Joe the Plumber was the main takeaway from last night’s Presidential Debate, and while I don’t get into politics here, I thought maybe it’s time we talk about Joe.
You see Joe Wurzelbacher has been slaving away for years putting in 10-12 hour days to make someone else money. Now he’s about to start his own company. Sound familiar?
Joe’s about to buy the company he’s been working for, because in the bricks/mortar/plumbing world, buying an existing business gets you a customer base, keeps your place in the yellow pages and makes it more likely you’ll succeed. In our online world that seldom happens – startups are just that, and the chances that the employees of say either Microsoft or Google are going to buy out the founders is exactly zero.
But there’s three things you could learn from Joe:

  1. You are – or soon will be – running a business. Be concerned about the stuff that’s happening around you. Things like differential tax rates, health care credits, politics – the unfun, unsexy, unprogramming stuff. It matters. It can make you or break you back to the ranks of cubicle code monkey. So you’d better spend some time on at least getting a basic understanding of how this stuff works – including the politics part of it, because it will make a difference in the success of your business.
  2. Take advantage of opportunities. Joe was playing football with his son in front of his house when Barack Obama showed up; he didn’t let the totally unexpected opportunity go by just because it was unexpected. Joe got in there and asked his question – and you should do the same at conferences, of your elected officials or people running for office, of “important” people. Don’t be intimidated- you can’t afford it. It’s been my experience that “really important people” are more than willing to answer a question or two if asked nicely, be they programming gods, tech legends or politicians.
  3. Have pride in what you are doing. If you listen to the exchange between Joe and Barack, you can hear the pride in Joe’s voice; he’s proud of where he’s gotten and what he’s building. So should you. Starting a business takes guts, and that’s something you should be proud of.


  1. I am a freelance consultant and IMHO there are two more things you can learn:
    1. Think before you buy a company. Set up a business plan. Calculate it. It is absurd to say you can’t afford the price. Any unique product costs what people pay for it; if you think you won’t make it, lower the price you are willing to pay -and stick to it-. The current owner should have been there to complain the value of his business went down (marginally) and no one would have pitied him after extorting poor Joe for all those years 🙂
    2. If you want to run a company with employees, you need to realise the people that work for you are more important than you. If they get a better return on their work, that should also be a part of your equation.
    And I’ll add a third one:
    Don’t believe everything you hear, certainly not when it comes from interested parties (and yes, news channels are interested parties for some reason; if they don’t -want to- ask the right questions, you can bet there is a reason for it..)

  2. Actually, Joe the Plumber could stand to learn these lessons, too. Seems he’s not even licensed yet! He’s a dreamer–and that’s ok, most of us are. But he’s not ready to take over the business yet. He doesn’t even seem to know the difference between gross receipts and net profits. Nor does he understand how taxes work. He’s a poor guide for voters, although he did refrain from endorsing any candidate and did encourage voters to find out for themselves, both very commendable positions for him to take.
    But his views on taxes are based on confusion and paranoia. He seems to think his taxes will go up by a huge amount once his profits reach $250,000 a year, and that’s not necessarily true. He also thinks he will be unfailry punished for making too much money. That’s not exactly true either, he should look at taxes in Great Britain if he thinks this is punishment. Heck, The Beatles moved here so they could keep some of the money they made selling records.
    So, in addition to your three suggestions and Dirk’s three, I have one more: Be careful who you take advise from!

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  4. Well put, Bob. The US is very different to Oz and other places in terms of how elections are run and managed. But there are some things that are consistent. Punter psychology is one of tehm.
    As somebody who’s been “on the campaign trail” as a candidate I found three basic psycholgical types amongst voters predominated. The first, the lesser of the two, were advesarial – attack evybody just to attack – as if it’s a duty. The second and most common were those in awe of anybody running, were scared to ask questions of any depth or relevance out of shyness and some kind of rule they invent for themselves that places politicians into a “special’ celebrity category when all they are at the end of the day are people. The third and least common asked earnest, thoughtful questions with a desire to know.
    Most politicians I’ve met or know personally prefer voter type number three – and types two and one rely entirely on them to ask questions for them.

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