Lessons from Three Years as an Entrepreneur
May 20, 2014 1 Comment
Agricultural Food Systems has now been in business for three years!
It’s been an interesting year for AFS: we completely redesigned the TenderID prototype, took part in another round of testing with the USDA, continued fine-tuning our technology, and were featured on CNNMoney’s website with fellow John Brown University alumni businesses James+James and Craftistas.
Any entrepreneurial journey must be one marked by constant learning. Sometimes this learning comes through success, other times it comes through hardship and failure. As Winston Churchill put it, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” In other words, every situation presents an opportunity to grow. During my first year running AFS, I learned the importance of thinking strategically, constantly moving forward, and staying humble. The second year as an entrepreneur taught me to not let my identity be defined by my work, the benefits of delaying gratification, and how collaboration is an integral part of innovation. Those six themes were prevalent again this year as we continued to move forward with our R&D. Here are three additional lessons I learned this year:
We’ve all hear that “patience is a virtue.” It’s a whole different ball game when it comes to actually applying that. To be honest, this has been a frustrating year for me personally. When we started AFS, we thought we’d be leasing TenderIDs to processors by now; however, due to a combination of industry factors, testing delays, and design changes, we are still in the approval process (though much closer to being able to start leasing). While we are working hard to get the TenderID into the marketplace as quickly as possible, we have to be patient so that we are delivering a high quality product that will not only accurately and consistently assess tenderness, but will exceed customer expectations.
When it comes to your business (or personal life), patience is an essential character quality. Taking time to step back, assess a situation, and map out a plan of action is much better than rushing into things. Being patient when running a business or making an important decision doesn’t guarantee success, but it sure doesn’t hurt your chances. Even if you fail, patience often minimizes the negative consequences associated with not achieving your goal.
Being patient doesn’t mean you are passive. One of the cornerstones of any entrepreneurial endeavor is risk taking. There are two kinds of risk taking: informed and uninformed. Uninformed risk taking is spurious and should almost always be avoided. Informed risk taking involves counting the cost, weighing the upsides, patiently waiting for opportune timing, and then committing to the decision.
Different decisions require varying degrees of risk, but all require boldness to pursue. For example, when reaching out to potential investors, advisors, and industry contacts, we had the mindset of “the worst thing they could say is ‘no.'” In other words, we already had no relationship with them, so if they told us “no”, there wasn’t a setback at all. However, if they said “yes”, then we had a valuable new relationship to cultivate for our mutual benefit. We have taken other risks related to design choices, testing methods, and personnel choices. Just like investing in stocks, some choices have paid off; others haven’t, but we have tried to be intentional about taking informed risks. Of course, the bigger the risk, the higher potential return (or loss), so know your personal proclivity towards risk, but don’t be afraid to take them, whether that’s in business or in your personal life and relationships.
Invest in Others
One of the best ways to internalize the lessons that you have learned is to invest in other people. This semester, I had the opportunity to teach the Marketing Strategies class at John Brown University as an adjunct professor. I quickly developed a deeper respect for all of the teachers and professors I’ve had in the past. American physicist (and cattle rancher) Frank Oppenheimer put it well when he said “the best way to learn is to teach.”
Teaching is a challenge because it requires that you provide an actionable framework for those you’re investing in that is backed up with experience executing the framework. In other words, you can’t just teach the information in a vacuum, but have the ability to demonstrate and explain what it looks like “in the wild.” Because you have to study all the possible scenarios and concepts related to the application of an idea, decide which are most important to communicate, and then pass them on in a way that makes them stick, teaching and investing in others is an amazing way to learn and internalize new information.
AFS has definitely benefited from the time others have taken to invest in us as a management team. Since we are so young, we wouldn’t be where we are today without them sharing their expertise with us. We are blessed to be surrounded by the group of supporters, encouragers, and challengers that we have and look forward to whatever is next in our journey.
What are some lessons you’ve learned lately from your profession? Share them in the Comments below.
Learn It. Love It. Live It.