Entrepreneurship, Personal Growth

Your Big Idea

Aircraft taking off


A few years ago, I spent a day selling wine with a young salesman for a distribution company in the Midwest. I was there to represent Six Sigma Ranch in his territory, so he graciously introduced me to his accounts. After a few stops it was obvious that he was a nice guy, but not passionate about selling wine. So I asked a few questions about his life and interests as we traveled, and quickly learned his passion was flying airplanes. But he had exchanged this big idea for a sales job because it seemed more safe.

By the end of the day, he had changed his mind. He decided to quit his sales job, and start school to become a commercial airline pilot. We skipped the last account (he wouldn’t have followed up on it anyway), and instead went out for coffee to celebrate his new direction in life.

Every honest person I’ve ever asked has a big idea in mind. Some big ideas are buried, but surface with a few prying questions. Some big ideas are on the surface, because their owners are already living the dream. It seems everyone has a business, a book, a mountain or a pilot’s license in mind to conquer. But most of us never pursue our big idea. We don’t because it’s unreasonably large, or we don’t have enough resources, or it just isn’t a responsible thing to do. What if we failed? What would people think? And besides, some ideas simply can’t be done!

And that’s why most of us leave the big idea alone: It can’t be done.

But chances are it can. Think of human flight. It was widely known to be impossible until it happened.

And fortunately for most, the big idea doesn’t mean quitting a job one day, and applying for pilot school the next. Most of us can work on the big idea one little bit at a time, until it starts to make sense, and doesn’t look impossible at all.

That mountain you want to climb? Start by walking a mile each morning. The book you want to write? Write a page. Then two. The farm?  Begin by growing tomatoes in your backyard, and then chickens. And if you want to fly airplanes, celebrate with a cup of coffee and go get it done.


PS. Since I’m a person of faith, I believe big ideas come from God. He built each of us for a unique mission, and he planted a passion for that mission in our hearts so deep that it won’t go away. Most likely, that mission is too big to make sense. But, again because I’m a person of faith, I believe God gives us missions that are too big for our capacity on purpose, so he might empower us to do them, and prove that he is God. In fact, if the idea in your heart seems reasonable, it’s likely too small to be from God.

Economic Development

The Fight Against Poverty (and Hippos.)

hippo-yawningThere’s a tragic and amusing story behind the title of Ernesto Sirolli’s book, Ripples from the Zambezi.

As a young man, Sirolli worked with groups sent from Italy to Africa for “economic development.” As was the tradition (and unfortunately still is), one group went in search of problems to fix, in this case along the Zambezi River. They found that the locals had no agriculture, despite fertile soils, and determined to bless them by introducing Italian farming.

A few days before harvest time, the Italians were quite proud of themselves. They had taught (or at least demonstrated) agriculture along the river, and saw an abundant crop in their future. Unfortunately the local hippopotamus population saw the same thing. They came out of the river and ate the crop.

“Why didn’t you tell us about the hippos?” asked the Italians? The answer came calmly: “ You never asked.”

And therein lies the problem with billions of dollars of “economic development” funding supplied by wealthy countries around the world. “They never asked.”

Michael Matheson Miller covers the same topic from a different angle in the Poverty Cure series, where several businesses in struggling countries face competitive pressure from the “relief efforts” that flood their market with free goods.

So, what is the solution? According to Sirolli, it is called “facilitation.” Instead of marching into a deprived area on a mission, his team now hangs out at the local coffee shop. There they learn what entrepreneurial initiatives already exist, and offer to support them. The locals, who are more clever than we give them credit for, then do the work with a little support, wisdom and encouragement.


PS.  For more from Ernesto Sirolli, consider spending 17 minutes on his remarkably amusing Ted Talk:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chXsLtHqfdM


“Content” versus “Awesome”


How do you get on Fox News, Huffington Post, Orlando Sentinel and the United Kingdom’s Telegraph?

Simple. Just do something remarkable.

That is exactly what Mira Winery did when they released a wine aged 60 ft. under the surface of the ocean. Based on the surprising quality of wines discovered in sunken ships, Mira set out to test the power of the ocean to improve their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

A much less interesting approach to publicity was on display at a session I attended for the wine industry. Well-paid professionals shared well-meaning opinions on the impact of PR calendars, social media posting frequency, and “content creation” in general. Only one of them suggested creating REAL content, stories that matter, stuff people will share with friends because it’s just that interesting.

What might you create that people won’t be able to stop sharing?



Choosing Products (that Create Profit)


A friend asked this week about picking products that balance customer needs with his own farming interests. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re happy to take a stab at it!

Here are 6 things to consider:

Grow something you like! I would make a terrible lettuce farmer. I think it’s boring. For that reason, I have no business growing lettuce! Picking a product you enjoy helps you to produce it well, sell it with enthusiasm, and enjoy the leftovers.

Grow something people eat. This is obvious, but often missed. Don’t start emu eggs or badger-hair brushes unless you have a strong conviction about them. Instead, pick something people are already buying and create a brand and quality that outperforms existing options. Hint: Check out your local grocery store to see what gets shelf space. If there is a giant cooler full of eggs, they’re likely a hot item. If there is no section for pomegranates, they’re likely less popular.

Consider cash flow. Some products sell seasonally (think turkeys), while others grow seasonally. Obviously, a turkey farmer has to plan for the influx of cash during Thanksgiving to last the rest of the year, while an egg farmer has to acknowledge that chickens produce less in the winter. Financial discipline, or a mix of seasonal products, will keep seasonality from causing problems.

Consider your climate. Merino wool sheep hate hot weather (for obvious reasons) while California grows terrible coffee. So, if you’re settled on a location, pick crops or livestock that fit there. Or, if you’re settled on a product, move to where it will thrive.

Consider perishability. Before planning a business around a product, remember that some products have a great shelf life (think honey) while others don’t (think lettuce). While neither is necessarily better, it’s worth keeping in mind, to make sure your product fits your schedule and temperament.

Consider consumption rates. At Six Sigma Ranch, we sell beef by the quarter (100 lbs.) because people eat a lot of beef. For that reason, we can do a lot of business with a few hundred customers. If we were selling only olive oil, we would need to acquire and maintain more customers to hit the same sales numbers.


Ps. We love writing on topics from blog guests, so keep them coming!


The Farm in Alsted Mark

My great grandfather founded his family farm in the 1920’s in Alsted Mark, just outside Vonge, Denmark. There, 20 miles from Billund (later the birthplace of Lego Group in 1932), he and my great grandmother raised 7 of their children and an adopted son on 23 acres.

A few things strike me as interesting about this family-based case study:

First of all, the farm fed and financed the rearing of 8 children, meanwhile employing the two proprietors plus 2 male and 2 female apprentices, all on 23 acres. That’s 14 total people, or 1.6 acres per person.

Secondly, it was farmed according to organic principles, by default. (Nobody had considered chemical fertilizer until it became a by-product of bomb manufacturing during the Second World War.) Thus, fertility and bug control must have been supplied by the resident pigs, chickens and milk cows. In the same fashion, the operation never included a tractor; horsepower came from two Belgian beasts, obviously powered by grass. It’s fair to assume that the operation was also “carbon neutral.”

And lastly, little money was spent on education. That’s not to say that education wasn’t happening, only that it had a positive impact on cash flow instead of a negative one. Through a formal system of apprenticeship, young men and women could learn the trade under the guidance of a “master,” while performing valuable work.

The farm in Alsted Mark operated profitably this way at least until 1955, when my father remembers visiting as a youth. After that, my great grandfather sold it at a nice profit and retired to a job in town, brokering hogs at the Vejle Export Market.

While these observations obviously don’t translate directly to American culture in 2014, I find them interesting to dwell upon.




I love America.  There’s an entrepreneurial spirit here, a can-do attitude that has impressed me since I moved here as a kid from Denmark.  In many countries, exposing a business idea in public results in a list of reasons why it can’t or shouldn’t be done.  In America, sharing a business idea often results in encouragement and an offer by a stranger to provide capital.

And within this environment of entrepreneurship, there is no better business to start than a farm.  Here are 5 reasons why:

1.  You can start a farm for the price of your daily Starbucks habit.  If you own a yard, you can grow something.  If you don’t own a yard, you can likely talk a landowner into lending you a corner in exchange for produce.  Seeds are cheap.  And, very likely, you’re already buying water and fertilizer for your lawn.   Sell your first tomato crop to buy a beehive.  Sell the honey and buy a chicken coop.  You get the idea.

2.  You can eat the inventory.  This one is important.  If you start a keychain factory in your garage, there’s a limit to how many keychains your friends and family can utilize in the event that it goes bust.  But, if you start an agricultural operation at a reasonable size, and don’t sell anything, you just cut down on your family’s grocery budget.

3.  You can scale any size.  Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. started in a garage, and now makes a million barrels of beer per year (that’s 8-figure annual revenue, for anybody keeping score).  If you’re making the world’s finest jam from a quarter acre, you can expand as customers demand it.  If you get carried away with inventory, refer to the paragraph above.

4.  You’re changing the world.  Every small farm making delicious, healthy products gets us one step closer to a better world.

5.  It’s March, the beginning of the growing season.  Now go buy some seeds, if you haven’t already.  You should be planting something!

Christian Ahlmann