I have spent the last 12 years of my life in the software industry helping large companies utilize software to become more efficient, automate redundant jobs and manage their business. You could say that my efforts have been focused on making the big, even bigger. My resume can be summarized as simplifying complex systems by packaging technological advances into friendly experiences. While not quite at the age for a mid life crisis, I have been looking for a significant change and a meaningful mission. Or put simply, an endeavor that would be fulfilling, and contribute to my happiness.
What could be more gratifying than lifting my expertise and experience and moving it to a completely different domain that I find exhilarating, full of color with passionate delightful people, and super important to the way we live our lives? Welcome to the organic food industry in your local neighborhood.
Our food system is at a crisis. The drive for cheaper and faster foods has resulted in costs that are no longer hidden. The average American consumes 300 more calories daily compared to 30 years ago resulting in 75% of the population overweight and a projected 41% obesity rate by 2015. We have the highest diabetes rate in our documented history (1 out of 3 will have type 2 diabetes). Our awareness for the environmental crisis has grown but we continue to burn CO2 flying non-seasonal food across the world and trucking produce grown by mega farms with toxic pesticides across the country. We are no longer living to eat but rather eating to live by wolfing down a 5 minute microwave meal or guzzling down a hamburger in our cars as we exit the drive thru.
Small farms are attempting to provide a solution by growing organic food and distributing it directly to members in their community. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) first started in Europe has taken root in the United States. These small farms are feeding hundreds of thousands of people in their direct communities with healthier foods but have limited capacity and can’t compete on a price level with mega farms that have economies of scale and receive large subsidies from the government. The good news is that we are at a tipping point of food awareness. Advocates such as Michael Pollan and Alice Waters are helping to reach the masses with the message of healthier eating, knowing thy farmer who grows your food, and enjoying the meal rather than just seeing it as a source of nutrients and protein.
Farmigo, my new passion, is a web-based service created for small farms to promote, collaborate, sell and explain their food items online and aims to not only help farms prosper but also to build farming networks and improve communication. We aim to make small farming more sustainable so that many more farms can join the growing trend of farms selling directly to homes thereby becoming more profitable and expanding the number of people eating healthier fresher food. The Internet is a great medium for telling stories about the food we eat and providing transparency to the farmer that works so hard growing what we put in our bodies. Farmigo will be a big success when consumers finish a meal the way you finish a good novel and have the knowledge to say “that farmer Tom grew one of the best tomatoes I have ever eaten which provided the perfect flavor to this spaghetti sauce”.
I get asked how I even began exploring the farming direction. After all it is not a trivial jump to make for a city boy who has spent the majority of his professional life building software for large industrial enterprises. I owe a lot of credit to Michael Eisenberg, a dear friend and colleague. Michael had the foresight to point me in the right direction. Already, Yossi and I have tapped into our very best and built the beginning of something amazing. For someone like me who always has his sights set on the next bigger and better thing, Famigo has provided an innovation canvas that seems limitless.
Why do 9 out of 10 early stage start-ups fail?
It usually comes down to a decision made by the founders to put a halt to their company building efforts. There are many rational reasons behind the decision to stop which include lack of: resources (money), market traction, and motivation. But the entrepreneurs make a decision to stop without being able to predict whether success is around the corner or far from their reach. Their internal compass says “we are lost and there is little or no hope left”.
One way to separate the winners from the losers is the ability of the entrepreneur to generate enough momentum to get through the dips and valleys in order to reach the next peek. Therefore one of the primary jobs of the entrepreneur can be classified as the Chief Momentum Builder Officer (CMBO for you acronym lovers). The CMBO is responsible for generating the optimistic energy levels which thrust the company forward. It may not even matter if the company is always moving in the right direction so long as it is moving. Standing still is a death toll when a very small team is trying to build something out of nothing.
How does an entrepreneur materialize constant momentum in an uphill battle? I think this is the secret sauce or uniqueness that makes up an entrepreneurial team since there are multiple ways to accomplish this. Methods include: constant invention and exploration, finessing the press into writing about them on a regular basis, raising money, and a blend of inspiring motivating leaders that keep the team energized. Whatever the mix, it is a daunting and crucial task which needs to be maintained until the start-up reaches a high enough point in its’ lifecycle to start benefiting from gravity to move it forward.
To end this blog on such a peak, I am including a 4 minute video which captures our latest release of Buddy Runner. We already have over 12,000 downloads and one of the highest customer rankings on the Android Market. I also want to thank Amir Terkel who was able create a great video clip in spite of our limitation of using a low budget actor (me).
I was recently inspired by a blog post by Seth Godin to Google “Journey of an Entrepreneur”. The last time I ran this search was over a year ago when I was looking for a title for my blog. At the time there were over 500,000 results for the query. Today there are over 2 million.
But this time when I ran the search, I was shocked. Guess who was listed first on the search results (sometimes second depending on the day)? We could have a whole discussion around how strange it is that Google search result ranking is becoming a criteria for success. But given the exponential growth of online content and the difficulty in getting someone’s attention in our world of information overload, I was pretty dam pleased.
It is not easy to consistently sit down and write these posts and try to find something important enough to write and share. My boxer (Luca) seems to always give me those puppy eyes that say, “wouldn’t you rather be taking me for a walk in the park than sitting in front of your computer to write something that will vanish into vapor and that might not be read by anyone other than your Mom?”
So it is nice to be able to look at my puppy and say, “wait a few minutes for your walk, there are people who actually care about what I have to say”. Thanks to all my readers who keep coming back to read my blog and to those that have linked to my blog. You motivate me to continue documenting this journey.
Besides survival, our goal in life is the pursuit of happiness. We spend an enormous amount of mental energy trying to figure out what will make us happy and how to get there.
What is the secret to achieving a happy life?
In the below 20 minute clip from TED, Dan Gilbert does an amazing job outlining the difference between “natural happiness” [when we get what we want] vs. “synthetic happiness” [when we are stuck with something and make ourselves believe that this is the best for us]. Research shows that both create the same level of personal happiness. People can be as happy with synthetic happiness as with natural happiness and given that the latter is much easier to attain, it makes no sense to spend your life trying to achieve natural happiness. Gilbert suggests that the enemy of synthetic happiness is the freedom to choose or leave your options open. In other words, we should make decisions and then never look back. Only after we have closed off alternatives can we continue to fall in love with our decision and reach a happy state.
Entrepreneurship is the best path towards my professional happiness for a number of reasons which include: passion, history, skill, and ego. However, I am spending a great deal of time researching and investigating the best business opportunity to pursue. I have created a long list of criteria to justify picking one business direction over another. As a result, I have evaluated multiple opportunities and have had a hard time committing myself to one specific direction. While I have enjoyed the process, the longer I stay in a position of indecision, the lower my probability of actual starting a business.
Here is the kicker; since happiness is my ultimate goal, based on Gilbert’s research, I don’t need to find the biggest and best entrepreneurial opportunity. I just need to find a business opportunity that will enable me to start a business. The important thing is to commit myself to a direction and focus on execution. Providing I have the right team, skills, and passion, we will evolve, innovate, build something great - and have fun in the process. I will find synthetic happiness with whatever sector I select.
This post was inspired by Amit K, a good friend. Thank you
Yossi and I are proud to announce that on January 19th 2009, we launched the Buddy Runner application for the Android (Google) phone. Buddy Runner allows monitoring of each run by recording distance, pace, time, elevation, and route. A personal dashboard is created for viewing, analyzing and sharing your progress. Buddy Runner provides the capabilities of an expensive GPS enabled personal trainer on a mobile phone.
You are welcome to view an example dashboard at www.buddyrunner.com/yossi.pik and of course if you have an Android phone you can download it. In just three days we have had over 2,000 downloads and are already one of the top rated applications in the Android Market (4.2 stars out of 5).
It is very exciting to watch the growing number of downloads and get enthusiastic emails, mostly with positive feedback from users. Ruti gets full credit for delivering a user experience that has gotten compliments from our community of users. We are no longer observers of the mobile and cloud computing revolution but rather active members.
Yossi and I decided that our execution muscles were starting to atrophy from too much idea dreaming. There is a frustrating wall you hit when you spend too much time discussing new ideas and no time implementing them. And so it became apparent (Yossi gets the credit for this), that we needed to actually build something even at the risk of defocusing us from reaching the big idea. Some could argue that finding the big idea is not a conceptual jump but rather rolling a modest idea forward until it gradually grows and gains momentum like a snowball down a mountain (more on this concept in a separate blog post).
Yossi and I are still looking for the right mix of business planning and execution. But it has become clear that both need to be integrated into this early phase of our entrepreneurial lifestyle.
Remember the Six Million Dollar Man (Steve Austin)?
“Gentleman, we can rebuild him, we have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.” [see below clip to remember the nostalgic days of the Six Million Dollar Man]
This year we reached a technological inflection point that will make us all bionic people. Smart phones are becoming our sensory extensions. Ladies and Gentleman, we have the technology that will enable us to see, hear, and touch better than before. Smart phones are not just portable computers that fit into a pocket or becoming wearable. They are external sensory devices that will exponentially multiply our ability to internalize and process our environment.
Seeing – the built in camera on these devices which can take pictures and videos can visually capture our surroundings
Hearing – the built in microphone captures sound
Touch – the accelerometer acts as a pedometer which interprets our movements and motion
Brain – the processing power of the phone has made significant jumps but is miniscule compared to the processing power of the Internet and even satellites which it communicates with at lightning speed. As a result, these smart phones have the ability to find and deliver context relevant information that apply to the sensations surrounding us.
The combination of sensors, computational power, access to all sources of information, and the mechanism to return results in a comfortable human-machine interface is opening a new world of applications that we cannot begin to imagine.
I will leave you with a video that blew my mind. The person who looks like he is listening to music in the below video is actually creating the music. Watch how he is moving and sometimes shaking the iPhone. This is how he is controlling the beats, sounds and rhythm. While this application falls into the “fun gaming” category it hints at how this small device will change our interaction paradigms.
While growing up, I used to spend hours watching park performers in Washington Square Park, NYC. A very scruffy looking character would begin to set up his “stage” in some corner of the park. He would take chalk and draw a circle on the concrete floor. He would then begin to set up some random roadside props; broomstick, garbage can, banana on a string, wig. It would take about 15 minutes just to set up the stage which composed of nothing. In the meantime people would gather around the circle curious to see what this guy had in store for them. The tension would build as the performer began to take on a mythical charm. As part of his set-up, he would get the audience to occasionally clap loudly claiming it would be vital for giving them the show of their life. The clapping would of course draw in other people strolling through the park. His circle of audience would gradually expand into rings of people.
At this point he would start to collect volunteers to participate in the show. He would place each person in what seemed to be a very specific spot. All this time he would not skip a beat interacting with the audience and making us all feel very much a participant in his show. We wanted him to succeed. For this brief instant he was our hero. We wanted to be entertained and were willing to give him every chance to put a grin on our faces. Eventually the show would begin although in retrospect the show began the minute the performer drew a circle on the floor with the chalk. You were continuously laughing at the ruckus taking place and you wanted more. Until in some funny manner the performer would get everyone to reach into their pants pocket and pull out some lose change or in some cases not so loose paper dollars. I would always walk away in awe at how this showman was able to entertained an audience without anything but his imagination.
Every entrepreneur is a sidewalk performer until they are able to create a large audience of participants and active observers. You start with nothing more than chalk, a white board and a mind to entertain the world with some unmet need. The entrepreneurs that can tell a tale end up winning the hearts and minds of an audience and build a very real story.
Hi my name is Benzi Ronen, and I’m proud to be an entrepreneur.
Many people have been confronting me lately saying things like “are you sure this is a good time to be starting a company?”, “do you realize that it will be impossible to raise money in the next [fill in the blank] years?”, “maybe you should wait for the climate to get better before venturing on your own.” The list goes on but you get the picture. And they are right, it is going to be very, very, hard to start a company. But the true entrepreneurs that are in this for the love of creation and the love of starting something from nothing have no other option but to go the distance and build companies. And let me add that it is never easy to build a company regardless of the economic climate.
I would like to propose a club, Entrepreneur Anonymous (EA), for the few remaining entrepreneurs still standing.
Here are some guidelines:
- Membership should be given to anyone who intends to start a company
- Angel investors and VCs that haven’t forgotten the idea behind their funds which is to invest in early stage companies are more than welcome to attend our sessions
- Entrepreneurs that are starting companies on their own without raising money don’t have to bring snacks or beer to the meetings. You guys deserve to be guests of honor.
- There will not be any agenda topics that deal with the end of the economic world as we know it. That stuff should remain in yellow journalism.
- We will invite guest speakers that understand that the engines of our economy and country rely on the creation of new companies. These companies are what will create jobs, create wealth, and pay taxes that will support the country.
- Any entrepreneur that fails and then gets right back up to try again will be given honorary status and will coach others to prevent them from making the same mistakes.
- Our public relations policy will be based on attraction rather than promotion. We will protect anonymity and create a buffer from the skeptics.
All in favor say “I”.
While we were traveling in United States it felt like we were walking through the history our kids will read about in their text books e-books. We would see and hear breaking news of Wall Street crashing with newspapers and CNN flashing pictures of people pulling out their hair while conglomerates went out of business overnight. And then we would dive into some of nature’s most incredible scenery. We would come up (or down) for air and watch presidential debates in an electoral race that had higher ratings than any reality TV show. Taking a vacation during this time period put things in perspective and made my entrepreneurial roller coaster journey seem like a walk in the park.
Enjoy the pictures and make sure you go visit these awesome natural sites.
Planet Bryce (Canyon) – walking through a valley of red sand castles
The Southern tip of Canada on Lake Michigan – not a soul in sight
Grand Canyon & The Colorado River – we hiked down, spent the night and then climbed our way back up
Lake Powell – boating our way through and in between the canyons
Grand Canyon – watching the moon set after an amazing dinner
We made it to my 10 year University of Michigan reunion
Zion Park – Zero CO2 emissions here
My wife and I are taking a long needed vacation. We will be hiking through some of the most beautiful national parks that the US has to offer (Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Page, and Sedona). I can’t wait to chill out and breathe the mountain top fresh air.
In addition, this week we are celebrating the Jewish New Year. It’s a great time for self reflection and to be thankful for everything you have.
• I just celebrated a two year wedding anniversary with my amazing wife. I cannot imagine a life without her and this is coming from a very experienced bachelor.
• As I wrote in my last post, I have a new venture partner and friend with whom to enjoy and conquer the entrepreneurial journey.
• A new boxer puppy joined our family. She is making great practice for raising kids in the future.
• I am fortunate to have the means and the support network to explore the right professional path for me.
I wish all my readers a Shana Tova.