What is it like to Start a Company?

Lessons learned in the 1st 100 days of launching IN10T

In the first 100  days of starting IN10T, I have learned more than at any other point in my 20+ year career.  Throughout daily conversations with customers and industry leaders, there are common themes related to building a business.   I admire other thought leaders who share their ups and downs along the way, so I plan to follow that example.  

We have no idea what our company will look like in the future, so sharing our lessons regarding what’s working and where we need to improve, allows us time to receive feedback and reflect on where we are today.  Here are some lessons from the first 100 days.  

Starting a business is hard

I have heard this a thousand times but living it is a whole new phenomenon; especially when bootstrapping the businesses.  There is a big difference between working at a startup and running a business with direct P/L responsibility. Over the last 20 years, I have worked in and around different startups. The experience was invaluable, and it helped to prepare for this step, but receiving a paycheck and having to create value is not the same.  

I wouldn’t want to do this alone

In listening to podcasts and watching other founders over the years, I now see the importance of co-founders and partners to a new business.  I could not image building a digital ag company with anyone but  Randy Barker and Alice Robinson.  Yes, they are incredibly talented professionally, but what I appreciate most are their attitudes, risk tolerance and desire to do high-quality work for our clients. Their creative thinking is exemplary in my mind and being on the “same page” is always helpful.  Most importantly, they are fun to be around, and we support each other every single day.  We talk daily, and I always feel blessed to be a part of this team that is doing something truly unique.  We are all very different in our approach and skills, but the successes we have encountered in the first 100 days are because of how well we work together.        

We only address today’s problems

We don’t solve future challenges and scenarios that “may” come up.   Because of the time resource constraint, we only make decisions that must be acted upon “today.”  With my personality, I like to look over the next several months/year and craft a long-term strategy.  In software terms, you could say my business style is changing from “Waterfall” to “Agile.”  When bootstrapping a business, the day-to-day activities cannot be consumed by worrying about problems that do not need immediate action.  Every week we look at our core objectives and then how we can get the most “wins” with the amount of time that we have.

Urgent vs. Important

In many businesses, and especially in small companies, so many of the items coming across our desks are urgent. When focusing on building revenue and long-term sustainability, we have to start each day thinking about what is important.  Many urgent items won’t get addressed. Bootstrapping has been the most efficient way for me to truly evaluate whether it’s urgent or important.

Relationships are what make this business

People ask me daily about our clients and how we earned their business.  All our projects and clients are a direct relationship with one of our team members that have been cultivated over the last 20+ years. Everyone told me throughout my career to maintain relationships and help people along the way. When I look at IN10T,  I  see how those relationships matter. No one is doing business with a name (IN10T) that didn’t exist one hundred days ago. They are doing business with Randy, Kevin or Alice and have a working knowledge of our core values skills and experience.  I do think the name is cool, once people know how to say it of course!

There is no such thing as 8-5 now…

And to me, that is not a bad thing. It’s funny because about a year-and-a-half ago my wife and I were working with a life coach and he asked me to define my perfect day. I described a schedule that would involve deep work early in the am (5am-7am), then a break to put my kids on the bus and back to customer interactions around 9 am.  Now I get to live out that schedule, but more importantly, I am working with the objective of highest output  vs. a traditional 8-5 office hour schedule.   Years ago I read the book, “Rework” by Jason Fried and it changed my view of “work.”  

Higher Highs and Lower Lows

As a business owner, I see more volatility in the ups and downs.  There are days when I ask myself why didn’t I did this ten years ago?  Then there are times when no one is available, and you wonder if anyone’s ever going to return another email. In the startup world,  “highs” are higher than normal and the “lows” are lower than normal. I have personally found that journaling and taking meticulous notes about ideas, thoughts, feelings, and concepts has allowed me to level out some of these feelings as we operationalize our business.

So many resources for small business today

There are a plethora of SaaS systems that make building companies easier today than ever.  (and harder)There are lots of systems available today!  The available systems have evolved so much over the last 20 years (which is good) but can also add extra cycles.  We have had to stay laser focused and pick solutions to achieve needs and NOT over systemize the company.  Too many systems have been a weakness of mine in the past, and our team is good about using a strategic tech stack without too many bells and whistles.  

Since our team is small, we have to “eat our dog food” so we try to choose wisely.  With the many web apps, we can do our data processing, accounting, prototyping, digital listening, client billing,  email, video, chat, VOIP, CRM, and internal team collaborations.   The challenge has been selecting solutions that talk to one another and make us efficient.  I would love to do a blog post on the systems we use and compare notes with other small companies.  (Let me know in the comments below if there is interest in this tactical post) I tend to be a systems person, so I am always interested in comparing notes on topics such as IFTTT vs. Zapier!  

 

What is the hardest thing about our business today?  

Hands down, it has been working “in the business” and “on the business” at the same time. You’ve probably heard the analogy, “ it feels like we’re changing the wheels on the bus while we’re driving it.” Since we have clients and projects, we have to focus on those first and foremost. However we also to take the time to build a strategy allowing us to clearly articulate our business,  the value we provide, and the problems we solve. In the data analytics space and especially #AgTech,  this has proven to be a necessity .   The shorter the message, the more challenging it can be to craft.  In case you are wondering, IN10T “Helps Agribusinesses  Solve Adoption Challenges”  

What do I enjoy most about IN10T?

My favorite part of the business is that we are addressing a void in the current market. I love the team that I go to work with every day and feel challenged and invigorated as we solve the adoption problems in an industry I love, agriculture.  For 20 years I have dreamed of starting a business…. I would lay awake at night thinking about the next big idea or web application that I could be part of. At the time least expected, there was an opportunity to meet a need in the market that matched up with a team that could fulfill.  It is our job to continue to listen to customer needs and choose projects allowing us to grow this business in the most efficient way possible staying true to our vision of solving the Adoption Challenge in Agriculture.

If I’ve learned anything about entrepreneurship, it’s that you have to listen to the market.  When the time comes to walk through the door, it still isn’t easy. I have also learned that there are mentors in my life and other entrepreneurs that have shared their time and wisdom as we are standing up IN10T.  As I approach 40, I also realize it’s time for me to start giving back to others and share my lessons.  I DON’T have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination.  After listening to a podcast from  Michael Hyatt a couple of years ago, I learned a key part of leadership needs to be maintaining a blog and providing thought leadership.  I took that as sound advice!

While the future of IN10T continues to take shape each day, right now I am learning as much as possible and trying to enjoy the journey.   I will continue learning and if there is anything that we can share as we go through this experience of the first hundred days, hopefully, it helps other individuals in the beginning stages.  

But there is more…  The personal side of this journey is also different than I expected.  

Family First

I have talked about how important my team at IN10T is, but what I now know is without my wife supporting this business, it doesn’t work.  She provides stability for our family in both the home and work front.  While that is important, what is most crucial is that she provides a ton of Grace.  I am home more now, but I am constantly thinking about the business, and she is helping me remember that our family and my three little girls have to come first!  I can see how business owners let work consume their life.  I have done this in the first 100 days.  Without my wife, as a partner, reminding me of my priorities, I easily get them in the wrong order.  

IN10T can’t be what defines me

My biggest fear when we started IN10T was that we would fail or not be able to generate solutions, value and most importantly revenue.  It is still early, but I believe we have a sustainable business that will continue to grow by adding value to customers and generating revenue.  If I make my life focus ONLY this business, I don’t’ believe I will find true happiness.  I know our team will pour into IN10T, and we are creating something very special, but it can’t be at the expense of our families.  I want to remember my purpose in life starts with my faith and family…   

Being intentional is resonating with business and our clients.  

I have to live this at home first  –  or it is for not.  

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