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What a summer job taught me about business and culture

in Founder's Blog. Last Updated on September 28th, 2020

When I was 20 years old, I decided to work a summer job in New Jersey, USA. I was looking to improve my English, and have some fun. I planned the trip and had the luck to share it with one of my best friends. It ended up being a key life experience that shaped the way I run my businesses today.

I found a job at a restaurant called Jake O’Shaughnessy’s.

A sunny summer working by the beach

I am not that old 😀 but this was before the Internet was mainstream. So there were no Google or Yelp reviews, nor any other practices that are common today. It was pure brick and mortar.

Seaside Heights in NJ is a small vacation coastal town. The restaurant was big enough to have a saloon, a decked terrace, and another drinking area with different bars and even space to place a stand where some entertainment happened all week.

I got the job with a temporary summer visa and the job was as a busboy. A busboy is not a waiter, but the guy that helps other waiters cleaning tables, bringing food, etc.

There were around 15 or more waiters, several bartenders, chefs, cleaning staff, etc. Two managers were in charge. It is hard to remember their names, he was in charge of finance and marketing, she was in charge of operations.

It was busy. I was working around 60 hours a week. But it was fun and thrilling.

guess who! (Moncho and me)

Learnings that I took from my summer job

About Culture
At the end of the everyday job, we had a meeting with the manager. She was always smiling and calm despite the stress of the business. I was paid an hourly rate but also took a percentage of every tip collected by the waiters I helped. She did the accounts and gave me the cash.

She took those minutes to help me improve at my job or to ask me for feedback. There was a picture in her office: “The Hug Machine”. That was her most characteristic gesture. Every day she gave all members a hug!! Motivation and alignment were key.

At the end of the first week, I got my pay in an envelope. I went home and checked the money. To my surprise and without previous notice, there was exactly the double amount of money that I was expecting to earn. I went back to the office and told her about it. With a charming smile, she told me that it was the normal procedure to help employees during their first week.

That was more than a gesture to me. It was a trust test. It was at the same time a motivation tool and a trust evaluation. From that moment, both of us knew our commitment to the goal.

About Systems
The restaurant had lots of POS systems around. Every waiter had to log in. I know this is normal today, but they were ahead of the curve at the time. Every Saturday we held a group meeting to check our metrics, and give and receive feedback. The report showed the gaps in sales but they also controlled a lot of costs and quality.

Having clear metrics, you can keep the focus and adjust direction.

About Marketing
Incentives were a fun game. I remember a guy called Steve that achieved the best results. He was an overachiever, very emphatic guy. He was the king of selling desserts, a margin generation machine.

There was a clear scoreboard and winners could earn trips to Miami, extra free days, and other goodies.

As soon as I saw that scoreboard, I learned I had to focus on Steve. Helping Steve to be more successful, meant more shared tips for me. Both of us were happy with that deal.

Understanding the metrics of the business, I knew table turnover was key, so I decided to clean up tables really quickly as a priority.

About the Model
The USP of the restaurant was clear. It was a nice experience to have. They understood they had to increase their customers’ spend while maintaining a high turnover. So they provided customers with food but moved them to the terrace as soon as the food was over for the long drink.

Brunch on weekends was a way to expand the business. Other ideas flowed every week – a culture of experimentation! They created a brand that was tied to quality and having fun.

About having Fun
It was a fun place to work despite it being intense. We had our free beers and wild employee parties. Fun was encouraged at the same place. We were also customers, and we felt our participation was key. I felt that being a young Spaniard student on a summer vacation. Culture was important and could be felt in the details.

As a result, it was a successful restaurant that I remember. I remember a record-breaking revenue of $16.000 one day.

You can be inspired everywhere. But I never quite understood how Americans can eat lobster with fries and coke 😀

PS: I visited the place back on a trip with my wife years later. The restaurant was closed at the time.

My summer learnings have informed our Culture at marketgoo, and you can see much of what I mentioned here demonstrated in our Values and Guiding Principles, and in our own operating system (mOS). To see how it all comes together, check out our Culture Handbook.

at jake o'shaughnessy's new jersey

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Founder, CEO and Head of Culture at marketgoo. From time to time I like to write about our startup life, culture and the SaaS and SEO ecosystem.