another digger driver, then another and then another. Today, bureaucracy is so endemic that any additional equipment operators would have to wait until after the hiring of a compliance specialist.

All of this has been allowed to happen while the demolition sector has stood idly by. The cynic in me wonders if this was deliberate; if those that are now successful have effectively pulled up the drawbridge behind them, making it nigh on impossible for others to start a demolition business from scratch.

Whatever the cause, I fear that the days of the new demolition entrepreneur may have gone the way of the Drott, the wrecking ball and the RB crane. I fear we shall not see their like again.