50 Resources To Get Your Business Off The Ground The Entrepreneurial Roadmap New Venture Capital Fund Coming To Town
Follow Nick Horob over the course of a year as he grows his business.
STORY STARTUP OF A
// NOVEMBER 2019
24 Sponsored Content: Weâ€™re In This Together 59 First Customer 64 The Oral History of Dieumerci Christel We sat down with Dieurmerci Christel, a junior at NDSU and a refugee from Tanzania, to learn more about his entrepreneurial spirit and efforts to make a stronger connection between students and teachers. 72 Venture Capital Has Come To Town The first early-stage venture capital fund to intentionally serve our area, The Northern Plains Fund, is now up and running in Moorhead. Ross Almlie, the managing partner of the fund, sat down to explain how the fund will help start-ups grow. 77 Entrepreneurial Tools You Need To Know 80 Utilizing an Entrepreneurial Mindset to Solve Community Issues 82 Defeat Doubt 87 10 Things Startups Should Know About HR 90 Launching a Business Q&A
92 Parking: A Strategic Piece of the Downtown Fargo Growth Puzzle
The Story of a Startup
Every startup has a story. Every entrepreneur has faced sleepless nights and tough decisions. While every startup is different, they all share a lot of similarities. To celebrate this, we found one entrepreneur to follow to see how a year can shape a business and a person.
50 Resources for a Startup
Follow Fargo Inc! on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter
94 Ladyboss Of The Month: Dani Gilseth, Dori Walter, & Aimee Hanson 96 Going All Out For Inbound 101 November Business Events Calendar 111 Gracious Givers: Office Sign Company & BNG
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EDITORIAL BOARD We at Fargo INC! want to make sure our content is unbiased and reflects the FMWF business community. That's why we meet regularly with our six-member editorial board to discuss local business issues and trends and ensure we are living up to our core values.
United Way of Cass-Clay
Greater FM Economic Development Corporation
Moore Engineering, Inc.
FM Area Foundation
This month’s “startups” theme is in my sweet spot for my role at the EDC and it was fun working with Fargo INC! on story ideas. Between our startups themselves and our supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem, we have a lot of good stories to tell the rest of the country and world. We can all be a part of creating these stories. You can do that by being an early customer, making a connection or just asking an entrepreneur, “How are you doing and how can I help?”
For 162 regular-season games, baseball teams create strict constraints for how they use their pitchers. Starters are on pitch counts. Relievers often don’t throw on consecutive days. These self-imposed rules optimize the pitching staff’s performance over a long season.
The FM Area Foundation is excited to announce the return of the Caring Catalog, an online, crowdfunding platform that connects you to local charities. Visit areafoundation.org/caringcatalog Nov. 22 to Dec. 31 to view the nonprofit projects and programs that need your support this holiday season. There are no fees so 100 percent of your donation goes directly to the participating charities
Fundraising, developing innovative products and services, maximizing limited resources – do these words describe to you startups or nonprofit organizations? The answer is: BOTH. In order to be successful, nonprofits today must operate like for-profits more than ever before. The challenge for nonprofits trying to run like a startup is how success is defined. For many people, the cost of doing business is the measuring stick for nonprofits, rather than the amount of social change they are creating. As more community leaders continue to see the similarities between startups and nonprofits, the more resources will be activated for both across our region and that will have the greatest potential to create a better tomorrow for all of us.
Chief Innovation Officer
In the playoffs, though, the rules are often thrown out the window. Starters pitch in relief and on short rest. Relievers throw as much as their bodies tolerate and remain effictive. It’s all hands on deck because, as the cliché goes, there is no tomorrow. Win today or you’re done. Hectic times in business can feel like playoff baseball. A proposal is due. A version rollout is promised. Winter weather threatens project completion. It’s all hands on deck. Astute business and baseball managers know the difference between their regular season and the playoffs.
NEXT MONTH’S ISSUE Did you know that 9.1 percent (about 2.5 million) of the small businesses in the U.S. are veteran-owned? They employ more than five million Americans, pay wages in excess of $195 billion and generate $1.1 trillion in receipts. That's why we're so excited about our December Veteran's owned business issue, which we're actually mailing to 6,000 veterans across North Dakota. We'll be talking to a dozen veterans who have gone on to found their own business and will also include a list many different resources for veterans looking to start their own business.
Dakota Business Lending
FMWF Chamber of Commerce
We see it every day at Dakota Business Lending, someone taking the steps to begin their journey of starting a small business. It's a journey that is not for the faint of heart, but for those who dare. It's one that is rewarding in ways that cannot be predicted at the beginning. It takes courage to step up and make the leap. In this start-up issue, there are many good articles on what makes sense and how best to approach that start-up idea you have.
Considering the theme of this month’s magazine as we approach holiday shopping season, we want to remind our community of the importance of supporting local businesses, small businesses and Chamber members. Did you know that approximately 67 cents of every $1 spent at a U.S. small business remain in its local community (2018 Small Business Economic Impact Study)? Supporting local businesses makes a difference. In our region, 87 percent of FMWF Chamber members are small businesses, qualifying as having fewer than 50 employees. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and contribute to the vitality of our region. We encourage you to Shop Small®, shop Chamber and shop local on Small Business Saturday® on November 30 this year. Thank you to all our members, both large and small – find them all on our website!
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President and CEO
November 2019 Volume 4 Issue 11
Fargo INC! is published 12 times a year and is available at area businesses and online at FargoInc.com.
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Business Development Manager
Christy German Hillary Ehlen
Nick Horob, Brady Drake, Steve Dusek, Kristi Huber, Paul Smith, Adrienne Olson, Peter Schott, Kirsten Lund, Katie Beedy, Mark Puppe, Samantha Mohr Nick Schommer
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We don't have to tell you why art is important. But we will introduce you to some incredible local artists who are making waves, nearby and beyond. Whether you are filling an empty wall, setting the mood or hoping for a conversation starter, no home is complete without art. Join us as we meet some of Fargo's finest creators and get ready to be inspired to add to your own home gallery.
What is better than beer and food? In this issue, we pair the two together (literally). We teamed up with local breweries and local restaurants to pair FargoMoorhead-born beers with hand-crafted Red River Valley dishes. Sophisticated palates are certainly not required as we span the entire city searching for the perfect beer and food pairings. Here is what we found.
Whether you are a Bison fan or not, very few recognize the details that go into the North Dakota State athletic competitions we enjoy watching. One of those details is science and the various branches of that vague term. From a sheer scientific perspective, there are a host of physical and mental ingredients that need to occur over the course of a play, game or sequence to achieve athletic success. What are these ingredients? And how do they create a recipe for success at North Dakota State? We take a deep dive inside the world of sports science to answer those questions.
We’re In This
he sense of community in Fargo is strong. With a diverse business and nonprofit scene, there are numerous organizations with the mission of supporting the residents of Fargo-Moorhead. And this is why it’s important that businesses be there for the nonprofit sector. We talked with two business leaders to learn about why they’re being so supportive of CHARISM, a local nonprofit with the mission of breaking the cycle of poverty by building stronger neighborhoods.
From employee morale to increased marketing to tax deductions to helping the community, there are numerous reasons why businesses should support nonprofits. Through a unique angle of hyper-localized support, CHARISM serves the Fargo area by providing programs to low-income families and new Americans with an emphasis on children and youth in-school and out-ofschool mentoring and clubs, as well as a food shelf to provide food security. “To the children and families we serve, CHARISM is like a close friend or family member who is always there when you need them the most,” said James Nagbe, Interim Executive Director. “We strive to be an anchor point of support to every child and family as we work towards building a stronger future for them and a stronger neighborhood in our community.”
Learn About Their Programs
»» Check and Connect Students who are disengaged from school with poor attendance, behavioral issues and/or low grades might just need a little encouragement. The Check and Connect mentors monitor students’ performance and teach them how to set personal goals and become more independent and responsible. »» After School STEAM Club The STEAM program provides academic enrichment opportunities during out-ofschool time for children to help them meet state and local education standards in science, technology, engineering, art and math subjects. »» C4 Youth Camp An extension of the Check and Connect program, C4 Youth Camp invites at-risk
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youth to take part in character building, leadership development, recreation, arts and team building activities. »» CHARISM Kid’s Camp Offered to kids in the surrounding neighborhoods, this program typically runs Monday through Thursday throughout June and July. Children are provided with a healthy breakfast and lunch and are able to spend time with mentors and peers during camp activities. »» Grocery Assistance Program In partnership with Great Plains Food Bank, CHARISM redistributes food from local grocery stores to residents in the McCormick Park Neighborhood and the entire community. Groceries are distributed twice a week, Tuesdays from 4-5 p.m. and Fridays from 10-11 a.m.
Board President and Founder of TL Stroh Architects-Interiors
Board Treasurer and Location President with Choice Bank
Q&A I love what the organization does and that it’s in a super high-risk area of Fargo. I think people drive by two blocks away on 25th and don’t even know it’s here. It’s interesting because, to be honest with you, I’ve never been back there before. It really opened my eyes to the need in this town and I’m sure there are other places in Fargo that have similar situations. ... I think the whole idea of an organization that pulls people up from their bootstrap and walks the walk with them is super important in any community and it certainly is in Fargo.
CHARISM has a strong tie to the communities and neighborhoods it serves. Programming like “Check and Connect” helps ensure students are getting to school, performing well in school and after school programs help with homework and academic activities leading to more success in school. CHARISM also has a grocery assistance program that offers food to those families in need twice a week. The other great programs are an after-school STEAM club, C4 camp and a summer kids camp.
The donor base makes it work. If it’s not there, the programs don’t exist. Our children and their families aren’t able to contribute. They’re really on the edge. To even take that pressure off of their parents and know that they have other people looking after their kids and being able to point them in the right direction, get their attendance and grades up and help them in all those things, it’s amazing.
WHAT IMPACT DO DONATIONS HAVE ON THESE PEOPLE’S LIVES?
The main impact is providing a better learning environment for children to have the best chance to be successful in whatever they dream about becoming. CHARISM has been around long enough to have examples of youth who’ve gone through the CHARISM program, graduated college and now are working in our community today and sharing their stories about the positive impact CHARISM had on them.
I hope all successful companies out there have some sort of philanthropy arm. My company does. My staff gets behind it. When I first came to work for the Board of Charism and told my staff about some stuff that we were doing, they came over and volunteered on a grocery assistance program. What they gave me for my Christmas present that year was a certificate that they printed out with the logo and all their signatures and it said how many hours they would volunteer that year. That meant more than anything they’ve ever given me.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL OTHER COMPANIES THAT AREN’T CURRENTLY SUPPORTING A NONPROFIT?
There are a lot of great nonprofits in our community to support. Pick one that you are passionate about and look for ways to help, whether it’s volunteering or financial assistance. The United Way of Cass Clay can be a great resource to connect you to nonprofits that you may have a passion for.
It’s really trying to give children, primarily but it does affect their family, the opportunity to break the poverty cycle, put them on a different path and get them to really become the start of a legacy of their family. A lot of these kids are at risk and their likelihood is that if somebody doesn’t do something, they’re going to end up being a statistic instead of a contributing member of the community.
ABOVE ALL ELSE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS CHARISM’S PRIMARY PURPOSE AND WHY DOES CHARISM EXIST TODAY?
The primary purpose started with providing programs to low-income families in the McCormick Pack neighborhood in South Fargo. That primary purpose has evolved today to mainly focus on children’s educational needs and support in multiple neighborhoods throughout the FMWF Area.
HOW DID WE CHOOSE HARVEST PROFITS?
Without a doubt, the hardest part of this story was choosing which startup to follow. At the end of 2018, we reached out to several entrepreneurs to see if they would be interested in participating. Ultimately, we selected Horob because he was extremely open and honest with us. While this is just one startupâ€™s story, there are thousands more that we could tell and we canâ€™t wait to report on all these companies for years to come.
THE STORY OF A
Startup BY NICK HOROB, Founder of Harvest Profit
Every startup has a story. Every entrepreneur has faced sleepless nights and tough decisions. While every startup is different, they all share a lot of similarities. To celebrate this, we found one entrepreneur to follow to see how a year can shape a business and a person. Nick Horob is the founder of Harvest Profit, a software as a service company that helps farmers make more profitable farm finance and risk management decisions. Follow along with us as we go through the ups and downs of launching and growing a business. HILLARY EHLEN
I’M NICK. I’M THE FOUNDER OF A COMPANY CALLED HARVEST PROFIT, INC. We are a small (currently 5 full-time and 3 part-time employees), but scrappy, team that’s focused on helping farmers build more profitable businesses. While many companies are focused on the agronomy side of the farm, we are focused on the numbers side of the farm. Specifically, we help farmers track and optimize crop-year based profitability on a field-byfield basis. I started this business in 2015 and we brought our first paying beta customers on in mid-2016. We fully launched the product in December 2016 and currently (as of January 2019) have 355 paying customers in 27 states and 4 provinces. I’m excited to share our journey with you this year. 2018 Overview In 2018, Harvest Profit went from having only 2 full-time employees to the 8 total team members mentioned above. During most of my career, I’ve 30
worked for myself (I was a farm consultant prior to starting Harvest Profit). Having a team under me has been a learning experience. Looking back on 2018, I feel I did a pretty good job of managing the team but there are two areas where I need to improve. 1.
Conducting regular check-ins to see what I/ we can do to help each team member do their best work and have fun doing it. I’m too “hands-off” currently. I need to stop dropping “Nick Bombs.” I have no shortage of ideas and I need to make a solid effort to let the ideas simmer awhile before we start building them. Software developers need uninterrupted time to do “deep work” and I need to be aware of that.
The business grew from $283,000 in revenue in 2017 to $470,000 in 2018. I was happy with that but I think we can do much better. We have been too reliant on self-service sales.
We don’t have a sales team and rely nearly entirely on wordof-mouth, content and email marketing to generate leads for our business. Leads come into a no-strings-attached 14-day free trial where we only ask for their email address. This free trial has a terrible (in my opinion) conversion rate of approximately 2-3%. Starting in December 2018, we began experimenting with a variety of paid marketing channels. We were making significant investments in direct mail campaigns and paid search. Our goal is to find a scalable, repeatable marketing channel. We are going to continue this effort until at least the end of February 2019 and then measure the ROI on each of the channels. I’ll report on the success (or failure/learning) of this in the coming months. Another important event at Harvest Profit in 2018 is that we raised $280,000 from four of our customers. We raised this investment in August via a convertible note. The plan
Net Promoter Score (“NPS”) The net promoter score is a metric, which measures a customer’s overall experience with your brand or product. They are scored with a single question survey and report that number with a number of -100 to +100. They are numerous software packages that will track NPS, including Promoter. io, Hotjar, Wootric, SMB Trust Rating, Customerville and more.
was to use the money to make a customer success hire and to make larger investments in marketing. We hired a local, tech-savvy farmer named Ben Longlet to serve as our Customer Support Specialist and that’s been a great hire so far. As I mentioned above, the results of our marketing efforts are unknown as of the date I’m writing this (midJanuary 2019). Somewhat related to the fundraising, I’ve been approached by a few companies in the last 18 months who’ve shown an interest in acquiring Harvest Profit. We have really only given serious consideration to one of the opportunities but we decided that it was simply too early for us to go down that path. Furthermore, we are structuring our cash flow and ownership in a way that we will never have to sell. It’s not a priority for me and it would need to be a hell of a good opportunity for our customers and employees. If you’re part of a successful
I’m going to shy away from highly-defined numeric goals with a focus on implementing systems and goals that have a positive correlation with growth in customer happiness (and revenue.) This is influenced from the book “Atomic Habits,” which is one of the best books I have read in the last couple of years. Each month, I’m going to grade myself and the company on these goals.
company, some level of acquisition interest is bound to happen. I would expect us to be approached again regarding an acquisition in 2019. If so, I’ll report on it in these monthly updates and disclose what I can. I value sustainable growth focused on helping our customers vs. fundraising and building a business simply to sell it. Finally, in wrapping up my thoughts on 2018 at Harvest Profit, I want to tell you that we are laser-focused on customer happiness. We are implementing numerous new systems and processes to ensure that our customers are getting as much value out of Harvest Profit as possible. To measure this, we conducted a Net Promoter Score (“NPS”) survey late last summer. Our first NPS score came back at a 42, a score that is bordering on great (50) but far from worldclass (70). We will be measuring this again a couple times in 2019 with the goal of having world-class levels of customer happiness.
• Employee Engagement: I’m quite hands off when it comes to soliciting feedback from our employees. Everyone on our team is vital to our success so I need to be better about conducting regular one-on-ones. • Sales Activity: For the first two years of Harvest Profit’s existence, I’ve focused on putting automated marketing systems in place to onboard prospective customers and nurture them through a purchase sequence. In 2019, I’m going to engage in more personal outreach to prospects. • Systems: There are still too many business processes that are “in my head.” I need to be diligent about documenting and systematizing these processes. The business needs to pass the, “What if Nick gets hit by a bus?” test by the end of 2019. Harvest Profit is no longer just a side project. Hundreds of customers are dependent on it in their businesses. • Content: Our business was built on the back of providing valuable content via our blog and free email newsletter. I/we can’t forget that providing thoughtprovoking content is what has fueled our growth todate. My goal is to send one email newsletter each week and post two new blog posts each month. • Data: During the first year of Harvest Profit’s existence, there were quite a few weeks where I was personally funding $2,000-$3,000/week of software development expenses. Every new customer helped lift this burden and I was ecstatic to see every one of them come through the door! By the end of 2017, I had built a nice cash cushion that allowed me to hire Jaryd and Jake (our first two software developers). But what I failed in was not making better use of data to track our customer engagement. A handful of early customers barely used the product at all. In 2018, we built much better systems to track data related to customer engagement, product usage and marketing attribution. We have room for improvement on this front and this is a key goal for 2019. • Fun: At the end of the day, none of us live forever. What’s the point of working hard if we aren’t having fun doing it? Historically, I’ve been good at always having fun on the job but I noticed stress building up at the end of 2018. Life is too short for unnecessary stress and I’m going to actively focus on having fun at work in 2019! • Work/Life Balance: I love what we are doing at Harvest Profit so much that I find it hard to unplug in the evenings and on the weekends. I need to do better at “unplugging” to allow for a mental recharge and spending quality time with my wife, family and friends. That’s all for my first post kicking off 2019. I will talk to you in early February! FARGOINC.COM
JANUARY Here’s whatm’sind on my today (February 8). It’s -24 this morning! I can live anywhere with good internet, yet here I am! Anyway, on to a report on how the last month has gone at Harvest Profit. We had a good month in January. In 2018, January revenue made up 19 percent of our annual revenue. It was, by far, our largest revenue month. In January 2019, we exceeded our January 2018 revenue by 28 percent. In the world of venture-capital backed startups, this would be considered a failure. Most of these companies are looking for revenue growth of 10 percent per month in the first couple years of business. This would lead to an expectation that our revenue should be up 300 percent when comparing January 2018 vs. January 2019. A lot of ag-tech companies have chosen to raise significant amounts of venture capital. There is nothing “wrong” with venture capital funding, especially for businesses that have a proven sales model and need “fuel for the fire.” In addition, if you’re trying to build a business with network effects (marketplaces, social
networks, winner-take-all markets), capital intensity or to fund acquisitions, venture capital is often a necessity. Harvest Profit isn’t in that position, yet. Most of our sales come from referrals, word-of-mouth or from people who have been on our email newsletter for the last year or two. We don’t have that repeatable, scalable sales model that just needs more fuel. Speaking of that, since December 2018, we have added 1.5 new customers every calendar day. While there’s not a lot of public comparables, I feel that this uptake is in the top 10 percent of all ag-tech companies. Our focus on providing value-added content to our blog and email newsletter is really the building block of our sales. One piece of news I wanted to share was that the Board of Directors of a very large agriculture company approved a partnership with Harvest Profit. We still need to hammer out the operational aspects of this partnership, but this could be a great opportunity for us to get our software in front of many more farmers over the next year or two. I’ll hopefully be able to shed more light on this in a future update.
This photo was taken on December 28 last year in the middle of a blizzard. Ben Longlet (Customer Success), Nick Horob and Jake Humphrey (Software Developer) sit in their old office at the NDSU Research and Technology Park.
Grades for January Employee Engagement: I did an OK job of checking in with members on the team to see if there’s anything the company/I can do to better support them. Sales Activity: I’ve taken a bit more active role in our sales process by reaching out to prospects active in our free trial. This effort has led to approximately 50 percent of our new customers. Systems: I recently agreed to hire a part-time administrative assistant to help remove some less value-adding activities from my task list. I need to invest the time to make this a success and I’m not looking forward to this process. Content: I built two new presentations and conducted 10+ webinars in January. These were well received from attendees but I need to focus on getting more high-quality content on our blog. Data:
We have recently uncovered one major marketing effort that has been a fail (it’s related to paid search advertising). Historically, we would have put the tracking in place to measure the performance of this advertising, which is a bit embarrassing but we’ve improved on this quite a bit. January is one of our busiest months so it can easily be stressful but I enjoyed my more hands-on sales approach from January, as well as the progress our team is making on new software features.
Work/Life Balance: In December, I had a stretch where I was really sleeping like crap. That was impacting both my work and life. It resulted in me working more than I’d like (60 or so hours/week). I read a book called “The Sleep Solution” by W. Chris Winter and it’s had a positive impact on me being more productive at work, which allows for more “unplugged” time at home.
FEBRUARY of growth February was a month st Profit. and learning at Harve First, let’s talk about learning. I mentioned in last month’s update that we found a marketing channel that was a loser for us. I’m going to dig into that. If you Google the term “farm management software,” you’ll find that one of the top two or three listings is for a review site. This company posts lists of software companies along with a description and user reviews and offers sponsored posts. Before I get into the specifics of these sponsored posts, let’s take a look at our marketing funnel. • Prospective customers tend to find us on social media or via word of mouth (from other farmers, ag lender, grain buyers or other people they work with). • Most will sign up for our email newsletter or a free trial. • Our 14-day free trial gives full access to our software without any ask of a credit card or purchase commitment. • We follow-up with an email campaign to educate them on how to start getting value out of the software.
Historically, conversion rates out of this “funnel” have been approximately 10% but our data on this is a bit cloudy as we have had people sign-up directly but also after phone outreach. This multi-channel tracking is a needed area of improvement for us. This brings me to one of the review sites that we paid for. From September 2018 until March 2019, we spent $6,938.75 in advertising on this site and received 1,184 visits from it. That amounts to $5.86/visit. Here are the assumptions I went into this experiment with. Normally, I would expect this type of targeted landing page visit to generate a 25% conversion rate to a free trial. To be conservative, let’s really knock this down to 12.5%. Let’s also cut our free trial-to-paid conversion rate from 10% to 5%. Now, let’s calculate our breakeven price for a visit to our free trial landing page. We are going to target a one-year payback period assuming $1,400 of incremental gross margin. $1,400 x 12.5% x 5% = $8.75
Grades for February Employee Engagement: Once again, I need to do a better job of checking in with our team. This is a definite weak spot of mine. Sales Activity: As I mentioned above, we recently decided to aggressively throttle back our largest advertising expenses and haven’t seen it impact new customer sign-ups. That shouldn’t be surprising given the lack of sales it generated. We could pay up to $8.75 per visit and achieve a one-year payback. If you look at our actual cost of $5.86 and compare that to our hypothetical, you might think that we found a scalable marketing channel?! Wrong!! The free trial page converted at less than 5% and the free trial converted at 0%. There is no question that these aren’t our target customers. We had 100 new customer sign-ups from sources other than this review site while we batted a fat .000 from 1,000+ landing page visitors from it. Additionally, we have plenty of room for improvement here as well on the conversion rate-front and that’s a core area of focus for me.
Systems: I decided to delay hiring a part-time administrative assistant. I came to the realization that billing is an area we need to better define systems/ processes. We are building an internal tool to manage our billing, specifically our renewal process. Content: I updated our blog with two “new” posts but they were only recycled posts that I wrote in the past. This recycling of posts is valuable as I tend to update them when re-dating them but I still need to keep pushing out new content! Data:
Our recent decision to cut our largest advertising expense was a clear example of using data to empower decision making.
We need to get back to our core marketing activity of providing value via content and email marketing. Those who get value from our content will likely think of us first when looking for software tools.
On an unrelated topic, I had very informal discussions this month about a potential merger partner for Harvest Profit. More on that towards the back half of 2019.
Work/Life Balance: I’ve started to finish up the work day a bit later than I’d like (6:30ish) but that’s partially a symptom of it being our busy time of the year. I continue to do a better job of unplugging in the evening, which is correlated with better sleep.
We have been able to push some new features out to our customer base and that’s always enjoyable work. We’re also working on a new development that I’ll talk about in the next couple months.
MARCH a March was definitely roller-coaster ofveast Profit. month at Har First off, on a personal note, my father was in a car accident the first week of March. He broke a couple vertebrae in his back and will be in a brace for a few months. He lives alone and has been retired for 20+ years due to a construction accident. Due to that, I help him with many things and this accident will lead to a lot more help that my wife and I will have to give him. He’s helped me a lot over the years, obviously, so now I’m just returning the favor as family should do. On the business front, we had our best month of the year growth-wise in March. Revenue was up 84 percent vs. last year. We’ve started to implement more direct outreach to people who are in our free trial. That’s been a key contributor to our growth. We’ve realized a couple things regarding sales at Harvest Profit. • Our price point is a bit too low to adequately incentivize partners or dealers. In addition, the product is complex enough that it’s not as “cut and dry” as other products that dealers typically sell. 36
• To field questions from prospects, a person really needs to understand the different ways our customers are using Harvest Profit. This expertise is hard to “grow” without in-depth use of the product. • Our most successful customers are the ones who have stumbled upon the software, signed up for a free trial, got their data inputted and hit the ground running. Customers who have been signed up via partners/consultants have a substantially lower success rate. Given this, we’ve been driving people towards our free trial and then reaching out to the most active users of the free trial. This outreach has increased conversions by at least 3x and, most importantly, sets the customer up for the best chance of success. We now have two levers to focus on going forward, 1) getting more people in our free trial and 2) increasing the amount of people that actively engage with the free trial. That will be a key
focus going forward. On a less enjoyable note, I let a team member go this month. A little over a year ago, we hired a software designer to help us design the software’s user interface as we roll out new features. He had been doing high-quality work but I’ve come to the realization that given our software development capacity, we only need 20 percent of a design resource, not 100 percent. He was doing very good work for us. I had just given him some positive formal feedback in January so this came as a surprise to him. I feel like I dropped the ball on this one as better planning would’ve prevented it. Looking at my goals, employee engagement has been a key goal and this is an example of that being a definite weak spot. I should’ve communicated this earlier. This was a failure on my part. Overall, March was a month filled with highs and lows for Harvest Profit.
Grades for March Employee Engagement: Following the departure of one of our team members, I had discussions with the rest of the team about why it happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. Sales Activity: We had our best month in company history, even after dramatically cutting marketing spending. Systems: We are making good progress on an internal billing tool that’s going to be a huge benefit for us. Content: It was another slow month for generating content. Data:
I’m going to cheat and use last month’s update, “Our recent decision to cut our largest advertising expense was a clear example of using data to empower decision making.” Letting someone go isn’t fun. Plain and simple.
Work/Life Balance: I’ve had to help my father quite a bit this month. I’ve visited him nearly daily, which has taken up quite a bit of my time. This isn’t sustainable over the long-run but I’m thankful to have the flexibility in my schedule to be able to focus on this.
APRIL If you didn’t know s, te from my earlier updaarted as Harvest Profit st me. a side project for It was a tool that I was “kicking around” for a long time. For the first two years of the company’s existence, I was the only one working on the project and I had a full-time job that was my priority. While I was operating in this mode, I didn’t have time to document everything I was doing with the business. I was “shooting from the hip” in a lot of ways. Knowing that we’ve grown into a full-time endeavor for multiple people along with being a vital tool for hundreds of farmers around North America, Harvest Profit is going to be around for awhile. With that said, as the sole founder of the business, one big priority of ours this year is putting better systems in place. Key business processes can’t simply live in my head. One of the big processes that I’ve had complete control over is the process we go through when billing customers for their annual renewals. Our first large batch of customers came through the door in December 2016. Ninetyfive percent of these customers signed up online and paid with their credit card. But, we had a few customers that requested to pay via check.
Being a small, self-funded business, I was happy to comply with that request. Fast forward to December 2017... We had our first sizable batch of renewal payments due that month. The problem was that we had some customers available for auto-renewal via credit card and some via a manual invoicing process. I made the choice to simply send every customer a manual invoice. Easy enough… Fast forward again to December 2018… Given that the majority of our customers pay for our software via credit card, we made the choice to start using the credit card auto-renewal process that 99% of SaaS (software-asa-service) companies employ. Given that some customers are set up via manual renewal, we now had two methods of billing in our business. Adding complexity to this process was the task of sending invoice reminders to those customers set up for manual payment but who haven’t paid in a certain number of days. Our billing had slowly grown into a rather complex process.
Nick Horob stands in the middle of the construction of their new office in West Fargo.
Grades for April Given that systematizing the business is a key goal, this billing process was one that is ripe for a formal system/process being put into place. On top of the fact that the process simply needs improvement, me spending significant amounts of time on this process is a very low ROI activity compared to product planning or marketing. We evaluated a number of third-party tools to use for this process, but we ultimately decided to build an internal tool. Building a well-documented tool will allow anyone on our team to handle billing-related tasks and we will likely hand it off to a third-party bookkeeping service. Here is what this tool will do for us. •
We will have customers “tagged” as either 1) autorenew via their credit card or 2) set up for manual invoicing. If users are set for auto-renewal, we will automatically send them an email two days before their renewal date letting them know that we are going to be processing their renewal payment. We will then process their payment. If users are set up for manual renewal, we are going to take advantage of some cool automation. • We are going to use Quickbooks Online’s API to automatically generate them an invoice. Quickbooks will then send us a PDF of this invoice. • We are going to automatically mail out this invoice using the API of a service called Lob (lob.com). They will send out each invoice via standard mail. No one on our
team will have to handle any mail or postage. • We will send out invoice reminders via email and use Lob to send them a paper copy as well. We are going to include a variety of payment metrics in this tool: recurring revenue, late payments, payables aging stats, etc.
I would love to spend our time working on user-facing features but, at the end of the day, this tool is going to be an upfront investment that will allow us to maximize our future time spent helping our customers. You’re likely thinking, “Wow, that was a detailed explanation of a problem I will never face in my [insert non-software industry] business!” And you’re right! It’s highly likely you’ll never face this exact issue in your business. I would bet that it’s highly likely that if you’re a business owner, you’ll find yourself working on some repetitive, low-ROI tasks that you’d like to ditch. I have found it very hard to let go of these tasks. My thought process has always been: “In less time that it would take me to train someone how to do this, I’ll just do it myself!” As our business has grown, these types of tasks can be anchors on making a stronger impact on our customer/team and, frankly, the enjoyment of being a business owner. I’m done with shying away from making these investments in time/resources! I’m focusing more on working “on the business” and not “in (the mundane tasks) of the business.”
Employee Engagement: I’ve been doing a better job of checking in with everyone. We are also doing a better job of using a high-level project management tool (Basecamp) to track the new features we are working on. Sales Activity: Sales in April were flat year-overyear. April 2018 featured poor planting weather, which led to us pushing out a limited-time promotion. We didn’t do that this year so had a harder year-over-year comparable. Overall, our year-todate sales are up approximately 50 percent, which we’re happy with. Systems: We continue to make good progress on the internal billing tool that I highlighted in this monthly update. We will likely finish version one of that tool in May and begin testing and iterating on it. Content: Here’s my update from last month, “Another slow month for generating content. That is going to change in April, I guarantee it!” I did a much better job sending out content this month to our email list. Data:
Earlier this year, we used data to optimize our marketing spend. This isn’t a groundbreaking use of data. It’s simply a requirement. We need to keep making use of our business’ vast amount of data. We have been using software metrics to identify and reach out to users who likely need assistance using the software to its full capability. April has been a good month of getting stuff done. That always makes work fun for everyone involved, as long as it’s is done in a sane manner. And it has been.
Work/Life Balance: In a previous update, I mentioned an accident that my father was involved in. That continues to take up quite a bit of my time. That’s what family does for each other but it’s a bit unsustainable. Thankfully, we have a good team that allows for my schedule to be flexible.
MAY Uh orh..co. aster of building
the rolle a software product eneral) (and a company in g onth’s update. this m will be in full effect in After reading how excited I was in April about a key piece of infrastructure that we have been building, our billing portal, that enthusiasm has come to a screeching halt. There are a few key reasons for it. 1. We make software for farmers. While it’s important to have a solid business foundation in place, this billing feature would have very little impact on our customers’ businesses and that’s what’s most important to us. 2. It became clear that we were going to have to add a lot of small features to get this tool to a place where it was functioning appropriately for our business. 3. I had a conversation with a fellow ag-tech founder and I mentioned some of the frustration we were seeing building out this tool. He told me that the single worst mistake they made was building out a custom billing tool. They have ripped it out and replaced with an “off-theshelf” solution. I asked him how they handle customers who want to pay via check. He simply said they don’t handle payment by checks as it turned into a collection nightmare. My conversation with the fellow founder regarding this essential piece of the business was eyeopening and really hit home for
me. Rather than be a lemming and make a quick impulse decision, I evaluated my options for a few days. I ultimately made the decision to transition our billing to Stripe’s Billing toolset and move away from accepting payments via check. Using an industry standard billing tool will allow us to focus on building software for our customers. I believe that it also adds more value to our business as this will be less of a question mark if we were to ever be looked at for an acquisition. This roller coaster of excitement and disillusionment with a key project isn’t healthy for our business and leads me to discuss how we try to prioritize work at Harvest Profit. This is definitely a work in progress for us, but we are moving towards a system where we work in the following “cycles.” • We maintain a backlog of feature ideas/requests. • On a regular cadence (every six or eight weeks), we pick a “story” to build out. Most of these stories won’t be heavily speced out ahead of time. • We build these features on using a methodology of “fixed time, flexible scope.” • We won’t maintain a lengthy fixed roadmap and we’ll be careful promising to customers what we build.
We are a bit of a small team to fully implement the process above but the key takeaways are that we want to be highly flexible in what we work on next. This process also gives autonomy to the team to build out the feature the best that we, as a group, see fit. I’m a firm believer that autonomy is a key ingredient in employee happiness. Best-selling author Daniel Pink has a great TED talk on this topic that I highly recommend you listen too. Historically, I haven’t been the best about delegating the responsibility of what we should work on but that’s a key goal of improvement today. Here’s a conversation I had today with one of our developers. JARYD Thoughts on changing the Libra Cart integration design a little bit? I know we already have a tutorial on it, but this does make it easier to manage the “deleted loads” because there could be a lot of them in one table. Everything works the exact same, just the layout is different.
NICK If you think it makes sense, let’s do it. When it’s live, let Ben know and he can make a new tutorial video.
Grades for May Basecamp 101 Spotlight, Fargo INC’s parent company, runs completely on Basecamp so we’re big fans of it here. The way Basecamp is designed is that you can create teams and projects. Each team and project are broken up into the same categories: campfire (quick messaging to the whole team), message boards (for formal discussion), to do lists (you know what those are), schedule, automatic check-ins and docs and files. You can then assign to dos to people and assign people to projects and run reports to see where exactly you’re at in the project. Learn more at basecamp.com/how-itworks. PS. They also have a number of books they’ve written about what they’ve learned running their own business. These include “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work,” “Rework,” “Remote” and “Getting Real.”
In the past, I would want to review every small change that we made to the software. But Jaryd intimately knows this feature and the scope is rather small, so I deferred to him to make the right choice. I’m hopeful that our flexible methodology around development (why spend a ton of time on a feature spec upfront if you know that it’s going to change 90+ percent of the time?!) and me actively deferring responsibility will lead to our team really enjoying their work. More resources on this topic are available from the team that’s built the project management software product called Basecamp and it’s a key maintainer of the software development framework that we use at Harvest Profit called Ruby on Rails. They recently published an awesome web-based guide to how they do work. It’s a mustread resource for any manager, in my opinion. Check it out at basecamp.com/shapeup. On the financial side of things, May is one of our slowest
months. We will bring in minimal new sales this month as our customers are busy planting their crops. This is the first month of the year where our cash receipts will be less than our cash expenses. I’m not a fan of watching our cash balance drop over the summer but that’s the nature of our business. On another note, in an earlier update I referred to a partnership deal being approved by a large ag company’s Board of Directors. Large is maybe even an understatement when describing this company. Anyway, this deal, which called for $60,000+ of annual revenue for us has fizzled. I don’t expect it to happen. I’m actually not disappointed as I enjoy serving our 400+ customers individually and I’ve tried to avoid larger deals in the past. I don’t want to have to answer to a few large customers to the detriment of our customer base as a whole.
Employee Engagement: I’ve been doing a better job of checking in with everyone. We are also doing a better job using Basecamp to track the new features we are working on. Sales Activity: This is hopefully our first month that will have negative year-over-year sales. Not good. Systems: Although it wasn’t fun to “kill” our internal billing feature, moving to Stripe’s billing is going to be a great thing for our business going forward. Our billing and AR will be dramatically less work for us than having to manually send out invoices. Content: I was out of the office for a lengthy amount of time in May. That led to me not generating as much content as last month. Data:
Earlier this year, we used data to optimize our marketing spend. We need to keep making use of our business’ vast amount of data. We have been using software metrics to identify and reach out to users who likely need assistance using the software to its full capability. It’s never fun back-tracking on a sizable project as we’ve done this month with the billing feature.
Work/Life Balance: My wife and I traveled to Greece for almost two weeks this month. I worked a couple days while we were gone but I was able to unplug and the business kept moving along without me. Our team does a good job of staying on top of customer support and that’s something we simply have to do! It was nice to see this continue smoothly with me out of the country.
More to come next month on a big feature that we are launching. Thank you for following along on our journey!
JUNE In last month’s update, I mentioned a new feature that we were working on. We got this feature done exactly on time, which is a bit of a rarity in the world of software. The feature we built allows our users to track their grain inventory positions from field to their onfarm storage and elevators. The feature allows our customers to 1) calculate their actual field yields (based on weights, not with often-miscalibrated yield monitors) and 2) track and audit the flow of commodities from “farm to sale.” We initially started working on this feature in March 2018 and put it on pause in September 2018 as soon as we realized that it wasn’t going to be ready for last year’s row crop harvest. We made a point to release this feature well in advance of this year’s harvest and started working on it again in March of this year. It feels great to have this feature launched and it was also a learning experience for our team and myself. I made a mistake by not breaking up this large feature into smaller, bite-sized chunks. Rather than spending nearly a year working on it, we should have split it up into three or four six-week projects.
Also, we’ve made a point of not trying to define the scope of a project in too much detail before we have time to “get our hands dirty” with the project, but this feature had enough moving parts where we should have spent more time up front defining the scope. In “Shape Up” by Basecamp, the book I mentioned in last month’s update, they call this process “shaping.” Our grain inventory feature could’ve used more upfront planning and that’s a key emphasis for me in the back half of 2019. Changing subjects, we were approached this month by a company that has some acquisition interest in Harvest Profit. This is the fourth time that we’ve been approached by a company that’s shown interest in acquiring our company. At least two of the first three were framed more as acqui-hires vs. a true company acquisition. An acqui-hire is a situation where a company acquires another company with the primary goal being the acquisition of the team vs. the company as a whole. These were completely reasonable approaches as we barely had any customer traction at the time. But I wasn’t
interested in simply going to work for another company. I wanted to build this business! Fast forward to today and we are one of a small handful of ag-tech SaaS companies who have gotten real traction in the marketplace. None of the initial interest we’ve had sent our way has gotten far enough down the path of talking “numbers” as they simply haven’t been the right fit for us at the time, the most recent one included. Given that the employees of Harvest Profit own the vast majority of the company, we will never be forced to exit (unlike many other ag-tech companies who’ve raised significant amounts of venture capital). That doesn’t mean that we are opposed to an acquisition by any means, it just isn’t a priority for us. With that said, if we continue to grow, I would expect that there will be some interest from time to time. Being a small business like ours, we can’t let that distract us from building the best product we can for our customers and providing great support for them.
Grades for June This new feature of Harvest Profit allows users to track their grain inventory positions from the field to their on-farm storage and elevators.
Employee Engagement: I still need to get into a good rhythm of checking in with employees. My preference is to give our employees space to do their best work and keep updated on that using our everyday tools (Github and Basecamp, primarily). That may not be their preference though so next month, I’m going to make a point of doing an active check-in with everyone. Sales Activity: Delayed planting across most of the US has made our customers considerably busier than normal. This has negatively impacted our sales for June but we don’t count on June being a high-sales month for us. We ran a promo last June, which made it a tough “comp” for us but, regardless, this was the second month in a row of lower revenue year-over-year. Systems: The new move to Stripe’s billing system appears to be the correct choice. All of our developers are now working on customer-facing features, which is ideal given that we have a lot of fun stuff we want to build that’s better for our customers. Content: We built seven standalone pieces of content. When compared to other farm software companies, we are at (or very close to the top) in the quality and quantity of content we generate. Data:
We need to get better at turning our data into actionable insights. We are rebuilding our sales website in July/ August and that should open the door for better marketing analytics. We released our largest feature ever in June on the exact date we planned for months ago. That was a very fun accomplishment for the team!
Work/Life Balance: I’m still spending a lot of time helping my father after he was in an accident in March. It’s a challenge to allocate the time for that while still getting all of my other obligations taken care of but that’s life and I’m getting better at it!
JULY July was a
good month Profit! for Harvest In last month’s update, I talked about the grain inventory tracking feature we added to our software. Historically, most of our customers have used the software primarily for cost and profit tracking. The majority of this work is completed over the winter months as our customers are preparing for the upcoming growing season. This has led to our primary sales window being December through early April. This has started to change this summer and that’s a great thing for our business. The grain inventory feature is something a subset of our customers will use during the harvest time of the year. Given that harvest season across our customer base is centered around the months of September through December (some wheat harvest begins in July), farmers are beginning to plan for harvest right now. This has led to them thinking about how they are going to manage their inventory for the upcoming harvest and they may be thinking, “Hey, I saw
harvest Profit release a new inventory feature, I better check that out.” That appears to have happened as our sales in July were up 87% year-over-year. This includes some one-time revenue from a course we sell, which will also impact August sales. I’ll talk more about that in next month’s update. Changing subjects a bit here, but we continue to make progress on our longer term software roadmap. We’re starting to work on some large new integrations, which we are targeting to complete in the first half of 2020. I don’t like longer term projects like this as they feel like they drag on forever. We’re going to break them down into more bite-sized chunks, but they will still be taking up a lot of our team’s time. And with harvest season approaching, our support and marketing will slow down. Given this, I have the capacity to start thinking about and working on new projects.
One big focus for me has been working more “on” the business vs. “in” the business. This has led me to start documenting our business’ processes. Examples include: 1. 10+ steps involved with new customer onboarding. 2. The process for sending out a marketing email newsletter. 3. The process for updating our software’s documentation. I want to have these processes documented and have been looking for a tool to “activate” them, assign employees to them and track their progress. There are a few tools on the market to do this but none of them are great, in my opinion.
on revenue-generating tasks vs. manually managing the repeatable processes involved in their businesses. We have solid momentum with Harvest Profit right now so I need to be careful about getting distracted working on non-core activities. I view Playbook as a small bet on building a product that has more broad appeal than Harvest Profit and I’m going to engage an outsourced developer to work with me on the project to minimize distractions for our in-house team.
In addition, this type of process management is what I see as an opportunity for improvement for many of the farmers I’ve worked with over the years.
I try to approach things like this similar to how an investment manager approaches their portfolio of investments. I want to make small bets on new ideas to add diversification to the business as a whole. These bets can be Harvest Profit features or new standalone products.
With all this said, I’ve started working on a new product called Playbook. It’s a tool for helping business owners spend more time focusing
I’ll report more on the Playbook process in the coming months but 95% of our total team energy will remain focused on the core Harvest Profit product.
Grades for July Employee Engagement: It’s like Groundhog Day around here! I still need to get into a good rhythm of checking in with employees. I touched base with every team member this month as I said I would in last month’s update but I sense a COO/integrator-type role in our future. Sales Activity: As I mentioned in this month’s update, July was a good month for our team. Systems: We continue to move customers onto Stripe’s subscription billing feature. Automating all of our recurring tasks is needed at Harvest Profit and the reason why I’ve started building Playbook. Getting it (or something similar) into action over the next few months will be big. Content: Only one new blog post this month. Content needs to be prioritized. Data:
We are working on a data initiative that will be ongoing over the next few months that should really help our data insights.
We had a fun team outing in earlyJuly at my lake cabin near Perham, MN. We enjoyed some golf, Zorbaz, lake time and an adult beverage or two. Good sales performance also helps morale!
Work/Life Balance: I’m still spending a lot of time helping my father after he was in an accident. I feel stretched a bit thin at times between work, family and friends but I’m not working much more than 40 hours/week with some extra time in the evenings, which is much more balanced than many in the world of startups.
AUGUST August was another
good monthest Profit! for Harv Due to a spike in sales in early August, our YTD revenue now exceeds our full-year 2018 revenue. We are running the business at approximately breakeven as we’ve invested in the team but our cash reserves are comfortable and we don’t “need” anymore hires (outside of one planned in October) over the next year. The aforementioned spike in sales led to a total month increase of 212% vs. August 2018 but that outperformance is a bit misleading. Our sales would’ve been up approximately 100% (putting the growth inline with our July performance) but we ran an annual sale for a non-software product. Before I talk about the product, I want to give you some history into when I started Harvest Profit. In 2015, I started building the current version of Harvest Profit’s software product while I was doing consulting for farmers in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota. I love spreadsheets and still
use them every day, but they weren’t ideal for the work I was doing. I had failed in creating earlier versions of the product. The mistakes are too many to mention but they center on me not knowing anything about software development and trying to get it built as cheaply as possible. The turning point for me getting Harvest Profit built was 1) me learning the basics of web development and 2) hiring a local firm to build the first version of the product. Josh Christy and Brian Pattison of Codelation (Brian now works at Simply Made Apps) did an amazing job of helping me build a customer-ready product in a timely fashion. Brian and I very quickly started seeing things “eye to eye” and that was a productivity game changer. It’s not all gumdrops and lollipops, though. Codelation had materially higher billing rates than earlier firms I had used in my failed iterations and I was funding the development using my
personal funds and InnovateND funds (thank you to the State of ND for the support!) Even with only part-time work on the product, I was regularly seeing bills of $2,500+ per week. I got to the point where I could see the finish line for the first version but I was getting low on funds that I wanted to invest in the software. I was driving to my office one morning and listening to a podcast when I got an idea. (I don’t remember the exact podcast but I think it was Mixergy.) They were discussing online courses and it gave me the motivation to try to sell an online farm management course.
As soon as I got to the office, I started working on a curriculum (I was supposed to call clients that day. Oops, I postponed that for a day!) I set up a sales landing page using a service called Gumroad. Gumroad allows you to hold pre-sales where people commit to buying a product without getting charged until it’s released. By the end of the day, I had the curriculum planned and a launch date set for two months from then. I emailed a limited time offer to an email list I put together of about 800 people. I set a goal that I would need to get $2,500 worth of presales to actually build out the course (it was priced at $197
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Grades for August Employee Engagement: Our first employee, Jaryd Krishnan, had his two-year anniversary with Harvest Profit this month. We/I am blessed to have an awesome core team. We exceeded our course sales goal this month so we’re going to do another offsite this fall where we’ll relax and strategize on the future of Harvest Profit. Sales Activity: August was one of our best months ever. No complaints here.
for lifetime access). When the limited-time pre-sale offer was over, I had $20,000+ of commitments to buy it. Without this funding, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the first version of Harvest Profit without having to pull in funds from a third-party of some sort.
out a well thought out email is the most enjoyable work activity of the week for me. Sometimes I send out a “dud” but, nonetheless, it’s the highest ROI activity of my week.
You may be asking why I’m getting into so much detail on this story and that’s a good question. The reason is that out of all the things that went right with getting the first version built (along with many mistakes), the most impactful activity that I completed was building that initial email list of followers.
In August, we opened our course for sale for the only time in 2019 and it generated over $40,000. That accounts for 100+% of the outperformance we experienced this month as our sale last year was in June. This experience has opened my eyes.
Without that, there is .00001% chance that I could have gotten that farm management course in front of as many people as I did.
We’ve tried a lot of different marketing over the last year but we’ve removed some of our focus from this email newsletter. I still send out regular emails but we haven’t focused on adding people to the list for quite some time.
That email newsletter is still a huge asset to our business. We’ve had 13,000+ sign up for it over the last three years. We “prune” it occasionally so the emails don’t get marked as spam but it still stands at 7,000+. Marketing attribution is hard, but I estimate that 80+% of all of our revenue comes from our email newsletter subscribers. I try to send out at least one email per week to our subscribers on a topic that I feel that will be valuable to them. I have conditioned myself to always be looking for good content to share. Sending
Let’s take a look at a concrete example of that ROI.
Too much energy has been spent solely on having people sign up for free trials of our software. That’s going to end! We are going to show this email list the love it deserves. I’m a huge fan of content and email marketing. Every business owner should make it a core activity in my opinion!
Systems: We continue to make good progress on Playbook, our internal tool for managing repeatable processes. Content: Zero new blog posts for the month. I did update four of our older posts and bumped them up in our blog history. I need to convert some of my email newsletters to blog posts as I have a lot of content sitting in those emails that’s ripe for “forever” distribution on the blog. We are working on a data initiative that will be ongoing over the next few months that should really help our data insights. We’ve had some good laughs around the office this month, especially on the day that our most recent course sale closed. We’re in a good rhythm for sales, support and new product development and that’s a key ingredient in overall enjoyment.
Work/Life Balance: No big developments on this front. I’m not putting in any crazy hours so all is well here!
Next month, I’m going to talk about another core driver of recent growth at Harvest Profit and some downsides we’ve experienced along with it. FARGOINC.COM
SEPTEMBER September continued to be as. good month for u I don’t have exact numbers to report but I estimate that we’ll be up 100% year-over-year. I attribute a different cause to this month’s growth and it comes with some bumps on the road. In a few of these updates, I’ve mentioned the grain inventory tracking feature that we launched in June. This feature includes a couple of integrations with thirdparty sources of data. These integrations have attracted an audience outside of our current base of prospects. This is great but it hasn’t come without growing pains. Most modern business software tools give users the ability to connect many different software tools together. Examples are below: • Your event tracking software will push updates to your CRM software. • Triggers in your CRM software will initiate marketing campaigns in your marketing software. • Payments from your
Ben Longlet (Customer Success), Nick Horob, Jake Humphrey (Software Developer) and Jaryd Krishnan (Software Developer) stand in their finished office.
payment solutions provider will advance people in your CRM pipeline. • Plus infinitely more combinations…
The main fallout for companies such as ours is that we end up having to try to diagnose issues that live in software tools that aren’t our own.
In the world of modern business software, there are a few large software providers that cover many different areas of the business (eg. one Enterprise Resource Planning tool covers all of the use cases shown above) but businesses such as ours use different software tools for different areas of the business. Farmers are similar. There isn’t a standard ERP-like software tool that covers all the bases of a farm business.
Here’s an example.
Given that, there is a strong demand for integration among different software tools. To date, we have built four such integrations. The integrations are helpful to our customers but there is a lack of consistent data structures in farming and many of these systems have been set up by our users without the understanding that they will be integrating with other tools.
• A customer wants to transfer yield data from an agronomy tool into Harvest Profit. • They quickly set up an integration where we match fields in Harvest Profit to the fields they have in their agronomy tool. • They start importing their agronomy data into Harvest Profit but they notice that not all of the data is getting pulled into our software. • Frustrated, they contact our support team and ask for help. • We need to hop on a screen share to view their agronomy tool and notice that they have a field in it named “South ¼” and they’ve named that same field “South Quarter” in Harvest Profit. This conflict in data was shown to them during the integration setup process but they looked
it over when setting up the integration. Given the potential for data inconsistency, we need to be very thoughtful in how we build out these integrations. Having many integrations combined with a lack of industry-standard data structures across all areas of a farm definitely has the potential to make Harvest Profit more fragile. In addition to this, our customers are requesting more and more integrations. Many of them make sense on the face of it but when you dig into what they are trying to accomplish, it becomes clear that differences in data structures make their dream deliverable nearly impossible without a lot of work on their end to make sure the data “maps” correctly from systemto-system. So we are facing a bit of a conundrum when it comes to integration. Users want them and they definitely have given us a tailwind when it comes to new customer acquisition. If we aren’t thoughtful with how they
Grades for September Employee Engagement: It’s been a “heads down” month for most of our team. As you’ve noticed, I didn’t show much improvement on this front so far this year. And if that doesn’t happen over nine months, another course of action is likely necessary. I’m currently thinking of trying to bring on a part-time COO advisor who can work with us a day or two a week to help with these kind of activities.
are implemented, they are surely to decrease customer retention and happiness. It’s our job to filter through customer feature requests thinking further ahead than customers might be doing in the short-term. Feature prioritization is one of the hardest aspects of running a software business and it’s something that I didn’t know when I got started on this journey. If you’ve used a software product and thought, “Wow, this tool is way too complicated,” it’s highly likely it didn’t start that way. Oftentimes, more functionality isn’t better! On another note, I just offered our software developer intern a full-time job starting in the summer of 2020. Continuous growth in headcount will never be a priority for me and the company but our customers have entrusted us with their time and money. We’re working hard at continuously adding more value to the product and our support of the product. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race! One of the biggest challenges for me personally as the majority owner of Harvest Profit will be the balancing act of optimizing our business for growth vs. profitability. I don’t think it’s an either/or decision but there are definitely trade offs made when leaning one way or the other. There are convincing arguments to be made on both fronts.
I don’t have the “right” answer and this will be a big challenge. I definitely think we can grow from our current customer base of 500 to 10,000+ but building an IPO-scale business just isn’t a realistic goal for our team. Regardless, I’m pumped about our potential and the work I get to do with a great set up customers and teammates. After two consecutive months of year-over-year sales declines in May and June, I estimate that our overall sales from July through October will be up over 150% from 2018. October is looking like it could be a 300%+ increase in revenue year-overyear. We’ve added 150+ net new customers this year with our prime sales window starting in December ahead of us. And finally, over the next month I have a couple meetings set up to discuss substantial partnerships with large ag industry participants. As I mentioned earlier this year, we had preliminary merger discussions with another company. We’ve had a few more conversations on that topic and we’d both need to ensure that it’s a good fit for our customers. There’s likely to be some great opportunities for us to reach more farmers in 2020 and beyond. We’re excited to keep making it easier for our customers to win the battle against uncertainty on the farm! Thank you for following along on our journey this year!
Sales Activity: Another good month for us. Leading indicators (web traffic, free trial signups, sales inquiries, etc) look positive for this trend continuing. Systems: We are starting to map our processes in Playbook. This will be a great tool for us to leverage in the future (and potentially sell as a standalone product). Content: We built out a set of five blog posts that we are going to soon launch. We may wrap them into a whitepaper and then post it as a free resource. We are also starting to build out a free resources portal that we will point traffic to. Data:
Once again, we are continuing our work on a data initiative that will be ongoing over the months that should really help our data insights. We are getting together again soon for some team building and planning. All-in-all, we continue to push out valuable updates to the software and that’s always great for morale.
Work/Life Balance: My travel schedule is going to ramp up over the next month and that always pulls at my work/life balance but I’m looking forward to getting out and spreading the word on how we can help farmers and other ag industry participants. My Dad is 99% recovered from his accident so we are fortunate for that. On another note, my wife and I found out a couple months ago that she is pregnant with twins and they’re due in January. (Twins… AH!) Life is going to get a lot more hectic but in a great way! FARGOINC.COM
RESOURCE GUIDE Starting a business can be overwhelming. That’s why we at Fargo INC! made an incomplete business resource guide to help you navigate and thrive while running a business.
City of Fargo fargond.gov 701-241-1310
Business Resources fargond.gov/work/doing-business Here you will find links for: • Business property taxes • City codes • Economic development • Helpful links for small businesses • Licensing • Permits • Starting a business
westfargond.gov/35/Business Here you will find • Economic Development Department • Commercial property tax exemptions • Economic Development Website • Economic Development Advisory Committee
Economic Development and Community Services westfargond.gov 701-433-5311
State of North Dakota City of Moorhead cityofmoorhead.com 218-299-5166
Business Resources cityofmoorhead.com/business Here you will find: • Starting, expanding or relocating your business • Licenses and permits • Incentive programs • Commercial and industrial properties • Development services • Organizations and resources • Business directory • Studies and reports
DID WE MISS SOMETHING? What resource was instrumental in helping you launch your business? Let us know by Tweeting us @FargoINCMag
Moorhead Economic Development Authority cityofmoorhead.com 218-299-5442
City of West Fargo westfargond.gov 701-433-5300
Economic Development Association of North Dakota ednd.org
Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce ndchamber.com
North Dakota Small Business Development Center (SBDC) ndsbdc.org
North Dakota Women's Network ndwomen.org
Starting a Business in North Dakota sba.gov/starting-business Come here for step-by-step guides on what to do at each stage of building a small business.
Center for Technology & Business trainingnd.com Here you will find • Women Owned Business Certification • Women’s Leadership Program • Starting a business FAQ
Minnesota Women's Business Development Center wbdc.org/MN Come here for Women’s Business Enterprise Certification as well as training, mentoring, networking and business development opportunities.
Starting a Business in Minnesota mn.gov/deed/business/starting-business Come here for a step-by-step guide on starting a business in Minnesota.
US Small Business Administration (SBA) of Minnesota sba.gov/offices/district/mn/minneapolis
State of Minnesota Capital 701 Angel Fund Minnesota Chamber of Commerce mnchamber.com
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development mn.gov/deed
The 701 Angel Fund is a Certified North Dakota angel venture capital firm that invests in determined entrepreneurs and highgrowth opportunities. Their fund works in unison with other investors in the region in order to maximize the exit potential of their portfolio of startup investments. 701angelfund.com
Minnesota Trade Office mn.gov/deed/business/exporting
Continues on page 54
There are so many resources available in the state of North Dakota that it can be hard to figure out where to go. Thankfully, our friends with the UND Center for Innovation created this chart as a roadmap of organizations that can help you get started in your entrepreneurial career. Learn more at innovators.net/resources.html
STAGES OF THE JOURNEY
Discovery of Need/ Problem/ Question
Ideate, Create & Identify Solution
1 Million Cups 701 Angel Fund APUC BND CFI Chamber of Commerce (GF/EGF) Chamber of Commerce (GNDC) Chester Fritz Library Patent & Trademark Office Commercial Real Estate Agencies Downtown Development Association EDC EERC EvolveGF/701 Coworking Grand Sky GGFYP Impact Dakota Innovate ND Intern GF Legal CORPS Local Banks Local Legal Services Maker Space on DeMers ND Department of Commerce ND Development Fund ND PTAC ND SBDC ND Trade Office Praxis Strategy Group Red River Corridor Fund RRRC Regional Counsils SBA SBIR/STTR SCORE StartUpGF UND UND Technology Accelerator UND VPR VBOC
WHO AM I?
MAIN STREET Lifestyle, retail and brick and mortar businesses to create community and cultural activity
TECH & HIGH GROWTH Technology, innovations and businesses focused on fast scale operation and market impact
* Disclaimer: Since this was created by the UND Center for Innovation, some of these resources are centered around Grand Forks. However, there are probably local counterparts that you contact. For instance, most cities have an equivalent of the Downtown Development Association. 52
Establ Busi Footp
IDEATE, CREATE & IDENTIFY SOLUTION
CREATE DISCOVERY OF NEED/PROBLEM/ QUESTION
Establishing Business Footprints
Service Delivery & Product Development
STARTUP CAPITAL INCUBATION
SERVICE DELIVERY & PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
LAUNCH CUSTOMER DISCOVERY
ONLINE BUSINESS Products, services or advertising online
ESTABLISHED / GROWTH POTENTIAL Non-startups looking to expand influence, effect, and market reach
(Coworking, office space, etc.)
ESTABLISHING BUSINESS FOOTPRINT
RESEARCH & SCHOLARLY ACTIVITY Discovery of new knowledge, information, technologies, materials, etc. that have commercialization potential
Continued from page 51
Bank of North Dakota (BND) New Venture Capital Fund Arthur Ventures Growth Fund This is an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in business-to-business (B2B) software companies. arthurventures.com
Linn Grove Ventures Linn Grove invests in early- and mid-stage life science companies with outstanding technology. It is active in providing strategic financing and business leadership to help innovative companies move beyond the business incubator and accelerator phases to the next level of growth. linngroveventures.com
Northern Plains Fund The new kids on the block with venture capital, Northern Plains Fund is a new fund out of Moorhead. To learn more about it, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This fund provides funding for early-stage companies that can show clear proof of completed product development and market acceptance as evidenced by growing sales. BND invests in a variety of technologies and types of businesses, including North Dakota Department of Commerce strategic-target industries of value-added agriculture, technology, advanced manufacturing, energy and tourism. bnd.nd.gov/business/venture-capital-fund
Dakota Venture Group DVG is a University of North Dakota-studentrun venture-capital investment fund founded in 2006. The group manages multiple funds and utilizes a vast network of industry expertise in its due-diligence research and investment decision-making. dakotaventuregroup.com
Pathway Ventures The new student-run venture capital fund at North Dakota State University was created with the mission to lead students and startups on a path towards success through knowledge, capital and opportunity. vcpathway.com
North Dakota/Minnesota EB-5 Regional Center ND/MN EB-5 aims to stimulate economic development, create new jobs and improve regional productivity through direct foreign investment in North Dakota and Minnesota. ndmneb5.com
Thomas, McNerney & Partners Thomas, McNerney invests in pharmaceutical, medical device, biotechnology and diagnostic service firms. tm-partners.com
Valley Angel Investment Fund
Automation Tax Credit
Sales & Use Tax Exemption
Valley Angel Investment Fund is an angel investment group headquartered in Grand Forks. As part of RAIN Source Capitalâ€™s RAIN Fund Network, they are able to share prospective deals with the entire network to collectively raise all or a good portion of capital companies are looking for. valleyangelinvestmentfund.weebly.com
An individual, estate, trust, partnership, corporation or limited liability company is allowed an income tax credit for purchasing machinery and equipment for the purposes of automating a manufacturing process in North Dakota.
North Dakota provides sales tax exemptions for equipment and materials used in manufacturing and other targeted industries. A new or expanding plant may be exempt from sales and use tax on purchases of machinery or equipment used for manufacturing, ag commodity processing or recycling. An expanding primary sector business may also be eligible for an exemption for purchases of computer and telecommunications equipment that is an integral part of the business.
Tax Incentives & Credits (These and more can be found at business. nd.gov/finance)
Angel Fund Investment Credit An individual, estate, trust, partnership, corporation or limited liability company is allowed an income tax credit for investing in an angel fund in North Dakota.
Corporate Income Tax Exemption Newly established primary sector businesses or expansions of existing primary sector businesses are eligible for a five-year exemption from North Dakota state corporate income taxes.
Property Tax Exemption A qualifying project may receive a complete or partial exemption from ad valorem taxation for up to 10 years on new or existing buildings or structures used in the qualifying project.
Seed Capital Investment Tax Credit An individual, estate, trust, partnership, corporation or limited liability company is allowed an income tax credit for investing in a primary-sector business.
Research Expense Credit An individual, estate, trust, partnership, corporation or limited liability company is allowed an income tax credit for conducting research in North Dakota. The credit is equal to a percentage of the excess of qualified research expenses in North Dakota over the base period research expenses.
Finance Programs and Grants These and more can be found at gfmedc. com/business/stayexpand/incentives/ finance-programs
Bank of North Dakota As the only state-owned bank in the nation, the Bank of North Dakota (BND) is able to take a unique approach to assisting businesses by joining private and public resources. BND offers the following financing options for primary sector businesses. bnd.nd.gov
Growth Initiative Fund The Growth Initiative Fund (GIF) is a revolving loan fund managed and administered by the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation (GFMEDC). A portion of the GIF’s funds are available for projects targeted at the emerging sectors identified in the Cass Clay Economic Plan. Projects will be considered on a case-by-case basis. gfmedc.com
Innovate ND Innovate ND provides access to beneficial venture tools, online entrepreneur education and extensive resources. If you are a North Dakota-based entrepreneur or innovator working on a new concept, you may be eligible for the program. An entry fee of $250 gains you access to $2,500 of resources through a certified North Dakota entrepreneurial center. Funds can be used to create your business plan, prototype development, coaching, consulting and marketing assistance. innovatend.com
North Dakota Department of Commerce, Economic Development and Finance The North Dakota Department of Commerce, Economic Development and Finance provides financial packages, tax incentives, research for local and community economic development organizations and support and information for economic development around the state. commerce.nd.gov
North Dakota New Jobs Training Grant The North Dakota New Jobs Training Program captures the North Dakota state income tax withholding generated from individuals filling new job positions — identified in a New Jobs Training Agreement — for up to a 10-year period starting from the effective date of the Agreement.
North Dakota Opportunity Fund The ND Opportunity Fund leverages private financing to help small businesses and manufacturers attain the loans and investments needed to expand and create jobs. A consortium of 38 municipalities across North Dakota has received funding for operating the loan participation program. Loan funds can be used for construction, equipment, working capital, real estate and interim SBA 504 loans. lcdgroup.org/business-loans
Operation Intern A primary-sector business that employs interns is eligible for matching funds of up to $20,000 per funding round or $40,000 per biennium. The first round of applications is currently closed and the second funding round will be from March 25 - April 12, 2020 workforce.nd.gov/workforce/ OperationIntern
Small Business Administration (SBA) Funding Programs sba.gov/loans-grants/see-what-sbaoffers Here you will find • Loans • Investment Capital • Disaster Assistance • Surety Bonds • Grants
THE POWER OF THE FIRST CUSTOMER T he importance of a startup’s first customer can’t be overstated. While business plans and forecasts are great, an entrepreneur needs that first customer to really validate their product. That’s why we caught up with Kevin Wolf, President of Laney’s, and Ray Berry, President and CEO of OmniByte Technology, to talk about the power of the first customer.
First Customer Stories
President of Laney’s
Why did you go with Omnibyte? Laney’s had been using Great Plains financial software and Wennsoft service software for many years. Ray Berry was a former employee for the Wennsoft software company that we used to manage the service area of our company. Wennsoft had a mobile software program that our technicians would use when servicing our customers out in the field. However, this software was very cumbersome and we ended up being very disappointed in it. Meanwhile, Ray had left Wennsoft and started Omnibyte. Ray ended up reaching out to us because he knew we were a Wennsoft customer and that we were disappointed in their field software. Ray set up a meeting with me and we got together and talked about it. He ended up throwing out the idea of Omnibyte writing their own field software and we talked about the possibility of Laney’s partnering with them in the development of this software. With my strong computer background and having been in the HVAC, Plumbing and Electrical industry for over 25 years, this concept really intrigued me. Omnibyte was local and I really felt that having the opportunity to be involved in a software project like this that could be beneficial to both Laney’s and Omnibyte was really exciting. Ray and Omnibyte instilled the confidence from day one that together we could build a product that would not only fulfill our needs but also serve others in our industry. Therefore, we made the commitment to them. I’m sure there must have been numerous tech companies from all around the world you could have worked with. Was it important for you to work with a local company? Yes, we had many options to choose from. The market for field software for
technicians to use is large and growing. They all have their unique advantages. We decided to partner with Omnibtye for a couple of reasons. First, after our initial meeting, Ray really gave me a feeling of confidence that a mutual project could be done and that Omnibyte had all of the capabilities to complete the project. Second, the idea of sharing Laney’s knowledge of the industry with Omnibtye, another local Fargo company, to develop a software program was really exciting to me. Being local, I knew that they would better understand our culture and the environment in which we conduct business. What advice would you give to other startups who are looking to close their first customer? As a business owner, is there something you’re looking for in a company? I think that the fact that we were both located in Fargo played a large part in the success of our project. Their staff would be present at our site and were able to see firsthand how our company operated. We held regularly scheduled meetings that involved both their development staff and our management and field staff. They were able to hear directly from a technician that works in the field with customers what was important to them in a software program. They were also able to ride along with our technicians and visit our call center so they could better understand Laney’s process of serving customers. Also, our staff would visit Omnibyte’s site as well and see how their processes worked and were able to appreciate how a product like this gets developed.
First customer: The Arthur Companies and Minn-Kota Ag Products We had two businesses become our “first customer” simultaneously. In 2017, The Arthur Companies and Minn-Kota Ag Products signed onto the Bushel platform. Both customers were willing to spend time with us in product development and the initial beta-launching process. Their patience as we navigated a first-to-market product was invaluable. Having those first customers who were aligned with our goals, understood the value of technology and were constructive with their feedback was paramount to our early success. Those early experiences were formative for us as we launched our platform to grain facilities nationwide. Arthur and Minn-Kota not only taught us how to approach the market with our platform but also how to build strong relationships with our customers. Today our platform operates in 1,000+ grain facilities across the U.S. and Canada with thousands of growers using Bushelpowered apps to do business with their local grain elevator. Ryan Raguse, Co-founder and Executive Chairman bushel.ag
My advice would be to find a local company that has common interests, goals and mission in relation to what you are selling or developing. Don’t view them as a customer but rather as a partner. FARGOINC.COM
First Customer Stories Golden Path Solutions
First customer: Korber Medipak, formerly Fargo Automation Why was it so important for you that they were their first customer: Kevin Biffert and Jessica Petrick were huge advocates of ours from the start. They shared our vision of what Golden Path could be, as they saw this as a way to help them develop a future workforce. Having that first customer provided validation that what we were doing mattered and that companies would be willing to pay for our services. It helped us show that our concept had real practical benefits to companies vs. just being a “good idea.” It allowed us to gain traction with more companies, more schools and even local and state governments, showing that we had a new, innovative way of bringing students and employers together more intentionally. Most of all, it allowed us to test our processes and make sure we were providing real value. It was the spark we needed to get going and we are still thankful for their early support! Patrick Mineer, CEO and Founder goldenpath.net
Signs 4 Work
First customer: DogIDs We wouldn’t have a company today if it wasn’t for a meeting in early 2014 with Clint Howitz, president and founder of DogIDs. Clint had a vision to bring manufacturing of a line of dog collars to Fargo so his team could be hands-on in prototyping and product development. I agreed to be that guy and DogIDs purchased my equipment and materials. I set up shop in my basement and was paid per collar with no overhead. While making dog collars, I ended up creating Shirts From Fargo, which was sold early this year and Signs 4 Work, now a seven person operation in West Fargo. Last July, we launched Event Badger, which specializes in high-end event badges and today our future has never looked brighter. Being a business owner was something I would have never had the courage to pursue without the foundation Clint and DogIDs provided me. Justin Nelson, Founder signs4work.com
President and CEO of OmniByte Technology
Talk about what it was like running your company before you had your first customer. OmniByte Technology started in 2015, founded by Brian Gietzen and I, as a professional services technology company with the ultimate goal of building mobile software to improve the work lives and safety of field service personnel. We were fortunate to have more than one client prior to inception; generating revenue in the first week with positive cash flow and ending the year with a profit. Much of this had to do with the talent of my partner Brian, the professional relationships we had formed in the past and the programs in our state and locally that supported us as a startup and kept our costs to a minimum while allowing us to build. Unlike Steve Jobs, we did not decide what cool mobile technology we wanted to build then sell. We simply listened to the market, our clients and trusted contacts in industry to what the problems are and which most needed to be solved. Those problems became our roadmap for product development. Every product OmniByte Technology has started had one client who partnered with us, put their trust in us to build something new and best met the needs of the field service user while improving operations. Kevin Wolf from Laney’s made the decision to put their business in our hands. It was also important for us to work with a company whose values align closely with ours. Landing that first customer can oftentimes give startups the boost and validation they need to continue their
mission. Was that the case for you? Absolutely. Without our partnership with Laney’s in 2017, TechPro may not exist or gotten off the ground. Since the release of TechPro in 2018, we have sold into companies with hundreds of technicians, including one in the top 12 for US revenue in HVAC. We recently had our first sale outside of North America. Our new Australian client is preparing to deploy TechPro to 400+ technicians in Australia and New Zealand in January 2020. Along with Kevin’s leadership and his product/industry expertise, we built a product, which is today helping many companies and thousands of technicians do their jobs better with our mobile technology built here in Fargo. What advice would you give to other startups who are looking to close their first customer? Never ever give up. Be sure you are not selling your idea or your technology. This is said many times, yet many companies still build things that may not have a market/ need. When you identify and solve hard problems other companies have been unable to – and there are industries who have those same problems – you can create a great company around this. Find your niche, identify who your customer really is, listen to their needs and understand the problems. What has worked for OmniByte is finding a trusted client to partner with and together you will come up with technology solutions to solve their real problems. When you release your minimum viable product, you start with a client, users and hopefully your first reference. Now, you just need to find the second customer.
Read the full interview with Berry and Wolf at FargoInc.com
First Customer Stories WalkWise
First customer: Eventide Senior Living Our first senior living customer was Eventide Senior Living based in Moorhead. I had gotten an introduction to Jon, Eventide’s CEO, through an early customer of mine who was using WalkWise with his mother. I went to Jon’s office and after I had finished my pitch, he said something along the lines of, “I was worried this would just be another trinket, but I’m glad it’s not!” He has since been a huge champion for WalkWise and we’re currently working on expanding access to WalkWise at Eventide communities. Sure, we had challenges and setbacks with this early-stage technology, but the Eventide staff helped us learn about problems and asked for features that resulted in product innovation. Our community needs more business leaders who will work closely with startups, not because of altruism, but because technologies will better serve your needs when you have a hand in crafting the solution. Peter Chamberlain, Founder & CEO walkwise.com
First customer: A hip hop artist who hired us to create a music video for an original song. The music video project was really the genesis of our entire company. It planted the seeds creatively and from an entrepreneurial perspective that became the building blocks for what we are today. We owe a lot to those first few customers who took a chance on some young guys with cameras. Dave Diebel, Producer/Co-Owner dncinematics.com
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hen I’m putting together a magazine article, I have to think about the best format to do it in. I can write a 3,000word long-form article, Q&A, listicle, infographic and so on. There’s a wide array of tricks of the trade. I wasn’t sure how I was going to write this article when I sat down with Dieumerci Christel, a junior at NDSU and the founder of Enlight who goes by Chris, but I was blown away by how articulate, smart and visionary this young entrepreneur is. So, I present Dieumerci Christel’s story as told to me by Dieumerci Christel. BY Andrew Jason | PHOTOS BY Hillary Ehlen * Interview has been condensed for clarity FARGOINC.COM
My childhood starts in a refugee camp in Tanzania.
Both of my parents are Congolese but I was born in a refugee camp and I’m what they call a child of no nation because I’m not really Congolese but Tanzanians don’t say we’re Tanzanian. I was born and raised there until I was 13 years old. Growing up, we had to innovate and we didn’t really know we were innovating. Because that word was unknown to us, we just did what we had to to get by. From there, I had this entrepreneurial spirit. I started a little candy shop because we didn’t have any way of making money. I had a friend who went to Canada and he sent me a dollar, which converted into Tanzanian shillings is about 1,000 shillings so it’s a lot of money for us. He sent me a dollar and I could go spend it or I could start something so I started
looking and said, ‘What is one thing that I really love doing?’ I wanted to do something I was passionate about so I said, ‘I really love the movies.’ I was wondering how I could finesse the movies and make some money off of it because you had to pay. And these were like 30 inch TVs where 200 kids and adults would watch one movie. In 2007-2008 in the refugee camp, I started selling gum called Obama at the movie theatres so kids going to the movies would pay me a few shillings and I’d give them gum. That business grew from gum to actual candy so I was making a lot of revenue and some of that money was going to my family because sometimes we ran out of money. That business led to me learning my first lesson of do not give your product out for free. I kept giving a bunch of free candy to girls. Girls took me out of business.
T h e of an Fast-forward, I was very fascinated with technology in the movies.
I would watch movies and see American kids in schools on computers. The only time I saw computers was when immigration came to do interviews. My dad gave me this book about computers. You can’t learn how to use a computer just by reading a book. I was so fascinated by it and thought, ‘These American kids in the movies are doing crazy experiments in class.’ When we moved here in 2010, I was super excited to go to school. But, when I went to school, I was kind of disappointed because it wasn’t like the movies. For me, it was like the same thing. At African school, there are chairs, we sit in rows and the teachers are up there. Here, the teacher has a smartboard but it’s basically the same thing. While I was in the camps, we didn’t have school for about three years so I was behind in school, I didn’t know English and I was in America in middle school. I would go on YouTube to learn English. As I was going to school, I became super demotivated because I found out that school was kind
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of boring for me. I think I came here with a lot of expectations and I’m not sure if they weren’t met but I felt like I was in the same system as I was back there. At the same time, I’m the type of person where if there’s a problem, it’s going to bother me until I fix it. In high school, I had this crazy idea: I’m going to fix boredom. What are students doing? When students are bored in the classroom, they usually don’t pay attention and they go learn the stuff on YouTube or some other mediums. This whole time, I never heard the word entrepreneurship. I’m in high school in my sophomore year and Jake Joraanstad (owner of Bushel) and Unseen came to our school and spoke. Jake was speaking about entrepreneurship and was like, ‘I’m building a tech company and this is something that all of you can do.’ I started to get into it and was like, ‘I have some business ideas.’ I spoke at One Million Cups about it my senior year of high school. The speech went very well. I actually got a standing ovation, which was really awesome. However, I learned very quickly that the One Million Cups stage is different than the real world. Everybody is a champion until you have to go into the real world and actually convince people.
I would go on Reddit forums and Facebook groups and talked to at least 200 teachers.
I was trying to figure out what the problem was because students are saying they’re boring. I asked, ‘Why do students perceive them to be boring?’ They said, ‘Chris, here’s the thing. We don’t want or like to be boring.’ They said that they are like, public speakers who don’t know who their audience is. What I started figuring out was that it usually took until the middle or end of the semester before the teacher was getting it because they’re now comfortable with the classroom. They know who the students actually are. As students, we want our teachers to know more than just our grades. We have dreams, we have passions and aspire to
be more than just a number that is put on a transcript. We know that understanding is way deeper than information because there are many people that know you, but there’s a few who truly understand you. And every teacher should seek to understand to every student in their classroom in order to truly make a difference in their lives. But the challenge is that teachers have too many students and not enough time, so I made it my mission to help every teacher become an expert on their students. This discovery made me realize all the teachers who made a difference in my life. We all have a teacher or adult that knew how to talk to us, knew what we were passionate about, knew what our interests were and knew us as a whole and knew how to tailor things to us. That’s why you made those deep connections to them and that’s why they’re your champions and mentors. You can’t just mentor someone if you don’t know who they are as a person.
How it works
1. Students answer questions that will then create a profile of that student.
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2. Enlight will pull data from all the surveys to create a class profile, which will tell the teachers how students prefer to learn, top interests, assessments and more.
e e a o w s
What ended up happening
was that I first needed to know how to do this because I had the idea. I couldn’t build an app so I learned how to design. I’m more of a creative visionary. I designed a whole app and was like here’s what it will look like, here’s what a profile will be. I brought this back and started showing teachers and they were like, ‘Whoa, this is really cool.’ They said they already built the profile on paper where students would fill out these profiles but the problem is they had to go through 100 student paper profiles and they usually did not have time to do this. So, I was like, ‘I got to figure out a way to give you a lot of information in the same place easier and more efficient without overloading you with data.’ That’s where I came up with the class profile. I sent this back to teachers and they were like, ‘This is crazy.’ I started researching more about building connections with
students. They said that there’s one more piece missing because I can get to know who my students are but I still want the software to have an academic component.
3. The teacher can send out trivia to the class to test aptitude, which will then feed into the student and class profiles.
I started looking into what’s out there and how it’s being fixed. Then I found KaHoot, which is a game that you can play with your students. I then started looking into what’s more high-end than KaHoot and I started looking at NDSU and they’re using TurningPoint, which is $30 per student and thought that teachers can’t afford that, but teachers are using KaHoot and it’s not giving any data to teachers so it was an epiphany moment. I could combine the two and put them on one platform. But, I wanted to focus my surveying tool on understanding the student. We optimized it to surveying students, so the teacher can get feedback from their students in order to adjust. This allows the student to learn from the teacher and the teacher to learn from their students.
Student Run Venture Capital
T h T a O f
e k f
(Editorial Note: Chris was chosen to participate in a Wefunder Workaway where he was chosen as one of 12 founders to attend a Workaway in Hawaii. There, he got to stay in a mansion with 11 other founders and learn from experts.)
From there, I just started taking a bunch of risks, even
though they were small. The first one was applying for things. I just applied for the Hawaii thing. I never thought in a million years that I would ever hearback. They emailed me back, I did an interview and they said I should come. There, I got to learn so much because it was people who had done it. This is one of the lessons I learned. I went on a hiking trip on this crazy mountain in Hawaii. I haven’t climbed a big mountain since I was in Africa so I was super tired. It was a little steep so I was grabbing onto roots. Some would hold me and be strong enough and some would come right out of the ground.
Learn more vcpathway.com linkedin.com/company/ pathwayvc
That got me to start thinking. I wasn’t thinking about how hard my journey has been. I started thinking about how entrepreneurship and networking has made me into a better and stronger person. The first thing I thought was that when an entrepreneur starts, you’re like a little small tree with very weak roots. For me, my roots in high school were weak. As I got out of my comfort zone and I went to my counselor and said, ‘I want to get out of my comfort zone and speak to the public about my ideas.’ My roots were growing. I started spreading my roots to One Million Cups and Emerging Prairie. Now I was getting bigger and stronger as I learned. As I got bigger, it made it harder for me to quit because my roots were getting stronger since I was learning. The more people that I connected with, the harder it was for me to actually quit and let myself down because I was becoming a strong rooted tree. This summer, my roots started going out
As if all that wasn’t enough, Chris and other NDSU students are launching a student run venture capital fund called Pathway Ventures. This fund’s mission is to lead students and startups on a path towards success through knowledge, capital and opportunity. Their currently raising a $1 million fund with the goal of raising the first $100,000 before January 1 and to have the rest of the fund raised by the end of 2020.
to Hawaii and now San Francisco. I am meeting all these people from all around the U.S. and the world. I’m stronger when I learn and listen to others because they give me the nutrients and the lessons that I need to learn and those lessons are building stronger roots and foundations for myself. Not only as an immigrant but as a student, I’m bigger and have stronger roots. I’m more dynamic now than I have ever been because of the connections that I have been able to make. When you grab onto me, it’s hard to put me down because I’m really grounded into this thing they call entrepreneurship. But, if we did this in high school and said, ‘Entrepreneurship is not for you.’ It would have been so easy for me to quit because my roots and foundation weren’t that strong. Go out there, expand and build stronger roots for yourself. Talk to people because the more you talk to people, the more lessons you learn, the bigger foundation you create, the easier it is for you.
Ross Almlie is also the owner of Future Bright in Moorhead.
Has Come To Town
Talk to most people in startups in the Red River Valley and they’ll tell you how difficult it is to get access to capital. Well, thanks to Ross Almlie and three of his partners, the Northern Plains Fund hopes to help those entrepreneurs grow their businesses and promote the Midwest as a viable spot for startups. What it is The Northern Plains Fund is a new venture capital fund based in Moorhead that will serve the Upper Midwest. Ross Almlie, the owner of Future Bright and the managing partner of the fund, believes this is the first early-stage venture capital fund to intentionally serve our area. However, the idea of launching this fund isn’t just for investment purposes but to help start-ups grow. “We’re not trying to promote the fund to any specific individual,” said Almlie. “We’re promoting the concept of a void that we’re filling within the community. It’s really about the opportunity for local entrepreneurs that’s never been present in the marketplace.” While there are numerous stories in the Red River Valley about businesses that have bootstrapped their way into success, the simple truth is that it’s not always feasible. “We’re just trying to bring together the great ideas with the folks who are looking to help fund companies and growth in the community and who also have the money to do so,” said Almlie.
BY Andrew Jason PHOTOS BY Hillary Ehlen
The fund stemmed from a need that Almlie saw in the market. As the owner of Future Bright, an investment firm in Moorhead, he sees many entrepreneurs with great ideas who can’t find access to funding. However, he’s not just aware of this from his own experience. He heard the same thing from organizations like Emerging Prairie, Economic Development Corporation and others. But, it’s also Almlie’s entrepreneurial background that showed him the need for this fund.
“Ross has done this on his own on the entrepreneur side and went looking for money for a business startup idea and found out how hard it was to get capital,” said Randy Sidener, a general partner in the fund. “No banks are going to give it to you because it’s too much risk for them and you can’t show them any profit yet. He’s gone through the process and I think that really helped spawn the idea.” Who it’s for Based in Minnesota, Almlie and his partners, have decided that the Northern Plains Fund is looking for opportunities in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. Historically, many funds in the VC universe still charge a two percent annual management fee for the work they do to vet companies and bring in investors and they also get to keep 20 percent of the profits on any exits of the company. That’s not how the Northern Plains Fund works, though. “We’re not interested in the 20,” said Almlie. “This is not a money-grab. This is about how can we help spawn investment in our community to create more great companies.” All venture capital funds must create a Private Placement Memorandum, which is their legal document and explains the terms of the fund offering and the risks. In the Northern Plains Fund, they have spelled out six industries they are focused on. • • • • • •
Ag-tech Fin-tech E-commerce Manufacturing Healthcare Energy
While it’s important to note what companies they’re looking for, it’s also important to note what they’re not focused on, which includes retail, restaurants and more localized ideas. They’re looking for scalable companies. Another sector that they’re staying away from is real estate, which might be surprising considering how hot of an investment opportunity that is around here. “It’s a really crowded space around here,” said Almlie. “The key ingredient for us is that it has to be scalable, not just regionally but nationally and hopefully internationally … That’s really a critical component of what we’re looking for.”
What Entrepreneurs Should Know About VC Venture capital is often misunderstood and there are some important things that all entrepreneurs should know before seeking funding. The first thing to know is that entrepreneurs are going to have to give something up to the investor community. “There’s a fair amount of equity that’s out there,” said Almlie. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for an entrepreneur to give up too much equity but have you ever watched ‘Shark Tank’ where they go in and say, ‘We need $2 million for three percent of our company.’ Really? That’s a $50 million company before they even made a dime. They just need a reasonable understanding of where they’re at in their life cycle as a company and understanding how much help they need.” However, it’s also important to figure out how much equity you are giving up. “When they go to some of these bigger venture capital funds, I think the venture capital funds on the coast know that they can get whatever they want so they’ll invest with you but they’ll want majority ownership of the company,” said Sidener. “Obviously, we are tasked to make money for our fund partners, but we’re not here to take somebody’s idea and monopolize it. We want them to find what’s the right amount for them. They’ll learn quickly if they are not offering up enough.” Leadership is also extremely important when it comes to deciding which companies they invest in. That can often be a make or break when deciding on investing in the company. “Not every company deserves money,” said Almlie. “It’s a hard conversation to tell an entrepreneur that they’re not ready. It’s hard to digest but it sure builds the conviction in that person. You’ll know if you have a leader in place after a conversation like that depending on how they respond to that.”
Venture Capital Vs. Angel Fund
While on the surface level, angel funds and venture capital funds seem similar, there are some important differences. Almlie explained that angel funds are when individuals with large wealth come together with their own personal capital to collaborate on investment opportunities within an area. Both types of funds must file a notice filing with the SEC stating they meet the criteria that makes them exempt from filing as an “investment security.” Venture capital typically takes on a more formal organizational structure that enlists general partners and a formal board to operate the fund, but then also enlists a select group of fund advisors, each who bring advanced knowledge and experience in the specific industry categories it seeks to fund. Venture capital is also a preferred arena for accredited investors to find investment opportunities in the private sector by having other qualified people do the heavy lifting of research and vetting.
Learn More The Northern Plains Fund is deploying partner contributions into its very first investment at the time of this print, but they expect to vet a steady stream of more investment opportunities in the months and years ahead. If you have questions about how venture capital works, you can reach out to Ross Almlie at email@example.com.
YOU NEED TO KNOW
BY Peter Schott
1. 5x50 Productivity Formula 2.highperformanceacademy. com/5x50video
This video by Brendon Burchard was eyeopening for me on how to block my day for productivity. It also got me going on the practice of meditation, which has been life-changing for how I think and approach my life. Additionally, the first thing he says you should implement is (spoiler alert!) more sleep. Who can argue with that?
ABOUT PETER Daddy-daughter dates. The potluck guy. Husband. CEO. Peter enjoys building community, causing mischief and making others smile. His global-company (Genesis Feed Technologies) operates in 60 countries. A one-time International Potluck is now in its fourth year with monthly gatherings around food and story-telling. He owes his success to his beautiful wife, Julia and his amazing daughters who helped him rediscover how to be a kid.
“Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!” by Greg Crabtree
The pace and tone of his podcast put me off initially but I’ve grown to enjoy his interviews and his “5-bullet Friday” (go. tim.blog/5-bullet-friday-1) e-mails. Subscribe for a short, weekly e-mail with new music, interesting quotes or compelling speeches. I was introduced to David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water” (fs.blog/2012/04/ david-foster-wallace-thisis-water) from this list. It’s something I listen to on a regular basis now.
Meditation and mindfulness are important in my life. It’s safe to say they have changed how I think. You may think you’re too busy to meditate or that you can’t. I promise that can change. Headspace was a great tool to get some of the basics down. Subscribe for a few months to get through the basic/advanced modules then move to Insight Timer, which is a free app that has timers and guided meditations.
If you are a founder or new to running a business, this will be your guide to get your feet under you and learn to run. If financial statements scare you, this is a book to pick up and refer to over and over again as you start your business.
“Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers
Derek Sivers is the anti-business businessman. A musician by trade who created a hobby website only to sell it years later for $22 million (giving the proceeds away to a non-profit). I read this book over and over again. It’s an anchor for me to keep my principles in check and plan for growth.
romwod.com Back to Brendon Burchard (spoiling another 5x50 here) and his recommendation to stretch each day. ROMWOD (Range of Motion, Workout of the Day) is a Crossfit inspired stretching routine. Each day, you get a new one that ranges from 11-20 minutes with the optional “Warrior Routine” on Thursdays (50-60 minutes). ROMWOD helps you stretch your body overall rather than focusing on the same thing all the time. It also has some great breathing work and features everyday athletes performing the stretches.
BOOKS that should be on your reading list
Last but not least, here are a few essential books. (They asked me to keep my list to 10 things but being an entrepreneur, I’m a bit of a rebel and overachiever.) “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz This book helped me reframe how I think. Consider it a practical antidote for all the negativity that comes your way. “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together: How to Run Your Business Without Letting it Run You” by Sherry Walling and Rob Walling I broke down in tears several times listening to this book. It helped put me back on a path of self-care. After reading it, I began a regular practice of meditation, exercise and taking time for myself.
“The Motivation Manifesto” by Brendon Burchard The writing style in this book is different than most anything else you’ve read. But the pages are packed with inspiration and practical wisdom for making the most out of each day. “Business Models for Entrepreneurial Ventures: Developing Sound Metrics for Longterm Success” by David Newton I read this during the InnovateND “Boot Camps.” Reading this book helped me develop a pricing/ business model for my company that I still use and refine.
“The Little Red Book of Selling” by Jeffrey Gitomer
We are all in sales. Being the first sales book I read, it’s one that I read a few pages on a regular basis and also a regular gift of mine to people I meet. Gitomer has a no BS approach to sales that focuses on creating real value that people want. If you want deep relationships with loyal customers, then this is a must-read.
grammarly.com We all could use a little help with our grammar and making our writing more readable. I frequently contribute to publications on a local and global scale, writing technical and news articles for the feed industry. Grammarly is an amazing tool to help be your editor. I also like the Hemingway Editor, it’s helped me make my writing more readable.
Just one year ago, Jamie was homeless and struggling to provide for her family. Today, with the help of innovative partnerships, Jamie is now employed as a CNA and her family is on a path to economic stability.
to Solve Community Issues
“ BY Kristi Huber United Way of Cass-Clay President & CEO PHOTOS BY Dennis Krull
Small businesses and nonprofits are not for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave, the patient and the persistent. It’s for the overcomer.” - Unknown
Nonprofits and startups have more in common than many might first realize. Both kinds of organizations are driven by a vision and fueled by passion to see a significant change or improvement in the world around them. The similarities are even clearer when you look at the way that both approach challenges and risk, and their inherent need to continuously improve skills and systems.
Innovative Partnerships One of the most frustrating phrases to the ears of an entrepreneur is, “because we’ve always done it that way.” This is also true for growth-minded nonprofits. There is always risk in change, but there is also opportunity – the challenge is knowing when one outweighs the other. As United Way of Cass-Clay identified the challenges that over 26,000 people, including over
6,000 children, in our community are facing as they look to find a path out of poverty, we recognized that new and innovative partnerships were required. The obstacles for these families is a skills gap that doesn’t allow them to apply for higher wage positions and, in addition, challenges related to transportation, quality affordable childcare and safe, long-term housing can create insurmountable barriers to a better life. Three years ago, United Way of Cass-Clay leaned into a new partnership with Lakes & Prairies Community Action (CAPLP) and Minnesota State Technical and Community College (M State) to create a new model and position that would assist low-income individuals and families by connecting them with training opportunities to start a career in welding, certified nursing assistant (CNA) and certified production technician (CPT) for manufacturing. The gap in effectively connecting individuals to training was the need for a Workforce Development Case Manager to help navigate the specific challenges that each individual was experiencing, such as transportation, childcare and housing. The results of this partnership have been life-changing for individuals and their families. Jamie’s story reflects not just one, but all of the challenges mentioned above. Just one year ago, Jamie was homeless and uncertain about her and her children’s’ future. She was working at a local fast-food restaurant and she was caught in the day-to-day cycle of poverty. It’s a cycle often repeated from one generation to the next. Jamie was raised by a family that was in constant struggle. Domestic violence and substance abuse were part of her day-to-day reality. A young teenage single mother herself, she was told that she would never amount to anything. Jamie contemplated suicide but knew allto-well what that would mean for the future
of her own children. The cycle of poverty is cruel and relentless without hope for an opportunity to break the cycle. Living only for the hope for a better life for her children, Jamie learned about the training opportunity through CAPLP when she enrolled her youngest daughter in the Headstart Program, which provides lowincome children the opportunity to attend preschool. Soon Jamie was connected with Amy Feland, the Workforce Development Case Manager funded by United Way of CassClay, which would connect her to the M State CNA training program. Jamie was working a night shift until 3 a.m. and then attended CNA training during the day. She had determination to complete the program, and Amy’s support to help her believe in herself. Graduation from the program was only a step in this journey, gainful employment was the destination. For individuals in this program, a job interview can seem like a daunting wall keeping them from reaching their goal. Jamie was doubtful and unconfident as she approached her interview with Farmstead, an independent, assisted living and memory care community in Moorhead, who was in need of CNA’s for their workforce. Amy shared, “She just needed the right interview, and she needed a chance.” Fortunately, her new employer saw her potential and hired her. Jamie loves her role and the people that she cares for each day. She sees the opportunity for a career now, not just a job. With this new opportunity, Jamie has been able to move her family into a larger apartment where her children all have their own room and beds and all of them are making progress. The Inherent Need to Continuously Improve Skills and Systems As in the case with startups, nonprofits must be creative in maximizing their financial resources, while at the same time increasing
the number of individuals helped. This is the challenge of growth versus scale for both nonprofits and entrepreneurs. Growth means adding resources at the same rate that you’re adding revenue or dollars raised through fundraising. The biggest problem, however, is that it takes significant resources to sustain constant growth. While the company is technically growing, they’re not scaling. Scale is about adding revenue at a rapid rate while adding resources at a gradual and much slower rate. Scale is what gives both startups and nonprofits the greatest return on their investments. United Way of Cass-Clay utilizes research and data to focus and measure where we are seeing positive results and to help us direct more resources to continue to scale the success across the entire community. Jamie’s success and the success of others who have participated in the Workforce Development Case Management program are examples of why it’s crucial for nonprofits to continuously prioritize their resources and lean in to new partnerships in order to realize the positive community results of individuals and families that are on a new path toward financial stability. United Way of Cass-Clay’s focus on our BOLD Goals and seeking new partnerships is an example of how our organization has evolved to meet the needs of our growing community. Our role in the community to activate the resources of the entire community to solve complex issues and create lasting social change. We invite you to be a part of our work and join us in creating a better tomorrow for everyone. This is the Power of Community. Realized. Be inspired and hear more about Jamie’s story at unitedwaycassclay.org.
MARK PUPPE WORDWORK
Defeat Doubt. Removing skepticism from your audience and office.
BY Mark Puppe, owner of Wordwork wordwork.co
MECKLER MARKETING CONSULTING
Have you seen The Office? This television
sitcom features the awkward chemistry among staff working at a fictional mid-sized paper company. Intimate relationships evolve, crash and rekindle, aggressive pranking thrives and the coffee mug Michael Scott, the manager, bought for himself says World’s Best Boss. A Nielsen Families study estimates that Netflix played more than 45 billion minutes (about 85 thousand days) of The Office in a single year. For the sake of my own time, I wish Netflix would remove it. However, the show’s undying popularity reveals the human desire to identify with others and its scenes showcase the skepticism that has never been higher or more intense. Further, it affirms the need for communication strategies that businesses like mine, Wordwork, create. Those are bold (and admittedly selfish) claims, but most people personally experience and detest the sentiments triggered by the erratic conference room meetings summoned by Michael. Despite his big heart and best intentions, his meetings neglect business goals, thwart staff interest and faith, lack continuity and are too long before they begin.
operated by Brian Meckler. Brian and I hashed out some issues driving skepticism and some strategies we use to cultivate confidence for our clients. Puppe: I prepare a lot of resumes and each is a one-time project, but I’m also the guy organizations go to when they need strategies to advocate ideas, engage audiences and content written or wordsmithed. I spare clients the cost of hiring someone or distracting payroll staff with tasks I have the expertise to complete on their behalf. Meckler: Smaller groups typically don’t need or want to pay an expert nonstop. Instead of paying a salary, they hire Meckler Marketing Consulting on a project basis. Otherwise, you’ll have a marketing officer forced to perform detailed tasks when they could be administering the larger project. That’s a wasteful and unproductive use of resources. There’s more to marketing than putting things together and hoping they fit. Meckler Marketing Consulting has a pool of experts to tap and the flexibility to fit different budgets. It also means every strategy is customized to clients’ specific needs. Marketing companies typically don’t have that diversity of expertise or ability to offer a lower deal.
The onscreen debacles are funny but portray the rampant, unprecedented and oftentimes unfair skepticism undermining the trust required for real-world businesses, organizations and individuals to promote and garner support for their goals.
I see a lot of job descriptions calling for applicants with every marketing expertise; software, graphics, online social media and other niches. Not many people can do everything on that list or do a good job when they try. Those experts are tough to find and often unaffordable to the employer when identified.
Effective strategies exist, but most effective strategies remain unknown and only a couple businesses near Fargo engage them: Wordwork (that’s me) is the only writing and strategic communications business in the area; and Meckler Marketing Consulting,
Puppe: Let’s turn the table. Employers want to know what and how job seekers can contribute, but most job seekers submit little more than bullet-point descriptions of previous positions. They kind of reflect
Michael’s meetings on The Office. Not until the employer knows a job seeker understands the goal will they consider the jobseeker more than a name. That’s why I strategize resumes rather than write or review them. Employers consider my clients’ proven assets, not run of the mill applicants. Meckler: Employers don’t want to interview; they want to hire but need to be confident. If you’re being interviewed, you’ve impressed someone, but they need to be convinced. Many businesses create interviews for themselves by providing free samples. If consumers try the free sample, they’re interviewing the business that produced it. People create marketing campaigns to stimulate interest and inspire repeat patronage but get caught up in the marketing tasks and forget the campaign’s purpose. If distributing as many free samples becomes the goal, then no longer is it a resource for inspiring repeat patronage. Free samples are going out, but it makes no sense for a website to offer free samples without also providing opportunities to purchase the product. There needs to be something there for prospects to clasp on to and take action. Puppe: That’s like submitting a resume that’s just a list. Ideal applicants are instantly rejected because their resume doesn’t substantiate ability or any commonality. The applicants and employer can have the same goal, but a deficient
resume eliminates their opportunity to achieve it. Meckler: That’s the uncertainty many campaigns create and why so many opportunities are lost. I remember the client who wanted his website to market a specialty product but was determined to present the product in ways requiring his specialized knowledge to understand. Sounds crude, but “dumbing it down” is the way to say it. The public won’t care about technical understandings or details. Puppe: We tend to get so close to our own work and routines that we forget most people don’t have our field-specific vocabularies. Overwhelming an audience with information it can’t understand gives it no reason to care. When engineering firms or trade organizations need to convince an audience outside their industry, they’ll enlist Wordwork to formulate and adjust their messages to levels their audience can comprehend. This replaces confusion with confidence and motivates the audience to respond in ways favorable for my client. Meckler: Is a roofer more convincing when they explain why they’re the best option for stopping a leaky roof or when they list brands of nails, shingles or equipment? Using those details to prove ability makes the homeowner skeptical about the roofer’s commitment to stopping the leak. Puppe: Speaking of skepticism, we say something and people instantly doubt our
sincerity and commit themselves to proving us wrong. The worst way to promote a goal is to beleaguer skeptics with reasons we think it’s important. However, applying a counterintuitive approach worsens a conflict that’s rarely resolved and often recognized. At Wordwork, I strategize ways for clients to demonstrate—not convince—why investing in them is the best way for skeptics to invest in themselves. That turns traditional marketing and engagement upside down. Meckler: I recognized that need and created Meckler Marketing Consulting to facilitate approaches for clients to overcome it. Not many businesses recognize that underlying need or adjust their perspectives and operations to effectively fulfill it. Puppe: I studied strategic communication in grad school, but experience confirmed the need for adjustment better than any paper I authored.
For example, I’m a Fargo native who loved being a judicial clerk in Dickinson. During the week, it was bench materials for southwest district judges. On weekends, it was cattle for area ranchers. I knew how to handle cattle because I worked the West Fargo stockyards and my uncles’ herds for years. However, I learned very quickly that folks outside Fargo view the city much differently than those living in it. Upon arriving at the first ranch, the owner asks, “Mark, where are you from?” I answer, “Fargo,” and he avenges, “Fargo? Go see what help they need at the house.” Meeting the next ranch owner was just as brief, but much better. “Mark, where are you from?” This time I answer, “I live in Dickinson,” and the rancher responds, “Don’t let any calves get away.” Saying that I lived in Dickinson rather than grew up in Fargo established enough commonality, albeit geographic and irrelevant to my knowledge, to convince the rancher he could focus on his goal rather than question whether I was helping achieve it. That’s how and why Wordwork clients identify with, convince and engage their audiences effectively and as intended. Meckler: Likewise, Meckler Marketing Consulting facilitates sessions with executive boards to cultivate collaboration; what’s rewarding, how can their business pursue it better. Upon discovering that base, I’ll go to Wordwork or other experts to build a customized strategy for strengthening how a product, service or idea is presented. We’re strengthening confidence and opportunity for growth. Puppe: Good chatting with you, Brian. I’d love to continue because we’ve only scratched the surface, but clients come first and I get to help prevent their communications from becoming fodder for The Office.
Things All Startups Should Know About
ith all the resources that the state has to offer, North Dakota has become one of the top states for small business startups. When starting your own business there are a lot of things to take into consideration, such as... Where do I get my financing? What is my business strategy? What marketing tools do I use? How do I measure success? Here are some tips to help you get started in the right direction:
By Samantha Mohr
Establish who will oversee HR activities This could be you, someone currently on your team or you may need to hire someone who has experience writing HR policies, hiring, firing, benefits, payroll, laws, onboarding and training just to name a few. There is also required reporting to the government entities and strict timelines to complete specific reporting. An example of this is if you have any government contracts, you will be required to create an Affirmative Action plan. Establishing who will oversee the activities will ensure you get things going in the right direction and you remain compliant as the HR industry is forever changing.
Samantha Mohr has been in Human Resources for over 10 years and is currently at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota as a Talent Partner. She is currently President-Elect for Fargo Moorhead Human Resource Association and has served on the board for four years. Samantha is passionate about giving back to the community and profession.
Ensure you have a clear mission, vision and values for your company Having a strong foundation will help when attracting new people to your company and as you expand, it lets your current employees know where you are going and what you value. Values can be expanded into what you want your culture to look and feel like, which also flows back into your companiesâ€™ brand.
Establish an Organizational Design Typically associated with an organizational chart, organizational design is much more than that. It involves the creation of roles, processes and structures to ensure that an organizationâ€™s goals can be reached. This does not have to be elaborate, but it will be used as a guideline as you look at expanding your business. Learn more on organizational design at organizationdesign.net/ whatisorganizationdesign.
Establish onboarding and recruiting procedures Even if your startup is small, you need to consider how to make hiring decisions. This includes where to post your job ads, how to determine who your target candidates are and how to structure the onboarding process. Whether you’re hiring your first employee or your 50th, make sure you have the necessary paperwork ready for them. This includes the: • Offer Letter • Employee Information for Payroll (including W-4) • I-9 Employment Verification • Any Employment Agreements (non-compete, intellectual property, etc.) • Job Description In addition to required paperwork, consider your onboarding process for new employees. A good onboarding process sets your employees up for success from day one. Make sure you are ready for them on their first day and use that time to establish expectations and introduce objectives. Check-in regularly with your employees during their first several months and maintain open communication with new hires.
Outline Regulations for Compliance, Safety and Health A key point is making sure your work environment is safe for employees and meets federal, state and local regulations. Depending on your industry, your work environment may need to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct). • Safety: This includes creating an emergency action plan, identifying emergency exits and routes, providing first aid and medical supplies and keeping the work environment safe. • Behavior: This includes policies on equal employment opportunity in the workplace, as well as sexual harassment policies. Developing an HR department focused on creating a workplace that complies with federal regulations for compliance, safety and health provides legal protection for your company. Regulations change often, which is where a dedicated HR person or team can help ensure you’re in compliance with federal, state, and local laws.
Maintain Employee Relationships Employee grievances can and do happen. Your best approach to any situation is having established policies in place to handle complaints. Prepare to address any employee concerns by outlining your business’ standard of conduct, creating a plan to address issues and establishing a system for gathering employee feedback. Along with addressing employee concerns, you should take an individualized approach to employee engagement to maintain relationships. Following up once a year isn’t going to cut it, and if you don’t consider employee engagement and satisfaction, you will end up with employees who are disengaged from their work. Employees need to know their purpose in your organization, find meaning in their work and gain skills to do their jobs well.
Create and Determine your Compensation and Benefit Structure Now that you’ve created your hiring process, you’ll want to know how to keep employees with your company for the long haul. Ensuring that your company establishes competitive compensation and benefits can help you get there. In order to establish these plans, you’ll need to determine what your pay structure looks like, as well as policies for vacation and sick time, retirement benefits and what system you will use to manage payroll. • Pay Structure: Determine a pay structure that is competitive and fair based on an evaluation of your market. Learn how to create a competitive pay structure in a changing economy at bamboohr. com/blog/compensating-theworkforce-strategy. The Fargo Moorhead Human Resource Association has a salary survey available for purchase that provides information from businesses in the Fargo-Moorhead area. • Benefits: Some benefits are voluntary and some are required by law. The most common voluntary benefits include medical, dental, vision, life insurance and retirement accounts such as a 401K or IRA. Mandatory benefits vary from state to state but can include workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance and disability insurance. • Payroll Management System: There are dozens of different payroll management systems. Payroll errors can be expensive to fix. Do your research to find the best management system to fit your startup’s needs.
Develop training programs Think about how you are going to grow your current employees and get them to the next level. What do they need to be successful? Ask them for their feedback on what they are interested in for growth opportunities. As your company continues to grow, how are you going to ensure your employees are prepared? These are great questions to help you develop the training program you need.
Performance Management Methods How will you reward your employees? When will you and your staff check-in with employees to let them know how they are doing? Establishing when you and other members of the team will touch base with their staff and have performance conversations is critical to keeping employee retention, as well as performance issues, under control. Creating an evaluation form or some type of documentation is recommended to help with the discussions. Documentation will also be necessary if you find the relationship is not working out as you hoped it would.
Creating an Action Plan
The next step is to summarize overall work and prioritize specific action items based on the needs of the teams, keeping in mind budget implications for each item. Continue to partner with the leadership team as the business changes and grows to make sure the people are aligned to business strategy.
These tips will help you get your business off on the right foot and will set up your HR team for success. Keep in mind that whoever takes on the HR role is going to have a significant impact on shaping your company culture. Investing in your employees is a key factor in how your company continues to move forward.
Launching& A Business With so much information out there about launching and growing a company, it can be hard to get to the bottom of it. That’s why we went to Paul Smith, Fargo Center Director of the North Dakota Small Business Development Centers, and Steve Dusek, President and CEO of Dakota Business Lending, to get to the bottom of this.
Fargo Center Director North Dakota Small Business Development Centers Each year, the ND SBDC assists more than 1,000 ND entrepreneurs and small business owners across the state to start, manage and grow their businesses. ndsbdc.org
President and CEO Dakota Business Lending With a mission of providing financing solutions through collaborative partnerships in a supportive and creative environment to grow the economy and create and preserve quality jobs, they work with small businesses to learn their company and assist them in finding the best loans available. dakotabusinesslending.com
1. Lack of planning – Many startups fail due to a lack of proper planning. 2. Money – If a business doesn’t have sufficient capital to support its daily operations, the business will fail. 3. Neglected marketing and sales – It’s difficult to generate sales if nobody knows a business is out there, especially in a highly competitive global marketplace. 4. Time management – There are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything; prioritization is key. 5. Getting the right people on board – Certain skills are critical for a startup business to survive and grow.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST STRUGGLES STARTUPS FACE WHEN JUST GETTING OFF THE GROUND?
Finding funding can be challenging for any startup business. There are many funding programs available depending on the type of business, funding uses, business stage, borrower’s credit and available collateral and other factors. The SBDC can provide information and recommend possible funding options based on the particular needs of the business. The SBDC can help entrepreneurs prepare a professional business plan and financial projections, which are typically required by lenders.
IN NORTH DAKOTA, IT CAN BE HARD TO FIND FUNDING FOR YOUR BUSINESS. WHAT RESOURCES OUT THERE WOULD YOU RECOMMEND ENTREPRENEURS LOOK INTO?
There are two primary or significant struggles all startups face, which are: 1. Not enough or lack of proper planning 2. Lack of sufficient liquidity or not having enough working capital to operate with if their plan or projections do not materialize as they anticipated.
Resources need to take in to account what the entrepreneur can raise or has from themselves, family or friends. After all of those resources are exhausted, they can turn to lenders or other organizations like Dakota Business Lending for any local, regional or state options that may work. The main point is that, with a solid plan, there are many options for funding.
If you are in the very early stages and want to ‘test’ the feasibility of an idea, I would recommend developing a one-page business plan using either the Business Model Canvas (Canvanizer. com) or the Bplans one-page pitch, which can be downloaded at bplans. com. I would also suggest conducting 20 interviews/surveys with prospective customers (non-family or friends) to determine if there is a real need for your product or service and whether the market opportunity is large enough. I would also suggest working with an SBA resource partner that offers free client counseling services such as SCORE, the Women’s Business Center or SBDC.
I HAVE AN IDEA FOR A BUSINESS BUT I’M JUST NOT SURE ABOUT THE FEASIBILITY OF IT. WHERE SHOULD I START?
I would recommend that they start with one of the state and federally funded resource partners who are specifically set up to help out in these areas. They are the Statewide Center for Technology and Business out of Fargo/Bismarck, the North Dakota Small Business Development Centers, and SCORE (service corps of retired executives).
There are two basic types of business plans, a “lean plan” and a more detailed traditional business plan. The type of plan that’s right for you depends on your purpose and audience. For example, if you plan to apply for a loan through a bank or credit union, lenders typically want to see a more detailed business plan along with three-year financial projections. I would recommend starting by developing a onepage business plan - the Business Model Canvas (Canvanizer.com) or the Bplans one-page pitch (bplans.com) are great templates and can provide a framework for a more detailed plan.
I KNOW I NEED TO MAKE A BUSINESS PLAN BUT I’M CONFUSED ABOUT HOW TO DO THAT. ANY SUGGESTIONS?
There are several good resources online and just searching for business plans will bring up many of them. There are also state and federally funded organizations (ND CTB, ND SBDC, and ND SCORE) that can assist you with a direction or point you in the right direction.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME FOR ME TO ACTUALLY DIVE IN AND LAUNCH THE BUSINESS?
This all depends on the industry and the business you are attempting to set up. There may be some ideal times throughout the year that make more sense for launching a small business and with careful planning and the assistance of one of the many resource partners (mentioned above), this will become clear as you develop your plan.
When you: 1. Have the time and energy to launch your new business. 2. Have support from the key people in your life. 3. Are passionate and driven to provide a solution to a problem and determined to succeed. 4. Have acquired some experience and expertise in this industry. 5. Have a business and financial plan and know how much money you will need, where it will come from and how long it will take to become profitable.
BY Adrienne Olson, Kilbourne Group PHOTOS COURTESY OF Kilbourne Group
Roberts Common Garage is attached to Dillard’s apartments and has apartments on the exterior of the building with retail and restaurants on the ground level.
A Strategic Piece of the Downtown Fargo Growth Puzzle
magine your office in downtown Fargo, right in the heart of the most active sidewalks in North Dakota. The neighborhood is bursting with dozens of restaurants, independent retailers, arts hubs and coffee shops. But a gnawing thought keeps you from conjuring the vision of closing a big deal or building business partnerships over a terrific lunch that you walked to…PARKING. Where will I conveniently leave my car so I can enjoy the unique walkability downtown Fargo offers? In October 2019, Fargo City Commissioners took the next big step in ensuring downtown’s parking supply stays ahead of its demand. Commissioners voted to approve the recommendation of the City of Fargo Parking Commission to begin construction on a 369-space parking ramp, surrounded by mixed-use private development, at the corner of Broadway and Fourth Avenue
North. Construction is expected to begin in November 2019 and wrap up in September 2020. The project has been dubbed Mercantile, in homage to the four-story brick structure, which stood on the site from 1909 until it was demolished in 1966 after sitting vacant for six years. The building was used exclusively for the Fargo Mercantile Company, a wholesale grocer established in 1895. The Mercantile project represents a publicprivate partnership between the City of Fargo, Kilbourne Group and another private developer, who intends to add about nine owner-occupied housing units to the project. Plans for the mixed-use building wrapping the parking garage include space for a Fargo Police Department substation, a parking office, public restrooms, approximately 100 apartments for rent and 15,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. When finished, the 369 parking spots become part of the City’s supply for public parking. Fargo, like many cities across the nation, has a storied history when it comes to its approach to parking.
Fargo was founded in 1871, long before cars influenced its development patterns. Downtown grew, unfettered by parking needs for about 75 years. In the mid-20th century, vehicle parking was becoming a necessity for any business to survive. One way to add parking to downtown Fargo was to demolish existing buildings to create surface-level parking. On the site of Roberts Commons (RoCo), Fargo’s first mixed-use parking garage at Second Avenue North and Roberts Street, stood an ornate Carnegie Library from 1903 to 1968, when it was demolished to create more parking. The site served the city as a surface parking lot until the public-private partnership was established to build RoCo in 2015. In 1999, the City of Fargo commissioned a parking study to find a better way to plan for growth in parking needs in downtown Fargo. As a result of the study, Fargo established a Parking Commission to “manage, provide, promote and maintain safe, convenient, accessible, attractive and reasonably-priced parking facilities that will meet the need of downtown businesses, employers, residents and visitors.”
The old Carnegie Library, which was demolished in 1968 to create more parking.
Mercantile in 1909
Mercantile in September 2020
As downtown continued to change, Fargo followed up with additional parking studies in 2003, 2007, 2012 and most recently 2015. The 2015 study came to three main conclusions: • As development continues, there is a parking deficit in the downtown Fargo core. • Strategically placed garages will catalyze private investment and development in the downtown core. • Parking structures are opportunities for public-private partnerships and joint ventures on mixed-use projects. The 2015 study identified the Mercantile site at the corner of Broadway and Fourth Avenue North as a strong candidate for a new mixed-use garage. The site currently offers 93 surface spaces and is large enough to accommodate adjacent private development, which will generate new taxes and maintain the aesthetic and walkability of downtown. At the release of the 2015 parking study, there were 3,600 public parking spaces in downtown Fargo. Since then, more than 800 spaces have been added, with another 369 spaces in the works at Mercantile. So, how are new parking garages in downtown Fargo paid for?
In Fargo, City-owned garages are paid for through a mix of operating revenues from existing City parking garages and lots, and from new taxes created through private development in the City’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. The TIF district is a way for the City to capture the new value created by private development and earmark it for costs incurred to make that development possible, such as building public parking. Once the construction debt is paid off, the TIF closes and the increased taxes are again redistributed to all the taxing entities. Operating revenues for all City-owned parking are kept within the budget of the parking authority and used to maintain the infrastructure and build reserves to continue to build parking as needed. In this scenario, no general fund money is used to build parking in downtown Fargo. As a self-sustaining and self-funding system, the parking authority is budgeted to make $56,000 in the year 2020. Much like Fargo’s new $30 million overpass at 64th Avenue South, structured parking is a vital infrastructure asset that allows the continued growth and development of Fargo. Downtown is in an era of transitioning from surface parking lots to structured facilities, which stack the cars up and frees up room for more mixed-use development, which will pay dramatically more in taxes than the surface lots have for the last 50 years. As stated in the 2015 parking study: “Today, the urban core of downtown is dynamic and growing. To continue to make these strides, it will be important that the downtown parking resources be managed and expanded in a manner to match the quality and growth of Fargo’s downtown. Downtown is ready to move to the next level, building on the solid foundation of diverse investment in the fabric of Fargo’s downtown.”
Dani Gilseth, Dori Walter & Aimee Hanson
When a cancer diagnosis rocked their familyâ€™s world, Dani Gilseth, mother Dori Walter and aunt Aimee Hanson were amazed by the kindness and generosity they received from their community. Now they are paying it forward with Grateful Cratefulls, a personal gifting business with an inspiring mission.
(Left to right) Aimee Hanson, Dori Walter and Dani Gilseth
gratefulcratefulls.com 300 Sheyenne St. Ste. 130, West Fargo
BY KATIE BEEDY, LADYBOSS AND WRITER AT TELLWELL GARY USSERY
What is Grateful Cratefulls? Dani: “Grateful Cratefulls is a personal and business gifting service dedicated to inspiring gratitude, kindness and joy. We have our brick-and-mortar shop here on Sheyenne Street in West Fargo, as well as an online shop.” How did you decide to start Grateful Cratefulls? Aimee: “In February 2018, our brother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. There wasn’t anything we could do medically to help, but we realized that we could support him financially and emotionally. The three of us, plus a couple of other family members, got together and held a benefit for him. We were blown away by people’s generosity and support. Plus, we all loved working together so much that when the benefit was over, I pitched the idea of starting a business, something to give back and spread the kindness that we received. We opened our doors that July.” Dori: “Grateful Cratefulls was our way of creating something positive out of a very sad time.” So why personal and business gifting? Dani: “Every business idea that we threw around had the same concept: whatever we do, we want to recognize the truly good, kind-to-the core people in our community. We realized that we could fill a void in our market for comfort items for occasions when that would be appropriate — say if someone was in the hospital, you could give them a blanket, a hug in a mug or some cozy socks. But Cratefulls are also a way to celebrate the highs in life: birthdays, anniversaries, retirements.” Aimee: “And if someone is going through a difficult time medically, if they are going through something like cancer, we do have a selection process and we donate for silent auctions.”
How do you select the products that go into Cratefulls? Dani: “Our focus is on regionally made, quality products backed by really good people with good stories. If we are going to put it in a gift for someone, we have to truly love the product.” Aimee: “The blankets that we use are the type that our mom loved when she was in the hospital, so that’s a piece of our heart that we added in. Some of the bath items are from a company that donated to the benefit we held for our brother-in-law, so that’s another way for us to give back to the people who have shown us such kindness.” Tell us about your ND Kind™️ line! Aimee: “Because our business is rooted in kindness, we try to think of ways we can scatter kindness throughout the community. There is such a need to teach kids to be kind. Some kids don’t grow up with that message, so one of our goals was to get that message into schools. With our ND Kind™️ collection, a minimum of 10 percent of a school’s total sales will go back to the school in the form of kindness resources — books that teach the importance of kindness, lesson plans for teachers. The first school we worked with was Aurora Elementary. We sold almost 300 shirts, and in turn, we were able to donate $1,000 worth of resources back to them.” What challenges did you face when starting your business? Dani: “I came from an accounting background, Dori was pulled out of retirement and Aimee has been in business consulting roles. There was a challenge of deciding who was going to play what role in this business. There were also fears of, how are we going to get our name out in this community? Is it going to be an e-commerce business that we run out of our houses? Are we going to be able to afford a commercial space? Those were all challenges that we spent many, many late nights around my kitchen table discussing.”
Aimee: “Initially, we thought that Dani might take the business on full-time, and Dori and I would come in a few days a week. But it is every day, long days, for all of us. And we have grown so quickly. Last Christmas, after we had only been open for six months, we shipped out 500 Cratefulls to 32 different states. So that was a learning curve, with things like shipping and packaging. We’ve definitely learned a lot.” Why do you love what you do? Dori: “My favorite thing is giving back. When I do deliveries, I get to see the look on someone’s face when they are surprised. They have no idea something is coming.” Dani: “I wish I could bottle up the joy and emotion that you see on someone’s face when they are unexpectedly gifted something so thoughtful and authentic.” Aimee: “We had a little boy in the other day who had four open-heart surgeries. We didn’t know it, but we had donated a Cratefull to his benefit, and he and his mom and sister and brother came in to say thank you. We were so touched. It’s hard not to cry sometimes.” Who is your hero? Why? Aimee: “All of us will tell you our hero is our sister Deb. It was her husband who died of brain cancer, whose battle inspired us to start this business. Ten days before he died, Deb found out she had breast cancer, and she had a double mastectomy 10 days after her husband passed away. She is the most selfless, kindest, most gracious person you could ever meet. She tells us every day how grateful she is, despite it all. We model our kindness after her.” What is the best career advice you have ever received or have to offer? Dani: “Keep your eye on why you started and don’t lose track of that. If we ever lose our way, we look at a photo we have printed of all the women in our family and that hangs on the wall in our office. They are why we do all of this.” FARGOINC.COM
Going All Out for
INBOUND By Kirsten Lund, Inbound Marketing Specialist
Get Content in Front of the Right People HubSpot allows us to publish blogs directly to our clients’ websites while getting real-time SEO suggestions. We can also post social messages at optimal times so we can reach the right people at the right time. The platform also measures past behaviors so we’re able to serve relevant headlines, CTAs and more.
Drive Traffic to Unique Landing Pages This platform lets us design our own CTAs using personal messaging based on traffic source, location, personas and more. The best part? No coding is required (phew!).
You may have heard about inbound marketing before – but what does it mean? Inbound marketing takes a more human approach to growing businesses by attracting, engaging and delighting both current and potential customers. These marketing campaigns achieve a higher ROI than outbound techniques regardless of company size, geography or budget. Why? It’s simple. Inbound marketing revolves around meaningful content that generates attention and can be shared easily. Reaching B2B customers online has never been easier as 68 percent of them prefer to research online. Eightyseven percent of buyers give more credit to content shared by an industry leader and the most successful B2B marketers spend 40 percent of their total budget on inbound marketing. In order to do inbound marketing the right way for B2B customers, we at Spotlight decided to become a partner with the best inbound marketing platform in the world – HubSpot. Let’s talk about what we can do with this platform and learn about some of the highly sophisticated features we’ll be using for our clients.
Convert Visitors Into Qualified Leads & Turn Them Into Customers We’re not all developers, which is why the fact that we can launch professional-looking landing pages in seconds without having to rely on a web developer is so great! We can even attach forms in a single click, run A/B tests to increase conversions and engage with visitors in real-time using live chat.
Track Customers & Report Bottom Line Impact This is probably my favorite feature. HubSpot has robust email tools and drip campaigns that give each lead a personalized path to purchase. With these tools, we have the ability to give them everything they need to become paying customers, and every interaction with our content automatically triggers the perfect next step. At the same time, the platform automatically records and organizes every interaction customers have with the clients’ brand. This allows us to confidently show our clients how their inbound marketing campaign has contributed to their sales.
HubSpot has positioned itself as the go-to solution that provides a wide variety of highly sophisticated features that allows businesses to nurture and capture leads. It’s all-in-one functionality allows us to blog, create lead capture forms, control social media and monitor success from a single interface. We’re so excited we get to partner with this platform and can’t wait to help more B2B customers see success with this amazing platform!
About Spotlight Spotlight is the parent company of Fargo INC! and has a marketing division that has everything you need from magazine publications, video production, multichannel advertising, performance-driven marketing strategies and project management to help you compete and grow. We are more than a service, we are your dedicated marketing and creative team.
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N OV- D EC
Fargo, Moorhead & Dilworth Events NOVEMBER 5
Design & Branding
ACTIVATE Your Financials: Financial Review and Forecasting
Tuesday, November 5 from 7:30 - 8:30 a.m.
What makes a brand memorable? Come to the Historic Dakota Business college to chat about the ins and outs of branding, why it’s more than just a logo and the impact branding can have on organizations, products and people. The event is the fifth of eight in the Made from Concentrate series Design & — a meetup where craft and designers intersect. madefromc.com Historic Dakota Business College 11 8th St. S 2nd Floor, Fargo
Tuesday, November 12 from 11:45 a.m. - 1:15 p.m.
NOVEMBER 5 Voices of Vision 2019
NOVEMBER 6 Incarceration & Rehabilitation: A Look into our Criminal Justice System Wednesday, November 6 from 7:30 - 9 a.m.
Join the Chamber as they bring in experts from both sides of the river to focus in on our criminal justice system. The speakers will address where we currently are in regard to public policy, occupancy rates, services and collaborative efforts and speak to the direction they anticipate we are headed in these areas. It is important for the business community to understand this issue as it affects our workforce challenges and personal relationships. fmwfchamber.com Courtyard by Marriott 1080 28th Ave. S, Moorhead
NOVEMBER 7 November Breakfast Buzz: How to Become a Leader-Coach and Coach Employees Thursday, November 7 from - 10 a.m.
This session will provide a roadmap and best practices for coaching and becoming a leader-coach. Ole Rygg an executive leadership coach, certified mediator and productivity activator will mediate the event. fmwfchamber.com 2605 42nd St. S, Fargo
Tuesday, November 5 from 12 - 1:30 p.m.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Chamber’s Voices of Vision event and they’re pulling out all the stops for an incredible event. Coming to Fargo to share his legendary story and inspirational message with you is none other than Peyton Manning, NFL legend and philanthropist, entrepreneur, spokesman, host and author. fmwfchamber.com Sanford Health Athletic Complex 1300 17th Ave. N, Fargo
NOVEMBER 8 Strong Women, Strong Coffee — Leading with a Legacy Friday, November 8 from 8 - 9:30 a.m.
The North Dakota Women’s Business Center is giving out coffee and confidence. Come for an opportunity to support and empower one another while learning from women in leadership roles who are offering to get personal. Hosted quarterly, Strong Women, Strong Coffee welcomes women wherever you’re at, and helps build character and strength so you can present the best versions of yourselves. ndwbc.org Dakota Medical Foundation 4141 28th Ave. S, Fargo
Dakota Business Lending has started its very own FREE “Activate Women” learning workshop series — Activate Your Financials: Financial Review and Forecasting. Learn from entrepreneurs throughout the community and dive into perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of your business: your human resources. dakotabusinesslending.com Dakota Business Lending 5630 36th Ave. S, Fargo
NOVEMBER 13 Elevate IT
Wednesday, Nov. 13 from 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Today’s world is more integrated than ever. But navigating the ever-changing technology realm is a challenge. That’s where True IT comes in. Kick back and let them showcase the latest and greatest technology trends. Watch demos to see how they can use tech to leverage human capital. Speak with their trusted partners. Chat with their team. Share pain points and solutions with like-minded peers. And strategize to build a better business with technology that works! trueit.com/elevate Courtyard Marriott 1080 28th Ave. S, Moorhead
NOVEMBER 13 Off the Clock
Wednesday, November 13 from 5:15 - 7:30 p.m.
YPN will be gathering this month at Urban 42, inside the Delta by Marriott! Come connect with other young professionals while checking out one of the great food and beverage establishments in our region. Must be 21 or older to attend. fmwfchamber.com 1635 42nd St. S, Fargo
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Fargo, Moorhead & Dilworth Events NOVEMBER 21 Morning Buzz — November
Thursday, November 21 from 7:30 - 9 a.m.
Come to Sandy’s Donut Shop’s newest location in south Fargo for November’s Morning Buzz. As the busy holiday season approaches, swing by Sandy’s on your way to the office for a cup of coffee, a donut, and some networking. fmwfchamber.com Sandy’s Donut Shop 4215 45th St. S, Fargo
DECEMBER 3 Design & Accessibility
Tuesday, December 3 from 7:30 - 8:30 a.m.
NOVEMBER 19 Shut Up, Self Doubt!
Tuesday, November 19 from 3:30 - 5 p.m.
Women frequently express that they don’t feel they deserve their job and are “imposters” who could be found at any moment. Many recent studies (and selfexperiences) have found that women worry more about being disliked, appearing unattractive, outshining others or grabbing too much attention. So how can you get around that, how can you overcome those times of self-doubt so that you can move forward? fmwfchamber.com Delta by Marriott 1635 42nd St. S, Fargo
NOVEMBER 13 Lunch & Learn: Developing Brand Stories
Wednesday, November 13 from 12 - 1 p.m.
Learn how to develop strategic stories that help internal and external constituents internalize your brand. You’ll learn the qualities of the best signature brand stories, why they are so effective, look at some examples and start writing your own. These stories are powerful ways to convey brand values for big companies, smaller businesses or even individuals. Lunch will be provided. emergingprairie.com Prairie Den 122 ½ N Broadway Drive, Fargo
NOVEMBER 20 The Focus Mindset: How to Stay on Task in a Distracted World
Wednesday, November 20 from 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
This session will equip you with the tools to know what thoughts to keep in your focus so that you can stay on task at work and hit the goals you set out to reach. Attendees will also learn to identify common workplace distractions, triggers and action steps to regain focus. fmwfchamber.com Hilton Garden Inn 4351 17th Ave. S, Fargo
Join in talking about the ways design can include and exclude people and actions we can take to work with accessibility as a guide. This event is 7 of 8 in the Made from Concentrate series — a meetup where craft and designers intersect. madefromc.com Historic Dakota Business College 11 8th St. S 2nd Floor, Fargo
DECEMBER 3 National Guard Briefing & A New Service for Our Veterans Tuesday, December 3 from 7:30 - 9 a.m.
Come to December’s Eggs & Issues for a National Guard briefing from our local Air and Army leaders. Colonel Anderson and Major Kuntz will take to the stage to share about the current strength of their units, retention rates, economic impact, missions, training and deployments. This event will also feature a panel focused on the new Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) service for veterans in our area. fmwfchamber.com Courtyard by Marriott 1080 28th Ave. S, Moorhead
DECEMBER 5 How to best attend Business After Hours Thursday, December 5 from 3 - 3:45 p.m.
Regardless of how you feel about networking, it’s a vital part of organizations and personal brand health. This session is designed to help you hone your skills and make quality connections! Make the most of Business After Hours and other networking experiences by learning techniques to increase your visibility, promote yourself and market your business most effectively. fmwfchamber.com Delta by Marriott 1635 42nd St. S, Fargo
DECEMBER 11 Imposter Syndrome: Why it Affects Talented People and How to Overcome It Wednesday, December 11 from 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
This session will provide participants with an understanding of what Imposter Syndrome is, why it can affect certain individuals, types of Imposter Syndrome and the behaviors it can cause, and methods to overcome Impostor Syndrome. Participants will have the opportunity to learn from the shared experiences of others who have dealt with Impostor Syndrome, as well as to share their own stories in small group discussions. fmwfchamber.com DoubleTree by Hilton 825 East Beaton Drive, West Fargo
DECEMBER 11 Lunch & Learn: Ultimate Event Planning Panel Wednesday, December 11 from 12 - 1 p.m.
Learn how to plan an unforgettable event from successful industry professionals. After this event, you’ll have several takeaways on how to make your event memorable and fun. Lunch will be provided. emergingprairie.com Prairie Den 122 ½ N Broadway Drive, Fargo
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Bismarck Events NOVEMBER 12 ACTIVATE Your Financials: Financial Review and Forecasting
Tuesday, November 12 from 11:45 a.m. - 1:15 p.m.
Learn from entrepreneurs throughout the community and dive into perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of your business: forecasting. dakotabusinesslending.com Center for Technology and Business 2720 E. Broadway Ave. #1, Bismarck
NOVEMBER 14 2019 Farmer’s Appreciation Banquet Thursday, November 14 from 5:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.
On behalf of the Chamber’s Ag Committee and their sponsors the Chamber is inviting area farmers and a guest to a FREE “Farmer’s Night Out”. Deadline to pick up tickets is November 7. gochamber.org Ramada Inn 1205 N 43rd St., Grand Forks
NOVEMBER 7 Sheila Gerszewski: Finding Your Confidence Thursday, November 7 from 4 - 6 p.m.
Join Sheila Gerszewski, SVP, Director of Retail at First International Bank and Trust, as she talks about finding your confidence. This event is free for Greater Grand Forks Women’s Leadership Collaborative members. ggfwlc.com Ramada by Wyndham Grand Forks 1205 North 43rd St., Grand Forks
NOVEMBER 20 Creating Video That Stands Out In The Digital Age
Wednesday, November 20 from 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Video is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to marketing. However, creating video content is not easy and standing out among the crowded digital space can feel nearly impossible. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to even begin when creating a video. Peter Monsrud, a videographer for the University of North Dakota, will go through some tips, tricks and strategies he’s found for creating compelling content to help you break through the content jungle of social media. gochamber.org The Chamber
NOVEMBER 21 November After Hours
Wednesday, November 21 from 4:45 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Business after hours is free for Chamber Members to attend. It is a great way to unwind after work, meet up with friends and make new contacts. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be provided as well as door prizes. No children under 18 may attend. gochamber.org EAPC 3100 Demers Avenue, Grand Forks
DECEMBER 12 Activate Your Finances: Understanding Quickbooks Online
Thursday, December 12 from 11:45 a.m. - 1:15 p.m.
Learn from women entrepreneurs throughout the community and dive into perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of your business: managing Quickbooks. dakotabusinesslending.com UND Center for Innovation 4200 James Ray Drive, Grand Forks
NOVEMBER 13 State of the Cities Address
Wednesday, November 13 from 7 a.m. - 9 a.m.
Join Mandan Mayor Tim Helbling and Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken for the 2019 State of the Cities event. New for 2019 is the inclusion of the Parksand Schools Panel. In addition to receiving community insight from both mayors, the Parks and Schools Panel will provide an opportunity for attendees to learn more about the parks, recreation and school developments within their district. Cost is $30 for Chamber EDC members and $40 for general admission. Bismarckmandan.com Ramkota Hotel & Conference Center 800 S 3rd Street Bismarck
DECEMBER 10 2019 Holiday Mixer
Tuesday, December 10 from 5 - 8 p.m.
The Holidays are upon us and that marks a special time at the Chamber EDC. You get to celebrate another festive year of fun, laid back networking at the Holiday Mixer with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, drinks, door prize giveaways and local music! If you have further questions on attending or representing your business at the Holiday Mixer, call the Chamber EDC at 701-2235660. Admission for the event costs $5 and a business card must be presented with purchase. Bismarckmandan.com Bismarck Event Center, Exhibit Hall 315 S 5th St., Bismarck
202 N 3rd St. #100, Grand Forks
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NOVEMBER 14 Showcase of Business Thursday, Nov. 14 from 5 - 8 p.m.
The 29th Annual Showcase of Business will be November 14 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the ND State Fair Center Magic Place. The theme this year is “Super Hero!” This is an opportunity for businesses to decorate around this theme and for Chamber members to showcase their products and services to nearly 1,000 attendees. minotchamber.org ND State Fair Center Magic Place 2005 E Burdick Expy, Minot
NOVEMBER 6 Chamber University
Wednesday, Nov. 6 from 8:30 - 10:30 a.m.
This is a great opportunity for your business to learn more about all aspects of doing business in North Dakota. Sponsored by the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center, this Chamber University will feature a panel discussion, which will include ND Secretary of State, ND Tax Commissioner and Job Service ND. If you have questions on internet sales tax, filing requirements or other business-related questions, join the Chamber Wednesday, November 6. Minot Auditorium Room 201 420 3rd Ave. SW, Minot
NOVEMBER 12 ACTIVATE Your Financials: Financial Review and Forecasting (Minot)
Tuesday, Nov. 12 from 11:45 a.m. - 1:15 p.m.
Dakota Business Lending is offering its first-ever FREE “Activate Women” learning workshop series - Activate Your Financials: Financial Review and Forecasting. Learn from entrepreneurs throughout the community and dive into perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of your business: your financials. dakotabusinesslending.com Minot Public Library 516 2nd Ave. SW, Minot
DECEMBER 5 Holiday Business After Hours Extravaganza Tuesday, December 5 from 5 — 7:30 p.m.
Come for a fun evening of food, drinks, raffles, giveaways and networking. Everyone is welcome! wahpetonbreckenridgechamber.com Wahpeton Event Center 995 21st Ave. N, Wahpeton
DECEMBER 5 Chamber University
Thursday, December 5 from 9:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Don’t miss out on Uncovering Leadership Blind Spots: Discovering the Pathway to Motivating Your Employees. This is for senior leaders, human resource and Leadership and Development professionals, as well as anyone who wants to empower their leaders to build a culture that engages and retains their employees. minotchamber.org
Grand Hotel 1505 N Broadway, Minot
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Signs of Giving An inside look at the charitable efforts of Office Sign Company
Office Sign Company works year-round to give back to the community and empowers its employees to do the same throughout Fargo-Moorhead. Jack Yakowicz, the company's VP of Sales & Marketing, sat down to give an inside look at how OSC gives back before, during and after Giving Hearts Day.
How has OSC given back to local nonprofits? For the last three years, we’ve used our sister brand’s website (FargoStuff.com) to sell reclaimed wood hearts. These hearts have “Fargo” or “Moorhead” engraved or printed on them and sell for $15 (with the option to donate more if they so choose). On the listing, we allow our customers to choose which non-profit they’d like for the funds to be donated to on Giving Hearts Day. Then, on GHD, we shut off our product listing in the late afternoon and re-distribute all the funds to the non-profits that were selected (we don’t keep a single penny from this). From 2017-2019, we raised $8,895 (pre-matching) through the sale of 548 hearts. It’s allowed us to maximize our giving potential while also helping our customers determine who we should be donating the funds to! It’s been a blast for our team, each year, to create a new design for the heart that we sell.
Why, as a company, is it important to support nonprofits? To me, it’s the best use of my marketing budget. Not only does it allow our company to do good in our community (which makes our employees more fulfilled and our customers more pleased to shop with us), but it also allows us to build true and authentic partnerships with organizations that are making a big impact in our town. Some of my closest relationships have stemmed from the various donation and sponsorship efforts that Office Sign Company has run over the past five years I’ve been here and I’m truly grateful to work for a place that sees the inherent value in helping the FMWF area.
How do you encourage your employees to get involved with Giving Hearts Day or nonprofits, in general? We have a few different ways that we encourage employees to get involved. Whenever we
have a sponsorship/partnership activity taking place (for example, our Giving Hearts Day hearts, our Garage Sale that benefits an area non-profit, our United Way campaigns and more), we always inform and educate our entire staff about what we’re aiming to accomplish. This helps them take more ownership and engage further and not just view this as a PR initiative or a marketing campaign, but rather as something that they (as employees outside of the marketing department) can take part in. We also have an OSCares volunteer team that lends a hand in the community every four to six weeks. We’ve done things like bagging at Great Plains Food Bank, cooking meals at Ronald McDonald House, answering calls at Prairie Public, creating bouquets at Hope Blooms and more. Finally, we’ve supported those who get out and get involved on their own accord by rewarding individuals who have the highest monthly volunteerism numbers on our staff. Service is a huge value
of ours as a company and the way we serve others in our community is a staple of that.
Is supporting nonprofits something that OSC does year-round or is it primarily during Giving Hearts Day? We definitely aim to do it yearround. The Giving Hearts Day campaign we do is a great way to stay engaged in what, I view, is one of the most fun days in our business community. But our focus on serving our community is year-round. This past year alone, we’ve donated or sponsored over 50 different organizations. Since we have a variety of printmaking capabilities, one of the best ways for us to support non-profits is through in-kind sponsorship of event supplies (banners, table throws, etc.). We’ve always got an eye out for new non-profits that need an extra set of hands and try to do our part to help.
Learn more about Office Sign Company at officesigncompany.com
BNGive Left to Right: Nick Olerud, Jeanette Haugen, Cara Christenson, Ashley Hahn, Richard Hoffman, Beth Brasel (Not Pictured: Josh Shulstad and Jason Gibb)
Giving Hearts Day
Giving Hearts Day is an annual day of giving that involves more than 500 nonprofits. They put on a variety of unique opportunities to encourage their employees to support a nonprofit. One of the ways they do this is by doing a $25 match for each employee. Dakota Medical Foundation creates a unique URL for BNG employees so that their management team can get a report back and BNG can match all employee giving. In addition to that, they’ll give a $10 Giving Hearts Day gift card to any kid close to an employee. This can be a son, daughter, nephew or even neighbor. This encourages life-long giving in that child. “The one nice thing about Giving Hearts Day is that there are so many places you can donate,” said Cara Christenson, the Director of Operations. “We’re trying to make sure that we
have our people engaged in their giving. We don’t want to say, ‘Hey, it’s just this specific organization and all the money’s going towards it and everyone has to like it.’ This gives them the opportunity to give to any of the organizations that are involved.”
Why giving back is good for the business
There’s a lot of tangible reasons why a business should give back. In 2015, nearly 90 percent of millennials gave to three or more nonprofits, according to the Millennial Impact Report. As millennials make up the largest workforce, it is more important than ever that businesses recognize that and do their part to give back. “I think it’s more than just giving back to the community. It’s building a sense of community,” said Ashley Hahn, Digital Account Manager. “There’s a lot of crossfunctional opportunities from different departments. I don’t
Entrepreneurship. Technology. Education. Family. These are the key focus areas of the BNGive team at BNG, a payments technology company in Fargo. This committee is encouraging philanthropy with their time, talents and treasures and passing that on in their employees and the community.
always see Richard. He’s on the first floor, I’m on the third floor but we work side-by-side doing things together, whether it’s sandbagging or cooking a meal. It’s building a community within our organization.”
George F. Cresswell Entrepreneurial and Business Scholarship
George F. Cresswell started with BNG in 2013 as a salesperson and quickly became an owner and advisor. In October 2017, he passed away from cancer. This year, they’re honoring his memory with the George F. Cresswell Entrepreneurial and Business Scholarship. Onethousand dollars will be awarded to a graduating senior in the Fargo-Moorhead area who’s interested in entrepreneurism and business. They are currently taking applications now at bngteam.com/bngive.
Events they’ve participated in and how they give back Feed My Starving Children Time
Sandbagging Time Giving Hearts Day Treasure United Way Day of Caring Time
Ronald McDonald House Time
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch Talent West Fargo STEM Academy Talent Cybersecurity training for employee families Talent
Every startup has a story. Every entrepreneur has faced sleepless nights and tough decisions. While every startup is different they all shar...
Published on Nov 1, 2019
Every startup has a story. Every entrepreneur has faced sleepless nights and tough decisions. While every startup is different they all shar...