Lessons from Three Years as an Entrepreneur

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:     Read more of this post

Lessons from Two Years as an Entrepreneur

Agricultural Food Systems, a company three friends and I started after graduating from John Brown University, celebrated its two year anniversary of incorporation yesterday!

Last year, I shared three lessons I learned during my first year as an entrepreneur. Since last May, AFS participated in the first cohort of the ARK Challenge, began testing of the TenderID in conjunction with the USDA, and was featured in Bloomberg Businessweek and Arkansas Business (article 1 || article 2).

As I’ve continued on my entrepreneurial journey, one of my personal mantras has been “never stop learning.” If for some reason AFS doesn’t work out (which hopefully won’t happen) and I learn nothing in the process, then the whole experience has been wasted. However, if it fails and I have some valuable takeaways, then it was a worthwhile (though costly) endeavor. As Winston Churchill said, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

That being said, here are three lessons I’ve learned in the past year: Read more of this post

Lessons from One Year as an Entrepreneur

This past Saturday, Agricultural Food Systems, a company three friends and I started after graduating from John Brown University, celebrated its one year anniversary of incorporation!

What a year it’s been! It all started with a strategic management class at JBU which led to us entering our business plan in the 2011 Donald W. Reynolds Arkansas Governor’s Cup. After some very positive feedback there, we decided to start the business and were officially incorporated on May 19, 2011. Since then we have been busy getting the final production model of the TenderID, a technology that accurately and consistently predicts tenderness in raw beef carcasses on the production line, ready to for the market and should be ready for launch very soon (for more on AFS and the TenderID, visit the AFS website).

Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot about business and entrepreneurship in the past year. Jumping straight from college into being a small business owner has been quite the adventure with lots of teachable moments. Here are three of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far:  Read more of this post

Entrepreneurship Isn’t Sexy

At work

What comes to mind when you think of entrepreneurship?

The image that many have of the startup world is a bunch of 20-somethings pitching their businesses in hoodies and jeans, playing ping-pong, working flexible hours, drinking lots of beer and Red Bull, and closing million or billion dollar acquisition deals. Entrepreneurship is seen as trendy, sexy, and a fun and easy way to make a lot of money, especially among my Millennial counterparts (60% of whom consider themselves entrepreneurs). People currently employed at other companies view entrepreneurship as the gateway to freedom and prosperity. Universities, cities, and entire states view startups as their economic saviors and as a result bend over backwards to cater to and attract them. This is the picture that has been painted of entrepreneurship.  Read more of this post

The Entrepreneurial Race Part 2: Picking a Pit Crew

 

Army Racing pit stop

This is the second post in the “Entrepreneurial Race” series. Click here to read Part 1: Getting to the Track, Part 3: On Your Mark, Get Set, GO!, and Part 4: Getting Sponsors.

Every entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur should watch the movie Cars. Not only is it a fun film, it also has a lot of great lessons for founders. In the last post, I discussed different ways to fund a startup and get it from the garage to the race track (several of which Lightning McQueen tried during his trip to the Piston Cup tie-breaker race). This post will focus on another essential part of any business: the mentors, advisors, and directors. These individuals serve as the pit crew for the race car that is your business.  Read more of this post

How to Develop a Personal Mission Statement

 

Arrow

Mission statements. Every company has one. Some are really good; some are really bad. Regardless of the quality of a mission statement, they all have the same purpose: to give direction to the daily actions of an organization.

Organizations aren’t the only entities that need mission statements to guide them. You and I need mission statements as well, especially as you think about building your personal brand. Having a personal mission statement is important for three reasons:

  1. It differentiates you from others
    One of the things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that investors invest in people more so than products. For example, they would rather invest in an entrepreneur trying to create positive social change by selling widgets than an entrepreneur trying to get famous and make a lot of money selling the same widget. Having a personal mission statement helps potential investors, employers, friends, etc know your underlying motivations and what sets you apart from others.
  2. It gives direction to your career path
    Knowing what your true mission is will help you select jobs that will allow you to accomplish your goals, even if on paper they seem unrelated. I currently am involved in the agricultural technology, young adult ministry, experiential education, and social media arenas, but I am still able to fulfill my mission in these seemingly random combination of jobs.
  3. It reminds you why you do what you do when things get tough
    Your job isn’t always easy. There are some days you’ll want to quit or disengage. Having a purpose behind your work keeps you focused and moving forward even during the hard times. Your mission is a motivator pushing you toward a greater purpose than earning a paycheck.

Steven Covey refers to developing a mission statement as “connecting with your own unique purpose and the profound satisfaction that comes from fulfilling it.” Here are five questions to ask yourself in order to develop your personal mission statement:  Read more of this post

4 Tips to Keep in Mind When Starting a Business [Guest Post]

[Guest post courtesy of James Smith, co-founder of James+James. Scroll to the bottom to learn more about James and James+James.]

Twenty-two months ago I was unemployed. Today, I’m blessed with co-owning a furniture manufacturing company called James+James. Currently, James+James has over 17 full-time employees and has sold products in over 30 states and it’s still growing! My college friend James and I started the business in my garage and it has been one heck of a ride so far.

I was honored when Lawson asked me to pen a post about what I believe has been the main contributing factors to our continued growth. While I look forward to writing more in the future about our specific online and social strategies, I thought it best to start at a higher, less tactical level. With that in mind, here are four important tips to keep in mind when starting a business:  Read more of this post

Speaking

Need a speaker for your next church, school, or business event? Let’s connect and make it happen!

Here are some topics that I can discuss:

Business

  • Entrepreneurship
    • Keys to startup success, lessons from my entrepreneurial journey, idea execution, innovation
  • Marketing
    • Personal branding, social media strategy (for church, business, or education), social media overview, integrated marketing communications (IMC), storytelling, building committment

Ideas

  • Critical thinking, goal-setting, strategic planning, innovation

Theology

Contact me for more information including availability, detailed speaking topics, fees and more.

Make it Happen!

Have you ever seen a product and thought to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

This happens to me on a pretty regular basis. I’ll be watching Shark Tank or browsing Amazon and I’ll see a great innovation that fills an obvious need (and is usually shockingly simple) and ask myself that very question: “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Along the same line of thought, two of the founders of Field Agent recently spoke to the participants of the ARK Challenge startup accelerator that Agricultural Food Systems was recently accepted into. One of the things that they pointed out was at the end of the day, no one wants to look back and see someone else commercialize an idea that they originally had and have to say “I had that idea” without ever taking action on it. Their advice to entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, and innovators: “Make it happen!”  Read more of this post

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