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 BLOG >> February 2023

Slow Entrepreneurship [Entrepreneurship
Posted on February 17, 2023 @ 07:47:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The concept of slow entrepreneurship can be illustrated by a farmer who plants perennials that take a long time to mature. If you are planting an apple tree orchard, for example, it can take 10 years or more for the orchard to start generating income. During the orchard startup phase, you can do things that will help speed up the growth process (e.g., fertilizing, pruning, irrigation, etc...). You will have ongoing maintenance work to manage vegetation around the trees and perhaps manage for pests and disease as well. When your orchard starts to produce you will have to master a new set of skills. You will need to devise methods to harvest your crop efficiently and store it effectively. You will also need to devise methods for adding value through whatever processing you do with your harvest - grade them and price them based on grade, make hard or soft cider, make apple sauce, make apple pies, etc.... When you start selling, you will need to have systems for tracking sales and inventory. When you start making a profit, you will spend more time evaluating potential capital expenditures because 1) you have revenue to spend and 2) you need to manage your income tax burden to make sure you are spending the right amount each year so that more of your profit goes into growing your business than to the tax collector.

When we talk about startups we often equate them with a high velocity growth trajectory. The example of the apple orchard venture, however, reveals that there are businesses that take a long time to get to the point of profitability. Different skill sets may need to be acquired along the way as the business progresses towards profitability and post profitability.

I planted a few different types of perennials on our farm that take many years to mature so I am engaged in slow entrepreneurship for a few different types of perennials. I also have a few different types of businesses I am trying to start on the farm. Our most successful farm venture to date is our farm concerts which we started hosting 4 years ago. I've been gradually buying and building infrastructure for those concerts and last year was when that business venture made enough money to generate some profit for the farm as a whole.

I have also been slowly developing a bike rental business at our farm. That was admittedly not a well planned out business as it started from a love of biking and a good deal on 6 bikes that were being surplused by a bicycle sales and service company that was done renting them for the year and wanted to get rid of them. I have since been adding to my fleet and last week I purchased three more used bikes with good brand names to add to my rental fleet. I didn't have any kids bikes last year and lost sales to 2 families because the parents also needed bikes for their kids. One of the used bikes I purchased this year was a kids bike and I hope to buy one more before my rental season begins in a few months. My bicycle rental business is an example of slow entrepreneurship for me because it has taken me a few years to understand the needs of my potential customers and to have the range of bikes needed to satisfy demand. I also don't have alot of time or money each year to devote to the bike rental business unless it has the potential to be more profitable than it is now. Each year I try to evolve the bike rental business a bit more and maybe it will take off more this year with an upgraded website, expanded fleet, and better marketing.

Another business venture that I am investing some time and money into is offering camping at our farm. The camping business might be complementary to the bike business if people end up renting a campsite and explore the local area on our bicycles (i.e., ecotourism). I am not relying on this synergy being true but will be promoting it. Last year I was able to rent out campsites on my farm for a weekend to a group of long distance cross country runners (and some of their family members) attending a running event in our community. I have portable toilets I purchased for our farm concerts that I was able to use for these campers. I started using Hipcamp last year to manage camping reservations on our farm during our outdoor festival. Camping for our outdoor festival grew significantly last year and will grow further this year as we increase the attendence limit and more people opt to stay for the night. This year I want to use Hipcamp to offer camping throughout the summer, autumn and fall. For me, that means creating some shower facilities to offer as well. We provided an outdoor sink for campers to use to clean dishes. The drainpipe from the sink got clogged with grease so we will likely need to look into installing a grease trap and improving the drainage field we are using for runoff. We also need to invest more into a second lane that campers can use to enter and exit their campsites. We started adding gravel to make a second lane through our field because it was used as an exit road during our fall concert series and got tore up when the field conditions were soggy. I will be investing in more loads of gravel this year to thicken and extend that road both for our concerts and for campers to use. My goal this year for the camping business is to book campers throughout the summer, autumn, and fall and not just when we are hosting runners and outdoor concert attendees. I'm not looking for rapid growth in camping revenues just a gradual increase in sales over last year.

We also have two weddings scheduled for our barn this year and I'm still feeling out the wedding venue business. I'm still learning about how I might package what we have to offer. Something I learned recently, for example, was that I probably should price the venue in part based on the number of people who will be attending the venue as there is significant difference in a reception with 50 people and one with 200 people attending. Over the last few years, we purchased alot of chairs and table for our indoor concerts that can also be used for weddings. We are now working on acquiring some decorations and setting up a permanent PA system for the barn. The 200+ wedding this summer will be a learning experience and will inform how we eventually price and package our wedding venue for the 2024 season which people will be booking for this year.

We have a wine business that has been taking a very long time to get going for numerous reasons that I won't go into here. Suffice to say that it is another example of slow entrepreneurship although the reasons for being slow in this case involve alot of regulatory hoops that need to be jumped and having everything in place for the application process. For example, getting a license to sell wine requires getting commercial insurance which requires having a fire marshal inspect our heritage barn. Last year the fire marshal quit or was fired so it was not even possible to get an inspection until they replaced the fire marshal. Slow entrepreneurship can be a fact of life when the business is subject to a high level of government regulation.

Our farm venture provides a few examples of slow entrepreneurship. I like engaging in slow entrepreneurship when it is not caused by high levels of government regulation. I like making small improvements to a business venture over time that help to make it increasingly viable and hopefully profitable. Slow entrepreneurship gives me a license to start up multiple ventures at the same time because I'm not investing alot of time in each venture. Slow entrepreneurship adds variety to my life as I don't have to dedicate all of my time and effort to one business venture. Some could accuse me of spreading myself too thin and perhaps my ventures would take off faster if I focused more on one venture. That is probably true, however, I am holding out the hope that the different ventures will, over time, merge into a synergistic agritourism package - a customer comes to camp at our farm, drink some wine, enjoy a concert, go for a bicycle ride, and perhaps enjoy a meal from our outdoor barbecue (we have been investing in outdoor cooking equipment for our food sales at our concerts).

In food culture, there is movement called the Slow Food movement that was meant to contrast with the culture of "Fast Food". Perhaps in entrepreneurship studies we need to explore a similar "Slow Entrepreneurship" movement to encourage an alternative vision of what entrepreneurship might consist of, what its characteristics might be, why some entrepreneurs might want to practice slow entrepreneurship rather than a faster and more dedicated form of entrepreneurship (Fast Entrepreneurship?) that promotes a vision of startups with a rapid growth trajectory. The lean startup concept, for example, seems to put a premium on getting to profitability as quickly as possible.

The role of the investor in a slow versus fast startup might be quite different as well. Investing in a slow startup might be at a stage where alot of entrepreneurial learning has occurred, where alot of infrastructure is in place, and there is now an awareness that an injection of capital (and perhaps new skills) will be needed to get to the next stage of the ventures evolution. That stage might be very profitable and might increase the tempo of the business venture going forward. Slow entrepreneurship can lead to profitable rapidly expanding businesses. Similar to when an apple orchard hits a certain stage of maturity it can start cranking out apples at an exponential rate as maturing trees produce more apples and new trees come into production. Maybe you want to get an investor involved when the trees start producing and you know you need more people, equipment and skills to manage the next stage of that businesses growth. Slow entrepreneurship, however, also offers the option of growing a business slowly over time without any rapid expansion phase.

I wrote this article before googling the term "slow entrepreneurship" as my version of what "slow entrepreneurship" means was inspired by how I am approaching some of my farm business ventures. I encourage you, however, to google "slow entrepreneurship" to explore other ideas on what slow entrepreneurship is and the reasons one might have for engaging in it.

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