Step into silence
David was standing in a short corridor in the City Office. He could still change his mind about everything. He’s not alone in the field, playing just for himself. Alice was supportive, but not thrilled about it. If the professor hadn’t called that night, he wouldn’t be doing such a thing. Or, in the least he would be hesitating. He has no money and every new business requires initial investment. But he’d sounded convincing.
“…large companies charge high prices for their service, because they are pulling behind them a number of well paid people….”
This may be true, but such businesses also have resources and the opportunity to invest in promotion, to train experts, and offer cutting-edge technology. Will anyone even believe him? In his head David was replaying words that surely had been rooted in expertise and were meant honestly. But the decision and the responsibility ultimately would lie with him. With a form in his hand, David was now standing alone in front of the wicket, two other people ahead of him.
“…your knowledge of the field is on your side. You’re saying you also received a license as an electrocardiological technician. That’s not negligible, and it strengthens your position in the market. You know the choice is yours. Now you’re working at a warehouse. You would return back to your discipline. You would be what you are….”
Now only one person was ahead of David. He’s right, that professor, yes, but only in the scenario where business goes well. If he withstands competition. A lone swimmer in a stormy sea full of seasoned sailors, well equipped, prepared. But if he doesn’t try it, he’ll regret it forever.
It was David’s turn. He can still leave. But that wouldn’t be…
“Good afternoon. How are you doing today?”
“Well, thank you, very well,” answered David casually.
“What can I do for you?”
“I would like to…, I would like to start a small business. A small private business.”
“You will need to pay a fee, obtain approval for the property where you intend to run your business; it’s required to undergo fire and hygienic inspections and to give your business plan to the bank, in order to be considered for a potential loan.” The representative was formal and to-the-point, without a smile, a greased robot. Maybe it’s supposed to be that way, who knows.
“I know, I have arranged for access to a computer and will prepare a business plan for the bank.”
“You don’t own a computer?”
“No, I don’t at the moment, but it’s not a problem, I assume a bank loan would help here.”
“Do you have, Mr...., Mr….”
“Říha. David Říha.”
“Is that your last name? Rajha?”
“So it’s your first name? Rajha?”
“Do you think I can obtain a small business permit?”
“So it’s Rajha. Can I call you Ray?”
“Whatever. I’m interested in entrepreneurship in the field of distribution of cardiological and cardio-surgical supplies, consultation, education….”
“But, Ray, you’ll have to prove some expertise. Do you understand this field?”
“I think that I do. I’m a cardiac surgeon, medical doctor and additionally I hold a license as electrocardiological technician.” The woman behind the counter warily looked over the tired and worn-down applicant.
“From our point of view there are no objections, and if you can supply a police check, you can obtain a business license right away.”
“Alright then, I’ll supply it.” Now he said it with confidence. Again he heard condescension in her tone. He didn’t mind physical labor in the warehouse, or hiding his suitcase while on a quest for warmth on a cold night spent in an ambulance wreck. He hated the self-satisfied tone borne out of haughtiness and arrogance. So many times he’d read that unspoken judgment – ‘you’re different, therefore worse than me’.
“So after you get all the paperwork, then come back, Ray.”
“I will.” He left the office feeling healthily fired up. He didn’t like the name ‘Ray’ very much, but he’d keep it. It will always remind him that he’s surrounded by people who perhaps don’t want to understand him. And that’s good to know; it’s stimulating. How can someone turn ‘Říha’ into ‘Ray’? They can. Yes, they can.
The more documents and permits David amassed and the longer line-ups he withstood, the more resolved he was. David marched from office to office, limping on his never-healed leg, continuing like a hound following a scent; nobody could stop him. He would sell cardiostimulators to hospitals and medical offices. He would start with that. He can do that alone but will need a computer.
Doctor Říha knew how to create accounting charts, divide up groups and categories and with a degree of surprise he discovered that there was no difference between write-offs and depreciation. He also understood also the principles of double-entry bookkeeping. But he needed a computer. That would be the first investment.
Doctor Říha was starting up like a heavy steamer. Slowly, with immeasurable and unstoppable strength. In the hallways echoed his irregular step and in his briefcase were accumulating permits.
He’d found an office space – two adjoining rooms – in a strip-mall not far from the downtown. One small work-place but he was able to put up a small sign: ‘Ray D. Říha’ and information about his new business. Alice encouraged him; she could see David’s blood was returning into his veins. At the same time, she noticed that his newborn business activities were taking up the remaining hours when he wasn’t working at the warehouse. So far, no result.
“How is it going, David? Do you have someone yet?” The company had been in existence for a whole month and nobody expressed interest in cardiostimulators offered by Ray d. Říha. He had to purchase a few on his own, because he was convinced that delivery should immediately follow a request. But he was not entirely correct.
“Those are initial steps. I don’t know anybody. But it’s only a matter of sticking to it and finding the right way to the customer.” Alice wasn’t convinced that David had chosen the right direction. Gradually they were accumulating debts and their income from the warehouse and the nursing home were not sufficient for the new project. Even the rent for his office had become a problem.
But there was no going back now.
“Alice, I’d like to ask a little more patience still.” It was evening, Alice quietly prepared her ironing board, but this time she wasn’t sure whether she should continue on the side of his business idea.
“David, how do you know you’ll be successful?”
“Because, because…, because I have no other option, Alice. That’s why. For you. For the three of us. I have to be successful. There’s no other way.”
“But right now we’re losing. Is that right?”
“I have a proposal. Only if you agree, of course.” Alice set down her iron and listened. David continued, “we could offer Rosita a sublet. She would pay fifty dollars less than she does at Mrs. James and we could provide the whole basement. Temporarily. We know her, she’s polite. Only temporarily, until business picks up.”
“David, I don’t want to be constantly letting go of things. We had enough compromised sleeps. Now we finally have a house. Our own house. And even that’s not fully furnished because we can’t afford it. And now we’ll let part of it go? Our only stability and value?”
“It would help.”
“It would help your business. But not us.” David didn’t want Alice to break; he knew he’d been walking on thin ice. He didn’t have the right to pose new obstacles in front of her.
“You’re right. Forget it. Maybe we could go see a movie and not think about it. It was just an idea. I thought it might even be convenient if she could watch Katka from time to time. Or help with something. You two get along well. That’s why I suggested it. I work long hours now. I have to be there long. So you wouldn’t be alone here. That’s all. And it would bring a bit of income.” Alice picked up the iron again and quietly ironed David’s shirt. It was that yellow checkered one, in which she saw him arrive at the bank that time. He was limping, marching towards her and kept his word. That’s probably what decided it.
“Alright. She can be here. We’ll see how it goes. It’s true people help each other this way.”
“And you won’t mind?”
“I would mind more if I was indirectly responsible for making your situation more difficult.”
“Alright then, and I’ll take one more step that will push us forward towards stability. I’ll hire someone. As soon as I sell to at least five clients and sign them on for ongoing service, I will have enough resources to hire one staff. That way I’ll be able to be with you more. That’s the way.” Alice quietly nodded. For him it meant a challenge that he couldn’t fail.
David worked on promotion, informed individual hospitals, physicians, offered immediate delivery, personally travelled from one place to the next, distributed printed materials that he himself had made and pictures he’d taken. He searched for information about conferences, trends and lectures.
His first client was Professor Habbel. He became his customer mostly because of their connection and his desire to help David; he didn’t need to order supplies from him specifically. But that move meant the first return of invested finances, even if only a fraction for now.
March brought a change and David was able to note in his database a total of five clients. Now he will expand. The ad read like this:
“Start-up business in the field of specialized medical technology is seeking reliable administrative support.”
Only one person applied. Jenny Cleveland, nobody else. She came to the first interview, during which David clearly saw that she more than hesitated. In her mind she was ready to leave and decline the opportunity.
But before she could turn around and walk out, David hurried with his decision. He knew he probably wouldn’t find anyone else. After a few questions, David was glad to announce:
“You’re hired, Jenny. If you want, you can start right away.”