Big Idea Blog
I still remember the day I walked into my eighth grade agricultural class to discuss a speech topic with my ag advisor. I had never successfully given a speech in my life. I received the opportunity to try the Discovery Speaking contest through FFA. I told him that I wanted to give a speech, but I didn't know what to talk about. He replied with conviction, "You should talk about cattle because they're your passion." It dawned on me that cattle are, in fact, my passion. I don't really recall what else I talked about in that speech.
I do remember the encouragement from my advisor, and this seemingly inconsequential experience started my love for leadership. Deciding to give a speech was my first move as a leader; I was doing something to get out of my comfort zone and make a difference.
Since then, I have thought about leadership often, and my interest in the subject has grown. Now, I have developed a leadership philosophy that I would like to share. I'm a strong believer that every individual has a different perspective on leadership, but here is mine:
Leadership is a full-time job
This is a sentiment that I first heard from my ag advisor. It is one of his signature phrases that was instilled in my mind. I find it to be so true. I believe leadership begins from within. I need to know who I am before leading others, and I need to feed myself before pouring into others. Knowing that leadership is a full-time job helps me in my daily life. I often ask myself, "Is this something a leader would do?" I live as a leader in all areas of my life, but I know that I make mistakes. A strong leader works to correct those mistakes and learn.
Compassion is one of my values, and I lead with compassion as well. I want to accept all people. I want people to know how valued they are. Making others feel loved is accepting them without knowing who they are. Making others feel valued is knowing who they are and seeing their worth. I want to lead with empathy and kindness. When I walk into a room, every stranger is simply a friend that I haven't met yet.
A value that I have gained throughout my experience as a state officer, transparency has become very important to me. Transparency is what happens when trust and honesty are put together. I will be transparent with the people in my life; I strive to live genuinely and authentically. I know when I am being inauthentic, and I make an effort to correct that. Living with transparency helps to avoid conflict and build relationships within a group.
All the positive things I have received in my life have come from my own hard work. I work hard (and with grit) to achieve my goals and earn success. I'm a fan of the concept of servant leadership. I don't want to supervise; I want to do the work, too. I would not ask my followers to do something I wouldn't do myself. I have also learned recently that it's good to know when to get out of the way. As much as we all want to be hands-on and do the work, we can't always do that. Sometimes there is someone in the group whose talents will accomplish the task better than mine. Know when to let others take the lead.
These four ideas are what I center my vision of leadership around. I also believe that leadership grows fluidly and constantly. Tomorrow, my perception may change. Ten years from now, I will have a different philosophy. But, this is good, I will grow as a leader.
I stated earlier that I had never successfully given a speech in my life. I think I once earned a red ribbon in a 4-H speaking contest, and I steered away from public speaking. Taking the chance to speak again in eighth grade was my first step towards leadership. Without taking that growth opportunity, I wouldn't be the public speaker that I am today. I wouldn't have become the leader that I am. I got out of my comfort zone, and I will find other opportunities to do the same.
During the first week of November, I joined a small group of aspiring entrepreneurs traveling to Silicon Valley in San Francisco, CA for the Lean Startup conference. This conference was fueled with excitement, insights, innovation, and many cups of coffee. The stimulating atmosphere arose from the passion within each speaker and attendee. The lean startup way inspires entrepreneurs and employees to use the resources at hand to maximum efficiency. The term, “Minimum Viable Product”, or “MVP” was mentioned countless times at the conference. The MVP is at the heart of the lean startup way. The founder of the lean startup conference and author of The Lean Startup, Eric Ries, describes it as the version of a new product, which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort. These methods save time and money while showing the entrepreneur whether their product will serve the market.
An important realization I took away from the conference was that a company’s first prototype doesn’t have to be the best version or the jaw dropping experience that you want for the customer. The MVP will help you understand how the market will react to the idea before thousands of dollars are spent and hours of product development are completed. Test your ideas in small ways to get a better understanding of the needs of the customer. This could be as simple as setting up an extra page on your website with more information and/or future products. The extra clicks by visitors could show their interests and needs. Startup companies need to entice their target customers to share as much information about their interests as possible to better serve them. As Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” If you test the market and fail to validate your product, modify the plan and get back out there to test again. When applying lean startup concepts to your business, risk of catastrophic failure is mitigated, which will allow your business to pivot and try a better solution.
The ideas shared at the startup conference are not unique to one place or time. The concepts can be taught and modeled within our own startup communities in Nebraska. Traveling to Silicon Valley has great networking benefits which should appeal to many entrepreneurs, but remember to use your time and money to maximum efficiency. After traveling to Silicon Valley, I identified three important reasons to network in that area. The first would be to gain access to valuable start-up funding such as: angel investors, venture capital funds, partnerships, acquisitions, or start-up accelerator programs that litter the bay area on the hunt for innovative ideas with growth potential. Secondly, business models of all sorts are put to the test in this fast paced environment. The failures and successes of these businesses can be learned from or copied. Speakers at the lean startup conference shared their experiences of success and failure so others can avoid setbacks on their journey to success. Lastly, the people and culture in the area are driving change across the world with innovation. Their insights can help open your eyes to different or better solutions or if there’s a problem holding your progress back. The more you understand the start-up world, the better you will become at using and locating the resources required to reach success. Reach out for networking opportunities, not only in Silicon Valley but also within our own community. Lincoln is thriving with startup support for ideas that have merit. Overall, understand all aspects of the market your business is getting into, test the market with a MVP, and build a solid foundation with a team with steam and fire in their bellies!
Time is the most valuable resource we have as people. How we spend our time now will determine what we do for the next fifty years of our lives. Since I am, by nature, an activator, one thing that I seem to experience is a lack of time. Over the past two summers I have spent many nights wondering what I was truly doing with my time. Then I read a book that would change my life forever: Essentialism. This book made me prioritize my life in a way I had never done before. I started looking at simple things that I did every day that were non-essential and cutting them out. I started to take control of my life again. When we see our time as valuable, we start doing valuable things with our time. I found myself doing more meaningful things. For example, instead of watching Netflix, I went for a run. Instead of listening to music on my ride home every day, I started listing to podcasts.
One of my favorite quotes in the whole book is, “If you don’t take control of your time, someone else will.” I think one thing that is very important for entrepreneurs to know is this: just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. For example, just because you can be in five different clubs on campus doesn’t mean you should be in five clubs on campus. Protecting my time has been one of the most powerful lessons I have learned by being in the Engler Entrepreneurship program. I would challenge everyone who reads this to do one simple thing: invest in something that you believe in and something that lasts much longer than the four years you’re in school. Build a network of mentors and professionals, then build fast, build forward, and build cheap.
My fitness journey began early on. I grew up playing softball, dancing, and jumping at the chance to participate in any other sports my parents would let me. Not only did I love the challenge and competition that came with sports, but I loved how fun they were. My mom would always say “Win or lose, as long as you had fun that’s all that matters.” That same excitement around sports and fitness continued on into high school where I ran cross country, played basketball, competed in track and field, and danced at a local studio.
When I got to college, I had a major shock when sports, such a key piece of my life, were suddenly not such a key piece. Classes got harder, involvement in organizations increased, sleep decreased, and my health became less of a concern. It wasn’t until sophomore year when I was trying to think of business ideas for an Engler entrepreneurship class that I discovered group fitness. I thought back to the things that made me really, truly happy, and dance kept popping into my mind!
The first group fitness class I went to was Cardio Dance and I left that class knowing that I had just stumbled upon something amazing that was going to change my life! I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into but I took a leap of faith and went through the instructor course at UNL. After failing my ACE certification test twice, I almost gave up. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I’ve learned to “Fail fast, fail forward, and fail cheap.” On a college budget, failing my certification test was starting to become not so cheap. But my family and friends were supportive and encouraged me to take it one more time. Turns out the third time really is the charm! After three attempts, I finally passed.
I have now been a group fitness instructor for a full year, and I can easily say it has been one of the most rewarding things I have pursued! Although I have taught a variety of classes, my favorite class to teach is cardio dance. I value positivity and happiness, and it’s really hard to not be positive and happy when you’re dancing around with the music turned up!
Making it happen vs. letting it happen – life is a dance
One of my favorite quotes is by Arianna Huffington, it says, “Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen.” I love this quote for a couple different reasons. The first being that I love dancing so it automatically speaks to me, and the second is because this quote reminds us that sometimes we have to roll with life and accept that we can’t control everything.
I like to describe my life as a crazy, beautiful mess – I wouldn’t have it any other way. There are some things that I can make happen; like choosing to get out of bed in the morning, deciding to surround myself with people who make me a better version of myself, and making fitness and health a part of my life. And there are some things that I have to let happen; like accepting and loving my body for the way God made it, and knowing that college is a time of growth and change.
Life is a dance, sometimes we fall, sometimes we soar, sometimes we dance with others, sometimes it’s a solo, sometimes the choreography is perfect, and sometimes we make it up as we go. Regardless of where you are in your dance, dance like no one is watching, because you never know when the song will end.
You’ll have to forgive me for adding another one to the pile, but the point of how invaluable internships are cannot go missed. I was in Washington, D.C. for ten weeks this summer with the National Corn Growers Association, and the first three weeks were a major adjustment. I didn’t express that sentiment in my first two blog posts—I’ve always been outgoing, curious, and adaptable; overall, these feelings were a first.
Despite the unease of acclimating myself to D.C., the culture, transportation, verbiage, and even the swampy weather, I knew with confidence that this internship was something I wanted, and needed. Following dreams of being an artist and a fashion designer (circa 2001), working in public policy in the agriculture industry has long been an interest of mine. I interned with a risk management firm last summer, and can’t say enough good things about my experience with the firm and the producers we worked for—I received invaluable mentorship that summer and learned more about risk, hedging tools, and relationships than the classroom could ever teach me. However, I still had a yearning for policy work. I knew that if I didn’t get policy experience under my belt I would be holding myself back, and letting myself down. Lucky for me, I had another summer left before graduation (December 2017) to pursue policy. Some may find my sentiment exaggerated, and sure, I could jump into a full-time position in public policy when I graduate and figure it out then, but an internship first provides a few advantages.
Internships are a low risk, high reward environment. You are able to immerse yourself into a company, their culture, and daily operations, without a long-term commitment. Eight to twelve weeks, that’s your only obligation. While that is a simplified notion and there are many more pieces to an internship, such as proving that you are an asset to a team, you can use it as a time to explore if the company and the field is right for you. If not, no harm, no foul. You can follow through on your commitment and leave on strong terms, whereas if you jumped into a job straight out of college that wasn’t the right fit, leaving may be a little more awkward, and you may be faced with thoughts of unease and uncertainty, between fight or flight.
Secondly, you are getting paid to learn. For most new positions, it takes time to operate in autonomy with confidence. In my experience from the two internships I have held during undergrad, I didn’t feel like things truly “clicked” until my last 2-3 weeks. The majority of the summer is an exciting, fun, and yet huge, learning curve. You have to ask a few more questions, tasks take you a little bit longer to navigate, and you’re still sorting out what exactly your role is. Most companies recognize the return from having interns, that’s why they continue to recruit, and then support them through the learning curve each summer. However, I want to reiterate this point to parents that are hesitant to support their son or daughter through an internship and students who don’t really have interning as a priority, and any business owner that has entertained the idea of developing an internship program: The personal and professional growth that can be achieved by interning is invaluable and irreplaceable.
Third, internships are an opportunity to see how you handle adversity. This adversity can come in a variety of forms. Perhaps it is a series of challenges that come with moving 1,400 miles away from home. Perhaps it is the challenge of micromanagement, or on the flipside, navigating autonomy. Maybe you have to recognize your own abilities and ask for more responsibility. Are your daily tasks not lining up with the job description? Or, maybe you are trying to succeed but the company’s structure and communication habits are restricting that. Some of these points are my own, others come from the experiences that peers have had. Bottom line, these are challenging waters to navigate, and I know that I will be able to hit the ground running much faster, in my first full-time position, than if I had never interned during my undergrad years.
Interning has helped me reflect on my interests, identify what I value in a company, and also to develop expectations for myself and what I am able to contribute to a cause. Culture, engagement, and autonomy are priorities of mine when considering future employers. From one internship to the next, I was able to reflect and identify what I think I did really well, but also set new standards for myself and identify how I thought I could perform better Round 2 (this summer with NCGA).
I by no means have it all figured out, and don’t think that I ever will, but I assure you that because of internships, I am more excited than nervous, or unsure, to graduate in December. So, thank you Nebraska corn farmers, Nebraska Corn Board, and National Corn Growers Association, for supporting internships and taking the time and resources to invest in me this summer. Your support helped me to intern, and knowing I had the support of family, friends, and advisors, I was able to take advantage of a summer of growth.
“Do I really need accountability?” Derek asked me.
“Why do you ask?” I replied.
“I mean, shouldn’t I be able to hold myself accountable to my healthy eating goals? This is something that really matters to me, so I should be able to do that myself, don’t you think?” Derek continued.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said.
Healthy eating, we were learning, was a critical issue for Derek.
When he ate well, he felt good about himself, which made him happier, which helped him do better work, which fueled everything else in his life. But when he didn’t, his energy would spiral downward. It was like a kind of switch—the one activity that would change his energy from vicious cycle to virtuous cycle.
In this particular coaching conversation, his energy was low. (Not surprisingly, healthy eating hadn’t been great either.)
We learned that the only time he’d successfully stuck to healthy eating was through outside accountability, whether through a trainer, coach, or otherwise.
Today, he was questioning the power of accountability.
Well, I don’t know,” I continued. “Accountability is a part of every successful behavior change story I’ve every heard, and every proven behavior change system I’ve seen. But we live in a culture that expects you to do it yourself. And if you can’t, there’s something wrong with you.”
“Yes, yes!” Derek replied.
“But, really, we are social creatures. We rely on people for everything we do. I think we’re tricked into thinking we can do things ourselves, but really we just lose sight of just how much help went into it,” I said.
Let’s think about a simple example—you reading this article. You’re reading this on some kind of device, which needs to be powered. Somebody had to find out how to generate the electricity, invent wires to supply the energy, invent the power grid that gets it to you (thanks Nikola Tesla), build the power plant and energy grid that supplies it to your location, and all the tiny parts that had to be designed, built, shipped, and installed to get the energy from the building to your device.
All of that work. Just to power your device. It would take a lifetime to do yourself.
But you don’t think about that. You just plug in your phone, tablet, or computer and expect energy to start flowing.
So when we attempt something simple like changing a habit, reaching a goal, or getting one more client, we expect to do it on our own. And it’s OK to expect that. It’s just that, more often than not, it’s inaccurate.
The truth is, you can’t do it on your own. By time you got dressed this morning, you relied on hundreds, maybe thousands of people. You likely never meet them, but they helped you.
Honestly, the word “accountability” doesn’t quite capture the real power of partnership.
Something incredible happens when you become vulnerable and open yourself to help. When you let someone in, their mere presence changes the game. Your new future gets anchored in another person, and in your relationship. Through their support, the future becomes more likely to happen.
This change is especially tangible if you’re trying to stop a destructive behavior. There is a redemptive power of having someone walk alongside you, rescuing you from your unwanted behavior. Someone to help you be more compassionate with yourself when you inevitably mess up.
But building that accountability is risky. The risk of vulnerability. The risk of a failed partnership. The risk of not changing. (Often, these risks are well worth the potential rewards.)
Later that meeting, Derek and I established accountability around his goals. And then he texted me last week: “Hey coach, Just thought I’d let you know my eating is going really well. I’m in a good space thanks to you. Makes me really happy to have some discipline again…Working together is much better than going it alone.”
So, do you need accountability? No.
But does it help a whole lot? Yes.
Where are you already getting help, but may have lost sight of it?
Where don’t you have accountability, but could benefit from it?
Courtesy of Coach Cam Personal Coaching LLC
I opened my eyes the morning of December 19th and quickly shut them again. I rolled to my back feeling every vertebrae in my body protest this movement. I slowly swung my feet to the ground while investigating the bruises found on my shins, knees, and elbows. It was the morning after my first ski attempt. The combination of my clumsiness, dislike of all things cold, and my need for speed that has earned me my infamous nickname of “Ricky Bobby,” really hindered my skiing abilities the previous day. I searched the dark room to see three of my best friends sleeping peacefully. I knew when they woke up they would be energized and excited knowing we were hitting the slopes yet again today. I swallowed my fear and anxiety and tried not to trip on my swollen ankle on my way to my suitcase. I layered up in every piece of clothing regardless of whether or not it had already been worn. I filed through inspirational quotes stored in my phone trying to find some motivation to help me carry on with the rest of my skiing experience. The one thing I could cling to is that the ski resort closed at 4 pm and it was already 8 am, so that meant the torture could only last eight more hours—tops. What a thought full of hope…
The experienced skiers decided that they wanted to try some blues (medium level slopes) that day, so they left me with my friend Michelle, who had not been skiing since early childhood. We stuck with the greens, the easiest level. We were probably ¼ of the way down the mountain when we found ourselves laying in a drift by a sign that had two arrows pointing opposite directions. One arrow was pointing towards a black (the hardest level slopes) path, the other arrow said “Free-Style Course.” While that initially sounds incredibly scary, we decided it had to be easier than the seemingly impossible black slope. The skiers on both sides of us were flying and zooming past us with such expertise and ease we were horrified!
To say we were scared is to lie. In that moment Michelle and I looked at each other with no hope. We had an understanding in one look that this would end badly. We scooted ourselves towards the “Free-Style Course” and found ourselves facing a “Caution” sign. The sign continued to tell us that the path was only to be taken by professionals and that death could likely occur. Something odd happened at this sign. Michelle and I could do nothing but laugh. We found ourselves struggling to stand up and for the first time since we got on the mountain, it wasn’t because of our questionable skiing skills.
The more we laughed, the more hopeful we were. That’s when a ski patrol realized Michelle nor I belonged on either of these slopes and hurried over to us. She informed us that we would have to go down a small black hill to get us back down to a green slope. That’s when the grit came in—we knew that the next obstacle surpassed our skiing skills in a painful way. Hopeful tears filled my eyes. I guess the tears could’ve been from the sight of the “small” black hill. Regardless, we skied, or rolled, (it’s debatable) down the rest of the black where we finally saw a green arrow. We took a deep breath, and laughed our way down the rest of the mountain with a decent amount of ease and a whole lot of fun.
My mentor, Kayla Schnuelle offers us some perspective on this by writing, “purpose creates the vision but hopeful grit supplies the passion and perseverance to achieve our goals and tackle the barriers.” This is exactly what we experienced on the top of Copper Mountain. The purpose of our adventure was undoubtedly getting down a mountain in one piece. We both envisioned us skiing into the nearest Starbucks for the much needed hot cup of coffee. We knew that this would take both passion (in the form of enjoyment) and perseverance. The barriers are pretty self-explanatory. Kayla’s idea of hopeful grit is the exact presence of why I am convinced hope is something that is not only beneficial in the lives of leaders but essential. We all have aspirations, goals, and dreams. I encourage everyone to regularly imagine where they want to see themselves in the next year, the next five years, and the next ten years. It creates hope, which in turn gives us emotional fuel and focused energy to take the steps and create a plan that will get us there, God willing.
I also had the opportunity to bounce some ideas about the simple word “hope” off of Dr. Tom Field, the Director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program. He says that hope is recognizing that with hard work, sweat, and grit, and a power bigger and greater than ourselves we will reach our potential and have a journey worthy of our hearts and even our lives. The opposite of hope he says is “despair and doubt, it’s giving up and giving in.” He reminds me that hope is the “precursor,” it is the step before the plan.
Kayla and Dr. Field reminded me of another detail. We can’t talk about hope without talking about faith. This doesn’t have to be a faith in God, but I know this is my strongest case for why hope is not only a nice thing to have but a “must” thing to have. Please relate the following lines to whatever fills your own heart. My favorite prayer goes “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” The counteraction and the struggle against despair, darkness, hatred, injury, and doubt can be summarized in one word and that one word is none other than HOPE. This is not only a Christian principle, but rather, a human principle.
Lastly, I need to give thanks to my new friend, Mr. Shawn Koehler, District Sales Manager at Bayer CropScience. He challenged my thinking during a business and industry visit that was scheduled to network on the topic of Nebraska FFA and current agricultural happenings. He believes that there are more powerful things to pursue than hope, like preparation and the ability to inspire. This is an idealism that I plan on applying to a lot of aspects of my life. Because of our incredibly insightful conversation, everything I had ever incorporated with hope was challenged. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful.
His ideas on hope and leadership taught me so much about my personal leadership style and ways that I can work towards improvement. Often times, words like “hope,” “faith,” and “belief” are thought of as fluffy and feel-good. Indeed, if these words are used lightly they can be dangerous, deceiving, and ineffective.
Serving as a Nebraska FFA state officer has shown me that the most valuable conversations are ones that challenge you. Every person you meet not only knows something that you don’t but has lived another life that you will never be able to live. The potential in this fact is endless and limitless. Thanks for reminding me of this, Mr. Koehler!
I would love to keep the conversation going, if you have any thoughts, ideas, or arguments on the complex word “hope” email me at email@example.com. I’ll end with this: love to hope, hope to plan, and plan to serve to the best of your abilities.
Do you remember the first time you took the first step in something big? I do, I was eight-years-old. I had watched for many years my cousins showing livestock and I could not wait for my turn to be able to have my own show calf. I worked very hard on my first show heifer and was excited to show her at the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic. As show day approached, things started to change. I no longer wanted to show my heifer. Even to the point of when it was my turn to exhibit my heifer I told my parents, “I can’t do this. Why can’t Blake show her for me?” Blake was my eighteen-year-old cousin who had just won the Nebraska State Fair that previous year. My parents wouldn’t budge. I kept telling my parents “I have never shown before. I don’t know what to do.” They made me take that first step into that ring and I never looked back.
I have looked at this analogy many times as I made decisions throughout high school and my first year at UNL. When I decided to start my marketing business, I had very little previous knowledge of Social Media and Multimedia. I surrounded myself with people who did that business very well and knew I had a niche in the Cattle Market. I knew cattle and cattle genetics. That pushed me to take my first step.
As entrepreneurs, we have many opportunities to take our first steps. Whether that first step is writing down a business idea to building the business idea that you’ve had for a little while, I encourage everyone to take that first step and push themselves into the ring. One of my favorite quotes is, “The first step toward getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” - Chauncey Depew
As we get close to summer break, I encourage everyone to take that first step and do something extraordinary!
I strike a dissonant chord with blogs because one cannot experience the lessons learned by reading alone. Instead of simply reading, I want you to feel the Engler community’s experience musically. Please listen to one of my favorite songs, It Takes a Village, by Joan Szymko, before reading further. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVShZWwIrU4
There are many great individual entrepreneurs in the world. Their voices and ideas ring out proudly like the opening male vocalist in It Takes a Village. However, when a second voice – a second set of ideas – is added to the mix, the tone of the song changes. A hauntingly beautiful harmony ensues.
The same can be said of Englerpreneurs. There are many individually gifted people involved in the Engler program, but the strength of the program comes not from individual success. The Engler pillar of partnership and the collaboration of many individuals inspires greatness collectively.
Engler rallies and events like 3DS – organized by Engler’s directors and officer team – set the stage for collaboration and action. Similarly, the entire choir answers the call of the first singers, conductor, and instrumentalists. They seem to repeat the initial lyrics (lessons), then build on them with a stronger voice.
Later when the choir breaks into “hey hey hey hey-ah,” they represent the beautiful chaos of the entrepreneurial process. From idea generation to product development to the final sale, there are Englerpreneurs active in each segment of the process. The beauty of the Engler program is that we can learn from those farther along in the process and vice versa, resulting in a beautiful round. You can hear a harmonious example of this cyclical learning at the middle and end of It Takes a Village.
With so many different parts going on at once, you may ask yourself how these individuals work together so well. Fortunately, there is a simple solution in both vocal performance and the Engler program. The vocalists feel the rhythm of It Takes a Village internally and by pounding their chest in time with the music. If only one vocalist did so, the beat would not be strong enough to be heard above the chaos. It would fall apart. However, all participants work together to establish and maintain the beat throughout the song, demonstrating the power of community in achieving an objective.
Englerpreneurs are comparatively endowed with a fire in their belly – the heartbeat of an entrepreneurial song. By quickly identifying this fire in new Englerpreneurs and rallying its potential, the Engler community works as one to achieve common goals.
It takes a whole community to raise an Englerpreneur. It is all our burden to motivate and teach each other. We can all share in the joy of entrepreneurial success!
Two hours into the trek, I was covered with sweat and my legs felt like rubber, but I was loving it. My teammate and I had decided to hike the tallest peak on the island and the path led us right through the middle of the jungle.
At one point it hit me; never did I imagine I would be hiking through a jungle in distant southeastern Asia. I mean, this thing looked like I was in the Jungle Dome at Henry Doorly Zoo. It was crazy. I was really in the middle of the jungle. And did I mention this trip was entirely free?
Steve Jobs said in a speech, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."
I thought about this quote as I was hiking through the jungle. How did the dots connect for me so that I ended up here? It started with a flier on the wall. I had been working with my teammates for a couple months on a new project called FarmAfield. We thought there was a way to create a new marketplace in agriculture to let people from all over the world invest in farms. While we were working on this, I was on campus, passing through the Gaughan Center when a flier on the wall caught my attention. It was from the Thought for Food Challenge, a startup contest focused on companies that innovate in agriculture or food.
I didn't know anything about the contest, but after digging into their website, I found that the finals of the challenge were held in Switzerland, and I thought that was pretty cool. So I put together an application in two days and sent it in. I had read that over 400 teams apply for the challenge from around the world, so I thought little of ever hearing back from them.
Then I get a very unexpected phone call in my dorm room inviting FarmAfield as a finalist. I'm pretty sure it woke me up from a nap. Our team flew halfway around the world and we met outstanding entrepreneurs from many different countries all working on startup companies; it was crazy (we even went skiing in the Alps afterwards)!
We didn't win the contest, so when we returned home, we all thought we were pretty much done with that adventure. The Thought for Food Organization had some contacts with a few online news sites, and asked if one could do a write up on us. We agreed and a short article was published by the Food Bytes website describing our marketplace. It was very nice for the organization to share the article, but we never thought it would go anywhere.
And then I got a sketchy-looking Facebook message from some guy named Chai from Thailand. He found our article in a Google search, liked what we were doing, and invited FarmAfield to speak at the first annual Smart Startup Thailand conference. I was convinced this was one of those 'Nigerian Princes asking for me to wire him some money' or "join this pyramid scheme"' type of things. My friends told me I would most likely be kidnapped if I went. However, I did some more research and was about 80% sure that it was real.
That being good enough for me, a teammate and I jumped on a plane, flew halfway around the world again, and ended speaking at a startup conference in Thailand. Afterwards, we visited a few beautiful islands and finally went hiking in the jungle.
The path to get to the jungle seems somewhat unreal to me. Just that Chai from Thailand found us in a random Google search is astounding to me. The lesson here? Always be building something.
When I look back at how my dots have connected thus far, I realize that none of these would have happened without first starting FarmAfield. I never expected to be traveling the world when we started building our business, but because we were building something, the opportunities showed up, and I'm confident that as we continue to build, more opportunities will show up.
You have to be building something to start seeing those opportunities. You don’t have to have all the answers, we sure didn’t and still don’t. You don’t have to have the expertise or knowledge. You don't have to have a special connection. You just need to start building.
Then, maybe you'll end up halfway around the world talking about an enterprise you are passionate about. I've got some suggestions if it takes you to Thailand.
Just start building and get ready for the adventure it takes you on.