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As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robiar Robi Smith. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Robi Smith, was driven from a very young age. Growing up the importance of education and an upstanding work ethic was woven into her. Robis interest in pest control was first sparked as a child where she would tag along with her father. It was her fathers dreams that R.B. Pest Solutions came to fruition. After going on to earn two masters degrees and finding success as both a college professor and IT professional, Robi left her career behind and set out to carry on her fathers legacy as CEO of R.B. Pest Solutions. In her spare time, Robi serves as a mentor through her non-profit organization, J.U.S.T. (Just Us Sisters Talking). You will also find her hard at work striving to create economic development opportunities for both her family and community.
Thank you so much for joining us Robi. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. My Dad has been an exterminator all of my life. He would wake up and start his route and I would accompany him on roach and rodent jobs. I thought it was the funniest job ever and I got a chance to hang out with my superhero, my Dad. I would hold his bag and pass him his tools while working. At the time, he encouraged me to attend school and obtain my education. I took his advice and obtained three degrees; B.S in Psychology as well as my MBA and a Masters in Technology all while taking the pest control examine over and over until I passed in 2016.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your ah ha moment with us?
In 2016, while standing in front of my Business and Entrepreneurship class that I taught every Tuesday, I was lecturing the importance of businesses identifying their target market and branding. Something dawned on me, as if I was having an out of body experience; I felt like I was lecturing myself. I realized in that moment, I needed to take my own advice and bet on myself and start my own company in pest control.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I realized all I needed to do was put one front in front of the other and the universe will match my efforts. Theres not a formula for success and I will make mistakes but I get a chance to do what I love and pay homage to my Dad while doing it, this to me is what success looks like.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Bet and believe in yourself. You got this! Doing what you love is such a gift, now share it with the world!
Its said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I make sure I still interact with my clients and show up to pest control appointments when needed. Yes, I have a team thats amazing but I still make sure to keep in touch with the people in the community and get rid of their unwanted guests for good.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I love being part of the solution! Customers are unhappy when calling us to handle their pest issues. I enjoy making clients happy when we show up and get rid of their pest problems. Theres a downside when trying to get rid of pest and we recommend multiple visits to achieve results. This can be frustrating to our clients because they want the pest gone immediately and we cant always guarantee immediate results. We overcome this scenario by communicating with our clients every step of the way and making sure they understand were a phone call away! We dont rest until we get rid of their pests.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Exterminating properties for rodents, roaches and bedbugs isnt the most glamorous job in the world. I cant just show up to someones property to remove a rodent in a pencil skirt but Ive gotten pretty creative with my dress attire in this industry. When Im scheduled for inspections, Ill wear business attire and during the actual treatment, Ill wear my technician gear. I get the best of both worlds!
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself I cant take it anymore, Im going to get a real job? If so how did you overcome it?
All the time! When I run into a heavy infested unit, I always say to myself, Im a long ways away from troubleshooting IT issues and teaching undergraduate courses.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Trying to remove a bee hive from a homeowners backyard.! Ill never forget it! Lets just say, after walking up to the hive, I learned very quickly, I cant just run up on a beehive with regular pest control gear. I MUST ALWAYS wear a bee suit, Respect the Queen PLEASE!
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My Mom and Dad, I love them so much. Ive exceeded their expectations of not only of myself but also the pest control industry. My mom was pregnant with me when my Dad started his extermination career. Never in a million years did my parents think their daughter would own her own company one day.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Making sure I change the face of pest control one pest at a time. Teaching girls and women that you can go from white collar fields running corporate structures to blue collar industries, where the majority is men and still succeed. Dont let anyone box you in!
What are your 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
What person wouldnt want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Random acts of kindness goes a long way. Sometimes, Ill be in grocery store in line and Ill pay for someone groceries or their cup of coffee. This is an instant energy booster and makes you feel so good you did something for someone else JUST BECAUSE.
Can you please give us your favorite Life Lesson Quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Just Breathe. This has helped me soooo many times. Whether Im happy, sad, confused, nervous or anxious about anything, I take a deep breathe, take a reset and keep going! Its the simple things that help.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
GaryVee, Janice Bryant, Bill Gates and of course.. OPRAH!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
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