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Planet Money: Entrepreneurship Is On The Rise Despite Pandemic

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With the economy still suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it might not seem like the best time to create a new commercial venture. But the U.S. Census Bureau says Americans are launching startups at the fastest rate in more than a decade. Cardiff Garcia and Brittany Cronin from our PLANET MONEY team bring us the story of twins, a bushel of crabs and a brand-new business.

CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: RaeShawn Middleton and LaShone Middleton are trained chefs from Laurel, Md. They're twin sisters. And at the beginning of the pandemic, they both lost their restaurant jobs. And they started to worry as the months went by. What if those jobs never came back?

BRITTANY CRONIN, BYLINE: And then one day they get this idea. They're hungry, and they decide what they really want are some steamed crabs. And they don't want to leave home to go get the crabs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LASHONE MIDDLETON: Literally, I was being lazy and didn't want to go get the crabs and realized no one delivered steamed blue crab.

CRONIN: So RaeShawn and LaShone are like, wait a minute. We're trained chefs. We've grown up on crabs. Maybe we can just do this ourselves and make some money off of it.

GARCIA: With restaurants shut down, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start a crab delivery business. They wouldn't have to pay for a restaurant space or a commercial kitchen, and they could steam the crabs at home and just do their own delivery. So they set out to create a business.

CRONIN: So their first move was to go talk to their crab connections, the people they had gone to for years for fresh crab.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

L MIDDLETON: So we just actually said, hey, listen. Do you guys actually, you know, wholesale? And do you sell to businesses? And they actually said yeah, they do.

GARCIA: So they decided to make an Instagram account and to put some flyers up in their neighborhood. And when it came time to actually go out and announce their business to the world, LaShone remembers feeling kind of freaked out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

L MIDDLETON: I was, like, shaking. I was, like, so nervous 'cause I was like, this is ridiculous. Like, how am I going to - I'm not going to start a business.

CRONIN: So they did it. They went out. They're putting up the flyers, and they're pretty immediately confronted with the one thing they hadn't yet done.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

L MIDDLETON: The last door was my neighbor. And she was like, OK, put me down for a dozen. I was like, are you serious? Mind you, we didn't even have prices yet.

GARCIA: RaeShawn and LaShone realized that they needed to come up with a price that would allow them to cover their costs and still be competitive. So they did a little bit of market research.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

L MIDDLETON: We would go and look. And I'd be like, how much do they charge for extra large? And they charge $99. So we was like, OK, well, we...

RAESHAWN MIDDLETON: We're new.

L MIDDLETON: We're new. We have to come cheap. So we sell them for $75. And on top of that, we deliver. So people are just like, oh, it's a steal.

CRONIN: RaeShawn and LaShone have found a steady rhythm. They deliver Thursdays through Sundays, and they get about 10 orders a week. But these are big orders. People will call in asking for a whole bushel of crabs, which is about 60 extra-large crabs - 60 crabs in one order.

GARCIA: RaeShawn and LaShone are saving up to buy a food truck, and they also want to expand their delivery service through apps like DoorDash or Postmates, especially by the time crab season starts in March.

CRONIN: When they look back at the past year, RaeShawn and LaShone say it was really hard losing their jobs, made them feel like they were dispensable. So in a way, losing their jobs kind of became an opportunity to get out of working for other people, be their own boss. And that's something that they're really proud of.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia.

CRONIN: Brittany Cronin, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOKHOV'S "SPRING EVENING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.