small business

thoughts

On management (and the beginnings of a business)

Those of you that subscribe to this blog probably don't do it to hear management tips, but as a business owner its probably the thing I struggle with the most. How to manage people. How to get a group of people, each with their own mind and own personality, to help you create a very personal vision.  When I started my business, I thought the hardest thing would be getting people interested in what I thought was interesting, and yes, get them to buy what I was selling (gotta pay the rent). That was hard. I remember the first time forageSF went public. I had come up with the idea for the CSF (wild food CSA) about 2 weeks earlier, had been spending time deciding how much the boxes were going to cost, what would be in them, where I would forage, and how to get the word out. It was the last day of  Slow Food Nation, and it occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity to introduce my idea to the masses. Up until this point, forageSF was just an idea in my head. I'd talked to my friends about it, but hadn't really put it out into the world. It's a scary thing, putting yourself out there with an idea thats different. So I rush printed some cards with the logo I'd created, what the boxes were, some info about my philosophy of splitting profit with foragers, rode my bike down to city hall, and staked out a spot with good traffic. That was the first moment. I got some good response. People seemed interested. I got some comments asking if I was collecting from dumspters. Some comments about the ecological impact of what I was doing, but overall, people seemed into it. But I digress.

At that point I didn't give a second thought to managing people, how to navigate the rocky shoals of personality styles. People respond differently to different things. Some people need to be coaxed into getting stuff done, some people appreciate a more direct approach. Some people need to be micromanaged (something that is not in my DNA), some people can take an idea and run with it.

When I think of my ideal company, I think of a group of people, all spending time doing what they love, in pursuit of a common mission.  Collaborating on ideas, lifting each other up with suggestions, and able to work on projects without too much input from me. This is deceptively hard to achieve.  When you are an entrepreneur, you imagine everyone thinks like you. That everyone has a singular vision to create what you want to create, and thinks like you think. The challenge is trying to see your work through the eyes of your employees. What inspires them about the job? What seems like drudgery? Whats going on in their lives outside of work that might be effecting them? Sometimes I feel like a psychologist, trying to peer into their brains to figure out what makes them tick. It's a constant challenge.

Luckily I think Im getting better at it. Or at least Im more aware of the mistakes I've made in the past, and try my best not to make them again. A couple of the lessons I've learned so far are:

Don't yell. Especially in food, high pressure situations are constantly in front of you, and the impulse to tear into someone in public is high, but it doesn't solve the problem, and all you'll get is a disgruntled worker. What I try to do (mostly successfully), is to try to solve the problem directly in front of me, and then make a note to talk about it later. Tensions run high at events, and its always better to sleep on it rather than explode. At the same time, you can't let things slide too much, so even though its uncomfortable, I try my best to bring it up within a couple days. This also gives you time to come up with a solution to keep it from happening again. When I do have a discussion with the person, I try to let them come to the solution on their own rather than giving it to them, I find that works much better.

If someone isn't doing something right, it's probably your fault. This is a philosophy I really try to live by. If you have a skilled, intelligent, inspired person working for you (and there is no reason ever to hire anyone else), they truly do want to do a good job. They also have the capacity to do a good job. So if they aren't, most likely its because they havnt been given the tools to do something the way you want it done. I think business is a lot like making movies. A director has an image in his head of what the movie will be, and he can't create that image alone, so its his job to employ an army of people to help him craft that image.

Its the same when you're starting any business that is crafted around a vision. The people working with you didn't come up with the vision, and they can't see into your head. All they can do is listen to what you tell them, and try their best to help you pull your idea out into the world.  You need to set up the environment that helps them do this.

With some people thats checking in daily on progress. With some people thats leaving them to it, and making sure they know you're there for support if they need it. It's a constant flow, of figuring out what kind of support people need to accomplish tasks. Of course, sometimes you run into people that aren't a good fit, and although its hard, its also your responsibility to deal with that situation rather than let it fester.

I've rambled for long enough. People who know me know that these are issues I struggle with constantly. I really do believe thats its the hardest part of getting a business from a solo enterprise into a larger company. The reality is that you can't do it all alone (at least I can't), so learning these skills is essential.  I havnt found the answers yet, but in the pursuit of trying to help people get to where I'm at without quite so much pain, I thought Id lay out the conclusions I've come to.  There is something that smacks of manipulation in what I've written here as I read it over, but it's really more about helping people to do the best job they can do at what they love in an environment they feel comfortable in. That's all we can really ask for.

Do you run a business? If so, what have you found that works with your employees? Please let me know, I'm always looking to get better at this. Iso

An Incubator Kitchen

An Incubator Kitchen #4: Fundraising

These blog posts are an attempt to chronicle the creation of something that is totally new to me, a large, physical, brick and mortar shared use incubator kitchen. As this process continues I'll be writing here about what stage we're at, what problems we have, and how we solved them. This is all an attempt to help along those who want to create a similar project, while at the same time letting people know where we're at in the process. Money:

The biggest problem with building a 10,000 sq ft incubator kitchen is that it costs lots of money. Money on a scale that I don't generally think in, and to get that kind of money, fundraising is in order. We've decided we're going to do this in three ways:

Investors:

We are lucky to live in an area with people who have money. It's as simple as that. Silicon valley blesses us daily with filled seats at our events, lines down the block for food trucks, and soon, a great space for small businesses to help get started. So far I've been approached by a couple investors who are interested in being a part of the project, and have started working with an advisor who is big in the angel investor scene.  I've found that whenever I'm starting something new, mentors are essential. There is no point in beating your head against the wall looking info up online, when someone willing and knowledgable is a phone call away. It's amazing just how willing and interested people are in helping out, all you need to do is ask.  We are still a ways off from locking down investment, but I imagine that about 3/4 of the money will come from this avenue. Finding investors is no small feat, but we are talking to people we know first, people who they know second, and people we think might be interested third. Especially in such a food-centric town, you'd be surprised who wants to be involved. My advice for people looking for investors is to make a list of people you think might be interested and get in touch. The worst they can say is no.

Kickstarter:

We'd be stupid to ignore kickstarter. It's a great platform for people looking to create something. If you're trying to raise money for something that you think people are interested in being a part of, kickstarter is a great avenue.  The secret is a good video. Something that really draws people in, and lets them know how passionate you are about the project.  In kickstarting a business, there is some concern from the kickstarter.com crew about projects that are not art-centric.  I've heard that most projects get approved, but pitching it as not just a business, but that you're creating something with some other value can't hurt.  Another note is never use the word "invest" in your video or anywhere in your pitch. The SEC considers what your getting through kickstarter a donation, not an investment, so they're sticklers on that point.  We are currently working on a video that I'm excited about that will hopefully be out mid January.  The rewards we're going to offer are going to be things like classes, kitchen time, boxes of goodies from vendors who are using the kitchen, etc.  I want people who invest to really see the fruit of what they're helping to create.

Fundraisers:

This project is about creating a space that people use to create something that makes them proud. Simple as that. Whether that's a jar of jam or a jam making business. We want to get this idea out to as many people as possible, while at the same time letting people be involved in a way that's more tactile than donating online. In the next several months we're going to be planning tons of events. Movie nights, dinners, potlucks, scavenger hunts, etc, and partnering with the folks we've grown relationships with over the years throughout the city. We don't want this to be a kitchen that just people who know about forageSF frequent, but folks of all stripes.

We're also interested in having part of the funding come from "community shares". Small(er) sums of money from individuals, that will buy them a small share in the business, akin to Claires. It's a small restaurant in Vermont that was started by getting $1000 investments from members of the town. In exchange they were given a certain amount of meals free when the space opened. I love this concept. That the people who want to use a space help create it.

That's all for now. Basically what I've found is that if you're trying to create something unique, you've got to be creative about where the money comes from. This business will be successful, but because it's unproven, there is no way a bank is going to give us a loan. The great thing is that instead of credit, we have an amazing wealth of folks interested in being involved, which is better I think.

We'll be sending out info about our kickstarter and our events soon. If you're interested in helping us organize an event or have an idea for one you think would be great, we'd love to hear it.

SF Underground Market

Vendor Video #2: Sidesaddle Kitchen: Vegan and "not gross" desserts

In the second installment of our vendor video series with partner High Beam Media, we bring you Sidesaddle Kitchen.  Hear about her philosophy that you shouldn't think about whats not in food, but what is in it. Watch the video, then donate to her Kickstarter campaign. Sidesaddle has been a vendor for over a year at The Underground Market, and now she's trying to take it legit, with all the fancy permits required.  She makes amazing desserts, and deserves our support.  Help her get there.

Forage SF Vendor Profile: Sidesaddle Kitchen from High Beam Media on Vimeo.

SF Underground Market

Creating an incubator kitchen : A rough guide #1

As you may have heard, we have embarked upon an adventure to start a forageSF incubator kitchen.  This yet to be named space will most likely be in Soma, and if all goes to plan, will open within the year. Someone recently suggested that I start blogging about our process, as a resource for others that are thinking of starting similar projects around the country, so as we work on getting the space open, Ill be talking here about what we’re up to. Everything from what kind of contractors we hire, to licensing, to more interesting fare, like what classes we’re organizing and what the first months rooftop movie programming will be.

My hope is that these posts will serve as a rough guide to others working on similar projects around the country.   I am by no means an expert in the construction of a million dollar shared use kitchen, but if you have questions please ask them here, and I will do my best to answer them.

The idea process:

Opening this kitchen has been something we’ve been thinking about for a while now. The popularity of the underground market definitely shows a need for this kind of space. There is a surging community of would be good makers in this city that the just need the chance to start their businesses. They are searching for help, financial certainly, but also emotional. They need to be shown they can, not only by being given a space to work, but by being provided a road map, and support along the way.

In addition to hard core producers, I also saw a real need on the non-professional/eater side.  People don’t wait in those lines the The Underground Market just to eat, but also to be a part of something. They want to connect with the people cooking their food.  In a food centered town, where going to the next new restaurant means you may glance the chef through a swinging kitchen door, talking to the person who cooked your food, and seeing how excited they are to make it, is a revelation. When conceiving our kitchen, I had both of these group in mind.  So how to create a space that engaged both of these groups, without losing focus of our core mission?

A straight rental kitchen wouldn’t do it. We needed to bring in more than just people starting businesses, especially if we wanted to offer reduced rates to producers, we would need several income streams. That is how we arrived at the model of having several different arms simultaneously of the same business.

Next post : Deciding what to include in the kitchen

Uncategorized

on design

I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about design.  Website design, logo design, package design, business design.  So much is wrapped up in the design of a product label, so much time agonizing over logo color and package size. So many places to buy bags of different sizes and weights, and so many things to consider...recycleable vs. compostable vs. matte colored (apparently matte colored packaging is neither recyclable or compostable).  What all this really boils down to though is image. What kind of image do I want?  Do I want the slick hipster- pictures of little birds on wires with pastel colors, the hippie - tons of multicolored mushrooms and bubbly font, the minimalist - brown card stock with black block lettering?  Even as I write this I feel a hint of unneeded vanity in my search.  We have this feeling that all these decisions just spring naturally, but the fact of the matter is that they are often arrived at through months of careful deliberation.  Not that its a bad process, its always fun to create something unique. Think about that next time you decide which chocolate to buy (high package design indeed). Think about why you choose a certain one, and why. Is it the taste, or the shiny package, that temps your fancy?  Think about the designers, sitting around a table at some cafe, macbooks at the ready, flicking though color templates, deciding which red is the right red for the 1/2 inch (or should it be 1/3 inch) border that surrounds the vermillion blue (or was aqua better) hand drawn (or at least made to look hand drawn) leaf logo.  There is so much that goes on in business behind the scenes. We all try our best to make it seem effortless, because people are attracted to this confidence, but its a lot of sweat to make anything new, although that's also what makes it fun and inspiring.   Making all these decisions, and knowing that each small success came your work.  It's exciting to think that you are putting something completely unique out into the world.  That what started as a random idea one night while lying in bed has blossomed into a concrete object in the world.  Something people think and talk about.  It's almost like having a child, but so much better, because you have all the freedom of design.  It's amazing really, to think that everything that exists in the world was at one point just an idea in someone's head. p.s. if anyone has any great ideas for forageSF logos etc.., I'm all ears.