What is the best route to take when trying to get a business off the ground? Abe Susman, an employee of a pet cemetery, has some big ideas to do just that.
EPISODE 1 HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
Bianca: Testing 1, 2, 3 we are recording a podcast.
Avery: What’s this podcast called?
Bianca: This podcast is called Lifecycle of a Business.
Bianca: We’re going to make six episodes, they are each going to be ten to fifteen minutes long and you’re going to go around to small businesses, you’re going to interview the business owners, and each episode will be a different stage of the lifecycle, so starting with birth, they’re going to grow, death, and then rebirth
Avery: I’m going to be honest, I had to look up the whole lifecycle of a business diagram online, but now I got it
Bianca: The idea is that a business follows a life, everyone is born, everyone dies, and the same thing happens to a business. So our first episode is called Humble Beginnings and I sent you out to find a story.
Bianca: Did you find anything?
Avery: Yeah, I found something.
Bianca: (laughs) Do tell.
Avery: Abe Susman is a young man in his early 20’s and he dreams of composing music sometime but in the meanwhile he has a pretty funny day job.
Bianca: What's his day job?
Avery: You’re gonna have to listen and find out.
Bianca: Okay. This is episode 1. Humble beginnings
Avery: Roll the tape.
Bianca: Roll the tape.
Abe susman is 24 years old. Has brown hair, glasses, and is constantly vaping.
Abe: Always got the vape cartridge cause, you know, I don’t smoke cigarettes anymore so...
He’s a musician and not a bad one I might add and much of his music you’ll hear throughout this episode.
The future Abe envisions for himself is one in which he owns a small business, composing and producing soundtracks for films, video games, commercials and if he plays his cards right, maybe the theme music for my second season. I repeat, second season.
But until then, until Abe’s dreams become a reality
Avery: what is that in there, we got a spine?
Abe: Yup, a spine,
Abe works at Pet Haven Cemetery, in Syracuse, New York.
Abe: Some leg and arm bones, a skull, the bones don’t melt or they don’t turn into dust, we have to do that manually.
Abe is greatly inspired by the german composer and producer Hanz Zimmer whose name you may not know, but whose work you certainly do. He’s scored the music for everything from the Lion King to Inception to the Dark Knight trilogy. And, whose net worth, is reportedly somewhere over 200 million.
Right now Abe makes $15 an hour as Pet Haven’s burial assistant and groundskeeper where he is responsible for everything from burials, to cremations, and, believe it or not, sometimes open casket funeral services.
Abe: So this is the viewing room we have like a table here with this green velvet over it and a bench. So usually we’ll put the casket on this table and prop it open so that the people that come in through the door can sit on the bench and mourn, you know.
At pet haven they’ve seen airedales to zebras and almost everything in between.
Abe: This one’s a turtle.
Abe: Yeah Avery: Really. How longs a turtle take? Less than an hour for sure.
Abe: Oh yeah. Especially because the size I think it’s like this big.
Avery: That’s a tiny turtle.
Avery: You ever cremate a chimpanzee before?
Avery: Yeah, you know...Like a chimp
But he did cremate a wolf.
Abe: It was like the size of this. It was like huge. It just looked like a wolf. Like it didn’t have a particular color to it, greyish black, it was just like a huge wolf. It was pretty cool.
And while I could go on talking about the inner workings of this pet cemetery for the rest of the episode, the real reason I am here, is to find out exactly why Abe is here.
Avery: If you want to make music for a living, why are you turning pets into dust?
Abe: Why am I turning pets into dust if I want to make music for a living? Okay, well to support my music making until it gets to a point where I can support my music making with my music.
Avery: So this is just a step along the way?
Avery: A means to an end.
Abe: A means to an end.
Abe is not alone in this. We all have to start somewhere. Long before he was worth 90 billion dollars, warren buffett delivered newspapers----so did sam walton----oprah worked at a grocery store----michael dell washed dishes
Heck, before I landed this sweet sweet gig I spent more than a decade of my life working in kitchens. And as someone once told me, there’s only two types of people in a kitchen, those that had always dreamed of being chefs and those that still dream of doing something else.
Avery: How long have you been doing this job?
Abe: About a year and a month, so just over a year.
Avery: You’re a music fan, there's prince.
Abe: Oh yeah, there he is. 1957-1969.
But according to Abe, being a professional disposer of pets is actually a great gig for an aspiring music producer.
For one thing, most of the time he can listen to music on his headphones, so that right there is almost like having paid musical study time.
And it's a surprisingly tranquil workplace.
Avery: This is a nice piece of property here.
Abe: Yeah, yeah it goes all the way back to that tree line.
Avery: We got a flag over there.
Avery: Does it ever go half mast for famous pets?
Abe: Nope ::laughs::
The cemetery’s rolling lawns are surrounded by woodlands; and from nearly all points you can hear the burble of a brook on its eastern edge.
And often abe will sort of drift through the workday fantasizing about his future life.
Abe: I definitely spend some time daydreaming about being a successful musician while I’m at Pet Haven. For example, I’ll look at stuff from Hanz Zimmer and see him kinda like in his studio and can like envision a similar path that I’d like to take. I’d have a studio of my own that would be attached to wherever I live, which I would like to be somewhere that has a lot of space. I love Minnesota, I love Wyoming and probably just a single assistant that can help me with random stuff. And when I need a break, it will be walking the dogs through the woods.
That is until he’s brought back to reality by something that no amount of daydreaming can overcome.
Abe: So sometimes we’ll get, people who have like buried their pet in their backyard and end up moving away, moving out of that house, so they’ll dig up their dead pet up and bring it to us and it's just like one of the most gruesome things you can imagine looking at. It doesn’t even look like it used to be alive. It's like mostly decomposed and its, its nasty.
Then there’s the whole death thing, which Abe says has actually helped him as a musician
Avery: Do you think this job will ever influence your creative work?
Abe: Yeah, definitely, I think this job helps me more so to tap into my emotions than if I was working at Best Buy or Guitar Center or something. I think it all contributes to creativity.
Abe: There’s aspects of the job that are quite rewarding, like I’m helping people get through the grief of their loss. You know?
Avery: Did that kind of stuff surprise you? Were you just taking it to make a paycheck and now you sort of like it?
Abe: Yeah, in a way, it's still, you know, I would never consider it to be like a lifetime job, you know, in any sense but...Um...Yeah…
Abe: This is just a few little big pieces that I want to make sure we have. And then so I take it out and dump the remains into a processor which is kind of just a grinder. I don’t know if you want to cover your face a little bit because normally there's a lot of particles that come into the air.
Avery: I’ll do that, I don’t want to inhale cat hair.
Abe: So I usually, what I do is, I take like a big deep breath and kind of hold my breath while I’m doing this until everything is kind of out of the air
Avery: You’re the pro, I’m copying you. Alright, I’m ready.
Abe works full time at Pet Haven. But nearly all of his free time is spent in his studio, which happens to be at home, aka his parents house.
Abe: This is my beloved pet sheeba, she is the queen of the house.
I can’t really blame the guy for still living at home into his mid 20’s. It's a nice house, with loving parents, an adorable dog and a basement that’s been converted into a music studio
Avery: Got that basement smell to it.
Abe: Yup, smells like a basement, and it is.
Nearly everything in Abe’s studio - from the guitars to the microphones to the fancy desktop computer were purchased with money he earned at Pet Haven.
Avery: How many dogs do you think you had to cremate to buy this computer?
Abe: This computer? Wow, maybe like uh sixty or seventy.
Avery: Went to a good place, it's a nice computer.
Abe: I hope so, you know.
In the rare moments that Abe’s not playing music he’s advancing his career in other ways, networking with local musicians, promoting his work on social media, or learning about the industry he hopes to soon be a part of
Abe: Well I recently read a large textbook on music business and learned a lot from…
But for all of Abe’s aspirations there are other emotions inherent in this early stage of one’s career.
Abe: I guess I’m slightly nervous. I mean I’m confident in my ability to do the work, because it is something I love to do and I love new challenges with that but yeah it can be a little daunting at times.
Avery: How do you think you’d feel if you were still at pet haven five years from now?
Abe: How would I feel if I was still at pet haven in five years from now. I don’t see it as a possibility but yeah probably feel disappointed.
Avery: Does some part of you worry that you’re never gonna make the leap? Abe: So I’ve thought about that and I’ve been asked that before and the answer has consistently remained no. I don’t worry about that. For some reason there is something in me like I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing, umm I don’t know what like I have a vision for this, I don’t know the end result, but I know that I’m going to be where I want to be and that this is my purpose in life.
Avery: Play something good now? Abe: (laughing)
And though the odds are against him, there are reasons to believe that maybe Abe won’t be part of the 90% who never make the leap to entrepreneurship.
Abe: I won’t name any names but there's a man who I’m going to start doing work with that does motivational, goes around to schools and does these motivational performances and needs high quality music for it so he’s offered to pay me for that. So that is something that is about to happen.
An independent film producer has also shown interest in working with Abe.
But let's face it, with podcasting blowing up the way that it is, and this one sure to top the charts, or at least squeeze into the top 3 with Joe Rogan and Dr. Phil, Abe hit the jackpot when I walked down his basement stairs.
So in an effort to woo me, Abe scrolls through a bunch of songs on his desktop.
When I first approached Abe about this podcast he didn’t want to do it. He’s shy and music has always been Abe’s way of communicating, but now he’s found himself in a stage in his career where the thing he once hid behind is forcing him out into the world
So after a few days he changed his mind.
Abe knows that if he is ever going to make the leap into being a professional he will need to repeatedly step outside of his comfort zone.
But that isn’t an easy thing to do when your comfort zone is as comfortable as his.
Hanging out with Abe reminded me of that phase in my life. Back when home was my mom’s house, and my friends were the same I’d had as a kid.
Abe may not have fame and fortune right now but those things are still out there waiting for him.
He’s confident that he will get there in the not too distant future.
But I also don’t blame him if he pushes it off for a little while longer.
Avery: Have you found a favorite headstone here?
Abe: There's a sculpture of a dog lying down over here that I like.
Avery: So this is your favorite?
Abe: Yeah, I’d say so, it just reminds me of the dog I had before the one I have now.
Avery: Just standing out here, you can feel there's a lot of love buried under this grass.
Abe: Yeah, yeah there is.
I ask Abe about this song he chose to play for me, the one we’re hearing now…
Abe: This is called, ironically enough, A Happy Death.
Avery: You planned that!
Avery: I’m gonna cry my eyes out. Good stuff, man.
Avery: Alright, make us a soundtrack for you and me walking through that snowy field over the souls of many dead pets.
Abe: Wow! Make a sound track on the spot?
Avery: Yeah, you’re a pro, aren't you?
Abe: Alright, uhh, okay, here I’ll just...
Avery: thanks to Abe Susman, Susan Barr and Pet Haven Cemetery
Bianca: Lifecycle of a Business is a podcast from Mailchimp produced in partnership with Missing Pieces. It’s hosted by me, Bianca Giaever, and reported by Avery Thompson. Our executive producers are Ari Kushner, Kate Oppenheim and Bryan Latt, and our line producer is Vicky Illk.
Avery: and all of the music in this episode was by Abe Susman.
Avery: I was about to jump in there, I didn’t know, I was waiting for the go ahead.
Abe: That would have been good.
From the birth of an idea, to an untimely death, and back again—running a business is not for the faint of heart. Hosted by Bianca Giaever, Lifecycle of a Business details the stages through the eyes of people who lived them.
Abe Susman, a pet cemetery worker, dreams of bigger things for his career.
Linda Chamberlain speaks on how to take a crazy idea and turn it into reality.
Whether it’s a passion for pizza or business, Steph Mantis knows how to dig in.
How do you know when it’s time to go it alone? Jess Mah discusses her journey.
Sometimes, businesses have an expiration date - even ones you wouldn’t expect.
Bouncing back in your career is not easy, and yet Mark Mitchell is an expert.
Digging deeper into the essence of small businesses in every stage of life.