Blog: Chris Ramos & Jennifer Harlan

Chris Ramos decided to buy a bus. He wanted to get people from the suburbs into Detroit. Then he got the idea to run the bus on biodiesel; might as well help save the planet, right? So he quit his job, hired Jennifer Harlan and started The Night Move. It wasn't as simple as it sounds. Chris and Jennifer will be blogging about starting a business in a recession, the obstacles they face and what they've learned so far.

Chris Ramos Post 1: Do something about it

I started talking about this a year ago. For a while it was mostly that -- talk. I called about some buses, and even drove to look at a few. I called the cities I wanted to target to see what kinds of permits were required. And I talked to people I knew and people I met, to look for responses and to see what kind of support I could gather. I worked for an event company, helping other companies and groups plan events, and renting décor to them. I met a lot of people through that, and attended their events. I gathered a lot of feedback and made some useful contacts.

Maybe I should back up.

Here's the gist: We're starting a shuttle service, The Night Move, moving passengers from Royal Oak to Ferndale to Detroit on weekend nights, to start. We plan to add more routes and more days as soon as we have the demand. We're running on
biodiesel, which we're getting from Clean Emission Fluids, another local company that operates out of NextEnergy in Detroit. The service launches October 10, so we're now in the final stages leading up to the inaugural weekend.

Nothing really got rolling until I quit my full-time job two months ago. Within a week I owned a bus and hired Jen as my marketing director. We started building the website and establishing our presence on social networking sites. We made initial plans for the launch party. I talked to my friend in New York about getting us a logo.

I think the biggest push in starting a business is going from talking to doing. The idea is important, of course, but for us the idea was easy. The service we're offering is one we needed ourselves. That being said, lots of people have ideas. And people love to talk. We had a whole discussion with a group of people the other day about putting together a music festival, and Jen and I walked away saying we're actually going to do it. After The Night Move takes off, of course.

That's the other thing: I think you really have to focus on one thing at a time. I couldn't have put the time and energy into this that I have if I were working another full-time job. Jen's doing both right now, and I swear she drinks enough Redbull to kill a small animal. It's ridiculous.

Moving on: people have asked about the impact of the economy on starting a business. On one hand, the recession could be causing people to stay in more often and not have as much need for a service like ours. But we're playing the marketing angle of saving our customers gas and parking money, so we hope that message comes through.

In terms of the company, rather than just the service, the recession has actually helped. Eric Ryan, one of the founders of Method household products, told Inc. magazine in May 2008 issue, "Starting a business in a recession is like vacationing in the off-season," says Ryan. "It's a little less crowded, and everything starts going on sale." It's true. The bus I bought is in great condition, with few miles on it. I'm sure if we were operating in a different economy, it would have cost way more than I paid for it. And if the cost of gas holds, it will drive (excuse the pun) people toward public transportation -- though let's hope it doesn't hold.

We're going to use these next blog entries to wax a bit more about public transportation, "going green" and why it's a great time to get involved in metro Detroit.