Thursday, October 16, 2008

A cuppa entrepreneurship

It was like a living jolt of good java visited our Drake University Entrepreneurial Leadership class the other day. Julie McGuire, founder and owner of Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure, 2723 Ingersoll Ave., in bustling Des Moines, IA, graced us with her thoughts and experiences on her entrepreneurial adventure.

She started off, much to the students' surprise by asking them a couple questions. First she asked them to jot down 2 characteristics essential to being an entrepreneur. Then she asked them to consider whether there is a difference between being a business woman and being an entrepreneur.

After sharing her personal background: Des Moines native; moved to California to pursue international business; took a job in a coffee shop; loved it; was good at it, but it wasn't enough. She wanted a "real career." Passed up opportunity to run a shop for somebody else, and decided to return to Des Moines where nobody was doing premium coffee yet. Why Des Moines? How could she leave Cali? As she explained, someone starting a new business is going to spend 100 hours+ a week working, so it didn't matter if it was in Des Mines or Vail. Also, she knew the "landscape." It also didn't hurt that Mom would cook for her and make sure she was getting a couple square meals regularly.

She wrote a great business plan and went searching for financing. Two years later, 2 YEARS, she finally landed enough financial support to get started. Of course by then, two other coffee shops had opened up. But they weren't in her neighborhood, and they did not make coffee the way she knew it had to be made. BTW, one of the reasons it took so long for her to get financed was because she was a "her." Bankers and investors were not quite ready for a young, single woman who wanted to start her own specialty biz. She also bumped into the "nobody will pay that for coffee around here" mentality, and after two other shops opened , that attitude shifted to , "well, you're a little late, they've got the market covered." Julie, and those that know her are not surprised by this, persevered. And 15 years later she has a successful business that has become a part of many people's lives. Zanzibar's has become part of that landscape she knew so well.

Unlike our other presenters, she did not offer the students a neat list of key traits; instead, she continued to ask questions. How do you come up with new ideas and solutions virtually every day? How do you recruit and keep staff in a customer-service oriented retail business? Was she really an entrepreneur (I answer that resoundingly YES...15 years ago she was a leader as a young woman, in creating a neighborhood destination, or as she refers to it, a third location: home, work , Zanzibar's; there was nothing like it in Des Moines, and there still really isn't). If she was, is she still? And if she isn't, what is she?

She acknowledged that she was passionate about her dream and her business; she was very committed and was willing to make the sacrifices to make it happen. She wondered, however, if she could muster the same passion and make the same sacrifices to do it again today.

I'll offer this summary of the traits that make Julie McGuire a successful entrepreneurial leader:
find your dream
  • Be prepared to work very hard and very long
  • Stick with it; you will encounter obstacles, and you will likely encounter naysayers
  • Be prepared for challenges everyday
  • Commit to coming up with new ideas and new solutions everyday
  • Be attentive to the needs and development of associates and, especially, employees
  • Be involved in your community
  • Be passionate about what you do
Thanks Julie.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Entrepreneurship is Fat!

Or is it Phat? Anyway, Bob and Joe Riley, father and son entrepreneurs, were the most recent speakers at our Entrepreneurial Leadership class at Drake University. Bob is founder, president and CEO (why do we continue to have presidents and CEOs?) of Feed Energy Inc., a 30-year old "premier supplier of energy solutions for the livestock industry." Joe Riley is Operations Manager of FEC Solutions LLC, a "new energy company" that is developing ways to improve ethanol production and otherwise foster and enhance energy production from ag-resources. Very cool guys; I first met Bob as he walked through a gathering repeating "Cigars and port, 801 Grand; cigars and port, 801 Grand." I followed him to the steakhouse at 801 Grand where we discovered mutual interests including cigars and port and more.

Feed Energy processes fats and oils and produces highly specialized feeds; Bob used to have business cards for "Fats R Us." Under his leadership the company has grown to more than $40 million in sales and is an innovative leader in high energy feed production. FEC Solutions is a new company working to extend Feed Energy's expertise into the fast-developing alternative energy industry with a focus on improving production margins and ensuring access to safe, clean energy.

Bob claims he was forced into being an entrepreneur when he acquired acquired Feed Energy in 1986. For the first three years it was 19 hour days and a lot of OJT(on-the-job-training). Fueled by insatiable curiosity, a willingness to risk failing, and a contagious belief in success he was able to cut back to 15 hour days and build a business where quality comes first, not only in its products but also in how they treat employees and customers. Joe discussed the challenges of starting a new business based on new technology in an industry in transition. Sounds like fun!

Bob and Joe shared their thoughts and advice on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneurial leader with our class.


  • Be willing to be broke--money is only important for survival; it is not the goal
  • Focus on quality--Take any other approach and you will fail.
  • Develop a weltanshauung or world view (I had to look that one up).
  • Mange risk--t have an intimate knowledge of your costs, your market, your products.
  • Pay attention to the details...of your process and your plan.
  • Be confident--deliver value.
  • Be curious--look for better ways to make it, sell it, communicate it, improve it.
Their motto (or mantra): Profit is the byproduct of quality.

  • Stay focused--on your business and your goals; filter out the noise.
  • Get and stay organized--do the right thing, the right way, the first time.
  • Be flexible [adaptable]. Things change; you must too.
  • Follow through. Execute.
  • Be persistent. NEVER GIVE UP.

They then added some advice for approaching the future:

  • Get out of the classroom and start a business.
  • Graduate.
  • Get a job and learn the ropes on someone else's nickel.
  • Get fired from a job; experience dealing with failure.
  • Find a Baby Boomer with money, because money is hard to come by.
  • Gamble or calculate? Indian poker or blackjack? Know the difference.
  • Build your own model for developing, choosing and starting a business.
  • Save the world. Big problems need solutions from young entrepreneurs.
Bob then presented the students with a real choice:

They have found a new metal with unique properties. They have determined that it can increase ethanol production significantly. They have a client willing to use it, and they can be operational with it in less than 6 months at a cost of $50,000.


Experiments have shown that the metal also has unique properties to target and destroy cancer cells. It will take $50,000,000 to commercialize and 10 years to complete all trials and tests.

Which would you choose?

Island for sale?

For sale: Volcanic island; north Atlantic views all around. Size of Kentucky, but liquor is freely available; home to classic Nordic beauties. Great potential for geothermal heat. 320,000 literate, long-lived, previously high-income owners forced to sell. Excellent opportunity for...well, anybody who has any money left. Anybody?

Friday, October 03, 2008

It ain't pretty, but it's better n' nothin'

They were against it. Then the other guys were for it. The market crashed. The market jumped. Aw shucks, we had a debate. Then they were for it. The market yawned; maybe it's tired. Glad my money is at Wells Fargo.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Iowa Economic Development has a chance

Many thanks to Doug Lewis, head of Entrepreneurial Development for the Iowa Dep't of Economic Development. Doug is one of the rare few who can truly say "Hi, I'm from the government, and I ma here to help you." A very down-to-earth good guy, he took a different tack than our other visitors by starting out with some recommended readings: The World is Flat, by NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, important for the world view he sets out, but lacking any prescription for what we should do; A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink who provides some guidance on what to do, namely focus more on creativity and empathy as basic analysis is best done by technology; and The Only Sustainable Edge, by John Hagel and John Seeley Brown who explore developments at the edge of business and the edges of the world. He tossed in a reference tho the best-selling Influencer The Power to Change Anything, by David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler.

Doug then went on to provide his advice on how to prepare for entrepreneurial leadership:
  1. Work and get training in order to really know how to execute a plan or strategy.
  2. Find a mentor. This is a recurring theme among our presenters.
  3. Be willing to fail; most successful entrepreneurs do not succeed until their third attempt. Another recurring theme.
  4. Start now. This is one of the major themes of our class. Entrepreneurial leaders make things happen.
He emphasized that entrepreneurial success requires tenacity and devotion. He also suggested that there are opportunities in and around clusters of economic development, analogizing to Hollywood, where it takes more than actors and directors to make it all work.

Iowa has identified three major areas of opportunity:
  1. Biosciences
  2. Advanced manufacturing
  3. Information Technology
And while I have suggested to Doug that three may be too big and broad for little ol' Iowa, I am confident that Iowans will find innovative solutions within those broad categories. And when they do, Doug will be there to help them capitalize on them.
Thanks, Doug.