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Why Don’t We Consider Labor-Intensive, Blue-Collar Businesses to Be Start-Ups?

Just a brief glance at r/SweatyStartup shows that cleaning pools and delivering firewood can be an entrepreneur’s path to wealth

The term “start-up” elicits images of bean-bag chairs in open-office Silicon Valley workspaces and business plans striving to #hack your brain’s serotonin production and convert it into Bitcoin. 

But why wasn’t your uncle’s mechanic garage considered a start-up when it first opened? Why isn’t the group of three guys you hire to do your landscaping treated with the same entrepreneurial awe? Because although start-up terminology is usually only applied to tech or internet-based companies, for all intents and purposes, any fledgling business is a start-up. We tend to look at blue-collar, labor-intensive jobs through a different lens, but according to the guys on the subreddit r/SweatyStartup, we shouldn’t. 

r/SweatyStartup takes the mentality and vernacular of hustling and entrepreneurship frequently seen with internet-based money-making opportunities, and instead applies it to the manual labor the every-day person outsources. For example, deck staining: On the subreddit, deck staining is discussed as a possible business endeavor one could pursue with little investment costs. They detail how to buy a cheap web domain, set up a simple website on WordPress, establish the business on Google and make connections with fellow local businesses and realtors.

How to start a business with almost no money [staining decks] from sweatystartup

What distinguishes a service like deck staining from other entrepreneurial gigs is that it  has a far smaller learning barrier. Most any able-bodied person could stain their own deck, but the time and energy it requires means most would also rather hire someone else to do it for them. For that reason, r/SweatyStartup lacks the whole “get rich quick” vibe of other entrepreneurial subreddits dedicated to making money in stocks, cryptocurrency or selling wholesale on Amazon

Still, the community encourages each other to read the same self-help books and utilize the same business strategies as other subreddits, like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And like the #HustlePorn influencers on Instagram and YouTube, the “rise n’ grind” mindset is essential. 

Start now. Start small. Start low risk. Just start. from sweatystartup

Some white-collar workers have even turned to the group for advice on how to switch careers. Recently, a marketing consultant in his late 20s posted about how he was looking to quit his desk job. “I’m not sure my main goal in life is to get a cushy middle-manager position in a company I don’t own and stay there until I die,” he wrote. Instead, he wanted to leave the corporate world for carpentry. Another guy working in the IT industry for the last 20 years sought guidance on “using his hands instead of a keyboard” and pursuing vinyl repair on boats full-time. 

For the most part, though, it’s common to see guys in the group who are still in their late teens and early 20s, disillusioned by the career prospects a college education could provide. In fact, the founder of the subreddit, Nick Huber, began his student moving business while still an undergrad at Cornell University

Thinking about selling firewood from sweatystartup

In one of the introductory posts, Huber explains his inspiration for creating the group: “I believe the Shark Tank and TechCrunch culture is ruining the real spirit of low-risk entrepreneurship. In college, I connected with a lot of other entrepreneurs and of the 20 or so people pursuing tech and ‘new idea’ start-ups, not a one succeeded. They all went and got real jobs.”

Of course, the labor-intensive start-ups of the group are “real jobs,” too. They may not have the glitz of start-ups claiming to be the next big thing in retail, or pushing to “disrupt” the gardening industry, but that’s part of what makes them so lucrative: They’re not revolutionizing anything –– they’re just doing the work that already needs to be done.