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Last Update: Tuesday July 27, 2021

Key Idea: Prepare for Unknown Unknowns

Joan says they budget for the "unknown unknowns."

Key Question:


Think ahead.

Q: Is this just another way to say, prepare for the worst case scenario?

Yes, but it sounds much more positive and therefore has positive impact on the mind. If you assume things are going to go wrong, they will. Preparing for situations you can't predict means that you should expect surprises. It doesn't mean you expect the worst. Most successful small business owners are conservative and save for rainy days. Plus, they are always thinking ahead.

Think about it

What is your rainy day plan? What would happen if you lost your biggest customer or most valued employee?

Clip from: Le Travel Store in the Gaslamp Quarter

San Diego:  Joan and Bill Keller, founders of Le Travel Store,  have traveled so much,  you ask, "Where haven't you been?"  One answer was "The Antarctica." But, they got close -- Ushuaia, capital of Tierra del Fuego - Patagonia down on the tip of Argentina, the most southern city on earth and on a clear day ... of course, Joan and Bill Keller have the Antarctica on their list, but compared to most people, their list is rather short.

Become an independent traveler, but do it with panache. Take some of your customers, your investors, CPA and banker, and of course, your family with you. Source the world. 

Also, this team is well-grounded in their community. They lead the "return to authenticity" movement that champions Main Street. The National Trust for Historic Preservation led us to them and this historic Gaslamp Quarter!

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Le Travel Store (BK)

Bill Keller, Founder

745 Fourth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Visit our web site:

Office: 6195440005

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1975

Prepare for Unknown Unknowns

HATTIE: (Voiceover) When it comes to obstacles, Joan says there are two.

JOAN: One is, we call it unknown unknowns. We always budget for unknown unknowns, these things that are going to crop up that you aren't expecting. And the other thing is--I call it walking through walls, because there are so many situations where there is a key employee that suddenly leaves, a lease that has provisions you didn't originally understand.

There are these things that stand in front of you, and you just can't see any way over or around that hindrance. And what you have to do is just keep plowing ahead. And sometimes it feels like you're making no progress. You work as hard as you can and get nowhere, but you just never give up, you just walk through the wall. I mean, the wall is there, you just keep going till you're through it.

HATTIE: Would you do it again?

BILL: I would absolutely do it again. You know, I look at the other choices in my life and it's--the thing I like about being in business for myself is its a sense that the game is always in front of me. There's always challenges. There's threats to our survival every day, but, you know, I can manage it. I can figure out a strategy to try to work through this next phase of the business, and it's always a challenge. I think, in particular as a business that is constantly pushing ourselves, we're always reaching a little bit beyond our means, constantly doing that in business. Boy, you know, as a business owner I feel more like a navigator, you know. I admire the voyage of Magellan, for example. You know, how do you plot a course into the unknown and succeed, at least as much as he did? Of course, he got killed in the Philippines. So, you know, there may be a lot more business lessons in that.

HATTIE: A lot of us get killed along the way.

BILL: That's right. But, you know, you have to be prepared to sort of set off into the unknown and then figure out how to deal with situations. But it's really--it does have to be a long-term strategy, in my opinion. You know, it's not something where you can go in and--at least in our experience we couldn't have done it for a couple of years. I think the act of creating the business is high on creativity. But in the long term, what really counts in business is persistence. You know, I think that's the quality that you really need to have if you're going to succeed in business, because you're going to constantly be coming into problems, having obstacles, you know, storms in the business, crises. In our case, the recession of the early '90s in San Diego was a big event, and we had to really rechart the course for the business. The plan we had was not working, and we had to come up with a new plan. So, you know, I think that persistence in overcoming obstacles is really the key to the long term success of a business.

HATTIE: Would you do this again?

JOAN: God, yes. Yeah. I do love it. When I worked at Home Federal -- I've sometimes told the story that if I needed a typewriter, I'd type up a requisition and the typewriter would show up. You know, and when you're in business for yourself, you have to consider where that money is coming from? And, is this going to generate more revenue? Is this going to justify itself? But there's something about having the game all in front of you, it's in your charge.

You can make your own future, and it's inspiring and it's fun.

And you know what? Our business outlived that one I used to work for, that big corporate business.


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