Posted on June 23, 2020 @ 07:19:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I find Project Farm videos informative and ingenious. The videos often involve testing to see
which product aimed at solving the same problem is the best. The latest video I watched tests which step drill bit is the best.
In this particular video, the tester does not just use one test to establish which step bit is the best, but conducts a few rounds of testing, with certain step bits not advancing to the next round
of testing because they performed poorly in less stressful rounds of testing. If they don't perform well under weaker tests, they are not worth testing in harder tests.
Many of us don't need the best product if it is quite expensive and we are only likely to use it infrequently. We might be looking for the best value for money and this video ends with two recommended step drill bits - the best one based on all the testing, and a good bit based on all the testing that is less expensive.
It is interesting that the consumer marketplace sells so many inferior products often at inflated prices, usually because they are associated with a brand name we trust. It seems like most tool manufacturers need to have their own brand of step bit and some require that the product meet a high level of quality while others apparently just want to have an offering in the market.
Project Farm videos are worth watching because they offer lessons in how we might test products to see which ones are the best. As an entrepreneur developing a new product, we might want to do
similar testing on a new product against its nearest competitors to see exactly how it stacks up against competing products.
On my farm, I've been creating blueberry wine and creating some variants by adding a bit honey or maple syrup to add to the finish. My testing has involved comparing plain blueberry wine with
the same blueberry wine with varying levels of honey or maple syrup added. While this is useful testing to do, I realize now that I need to be blind taste testing my wines against blueberry wines made by other wineries to see how it compares. Testing to improve you product needs to eventually give way to testing against other products in the same category.
Success might be gauged by the fact that your product is better than your competitors; however, that fact alone does not mean your product will sell more or be more profitable. The best step bit is also the most expensive - perhaps too expensive for most people and they may end up buying an inferior product that ultimately generates more revenue and is more profitable than the best product. This is where packaging, branding, distribution and pricing decisions come into play and also determine the success of your product. In the case of wine where the differences in taste are often barely noticeable, packaging, branding, distribution and pricing might matter even more.
Often entrepreneurs are in a position where they are developing a new product and may not have direct competitors. To test novel ideas developing a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is often advised so that you can begin gathering information about whether the assumptions you are making about how people will respond to your product are correct or not.
When seeking funding, it is important to derisk your idea by identifying as many of the assumptions you are making and subjecting as many of them to testing as you can. To do exhaustive testing of all your assumptions can be very costly in time and money so you will probably have to focus on testing the most critical assumptions first. Often it is this testing that is paid for by friends and family and income from your other job. Getting some of your assumptions tested through a minimal viable product, questionaires and surveys, early sales, letters of intent, a demo, comparative testing, etc... is often what makes your project ready for investment by people other than friends and family. Private investors often shoulder more risk than banks might, but they are still very attuned to the level of risk involved, what assumptions are being made and whether they have been tested sufficiently or not. In my case, if I were to do comparative testing of my wines against other wines in the same category, and the results came out positive, that would derisk investment into my blueberry wine business either from my own funds or from investor funds.
Today's blog is about the importance of product testing. It is important in coming up with a quality product that people will love to use, to create the branding, packaging, distribution and pricing that will make people want to buy it, and it can also help derisk your project for investors if you have done some testing of the most critical assumptions.
Posted on June 5, 2020 @ 10:46:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I have been approached on a number of occasions by entrepreneurs asking me if Emerson Edeh is a registered investor on our network. Emerson is not a registered investor. What Emerson appears to be doing is googling public information on entrepreneur proposals to find contact info and then reaching out to entrepreneurs as if he were a registered member. He might say, for example, that he saw your proposal on the ****** Investment Network and that he is interested in investing in your company.
Today, he approached an entrepreneur with this offer:
I am willing to invest the sum of US$60,000 only with you in your Lucrative investment Project, if you are still active seeking funds / investor.
If the interaction gets beyond this stage, it usually involves Emerson asking for an up front fee or some sort to secure the deal. For example, to hire a lawyer to form a company and create the loan documents.
Emerson claims to be based in Nigeria but there is no credible online information to verify his identity. An entrepreneur has reported paying an upfront fee to Emerson and he is persistently contacting entrepreneurs on this platform with investment offers so the time has come to publicly warn entrepreneurs using this platform that Emerson Edeh is not a registered investor with this network and that I am advising registered entrepreneurs against any interaction with Emerson Edeh for the purposes of obtaining funding.
If you are approached by an investor who is not on your investor contact list you can verify whether they are a registered investor by asking them for their registered email address and using our Investor Verification tool to determine if they are. Be sure they have control of the email address. If they claim to have been referred by a registered investor find out who that registered investor is and what their registered email address is. If the investor is located overseas, there is a greater need for comfort that the person you are dealing with is credible as proper due diligence can be more difficult and expensive to perform. You should also contact us if you are approached by a non-registered investor claiming some association with an investment network site.
Posted on June 3, 2020 @ 11:51:00 PM by Paul Meagher
We ran into some issues configuring the IP addresses for the main upgrade server that caused a longer than expected downtime. The sites are up and running again and I will be doing testing over the next couple of days to make sure everything is working as before. While there are no obvious changes to the look and functionality of the websites, there has been a significant change in the server environment that has required extensive upgrades to the website software and how web/mail/security services function. If you encounter any issues please let me know via the contact form and I will look into it right away.
Posted on June 2, 2020 @ 09:47:00 PM by Paul Meagher
A server upgrade will be happening on Wednesday June 3rd, 2020. The sites will be taken offline at 6:00 pm CST. It will hopefully take around 1 to 2 hrs after that to have the sites up again. I will provide a status update on this blog once the sites are up again.
Posted on May 14, 2020 @ 08:09:00 PM by Paul Meagher
Gardening, like other aspects of modern living, is being reshaped by new technologies that are becoming cheaper and more function filled. I was, for example, looking for a way to automate plant irrigation in my greenhouse and my searches took me to this $100 piece of gardening tech.
This 4 zone irrigation controller works with a $40 moisture sensor that can be plugged into the irrigation controller.
So instead of scheduling watering to happen at different times of day for a certain duration each time, your system might measure moisture levels in the soil and turn on your irrigation hoses to achieve a certain level of soil moisture. That is the theory, I can't say whether this approach works best or whether this particular unit is the best/cheapest/simplest solution to that problem. One can imagine wireless networking, cloud based monitoring and control, and more sensor types might be involved in higher-end irrigation systems. These innovations will eventually become a part of the modern gardener's toolkit.
In the gardening sections of all the stores we increasingly have the option of purchasing battery powered mowers, saws, trimmers, blowers, pruners and more. It is becoming difficult to switch to a new brand of tool as your investment in batteries can lock you into a specific vendor. We are in the first phase of transforming energy intensive gardening tools to lithium batteries. The high amp hour batteries needed for these devices (4 Ah, 5 Ah and higher) offer electric storage potential for other devices around the home either as a DC source or inverted to become an AC source. They could, for example, supply some of the power you might need in a small green house to run led lights, to run a water pump, to run a motor that opens a window or door, etc...
The missing piece in this battery powered nirvana is how we charge the batteries. It would be nice to start seeing these tool vendors also offer solar charging solutions that are cost effective, easy to setup up, and more efficient and better thought out than the Do-It-Yourself systems we might put together. I am not expecting miracles, but if solar panels can start to be used to sustainably charge power tool batteries then that would be a step forward in my opinion. For those who don't use their gardening power tools that frequently, perhaps the length of charge in conjunction with a cheaper panel setup will be sufficient to fully charge the batteries for their next use.
Often we place a greenhouse in the most sun advantaged spot we can find on our properties. This naturally opens up the possibility of integrating solar panels and battery charging on or near the greenhouse.
One popular version of gardening depicts the gardener as regularly attending to their plants and using that as an opportunity to relax and get some exercise. I am a fan of that version and that approach will grow vegetables as well or better than many automated solutions. An automated solution, however, is necessary for my context because even a small home greenhouse requires alot of attention and I'm not always around to offer that attention. As a modern gardener, I do enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to automate gardening tasks in a way that might improve the growth of plants (moisture based watering) compared to manually performing those tasks (watering when I have the time or not at all). A large amount of a modern gardeners time can be spent thinking about, researching, purchasing and installing gardening technologies.
Last night it appears that temperatures went below freezing. Some of last years vines that I took out of the greenhouse to transplant have withered leaves today. We have had above freezing temps for awhile now and I ignored the possibility of frost. Tonight there are warnings of frost again so I am running a power cord to the greenhouse and will run a small 1500 watt heater over night to protect some seedlings I planted yesterday that were not affected. Unfortunately, I don't have my thermostat controller here otherwise I would permanently set the heater to come on when the temperature drops below a low temperature set point (2 C or 36 F) and shut off when it exceeds the high temperature set point (5 C or 41 F). I experimented over the winter with temperature control in my cold frame to try to grow veggies. That experiment failed to produce veggies but I did learn how to automate temperature and light control using a cheap setup.
The other main variable in addition to water and heat that you have to control in a greenhouse is ventilation. There are heat sensitive window openers that you can buy what can be used to open a vent when the temperature in the greenhouse rises above a certain level. I have one of these but haven't installed it.
It would also be nice to have a setup where a motor would come on that would lift a window covering as the temperature rises. This would allow me to keep a screen in the window frame to keep bugs out. This is not possible to do with the setup pictured above which is one of the reasons I haven't installed it yet.
Modern gardening often involves experimenting with different growing methods. You might, for example, explore growing plants under artificial lights or growing microgreens. Other options include hydroponic growing, aquaponic growing, vertical farming, and other forms of growing that involve more technical sophistication. We have more methods than ever for how we might grow a plant.
Modern gardening can be an expensive hobby if you want to go all in and grow all your veggies using some high tech method. For me, modern gardening is about patiently experimenting with and improving upon your technical approach to gardening over time. Each year you will have the option of integrating some new technology or technique into your gardening and making sure things work as expected before making grander plans around that technology or technique. Over time, you might become an effective modern gardener but probably not without alot of failure and learning along the way. I am hopeful that I have hit upon some good technologies and techniques this year that I might be able to scale up, but time will tell.
There are tried and true ways of gardening and for many it is a chance to get away from technology and relax in the outdoors. I still use alot of these traditional methods and tools in my outdoor growing. Modern gardening is not for everyone but I would argue it is becoming more of a trend as new gardening tech emerges to automate or effectively solve some gardening problem. Indications are that more people are going to be investing in back yard projects this summer, including gardening projects. I'm hopeful that gardening tool manufacturers and retailers will increasingly start to appeal to modern gardeners in the selection of gardening tools and gardening systems on offer.
I'll end this blog with a popular video showing what it is like to plant a field of corn in a modern setup.
Posted on April 21, 2020 @ 08:09:00 AM by Paul Meagher
As I spend my days pruning grape vines I have time to think about the skill of vine pruning and what expertise might look like in this particular domain of skills.
There a few different frameworks you can use to analyze what skill acquistion consists of. John Anderson's paper Acquisition of Cognitive Skill (1983; PDF) was and is still a landmark paper in the Cognitive Science tradition. The problem with these approaches is that it provides more of an observer's perspective of what skill acquisition consists of, rather than informing us on what the performer experiences while mastering the skill. If you want more of an experiential account you can opt for a skills framework by Hubert Dreyfus that is called the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquistion. The Dreyfus model is inspired by a tradition in philosophy and psychology called Phenomenology which offers a vast literature to consult if you wish to go deeper.
For my purposes I was interested in what it might feel like as pruners advanced in levels of pruning expertise. Dreyfus offers the following language to describe 5 different levels of expertise:
I would say that I am somewhere in the Competent to Proficient range in pruning, but there are times when I drop to the Advanced Beginner. We had some hurricane damage to the vineyard last year that, I believe, blew in some salty moisture from the nearby ocean (4 kms) which helped desiccate alot of the leaves in addition to the high winds. One thing I was seeing were canes with branches at the end that were viable but the intermediate branches were often damaged or sickly looking. When pruning you like to keep the branches closest to the trunk (shortest distance networks) not the branches at the end of the canes. This was a repeating new situation for me, so I had to develop new routines to deal with it. Eventually those routines will become more automatic in the fullness of time.
What does the highest level of expertise consist of in the Dreyfus model. In this paper (PDF) Dreyfus describes the expert in these terms:
The proficient performer, immersed in the world of his skillful activity, sees what needs to be done, but must decide how to do it. The expert not only sees what needs to be achieved; thanks to a vast repertoire of situational discriminations he sees immediately what to do. Thus, the ability to make more subtle and refined discriminations is what distinguishes the expert from the proficient performer. Among many situations, all seen as similar with respect to a plan or perspective, the expert has learned to distinguish those situations requiring one action from those demanding another. That is, with enough experience in a variety of situations, all seen from the same perspective but requiring different tactical decisions, the brain of the expert performer gradually decomposes this class of situations into subclasses, each of which shares the same action. This allows the immediate intuitive situational response that is characteristic of expertise.
This seems like a good description of what might be going on in expert level pruning and is not really all that different from John Anderson's declarative to procedural theory.
I think it is helpful to visualize what expert level still looks like as exhibited in this match between a world chess grand master champion, Magnus Carlson, and Bill Gates. Magnus appears to be operating quickly and intuitively (Expert) while Bill needs to think more about each move (Competent? Proficient?).
A limitation of these skills frameworks is that they are mostly focused on the cognitive aspect of skill acquisition and don't talk much about how emotion, motivation and community might correlate with different levels of skill acquisition. These other contexts may explain why the skill is pursued to a high level or at all.
The question that I am mostly interested in now is how emotion might vary with different levels of skill. Specifically, can an activity that is unenjoyable become enjoyable as you acquire more expertise? It is
hard to compare how you might have felt at one level of expertise compared to a different level of expertise without being mindful through the process or having a good recollection. What I do remember is that
the early days of pruning produced alot of decision fatigue in me. It was tiring to follow rules that you weren't sure applied and you were always encountering new situations to figure out. I still do experience
some decision fatigue when I have to prune, for example, heavy criss-crossed vigorous growth. But even then I can listen to music and enjoy myself if it is a pleasant day and I am able to think about other things. My attention can wander more now as I do the complex activities involved in preparing a vine for this years, and next years, growth.
I don't think enjoyment is a necessary or frequent correlate of increased skill. Alot of the time it is just grit that gets you through a day of pruning. You set a goal and hell or high water you try to achieve that goal for the day. I'm not sure where Grit comes from (but Angela Duckworth is the guru on this). Part of it comes from all the mind games we play to convince ourselves that we need to keep moving forward - similar to what it takes to complete a marathon if you haven't trained as well as you should have.
In the case of a physical skill like pruning it also depends on remaining injury free. My upper back muscles are getting a workout similar to running a long distance and swinging your arms alot. So far, there is some soreness but it hasn't slowed me down. It is something that I need to be mindful off in the morning when muscles are stiff and you could activate an injury reaching for something the wrong way.
The company of others would probably have made this pruning job more enjoyable as well so the role of community potentially comes into play in explaining how skills are acquired and experienced.
To be mindful about the acquisition of a skill it is helpful to have a framework for thinking about how skills are acquired. You can be skillful in your thinking about skill acquisition by taking into consideration
not only the cognitive aspects, but also relating it to the physical, emotional, motivational, and community aspects as well.
For any business to succeed the employees need to be skilled at doing what needs to be done. A mindful startup would be a startup that is more aware of the types and levels of skills required and have a more wholistic appreciation of the context for skills development that includes the role of grit, emotions, and community in fostering increased skills development or new skills development. There is not much literature on what a mindful startup is and whether is more likely to succeed than a startup following a different path to success. Perhaps in these changed times the hegemony of the lean startup will be challenged by the ideas around mindful startups whatever they may turn out to be. There is no shortage of mindful literature out there to cross pollinate with the lean startup literature. The lean startup literature gives us one framework we can use to be mindful about how to create a successful startup. The lean startup concept has been accused of being more focused on explaining success in high tech unicorn-type businesses. There are other ways to achieve business success in a less exponential manner that we should be aware of so that we are not dogmatic in thinking about what it takes to succeed. Startups need to be mindful of their own context and situation. The level of awareness they achieve may be the main advantage they have other startups.
I'll end this blog with a popular video showing what it is like inside a tractor while planting.
Posted on April 3, 2020 @ 09:51:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Seems like we have alot of lemons on our hands in the form of self-isolating confinement and social distancing. While that stresses alot of people, to get over that stress you may have to start looking for positives aspects of this situation.
The main positives I see for entrepreneurs in this time of social-distancing is that it gives us time to focus on some valuable work like book keeping,
business plan writing, reading, coding, learning new skills, renovating buildings, ordering supplies to get ready for projects, creating and expanding online networks, designing a new product or service, and perhaps figuring out how you want to finance the next direction in your business. Seeking funding to finance a new business idea without having done any groundwork (i.e., plausible investment pitch, business/financial plan, minimal viable product, business registration, website) is less likely to result in a successful financing deal. Now may be a good time to work on laying some of that groundwork.
This is the time of year when I prune 1.5 acres grape vines I planted at our farm property. I will be making lemonade of this slow down to do some pruning next week. I will also be making some lemonade by learning horticultural skills for creating new woody plants. I have experience creating new grape vines using cuttings from my existing grape vines. Ideally, these cuttings are taken from grape vine prunings when the vine is still dormant so you don't harm the host plant more than you have to. I believe the same approach and techniques can be applied to additional woody plants like haskaps (Lonicera caerulea), highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and black currants (Ribes nigrum) that are growing in my suburban back yard. I could fail at creating new woody plants, but now appears to be the best time to do this propagation work to maximize the likelihood of success.
Yesterday I created cuttings from some older haskap bushes growing on our property. I filled a black tote with a soil mixture of bagged peat moss and bagged manure lying around my back yard from last year. I soaked the rooting end of the cuttings in a cup of water. I added a couple of drops of rooting hormone to that water and let the cuttings soak for a few hours. Then I planted all the soaked cuttings densely into the soil I placed in a plastic tote (see photo below). I dipped the rooting end of the cuttings in rooting hormone one more time before placing them in the soil. I then placed the tote on a heating mat I purchased online this year for around $60 that will maintain the soil at a particular temperature (20 C or 68 F). I placed a glass pane from a sliding window on the top of the tote to seal in the moisture, create a humid environment, and keep my 2 cats from jumping in. Some of the buds look like they are starting to leaf out today but I'm more concerned that the root system spring to life rapidly to support the development of these leaves.
Today I will be starting a couple more experiments using some cuttings from a highbush blueberry plant and a black currant plant in my back yard. The same planting and growing conditions will be used.
If some of these cuttings eventually become new plants they will be valuable to me in two main ways:
The new plants are valuable for my farm as something I could plant, give away, barter, or sell.
The acquired knowledge and skills on how to grow new plants from existing plants sets the stage for acquiring more horticultural expertise with other plants and different growing techniques.
Much of the relevant horticultural knowledge and techniques can be found on YouTube and other online resources. Self-isolating confinement offers me time to consult these resources while doing small-scale experiments to test ideas. These growing experiments don't take up much room. Growing salads and herbs in totes might be more practical for most people looking for a faster return on food growing efforts.
Like most people I was caught flat-footed by the sudden shutdown of business as usual. It seemed like alot of gloom and doom and for many it still is and it is possible it will become much worse before it gets better. If you are an entrepreneur and your business is slowing down now that sucks in many ways, but it may not be all bad. This is an opportunity to address intellectually challenging work that might help get you ready for the next chapter. You can get certifications, do business planning, create personal/business forecasts and budgets, work on your online presence, do renovations, get up to date on your business bookkeeping, and learn some new skills. My horticultural example is meant to show that we can use this time to acquire valuable new skills that can make and/or save money.
For some, this slowdown is a time for business emergency planning and there is a very real need to act soon. If that is the case, perhaps Steve Blank's five day plan will give you some ideas on what you might do to react more quickly to the current situation. In many ways this requires figuring out, on an accelerated timescale, how to make lemonade from the lemon situation we currently find ourselves in.
Posted on March 27, 2020 @ 10:15:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I started working on this blog before the corona virus pandemic took over the news cycle. The irony of discussing trail blazing when we are supposed to self-isolate in our homes prevented me from posting this blog. As time has gone on, however, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we are blazing new trails at an astounding rate to deal with covid.
I have retained elements of the original blog and made some updates to address the current situation.
When I go for a walk I like to walk beside a river. Since I've known this walking area there has been a lightly used ATV trail running the length of the forested part of the trail. I recently created a short detour off this ATV trail into a grove of 5 mature apple trees that I am calling the Apple River Loop. Today I created the Riverside Loop by clearing a few small trees to make it easier to access the river from the Apple River Loop.
Clearing away dead branches and alders to access the river.
My experiences with blazing physical trails has inspired me to examine the ways in which starting and growing a business is like "trail blazing" which it has often been compared to.
When building a trail you are not starting from scratch. At the very least, there is usually some trail that got you to the place and some destination you would like to hook up to, which might be another
trail. So building a trail involves first appreciating that the trail exists within a larger trail system, and an awareness of how the proposed trail fits into the system of trails. Blazing new trails consists of creating linkages between existing trails.
If a big industrial business shuts down, we see the ripple effects through the various small businesses that supported that industrial business. There are business trails running between the large industrial player and various smaller players that were part of a business ecosystem. Part of starting and building a business is developing business trails between your business and other businesses (b2b) and to consumers (b2c). The paths are not always as direct as we would like them to be and may involve alot of business to government (b2g) interactions before you can blaze b2c or b2b trails.
Community is another type of linkage. Because we are already using c for consumer, we will use the letter o to stand for community, or more generally, an organization. So b2o linkages are another type of linkage a business can blaze.
A business might be conceptualized as the sum of its b2b, b2c, b2g, and b2o linkages.
Starting and growing a business involves blazing b2b, b2c, b2g, b2o linkages. Revenue growth may be a proxy for the number and/or quality of linkages a business is able to create. In contrast, we see revenue decline when the number and/or quality of linkages decreases.
Up until a few weeks ago, I was immersed in walking the physical trail. That changed when I purchased a used Garmin GPS unit last weekend. Now I observe my progress along the virtual trail appearing on my GPS screen as I walk the physical trail. This virtual trail exists within a different space than my physical trail as it incorporates different information about my surroundings than my immediate senses alone can tell me (e.g., location of roads, train tracks, water, elevations, contours, etc..).
When our business goes online it is a new process of trail blazing to get your online business noticed as a point of interest. New online trails need to be blazed to get traffic to your online business. If you are an existing physical business, online trails to your offline b2b, b2c, b2g and b2o contacts are probably the first virtual trails to forge. If you want your online business to contribute to ongoing growth you will need to formulate a strategy to get beyond your current offline network. There are many techniques that marketers have proposed to do this but one technique relevant to this trail blazing discussion is the use of mapping technologies.
Ubiquitous GPS enabled smart phones and other devices are changing the face of what mapping is and what it can do. Mapping technologies are evolving at a rapid rate and it may be a good use of time to study what is out there, what might be happening next, and how you might take advantage of it for your business. One way of taking advantage of mapping is to ensure that your business is a point of interest on maps that are widely used to navigate your local area - google maps, openstreetmap, here.com, etc... Another way to take advantage of mapping technology is to use it to offer a new service. For example, one of the reasons I purchased the GPS unit was to create trail maps for walkers and cyclists around our farm property and beyond. In this case, mapping allows me to offer a potentially useful service to guests wanting to experience the local area by foot or bicycle. At the same time, maps can be used as a marketing tool online if it proves to be of value to local and online audiences. Ultimately, my hope is these maps create some economic activity on the farm (e.g., sell wine, rent bikes).
As your startup or existing business blazes new trails, you may want to utilize mapping technologies to develop new understandings, to offer new services, to connect in new ways, and to create instructional, marketing, and management assets for your business.
The idea of a basecamp is popular in the GPS world. Basecamp is the location from which you venture out to explore new trails. As we plan how we will re-emerge from the situation we currently find ourselves in, it might be useful to imagine that your startup or business as a basecamp from which you need to (re)blaze trails to the consumer (b2c), other businesses (b2b), other organizations (b2o), and the government (b2g). Some of those new trails will be in the offline world, but increasingly we are having to create new trails in the online world. For example, many musicians have taken to instagram live to stay connected to their audiences. Many businesses have turned to using zoom stay in touch with remote workers and to manage the business. Navigating the business landscape is going to be challenging for awhile as the current trail system is dominated by temporary b2g linkages (i.e., government supports). There needs to be a plan, however, to open up existing trails with new precautions and forge ahead in promising new directions. I wish you and your businesses well as you venture out again from basecamp along existing and newly blazed trails.
Posted on February 21, 2020 @ 02:44:00 PM by Paul Meagher
I completed a major milestone on some prototyping work. My berry cleaner prototype is now ready for field testing.
The basic idea is that you pour your harvested berries into the box above which will vibrate the berries down an inclined plane so they drop as a sheet of berries in front of the air blower and into the collection tray below. The air blower should remove leaves, grass, weeds, insects, smaller unripe berries and other chaff. The cleaned berries drop into one section of the bottom collection tray and chaff (for the most part) drops into the second section of the tray. The chaff can be cleaned again if there are too many good berries in the chaff section of the tray. Various aspects of the cleaner need to be "dialed in" for it to work properly (i.e., speed of blower, strength of the vibration, height of the berry drop, shape and height of the collection trays). I've gone about as far as I can go and must wait till berry season to test and evolve the prototype.
The design of the berry cleaner is based on the design of a small mobile gas powered blueberry cleaner that is no longer being manufactured in North America. I discussed my plans to redesign the cleaner in a previous blog called Design and Redesign. In today's blog I want to discuss my experiences and thoughts on prototyping an agricultural tool. In particular, I want to underline the importance of cost, chance and collaboration in the prototyping process.
The Role of Chance
Prototyping can end badly. My attempts to upgrade my cold frame with insulation and automated heat and lighting ultimately came to nothing as the plants didn't germinate for the most part and those that did grew very slowly. Trying to grow plants in the middle of winter is always challenging and I struck out again. I literally pulled the plug on that prototype.
When prototyping does go right it may not be simply a matter of everything going according to plan. The role of chance should not be underestimated. I use the term chance instead of luck because I don't want to imply that the good fortune is entirely random. You are looking for a solution and you encounter something by chance that seems to align with your prototyping goals and you take advantage of it. Often when you are prototyping you are trying to develop functional prototypes as cheaply as you can so the materials you have to work with may be whatever you can source cheaply and may determine how your prototype ultimately functions. You may have to put yourself in a position where you might find what you are looking for without knowing exactly what you are looking for. My visit to a local metal recycling scrap yard is where I found some of the critical components I was looking for. The thingy below turned out to be a critical part of the build and I don't even know what it's previous use was. It had the springs I was looking for and the width of the legs seemed like they might straddle the air blower so I purchased it for $7.50.
There is a temptation when prototyping to immediately try to implement what you think the final version might look. That temptation should probably be resisted if there is a cheaper functional alternative that might work and provide feedback. I tested out a cheaper setup but worried that mounting a vibration motor to the underside of a tire damped the vibration too much. I also didn't like the fact that the berries would have to drop at least the height of the tire before moving in front of the air blower.
I wouldn't definitively rule out using a tire as the platform for a vibration table, but mounting the vibration motor on a sheet of plywood attached by springs to a steel frame definitely produced a more vigorous vibration and I'm comfortable with the approach I am now pursuing which is truer to the original design.
My carpentry skills or ok. My metal working skills are almost non-existent. I was fortunate that a retired handyman with these skills had to stay at my place for a few days while his wife had surgery. I may have tinkered my way to the final design we arrived at but it would have taken alot longer and, in the case of the ductwork converted to a dumping box, I doubt it would have looked as professional as the final product now looks. There is a certain jazz fusion that goes on when you are jointly building something with a vague blueprint and you have some complimentary skills. Me coming up with some critical suggestions and my practical collaborator knowing how to implement these suggestions quickly and effectively and adding his own take on how it should work.
Early on in this project I tried a couple of times to hire a metal fabricator to help me re-implement a gas powered version of the berry cleaner. One fabricator didn't want to do the project because there were too many parts and he thought he would have to dedicate most of his time searching for and ordering parts. Another fabricator simply stopped responding after initial enthusiasm. Yes you can pay for a collaborator to help you, but if you are trying to keep things cheap you might opt for someone you know with skills who might be willing to work you free. Alot of older people have skills that they are only too ready to apply to novel problems over a few cans of beer.
Prototyping an agricultural implement is different that prototyping an app but the role of cost, chance and collaboration may also be at play in determining whether prototyping succeeds or fails.
Posted on January 17, 2020 @ 12:48:00 PM by Paul Meagher
In my last blog on Zone Analysis, I discussed what Zone analysis is and some reasons why we might use it. One short coming of my last blog is that
I didn't show an example of Zone Analysis applied to a real property. Instead, I only portrayed zone maps as a set of idealized concentric circles radiating from a central point - an annular zoning pattern which is generally considered unrealistic.
As a point of theory, the main reason why a set of widening circles in not considered a realistic way to zone parts of your property is because
we don't generally survey properties using circular edges around the property. Instead we prefer grid lines that tightly pack one property next
to another property. If we were to zone properties using a central point with a common distance around that central point, then an annular
zone map could be a realistic way to map the different zones on a property. What would we do about all those areas that don't fall within each person's property circle? Perhaps we might consider these areas the commons or public areas owned by no one and managed and enjoyed by all? How we survey the landscape has a hidden but profound effect how people care for the landscape.
Permaculture zone maps were originally proposed as a layout planning tool for farms, however, it has been extended as a layout planning tool for
suburban and urban landscapes as well. Whether it applies in the same way to sub/urban settings is another issue I want to examine in this blog.
Recently, Happen Films posted a new video on David Holmgren's 2.25 acre suburban property in Hepburn Springs, Australia that included a mapping of the different zones on his property. This zone map is for a property owned by one of the co-founders of Permaculture so it is an instructive example to study. Here are the zones that were mapped for his property. Each zone is simply a set of connected lines overlaying an aerial photo that contains the relevant zone.
So we see that zone 1 elements that are visited daily are placed close to the house (aka zone 0), zone 2 elements visited less frequently are located a bit farther away, and so on. Zone 4 actually doesn't belong to David or Sue, and may be a sort of commons, that they have taken it upon themselves to manage the vegetation on. This example shows how zone analysis can be realistically applied to a fairly large suburban property (2.25 acres). David and Sue's plan to eventually build a second house on the property, and to give that property its own small zone, were probably a major influence on where gardens and orchards were placed. Many factors go into deciding how to layout any given property including what was there before. The 5 zones that we might use in our mapping of a farm property are not all used for the smaller acreages alotted to suburban properties. There might only be zone 1 on a smaller lot if you are avidly maintaining the small yard area that you have. Even within zone 1 some areas may be more visited than others and Toby Hemmenway has suggested that you might have zone 1a, zone 1b, etc.. to map subzones within zone 1. The utility of using zone mapping is arguably less when applied to layout planning for smaller properties but this might be because we have no real good examples of how it might be applied at this scale (although see Toby Hemenway on this - pages. 51 to 59).
Zone 4 in the photo above is where Sue takes her goats to deal with vegetation in a ravine next to their property. As fire is a huge issue in Australia, removing fuel that might help fire spread is an important aspect of managing the landscape for everyone. In the process, Sue and David have been able to make the ravine more park-like for everyone to enjoy (rather than filled with impenetrable blackberry bushes).
In a sub/urban environment zoning might extend beyond the boundaries of the property we own and might be one way to care about what goes on beyond the boundaries of our own properties. Sue admits that she doesn't much care about who owns the property next to her, she feels the need to care for it by reducing the fire hazard and making access easier and more pleasant. One could argue that zone 5 for any sub/urban dweller could encompass the bioregion you occupy which is often synonymous with the whole watershed that influences the water you drink.
While zone mapping might have less utility as a planning tool on smaller sub/urban properties, it might nevertheless be used to plan other aspects of sub/urban living. In my last blog, I showed how it has been used to decide where to live and how to manage your transport needs (to minimize the use of fossil fuels and mazimize active transport options). I'll cite one more good example of how it might be used to manage you or your family's foodshed.
In his book, Permaculture City, Toby Hemenway proposed the following circular zone map for deciding where to source food so that you minimize the use of fossil fuels to transport it and support local food producers as much as possible.
The zones in this foodshed map are defined in terms of "frequency of use" just like they are for zone maps used for laying out physical properties so there is justification in calling this a zone map. Toby goes into alot of details about how to interpret this zone map and strategies for achieving it.
The last item of business I should mention before I leave the topic of zone analysis is that it is often combined with the techique of sector analysis which is a directional mapping of all the energies coming into landscape such as wind, sun, water, fire to name the most basic energies. These are aspects of the environment that we have very little control over. We have to design in a way that takes them into account by either accentuating them, blocking them or ignoring them. In an urban/suburban environment the list of sector forces can be expanded to include noise, pollution, smells, views, traffic, municipal zoning, neighbors, easements and utilities among others. The argument is that the design will be improved if we not only take into account the frequency of use/visits to different parts of our property, but also to the direction of the forces that impinge upon the property. In business, we might conceptualize our market as being influenced by named forces outside our control which we need to incorporate into our plans by either blocking them, accentuating them, or ignoring them.
So the purpose of this blog was to tie up some loose ends in my discussion of Zone Analysis by providing a realistic example of how it has been applied to a suburban property and how it might be used in sub/urban settings in general, not just farm scale properties. I also mentioned that it is typically paired with Sector Analysis to arrive at the best design of a particular landscape by taking into account how forces flow through the landscape. The fun comes in trying to apply these techniques to more abstract landscapes such as foodsheds, bioregions, transport, and markets.
Zone planning is a system where the location of an element in a design is determined by:
How often we need to use the element
How often we need to service the element
This is a basic logical principle, whereby the things you use most often, and the things you have to pay the most attention to, are placed closest to the house in the design.
Consequently, the things that are used the least often, or that require little or no attention, are placed furthest away in the design, and things that fall somewhere in between are placed accordingly.
By situating the most often used or serviced elements in a design closest to the home, it makes it easier to access them. This means less energy is expended to access them, making for a more energy efficient design.
So one important reason for doing zone analysis is that it helps you design energy efficient landscapes. It is also a tool for generating insight and solving problems.
5 Zone System
Co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, used 5 zones in his zone mapping. Zone maps often start with the house situated in Zone 0, landscape elements you visit frequently in Zone 1, less frequently in Zone 2, up to Zone 5 which you hardly ever visit. For introductory and visualization purposes, zone maps appear as concentric circles with Zone 1 depicted as an area around the house and Zone 5 as an outermost wilderness area. A good introduction to zone mapping in provided in this Oregon State University ECampus video.
In Toby Hemenway's last book, The Permaculture City (2015), he offers a very insightful discussion of what he calls "Zone Analysis" (pp. 35-41, or scan chapter 2 in the book preview for this section). Toby shows how zone analysis might be applied to other areas besides landscape design. Here is Toby's diagram depicting how different organizational structures might be conceptualized in terms of 5 zones.
Types of Organizational Structure
Suppliers & Competitors
One reason to engage in Zone Analysis is that it might yield insight. Toby's mapping of organizational structures allows us to see essential differences in how different organizations are structured while also seeing some similarities. Some might argue that having Executives in Zone 1 and Customers in Zone 4 does not seem to jive with the "Customer First" philosophy that many businesses espouse. Zone analysis in this case is being used to measure how close the different classes of people are from an abstract "center" of the firm. What is missing from Toby's analysis is where investors might fit into a business zone map. Are different classes of investors in different zones?
Zone analysis can be as simple as drawing concentric circles and putting labels onto the different rings. Bart Anderson used this approach to map places reachable by different modes of transportation.
In this map, Bart preferences walking as a mode of transport and wants the places he visits at least once a day to be reachable by walking (Zone 1). He wants the places that he visits frequently, but perhaps not daily, to be reachable by bicycle. He wants places that he might visit once a week to be reachable by public transport. And so on. Eventually Bart was able to setup his life in accordance with this zone map. This is an example of using a zone map to solve the problem of optimizing a portfolio of transport options.
According to Toby, this zone map was used by Bart Anderson to "arrange his life so that most of his movements were in the walking and biking zones 1 and 2 because that would shrink his energy and carbon footprints. The zone system not only made Anderson's goal easier to achieve but enabled him to envision and organize it in the first place by providing a framework to map his regular destinations by highlighting the concept of frequency of use". (p. 40)
There is a debate in Permaculture circles about whether Permaculture has to offer design advice for Zone 00. Zone 0 is often described as the "center of activity" with the house commonly being used as the center, or the center of a village in larger scale designs. Some view Zone 00 is being the users own mind and wonder if Permaculture needs to give as much attention to that zone as other zones when doing zonal mapping. Many of the top permaculture people see no useful way forward by getting more detailed about Zone 00. Toby Hemmenway has also voiced his disdain for Zone 00 analysis in his article Zone 00: Right Intentions, Wrong Term.
I take the heretical position that perhaps there is a useful way to think about zone 00 and how we might map it. Permaculture is very much about learning practical skills. In Bill's criticism of Zone 00, he says this:
Permaculture has always been about skills and systems that are practised, and verifiable by any individual; it does not, and will not, teach purely individualistic beliefs – such systems are already taught elsewhere, and there are numerous courses on spiritual, therapeutic, or theological subjects available.
So my proposal is that Zone 00 Analysis consists of mapping the skills you use frequently and skills you hardly use at all. There might be some correspondence or harmony between your externally focused Zone 1 to 5 map and your internally focused Zone 01 to 05 skills map (notice internal zones are prefixed by 0). For example, Zone 01 of your skills map might contain gardening skills because you frequently tend to your garden in your physical Zone 1. Personally, I have had to prioritize skills related to small engine repair, basic plumbing, and basic electrical wiring as being important skills for cost effectively managing a barn structure and equipment stored in the barn. Where those skills may have existed in Zone 04 or 05 of my skills zone map a few years ago, I see that they need to exist in Zone 02 or 03 of my skills zone map if I am to cost effectively manage the farm.
Whenever you are building a business, you are in a catchup game of learning the skills you need to adapt to the circumstances at hand. It was not obvious to me that I needed to learn about carbeurators and how to clean them until I noticed that 1) I have a significant number of small engines to maintain (string trimmers, powersaw, lawn mower, lawn tractor, garden tiller, chipper, generators), and 2) whenever I cannot start one of them, a plugged carbeurator is a common cause of it. If I am frequently being taxed to use a skill and I don't have that skill then that is an argument for prioritizing that skill into an inner zone of the Zone 00 skills map. Zone 01 are skills you use everyday, Zone 02 are skills that you don't use everyday which you do have to invoke on a regular basis. If you only do your accounting once a year and get someone else to do it, maybe you place that skill in Zone 04. If you do accounting more frequently then maybe that is a skill in Zone 02 or Zone 03. Zone 05 is the realm of skills you don't even know exist and the challenge may be in discovering which ones to add to Zone 05 that you think are worth acquiring. Like getting out in wild nature, you need to get outside your comfort zone and attempt to acquire some radically new skill.
It might be helpful to think about the skills required for different businesses as being different profiles having their own skill maps.
I hope you have learned something useful about Zone Analysis and Mapping from a few different examples to how it has been used and my own speculation on how it might be used to map the forbidden Zone 00. Toby's book, The Permaculture City, is my recommended resource for learning zone analysis and I'll leave the last word to Toby:
The zone system organizes the parts of the design in relation to the user or center of use.
Posted on November 27, 2019 @ 09:35:00 AM by Paul Meagher
When we use the term design, perhaps a more accurate term would be redesign. Arguably, there is nothing "new" under the sun, so all acts of design are in fact acts of redesign.
If we take this perspective on design, then the starting point of design is not pure imagination working within imagined design constraints, but rather a deep study of existing designs with the goal of improving upon those designs in some way.
This idea of design as redesign occurred to me as I was trying to figure out how to re-implement an existing design for a field blueberry winnower. Here is how it currently works.
This clever design is a prime example of an appropriate technology that once existed
and which isn't manufactured anymore. Because I am borrowing the cleaner, I am trying to figure out how to re-implement it. Discussion and schematics for building one of these can be found here.
As I performed my deep study of this blueberry cleaner I began to appreciate the minimalistic, compact, and interlocking elegance of the design. I began to notice, however, that the main functions of the field blueberry winnower could be performed in a different way and that the design could be improved upon. All unproven at this point.
Performing Functions In A Different Way
The blueberry field winnower performs two basic functions:
It provides a vibration function that keeps the blueberries rolling down an inclined plane that you pour your blueberries into.
It provides a blower function that operates upon the blueberries and the debris as they fall off the end of the vibration table. The blower ideally blows away all the debris while allowing the heavier blueberries to fall more vertically into your collecting container.
In the original design, both the vibration function and the blower function are powered by a small 3 hp motor with a pully that drives two pullies, one for each function.
A single belt from the drive pully wraps around the other two pullies to drive them.
Times have changed since this design was in manufacture. They probably didn't have cheap and easily accessible power generators like we have today. So, an alternative way we could power the blower and
vibration functions would be via a generator with two plugins, one for the blower motor and one for the vibration motor. So instead of taking one machine to the field to clean blueberries, you would take your cleaner machine and a power generator. The cleaner does want to vibrate so you might have to weight down the table with an equivalent or greater weight to keep it from jumping all over the field on you. It works best if the cleaner is mounted directly on vibration absorbing earth rather than a wooden platform.
Improving On The Design
Once I imagined powering the two functions in a different way, the idea for an improvement began to form.
Instead of driving the vibration function and the blower function from the same pully, you could independently control the vibration speed and the blower speed. This would give you a greater ability to fine tune the two functions of the cleaner to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness
of the cleaner.
This little case study of my journey to develop a field blueberry cleaner is meant to illustrate that redesign is often a better description of the design process. If you enjoy design, it is probably because you enjoy redesigning how things currently work rather than coming up with
completely original ideas.
Posted on November 12, 2019 @ 09:13:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Lately I have been thinking about the concept of "pivoting" because this year I have had to pivot from my original farm plan of starting a "farm mini winery" (license your production acreage up to a minimum of 2 acres then make wine) to starting a "commercial winery" (few restrictions on where your production acreage comes from). I had a terrible year crop-wise (hurricane damage to grapes, bad year for my wild blueberries) so I had to pivot to getting wild blueberry fruit from a large blueberry grower who I am partnering with for the 2019 wine production. My investments now are going into upgrading the barn to be a commercial winery and, eventually, a retail space as per the regulations if I want to sell wine from my farm (must adjoin the winery). Sometimes a pivot is between two well-defined government options and all the consequences they entail.
Being able to continue making pivots on an unprofitable farm for 7 years is quite a luxury. The "runway" for this farm enterprise is very long compared to the typical "runway" for a startup that might only have enough capital to last a few months before they have to start showing traction. Because me and my wife both have other income and could afford the long startup costs for the farm, there has been no investor pressure on us to show profit quickly.
My brother-in-law has been involved in an oyster farming venture for around 7 years and is only now getting to the point where it might start to make a significant income. A big pivot his business went through last year was to partner with a childhood friend who is enthusiastic about the industry. They are buying equipment together and managing their leases together. This is a secondary line of business for my brother-in-law (who primarily fishes crab and lobster) where there is no investor pressure to become profitable quickly; however, they are gearing up to be profitable (e.g., populating leases with oysters, investing in oyster farming equipment, investing in off-shore oyster handling equipment, upgrading their boat).
Anyone who has a day job can be investing in a secondary venture for a long time without requiring immediate payback. These may one day hatch as a "startup" after many years of ongoing investment and pivoting.
Pivoting in a long running startup can look different than pivoting in a new startup.
If you want to see how pivoting works in high-performance startups with limited runway then you might want to watch Dalton's talk "All About Pivoting".
Posted on October 29, 2019 @ 07:29:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I was listening to a news item on the radio about an outdoor skills workshop. The organizers wanted participants to takeaway three key points: the importance of Positivity, Ingenuity, and Resilience. The organizers said that keeping these concepts front of mind would be helpful not only in outdoor survival situations but for life in general. I agree.
The idea that we as individuals, businesses, communities and regions need to be Resilient is a popular idea these days. Merriam-Webster defines
resilience as "an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change". As climate continues to change, the need for resilience is
obvious, however, there is also alot of discussion about raising resilient kids and business resilience.
The definition of resilience does not tell you how to "recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change". That is why the concepts of positivity and ingenuity are also important because they are often critical in achieving resilience. You are less likely to be resilient if you maintain a negative attitude to misfortune or change or if you lack the ability to come up with new and innovative solutions to the problems that arise.
Positivity + Ingenuity does not equal Resilience, however, because the ability to adapt to misfortune or change also consists of anticipating what might go wrong and developing safeguards to help protect you against those scenarios. So communities recognizing that power outages might become longer or more frequent, are creating warming centers and places to pickup drinking water. Individuals are buying generators. Resilience is more about developing the strategies, assets and organizations required to deal with misfortune or change. Resilience often requires positivity and ingenuity to actually come into effect.
Resilience is an important idea whose time has come, however, we might keep in mind that positivity and ingenuity are also important when dealing with misfortune or change.
Posted on October 18, 2019 @ 07:41:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Four entrepreneurs whose proposal expired several months ago contacted me to tell me that an investor using the name "Abdul Latif Jameel" is claiming that I have provided him with their contact info. This is not true. Adbul has never been a registered investor and appears to have obtained the email addresses of the entrepreneurs he contacted through an investor who was deactivated under suspicion that she was contacting entrepreneurs and selling entrepreneur contact info to a questionable investor/funder. It has been verified that all reports so far are coming from entrepreneurs that were contacted by the deactivated investor.
Around November 2018, a person claiming to be "Abdul Latif Jameel" contacted entrepreneurs with these credentials:
Abdul Latif Jameel
ALJ Yatirim Holdings
The aljyatirim.com website was created in November 2018 and there is no site there any longer.
An identity thief going by the name Abdul Latif Jameel claimed to be president of a company registered on the Turkish stock exchange. The real company has verified that a company called "ALJ Investment Holdings" has been maliciously assuming their identity.
In his latest attempt at identity theft, this person is contacting entrepreneurs using firstname.lastname@example.org and claiming to be:
Abdul Latif Jameel
This website was created in February 1996 and was not created by the scammer this time. He is pretending to be president of this company.
You are advised not to deal with the individual claiming to be Abdul Latif Jameel if you are contacted by him with the above gmail address. It appears that there is a real and legitimate Abdul Latif Jameel who is unfortunately the favorite persona of this identity thief.
Entrepreneurs can use our Investor Verification tool to verify whether an investor who contacts them is registered with our network or not. If not, don't deal with them and please report them.
Posted on September 19, 2019 @ 11:20:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I have been reading a book on farming called "Ten Acres Enough: The Classic 1864 Guide to Independent Farming" by Edmond Morris. You
can read it online for free here.
The book reports on his first three years of farming after leaving the city and purchasing a farm. He had a family of 10 and appears to have acquired many firm ideas about farming before he ventured into owning and running a 10 acre farm.
The book is interesting and well written but the main reason I wanted to mention it was because Edmond spends alot of time in the
book discussing how much he made by selling certain crops and what he paid out in expenses. He summarized his receipts and expenses
over three years with this report:
Edmond Morris wouldn't have written the book if he didn't think he performed quite well so I was curious to convert his profits in the last year ($1327.02) into what it might be in todays terms using measures of inflation to make the adjustment. When you do this using the CPI Inflation Calculator you get this result:
$1,327.02 in 1857 is equal to $39,133.06 in 2019
This result surprised me as I expected his profit (in todays terms) to be more. This surprise has caused me to reflect on the history of entrepreneurship and the nature and causes of inflation to try to figure out what is going on here.
Entrepreneurs have existed throughout history and "10 Acres Enough" is a book by an agricultural entrepreneur on what he did to make his farm successful. What "success" meant to an Entrepreneur in 1857 in terms of wages may be different from what it means to be an Entrepreneur today. Today we expect a successful entrepreneur to be making a high wage but back then a successful entrepreneur was perhaps happy to make enough money to live without alot of financial stress. Being able to produce all your own food (in addition to selling it) certainly helped to reduce/eliminate a major financial stress that a family of 10 would have to deal with and gave the author a hopeful and optimistic outlook on life.
Another way to think about these numbers is that the inflation calculator is not fully capturing the reality of inflation - its nature and its causes. This has lead me to reflect on some categories of expense that are not included in this financial report that we would expect to be listed in the financial report of an agri-business today: sales taxes, insurance, fuel, loan interest, new equipment, repairs, registrations/licensing/permits, etc... For entrepreneurs, new categories of expense are causes of inflation that increase our cost of living and simultaneously decrease the amount of time that can be allocated to earning income. Inflation is reflected in how time and money is allocated.
You can read about Inflation on Wikipedia for how economists talk about inflation or you can examine a financial report from long ago and reflect on that it might be telling us about the nature and causes of inflation.
Posted on July 16, 2019 @ 06:47:00 AM by Paul Meagher
In the spring of this year, I had to submit a business plan to an agency the regulates mini-winery licensing. I started to get bogged down in the process until I decided to focus my plan more and take some advice from an agriculture representative I talked to about the core of a business plan.
Focusing The Plan
We have a couple of enterprises on the farm now. One is selling hay and another is renting a trailer on the farm to tourists. These ventures make some money but they are not going to pay the bills for the farm. When I started working on my plan I thought I would discuss all the ventures on the farm and that the plan would be for the farm as a whole. That way of thinking slowed me down. Eventually I decided that the plan only had to be about the mini-winery aspect of the farm and didn't have to address other farm ventures, existing or planned. So one secret to developing a quick business plan is to make sure your plan is focused on the particular venture that requires planning and does not discuss ventures that do not require planning. Originally I thought the plan should be for the farm as a whole, but realized that the plan only needed to discuss the mini-winery aspect of farm. The same is probably true of most businesses where your plan might try to touch on all aspects of your business, or it could focus on the particular line of business that you want to plan for. The latter approach makes for a quicker business plan.
Core of the Plan
The agriculture representative talked to me about submitting a business plan to them. He said the main thing to include
was to set some goals for year 1, 2 and 3. He also suggested that the goals include getting better by some modest amount, say
10 or 20 percent each year. The core of my plan and planning focused on clarifying what goals the mini-winery would
need to achieve in the next 3 years to become established and grow over time. Production of wine would increase modestly over each of the three years so that was where the percent improvement over time came in. I also had to build and purchase alot of stuff over 3 years to get to where I wanted to be.
So the core of my business plan was a laundry list of goals. One laundry list for each year of the plan. Many plans would probably also include the cost of achieving the goals so that you would know what type of budget would be required. I wasn't seeking funding for this plan so I never bothered doing costing. It was probably a good
thing that I didn't engage in too much costing work because even over the span of 3 months some of my goals have changed and other goals have emerged. Alot of the costing would have been wrong by now.
Types of Goals
Not all goals are created equal. Some goals may involve simply paying money to someone to acquire a piece of necessary machinery. Other goals, like building a wine cellar, involve a achieving a long list of subgoals. It is important when you are coming up with goals to spend some time thinking about how many subgoals might be involved in meeting the overall goal. You might also distinguish between goals for which you have some experience and expertise and goals that are new and which require alot of learning. One goal I had that seemed innocent enough at the time was to hold an outdoor concert to raise awareness of the farm and to gain some experience in holding events as this is an increasingly important aspect of selling wine.
Turns out that holding an outdoor concert is a very complex goal with a huge number of subgoals. I also did not have alot of experience
or expertise in holding events which made it even more difficult. Just because it is difficult, however, is not sufficient reason not to do it, but it is good to know what you might be getting yourself into by assessing the number of subgoals and your level of expertise in carrying out subgoals.
Alot of work this summer has gone into landscaping around the back of the barn and making a stage where the musicians will be performing. Today we will be putting the rafters on the event stage which will also be the area where grapes and blueberries will be cleaned, crushed and pressed for making wine.
The headline act for the concert will be Rankin MacInnis / Party Boots who have put out great a new album. Eclectic mix of tunes with great big band feel on alot of the songs. Usually has the crowd on their feet during live shows. Press the play button below to listen to my favorite song on the album so far.
Posted on June 24, 2019 @ 06:53:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Last year I invested in some remote vacant land and posted 3 blogs on the topic of remote land investing
(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
Today I want to discuss one other benefit of investing in remote land, namely, that payments to this network were used to purchase 130 acres of remote land that is helping to offset my own CO2 usage and the CO2 usage of those who paid any fees.
I certainly use fossil fuels in my farming activities, but I'm not running larger tractors that often. String trimmers, lawn tractors, lawn mowers and wood chippers are the main consumers of fossil fuels.
I use a small truck that burns fossil fuels to gather supplies, run errands and travel back to my remote land.
I haven't taken a flight in years because me and my wife are too busy and there is no place I would rather be in spring, summer, fall.
Even though I am not an angel when it comes to burning fossil fuels, I believe that the 130 acres of land purchased with funds raised from this network, are offsetting my own usage and the usage of entrepreneurs who pay fees to this network. The land is sequestering carbon in new forest growth, in fields that are not plowed or mowed, and through a type of farming (managing wild blueberries) that does not require heavy use of fossil fuels.
To get to my remote property, you need to travel along a road called Melrose Hill Road. This takes you to a turn off onto my property alongside Beverly Hills Road. Here is what it looks like as you travel through Beverly Hills.
The ground is white with lichen, an indicator of high air quality. A close up of the trees reveals the growing tips that are taking carbon out of the atmosphere to create new growth.
If one were to take samples of the soil in some of the abandoned fields, I would expect to see the amount of soil organic matter increasing over time as the grass and weeds grow and die back each year contributing to the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil.
When I purchased this land, it was not done with the intention of storing carbon but that is a very real benefit that often comes with remote land investing. The funds used to purchase that land came from entrepreneurs who paid my fees last year and from entrepreneurs in the future who are helping me to pay down the remaining loan that was used to purchase the land. Your funds are making a difference in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Is this a green network? I think so and while I don't use all the funds from the network to pay for carbon offsetting land, a significant amount was and that land is converting atmospheric carbon into new tree growth and soil organic matter. I can't tell you how much carbon is being sequestered as I haven't tried to do the math. A book that might have some answers is The Carbon Farming Solution (2016) by Eric Toensmeier.
This weekend I started construction on a modest 8ft x 8ft outpost in a wild blueberry field (Vaccinium Angustifolium) where I hope to better observe the land and perhaps do some calculations on how much carbon is being offset.
The main reason I picked up the book was because it looked like it had some useful applications of systems thinking to an important topic: modelling conflicts to help resolve conflicts. I like the fact that it is not an edited volume and provides a consistent perspective and level of quality on a variety of interesting topics in conflict modelling and conflict resolution. There is some math in the book, which I also like, because it is used to clarify and add precision to important ideas, not to prove theorems and other niceties. There are some practical agent-based modelling applications discussed in Part III of the book which is where a good chunk of value of this book lies in my opinion.
Table of Contents
Part I: Conflict and the Promise of Conflict Modeling
1. Environmental Conflicts in a Complex World
2. Why Model? How Can Modeling Help Resolve Conflict?
3. The History and Types of Conflict Modeling
4. Participatory Modeling and Conflict Resolution
Part II: Modeling Environmental Conflict
5. System Dynamics and Conflict Modeling
6. Agent-Based Modeling and Environmental Conflict
7. Modeling Conflict and Cooperation as Agent Action and Interaction
Part III: Applications of the VIABLE Model Framework
8. A Viability Approach to Understanding Fishery Conflict and Cooperation
9. An Adaptive Dynamic Model of Emissions Trading
10. Modeling Bioenergy and Land Use Conflict
11. The Future of Modeling Environmental Conflict and Cooperation
You don't have to read the book cover to cover to get something out of it. To maximize your time, you can scan through and find an application or section that interests you and read about that. For example, I came across a section called The Farmer Agent Model on pp. 292 to 295 and decided that it might be worth investing some time into that concept. One component of the The Farmer Agent Model is the harvest function which I have simplified to:
h = r * A * B * f
The harvest for a particular crop h by a particular farmer is found by multiplying:
r: The fraction of land planted in that crop, also called the priority of the crop.
A: The arable land area in hectares used for the crop.
B: The biomass yield per hectacre.
f: The fraction of biomass produced that is harvested (e.g., 90%)
If you add up the harvest amount for each farmer h harvesting that crop sum(h), then you get the total harvest for that crop H. You can use this sum as the crop supply in agricultural equations of supply and demand to figure out the price you might get for that crop. If prices are low for a particular crop then The Farmer Agent Model might respond by adjusting the value of the crop priority r downward so less land area is devoted to that crop. Using harvest functions, pricing functions, and investments functions in an integrated model allows you to tweak parameters to see how they influence other parts of the overall model. Government investment in ethanol production using subsidies, for example, will increase the value of r for bioenergy crops.
Another interesting topic in Chapter 10: Modelling Bioenergy and Land Use Conflict involves using spatial models of farmers across the
landscape so that you take into account spatial interactions among farmers. We don't just treat farmers as disembodied harvest functions,
but make an effort to locate those harvest functions (aka farmers) on a grid so you can simulate and explore local interactions that might be
important to account for.
Conflicts can arise in communities establishing a bioenergy plant because citizens may have differing views on fuel, water, land use changes that the plants bring with them or signify. Some may object to the increased water use or the nitrogen runoff that might accompany increased corn production next to streams. The other side may object that farmers need to be profitable and the plant jobs are needed. Many of these issues and interactions may be left unmanaged if they are not explicitly modelled as part of an overall model of the bioenergy plant and how it interacts with the ecosystem, the main stakeholders, and the government incentives that might be driving increased production of bioenergy crops.
In Illinois they have some of the best soil and growing conditions for bioenergy crops and other types of crops so bioenergy conflicts are likely more common there. Where I live, there is a conflict around burning wood for energy in a local paper mill. The pro side argues that it helps the mill keep their costs of operations lower because power is a huge cost for them, that we don't have to make expensive upgrades to our power grid to supply the Mill with power, that burning wood for energy is better than burning coal because the wood is renewable, and that it is helping sustain the economy with forestry employment in rural areas and good paying mill jobs. The opposing side argues that the large number of truckloads of wood a day needed to feed the bioenergy plant is not green, that it is decimating forests and habitat, that we can find better uses, that we can be adding more value to our products and keep the same level of jobs and economic prosperity, etc..
Fisheries is a big industry here and there are lots of conflicts between fishermen and the government over quotas, between fishermen and environmental groups over the cause of whale deaths and what needs to be done, between fishermen and another local pulp and paper mill over the mills desire to pipe effluent into fishing grounds. The powerful pulp and paper industry has met its match when their practices affect the equally powerful fishing industry.
Because I have an interest in fisheries (my father-in-law and his sons are fishermen) I was interested in picking up this book to see how they approach modelling conflict in the fisheries (see Chapter 8. A Viability Approach to Understanding Fishery Conflict and Cooperation). The starting point for all the models we might want to create is generally is a simple stock and flow diagram for a single fish population. From here we start drawing other boxes and linkages to capture more of the complexity of the situation.
Agent based modelling often starts with creating visual depictions of the system. Stock and flow diagrams are a commonly used technique but you generally need to master a few more visualization techniques to depict a full systems model. The best intro to these techniques is Thinking in Systems (2008) by Donnella H. Meadows.
The German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (died 1716) was famous for his slogan "Let Us Calculate". The slogan conveyed his belief that conflicts could be resolved by representing problems in a logical calculus that would help reasonable people find solutions. The belief that we can resolve conflicts through modelling therefore is not a new idea. What is new is that the agent based models (aka "logical calculus") are getting better at incorporating more of the complexity of the situation and providing a better decision aid for resolving conflicts. Leibniz's envisioned logical calculus can be implemented in the multi-agent programmable modeling environment called NetLogo which was used as the agent-based modelling platform for the conflict models discussed in this book. I've toyed with the idea of learning NetLogo, but this book gives me more reasons to do so as the book would be of even greater value if I downloaded and ran their conflict models.
It should be noted, however, that resolving conflicts is often not as simple as coming up with a good conflict model and the value of modelling can be overrated when it is done poorly. It tends towards armchair theorizing if not communicated to and validated by stakeholders in the conflict. That being said, doing armchair theorizing based on NetLogo is better than doing armchair theorizing based on NetFlix.
This is a very limited review of the book to give you a flavor of the content you might find. Not exactly a coffee table book or one that would appeal to a wide audience, or one that is accessible price wise; nevertheless I think it is worth seeking out for those with an interest in exploring the use of agent based models to represent and resolve conflict situations. Also, anyone wanting to add a new book to their systems thinking collection.
Posted on May 21, 2019 @ 08:36:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I spent some time over the weekend building a trail through a wooded area on our farm. Building a trail for me is not a high impact event, it consists of cutting away a few branches blocking your path and putting bright orange ribbons on some trees so you remember your path. Often animals have found paths before you and following them is not a bad bet.
Can you see the next reach?
One recommendation from Permaculture Design is to spend a year observing your property before you make any radical changes to it. You should try to understand the trajectories of the sun through the year, the prevailing wind directions, the microclimates, the flow of water, the flora and fauna, and the lay of the land.
To observe a large piece of real estate with wooded areas requires being able to access those areas of your land. Putting a full road into your property could violate the principle that you don't make radical changes until you understand the landscape better.
A good compromise is to make some low impact trails to give yourself the chance to make the observations you need. Putting in a trail is guided by strategies that you think will optimize the likelihood of establishing a good path with a minimum of effort.
One strategy I use in areas that allow for it is to follow beside a stream. If you know where a stream starts and where it ends you know that following it will take you from point A to point B where you want to end up. That strategy works at to a global level, but as you
navigate reaches of the path you may encounter dense growth, fallen trees, and swampy land that make you scratch your head as to the best path forward. In these areas of the path I am reluctant to mark a trail because I would have to traverse the area a few times to find a decent path.
The metaphor of trail blazing is often used to describe entrepreneurship. There are certain people with a high tolerance for risk who will blaze trails were others are too meek to lead the way. That is an heroic description of the entrepreneur, especially when so many also fail. But even failing or treading water does not diminish the fact that the entrepreneur has tried to blaze a new trail. There are many entrepreneurs in the non-profit sector who blaze new
trails without monetary markers of success but who make significant changes in other ways (e.g., build community, create commons infrastructure, help people, etc...).
The machinery in our minds evolved from a hunter/gatherer stage that involved path finding and path building as essential skills. That same machinery may be what is most taxed in entrepreneurs building new businesses.
One concept that I find central to path finding in the physical sense is the concept of a "reach". When you are walking through a wooded area and you have to decide where to go next, that decision for me is often determined by where the next "reach" is. A reach is the clearest path ahead in the direction I want to go. If I can see one reach 20 feet away that is fairly clear of limbs, swamps, and fallen trees but there is another similar path 40 feet long then I will select the one that is 40 feet long as it minimizes the path to where I want to go. A reach decision often weights more than one factor at a time. If the 40 foot reach took me away from the stream too far then I might choose the 20 foot reach and hope that I'll find another good reach near the stream once I get there. I'm also looking a bit ahead of the next reach as I decide on the next reach.
If you want to explore natural pathfinding in more detail then one of the best authors on this topic is Tristan Gooley. His site Natural Navigator and his books offer alot of insight into path finding in nature which might enrich the metaphors we use to find and blaze new trails in business.
Posted on May 15, 2019 @ 06:32:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I am posting a warning about the Anaki Investment Company (www.anakiic.com) because they are not registered as an investor with the network and have contacted 5 entrepreneurs on the network to date that I am aware of. Entrepreneurs have asked me each time to verify whether they were a registered investor or not. The owner of the company has been unwilling to supply information as to his credibility as an investor so I am issuing this warning not to deal with this company. I asked the owner to stop contacting entrepreneurs on the network and agreed to take down a previous warning if he did so but was recently notified that he has contacted 2 other entrepreneurs so am reposting a warning not to deal with the Anaki Investment Company
Posted on April 25, 2019 @ 09:12:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Normally, I simply buy books because I want to read the books. I've never really thought about buying a book as a financial investment. I recently purchased a book for my wife's birthday that I knew she would like but it was no longer in print and copies were hard to come by. I did manage to secure a copy for $120 on Amazon but after the expected delivery date arrived and there was no book I contacted the seller who quickly accepted the fact that it was lost and offered to source another one or refund me. I was refunded the next day with an explanation that they couldn't source another one. I suspect the book seller realized s/he could get more for the book and played a little charade with me that it somehow got lost in transit. No tracking numbers were ever issued. When I initially purchased the book on Amazon, the price for the book immediately jumped to around $200 because that was the price the other sellers were offering for their copies. Some sellers listed as high as around $500. I did eventually source another copy of the book for around my original price. Now I cannot find any copies on Amazon which makes me wonder what price I might be able to put on it as an Amazon seller if I wanted to sell.
The co-author of the book, Timothy Asch, was trained in photography by Ansel Adams and includes beautiful black and white photos of what local life was like in 1952.
Timothy Asch later became a leading visual anthropologist and preferred to use film more in his later documentation of other cultures. I learned over the weekend from one of the people he took photos of that there were only made 500 copies made of the book I purchased. So the value of the book is attributable to its rarity, the reputation of the author, and unique content it contains that university departments and local residents would be eager to have.
Another book that I wanted to purchase at one time was an autobiography by Permaculture founder Bill Mollison.
Again I suspect there is only a limited number of copies of this book. Bill Mollison founded the publishing company Tagari which does not sell this book anymore. The rarity of the book coupled with the number of admirers of his work means you can ask a high price for this book.
If I decided to get into book investing in a more serious way one strategy I might use would be to corner the market on a book. If there was a book that I thought was rare and desirable with only a limited number of copies available for sale I might buy all the available copies within a price range so that I can exert more control over the price and availability. I have no experience in deploying this strategy so can't tell you whether it would be successful or not.
Like any investing you have to be good at valuation and not let your biases get in the way. It would require more research into the fine points of book investing on my part before I went from reading books to investing in them. There are lots of people who make money selling used books and this is probably only one of many strategies they might use.
Posted on April 18, 2019 @ 07:23:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I watched a recent fascinating discussion between Elon Musk and a leading MIT reasearcher in AI and Autononmous Vehicles
Lex Fridman. They discussed recent developments in Tesla's autonomous
vehicle technology and where the future is headed in regards to driverless cars. Elon views driverless cars as inevitable
and that Tesla is way ahead of its competitors with recent updates to its Autopilot hardware and software capabilities.
A driverless electic car is only one means of personal transport and is not as green a transport solution as an eBike. There was a very
thought provoking article on Resilience.org with the title
Why Don’t You Have an Electric Bike Already?. An eBike is greener than a car simply because it weights alot less so requires a much smaller battery (meaning less mining is required for battery materials) and consumes alot less
electrical energy to transport the driver. For those living in a winter climate the arguments for an eBike are less compelling, but it would still be worth using an eBike for the months that you can use it.
eBike technology is also rapidly advancing although I haven't heard of any talk of a driverless eBike yet :-)
Posted on April 12, 2019 @ 07:37:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I am hoping to host a musical event on my farm property this summer, August 17th to be exact. I have never dealt with hiring musicians before. The time has come, however, to start making solid commitments if the event is to take place in August. Given that our farm is a partnership structure between me and my wife, it make sense to me to think about offering a partnership with the musicians.
Here is the email I sent to one of the musicians who I feel is a leader among the musicians who might perform.
One idea would be a partnership business structure among musicians and the owners of Big Belle Farm, me and XXXXX.
All proceeds would be shared according to a percentage structure after agreed upon costs. A third band of equal caliber could be another partner in the venture.
Big Belle Farm can front alot of the sound equipment costs and other costs and pay artists a guaranteed income to perform.
All revenues would come from Ticket Sales, Food Sales, Merchandise Sales, Vendor Fees, etc...
Alternatively, I can pay musicians their requested fees to perform and manage this event exclusively under the Big Belle Farm partnership.
The musicians have alot to offer, but my farm as a venue also has alot to offer so a partnership makes sense to me.
The Partnership Business Structure is one of the three main classes of Business Structure with Sole Proprietorship and Incorporation being the two others. The Partnership Business Structure can be used to get things done in a way that spreads risk and fosters a joint effort to succeed.
Posted on April 4, 2019 @ 12:44:00 PM by Paul Meagher
There are many businesses that can produce a nice side income. There will always be those, however, who take a modest side business and have the drive to turn it into something truly colossal.
Every year me and my joint-venture partner make around 2500 square bales of hay from the hay fields on the farm. It can generate around $10,000 dollars a year before costs (2500 x $4 per bale). We split the revenues and some costs. The shared costs usually include worker pay, fuel, baler twine and lots of beer to quench the hay makers and keep them happy. My partner is now using his half of the hay to feed his 5 beef heifers and getting more benefit that way.
There are some farmers around here who make 10,000 bales a year and make between $40,000 and $50,000 a year before expenses just on the hay sales. They might make quite a bit more if they offer delivery and not just pickup. Making hay and delivering it can be their main source of income.
In Ohio, JD Russell Hay and Straw Inc. takes the hay business to a whole other level of large scale choreographed production. When you have nice flat productive land like they do, a passion for high quality hay, and an extended family all willing to be involved in the business, then going bigtime in the hay business is a viable option. Here is a video of how they make hay at JD Russell's farm.
According to their website:
Neither John Russell nor his wife Denise came from a farm family. But in 1985 they sowed the seeds of their dream, working together part-time with less than $1500 in equipment.
Expanding every year, and paying cash for equipment, the Russells worked hard until they were able to devote themselves full-time to the business in 1992.
The Russells did not get this big overnight and appear to have self-financed their growth in the early days. Not sure if they still self-finance with the amount of machinery and buildings they have, but it does go to show that what is a nice side income for some (e.g., 2500 bales a year) can be a large business for others (e.g., 500,000+ bales a year?).
Posted on April 2, 2019 @ 07:17:00 PM by Paul Meagher
I spent last weekend at the farm. One reason I went was to prune some grape vines before the ground thaws and the vine sap starts flowing. One sign that the ground is starting to thaw is that I got my water back in the barn. I've been stalled in my wine making because I didn't have running water in the barn to clean the wine making equipment. Temps were still a little too cold to do any wine making, but I did manage to sample a few blueberry wines and blueberry/grape blends with my brother-in-law. The 4 carboys we tested all seemed quite drinkable. It is difficult, however, to fully determine the flavor of the blue and blue/red wines when the wine is on the chilled side and most of the volatile aromas are muted.
In the video below I reveal the various recipes I am testing. I'm trying to figure out what wines I should make more of next year. I am experimenting with different starting brix levels and blends to figure that out.
Each label that appears on a carboy has a transfer number in the first position that indicates what 20 gallon fermenter they came from. Usually I get 2 carboys of wine from each 20 gallon fermenter after I press the wine and collect it into the glass carboys. If I am making a pure blueberry wine then my label (e.g., "T1 BB 22") will only display a transfer number (T1), the abbreviation for blueberry fruit (BB) and the starting Brix (22). If I am making a blended wine, then I will have a label that indicates the types of fruit used and the number of 5 gallon buckets of fruit used (50 lbs per bucket). The label "T10 25 BB 125 MF 125" means it came from the 10th primary fermenter, was started at 25 brix, I used 1.25 buckets of crushed blueberries (62.5 lbs) and 1.25 buckets of crushed Marechal Foch grapes (62.5 lbs) in my blend.
Saturday evening I went for an ATV ride to the blueberry fields to see what they looked like in early spring. While spring has started to arrive near the coast where the farmstead is, if you move inland to higher elevations, the snow is still very much around. Up here there is still snow around the margins of the fields but the darker patches where the blueberries will grow looks like they are doing fine. This is the main field where I will be harvesting most of my blueberries from this year.
Other things I thought about this weekend was that I feel comfortable remaining a smaller-scale artisanal wine maker when I make wine from this years harvest. I will likely double my wine production but I don't plan to invest in alot of expensive blueberry harvesting and wine making equipment to do so, in part because me and my wife want to bootstrap this wine venture with our own funds rather than get loans. Within the next few weeks, I plan to section off another part of the barn as a longer term storage area for my carboys. I'm hoping that later in the summer I will be able to start selling some artisanal wine from the farm for the first time. We'll see what the alcohol gatekeepers have to say about that. There will be alot of regulatory paperwork to file this year.
A section of the barn was upgraded by the previous owners to mill the fiber from llamas, alpacas, sheep, and goats into something that the people providing the fiber could use to make products with. It was a good idea. They had lots of equipment from Ireland for milling the fiber and called the upgraded section of the barn where it was housed the Mill House. The venture appeared to fail because the operators and/or the equipment couldn't yield a product the client was satisfied with. Ever since we purchased the farm 8.5 years ago, we've called the upgraded section of the barn the Mill House. I think we will keep that piece of history alive and continue calling it the Mill House rather than the Winery which is really what it is now. Hopefully the Mill House will be more successful as a Winery.
Posted on March 27, 2019 @ 12:45:00 PM by Paul Meagher
One question left unanswered in part 1 and part 2 of this series, was what exactly does "remote" mean? One interpretation would be "far away from other people"? Which leads to the question of how far away does land have to be from other people to be considered "remote"?
What I consider to be remote is likely nowhere close to what someone living in high northern areas of the US and Canada would consider remote. The distance from my remote property to the nearest full time resident (2 km) would be considered a short hop for people living in sparsely populated areas of the high north. Lola Sheppard and Mason White have compiled alot of useful and beautifully illustrated information about remote northern living in
Many Norths: Spatial Practice in a Polar Territory (2017). There are many cutoff lines that can be used to define where the north begins depending on what criterion or indicator is used to define north. You can use physical indicators such as the tree line, the permafrost line, the line where ice stays year round, or the line where the ice roads end. You can also use economic, military, political and architectural criteria to define different lines that define where the north begins. Lola and Shepard identify at least 10 ways of indexing north.
The lines corresponding to these different ways of indexing north can be found on this map.
It would be interesting to study the price of remote land at these various cutoff lines to see if these boundaries also have an effect on the price of land. As these northern areas begin to heat up due to global warning perhaps they will be viewed as more attractive places to live, while land in southern areas will become correspondingly less attractive? How quickly, if ever, might that happen?
The type of remote land I am principally interested in, however, is land that was formerly inhabited but which people left because they could not make money to support modern needs, they were too far from markets to buy and sell goods, their access to the world was too difficult (up and down long steep hills) relative to people in other areas (traveling over relatively flat terrain), and where young people left and never returned. There was a time when people lived there and perhaps there will be a time again when people will want to live there to grow their own food, cut wood for heat, put up solar collectors and wind turbines for hot water and electricity, and be as self-sufficient as they can be like they were 100+ years ago.
I do think we need to realistically prep for a future that could be very different than the one we experience today because of climate change, peaking supplies of energy/materials, and growing populations. How can we do that? One way might be by investing in remote land not simply because it may be a good financial investment, but to have a place where you might grow food, collect wood, and survive if things get worse in the next ten years. Getting back to previously inhabited lands may be one strategy that will be important in adapting to the future as outlined in The Future is Rural: Food System Adaptations to the Great Simplification by Jason Bradford (Feb 19, 2019).
Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren has done some important future scenarios work that those of us thinking about a New Green Deal should keep in mind. Most versions of the New Green Deal envision a future where we will scale up our renewable energy economy, make our buildings more efficient, invest in public transit and many other measures to mitigate the effects of climate change - a "Green tech" future. There are other scenarios, however, that we need to consider, such as the "lifeboats" scenario where we are too late and need to start getting ready for what is to come. If you believe in this more pessimistic scenario, then some of the New Green Deal actions we should be doing today to prepare for the future are quite different than if you think there is time to turn this ship around. David provides a nice overview of his future scenarios work in this video:
It is important to note that David believes there is alot that can be done to Retrofit Suburbia in order to adapt to future scenarios and he may not agree with my assessment that we may have to move further afield to adapt. David's free Feeding Retrosuburia Ebook offers some more recent discussion of his future scenarios work.
In this blog on remote land investing I have stepped back to consider what "remote" really means and some of the macro forces at play in the world and how remote land investing might fit in. In a rosy "green tech saves the day" scenario remote land investing may not be a particularly good investment or that important to consider. In a less rosy "lifeboats" scenario, we might want to reflect whether we will need to start moving back to rural areas, areas we may have abandoned, and way up north.
Posted on March 13, 2019 @ 08:02:00 PM by Paul Meagher
In my last blog on remote land investing I discussed some of the factors that drove me and my wife to purchase a remote 9 acre lot. That investment, however, is only a small part of the remote land investing me and my wife did within the last 8 months. We also purchased some nearby lowbush blueberry fields, forested land, and wetlands on the other side of the road from the recently purchased 9 acre parcel.
The decision to purchase the first wild blueberry field was driven by different factors than the 9 acre parcel:
My main farming enterprise was focused on making grape-based wine but it was proving to be a long hard slog to get the 2 acres of production required to apply for a mini-winery license. The prospects for selling grape wine from the farm were too far into the future with alot of unpaid work in between. I'm not getting any younger and can't afford to keep doing farming for exercise. What to do? It is hard to fully pivot from 1.70 acres of planted grapes vines even if you are making unsaleable wine from them every year.
Where the wild blueberry fields are located is near a place where a good buddy of mine has a cabin. I grew up in a nearby village so I've been traveling these remote back roads since my childhood. My buddy took me up to the upper blueberry field where he likes to watch the sunset. Wow!
Local wild blueberry prices have been in the toilet for the last few years. Many blueberry growers are not harvesting/maintaining their fields and are selling unique agricultural land cheaper that it might otherwise sell for. I was offered a deal I couldn't refuse to acquire the largest parcel.
Before we started acquiring more land last year our farm was 61 acres in size. It is now around 190 acres in size. A 3x scaling. What growing the acreage of the farm does for me is give me hope that the farm has a plausible chance of breaking even in the near future. The 14 acres of wild blueberries on it gives me that hope. This allows me to apply for a non-grape winery license because I have more than 2 acres of non-grape crop in production. I intend to make the argument that my grape berries are for blending and can also be used to make my wine. I have 30 carboys of wine brewing from last year's harvest. I am trying to determine which blueberry/grape blends might be the ones to scale up in next year's wine making.
The point of telling my personal investment story is to make the idea of remote land investing more complex and textured. It is not just about dollars and cents. In my case it resolved the issue of making a necessary pivot away from grape-based winemaking while not totally walking away from a sunk investment. The peace of mind that resolution gave me was priceless. I don't have to declare the farm startup a failure just yet. The sales taxes we spent to acquire the land will be coming back to the farm because it is "losing money" so that will help when tax season comes this year. Finally, I do think the price of lowbush blueberries will go up again and people will begin paying more for land with this incredible agricultural resource on it. Real estate prices in the nearby rural villages and towns are going up and could spread into the more remote areas we now own. My strategy for most of the acreage is to hold and improve and see what happens. I do want to dabble in developing some permaculture inspired vacant lots for sale.
Here is a video of the blueberries used to make my 2018 vintage blueberry wines. A light phenomenon known as golden hour appears to kick in at the end of this video.
Black bears (Ursus americanus) also like wild lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) and may be a significant source of manure in the fields. I was in my truck when I encountered this black bear. This photo was from 2013 and was the last time I saw a black bear. I do see fresh scat in the blueberry fields so they are around. I intend to continue sharing the blueberry bounty with my wildlife neighbors.
Below are a couple of videos by the Pretty Archie band that I've been keeping my eye on. I had a chance to see them performing recently. Great show. I'm listening to alot of their music lately. Poor Boy is a bluegrassy song about having no money and the joy of drinking homemade wine with your girl. Also the pain of losing your girl because of the homemade wine.
Hardwood Floors is another song from the same recording session that is also worth a listen.
This was the book that made me a fan of Joel Salatin. The book is an agricultural classic and often recommended to farmers, but I would recommend it to any entrepreneur.
A few years ago I read a library copy of this book and was inspired to write a blog called Dealing with Gate Keepers. The book discussses the creative ideas, arguments and maneuvers that Joel used to navigate around some of the costly demands of different gate keepers. Joel's farm, Polyface Farm, is a very successful and innovative enterprise so he had more victories than defeats in his dealings with gate keepers. His hard won battles offer lessons that might be useful to entrepreneurs getting bogged down in costly regulations.
This is a great passage from the book that I recalled from my first reading of it:
Some might ask, "Why don't you just put in the infrastructure and comply with the requirements?"...
Here's the answer, and it deals with the whole issue of innovation. All new things start small. Mighty oak trees begin from a tiny acorn, not 20-foot baby trees. Humans are born as babies, not teenagers. Innovation demands a prototype first, and a prototype must be as small as
How do I know if I have a cheese that people will want unless I can experiment with a few pounds and try to sell some to folks? How do I know I have a decent ice cream until I make some and sell it to taste testers? Innovation demands embryonic births. The problem is that complying with all these codes requires that even the prototype must be too big to be birthed. In reality, then, what we have are still-birth dreams because the mandated accoutrements are too big. p. 18
For those who would like to listen to the author discuss the book, this interview is the only extended discussion that I can find.
Posted on March 1, 2019 @ 07:50:00 PM by Paul Meagher
This week me and my wife finalized the purchase of 9 acres of remote vacant land. Here is an aerial photo of the parcel we purchased.
You can generally purchase remote vacant land much more cheaply than land in suburban areas, unless the land has valuable agricultural/forestry resources on it, has particularly nice views or is improved in significant ways.
One question you might ask about vacant land is how much it might appreciate without doing anything to improve it. We purchased the land for $9,000 but it came to $11,390 after sales taxes and lawyers fees. I will be able to claim the sales tax back ($1,350) as part of our registered farm partnership so an accurate final acquisition cost is $11,390 - $1350 = $10,040.
Let us assume that 5 years later I was able to sell the land for $15,000. The sales taxes I collect on that amount are irrelevant to calculating my rate of return as I have to return the collected taxes to the government. I would, however, have to deduct my lawyers fees from $15,000 to calculate my rate of return. Over a 5 year period I assume the lawyers fees would rise from $1,040 to $1,400 so the final amount I might make from this transaction is $15,000 - $1,400 = $13,600. Obviously, lawyers fees can play an important role in determining the amount of profit you make on a transaction this small.
Finally, let us assume that land taxes are $100 a year so over 5 years that amounts to $500 to hold onto the property. To compute my rate of return I need to subtract the land taxes as well: $13,600 - $500 = $13,100. An important thing to note is that as soon as you start improving your land your land taxes may go up, especially if you add a building to it. This is why some remote land investors specifically look for vacant land to invest in.
So $13,100 - $10,040 = $3,060 is the overall profit in a passive investment scenario (ignoring sales broker costs if you can do a private sale like I did to purchase this property). If we divide $3,060 by the 5 years we held the land that amounts to $612 per year in profit. If we divide $612 by the original investment of $10,040 that amounts to a 6 percent annual return on our original investment amount. Not great perhaps, but better than putting it in a savings account earning very little interest. If you don't get the profit you are looking for, maybe you will have to hold it a bit longer in the hopes that you will get the return you want.
If you leave vacant land alone it may appreciate or depreciate in value. If it was an open field, and it grows up in alders and low value wood, perhaps the land value will depreciate. If the land was a growing forest, then after 5 years of holding it may have marketable wood that can be used or sold by the new land owner. Maybe that takes 8 years to happen. Often it will be real estate values in nearby areas that are more populated, and the scarcity of available land to meed demand, that will have the most impact on the price you can ask.
My intention is not to hold this particular piece of property as a passive investment but before spending money to improve the land it might be worth trying to estimate its value as a passive investment so you can decide if your improvements are going to generate a significantly higher return or whether you are just spending alot of time and money for very little gain. There is risk in developing vacant land because there may be a good reason why it is vacant. In this case, road access in the winter is very challenging as snow plows don't service this road in winter unless the only person who lives on this road is staying in his cabin. He takes off after xmas. There used to be many more people living in this area 100 years ago but it was too remote for them so they gradually moved away.
On the other hand, we aren't making any more land, there are some spectacular views around here (i.e., view of lake on one side, ocean on the other), real estate values are increasing substantially in nearby rural towns, and people may want to get back to the land and enjoy greater privacy and freedom during warmer parts of the year. Maybe 3 acre lots could each be sold for $15,000+ a piece if they were surveyed, deeded and moderately improved?
The key to this particular land investment for me was that the path of the power line runs through the length of the property next to the road. Delivery of electricity to potential lots could be provided relatively cheaply. Access to electric power in remote vacant land can be expensive to get and you might need to explore some off-grid option to provide power. Here the power lines run along the road and are physically on the property. Another consideration is that we have already invested in farm equipment that can be deployed to help improve the land (e.g., tractor, bush hog, plow, rototiller, chain saw, brush cutter saw, wagon, etc..). Frankly the farming hasn't been much of a revenue generator for us so far which is ok because losses from the farm enterprise can be used to offset income in other areas to reduce income taxes. It is my hope that one way to get the farm to be financially sustainable will be to make improvements on this vacant land so people can live there. Last year we purchased the wild blueberry fields on the other side of the road. I hope to be able to spend time on this remote site managing wild lowbush blueberries and improving this 9 acre lot. That is my definition of a vacation.
One approach to land development on remote vacant land is to use Permaculture ideas and techniques. For example, sector mapping
involves figuring out how various energies move through your landscape: the path of the sun in summer and winter, the prevailing wind
directions in summer and winter, how water flows, how wildlife enters and leaves, where the fire danger is highest, where your vistas are located, etc. The idea is that mapping these flows so you understand them better will help you to optimize any design you eventually impose upon the landscape.
On Youtube, Oregon State University ECampus regularly publishes Permaculture videos as part of their online and offline Permaculture Design curriculum. In this video, Andrew Millison offers a great instructional video on how understanding the slope of your landscape can be used in the design of energy efficient and agriculturally productive settlements.
Hope this blog provides some insight into some of the challenges of remote vacant land investing. This type of real estate investing is not talked about as much as other types but it could be a good way to get people back on the land again. It can be a good investment under the right circumstances. Spending time in remote landscapes also helps to improve physical and mental health and gives you a sense of privacy and freedom that is hard to put a price tag on.
Accelerators in Silicon Valley is based upon CEO interviews, tours and startup meetings with 23 accelerators from Silicon Valley (which also includes accelerators based in San Francisco and one from Oakland). It is the author's belief that in order to replicate the Silicon Valley success story in the Netherlands and the EU, they will need to embrace a central feature of Silicon Valley, namely, the large number of accelerators located there. The 23 accelerators studied are a fraction of the accelerators one might find there. The author's access to accelerator CEO's was facilitated by his relationship with an influential VC who helped introduce him. His non-probability sample attempted to capture the range of accelerators one might encounter:
The sample I ended up with is a fair representation of the following six accelerator features: profit vs. not-for-profit, general vs. specific focus, taking equity vs. not-taking equity, large vs. small accelerators, offering workspace vs. virtual program, short vs. longer programs. ~ p. 33
This far into the book, I have three main takeaways.
The diversity of types of accelerators in Silicon Valley is really quite amazing. When I thought about accelerators in the past, I imagined them to be mostly similar. Perhaps if you are looking down from a high enough vantage point you mostly see the similarities, but as you get closer you start to see the large variety of accelerator types which are hinted at by the six features mentioned above. If you are looking to apply to a Silicon Valley accelerator, you would have to do your research to find the type of accelerator that would be the best fit for what you are doing. The book is a good resource for simply navigating the accelerator landscape in Silicon Valley.
The Data Is Not Yet In
Silicon Valley is the birthplace the largest internet companies around today. While that might be viewed as evidence that accelerators are having a big impact, Peter argues that the data is not yet fully in. What he know is that a huge number of startups are enrolled in accelerator programs and that some of them are successful. The accelerator industry is the most mature in the Silicon Valley industry but still is a relatively young industry and there is not alot of studies tracking how these accelerated startups are doing over the long term. Perhaps we need a cohort of non-accelerated startups to compare them against to see how many are surviving and thriving. For policy makers wondering if they need to help foster more accelerators similar to Silicon Valley accelerators the issue of tracking survivorship and success are critical to have answers to. I don't claim to be an expert on accelerators so there may be data out there since this book was published. My sense, however, is that we might see a third book from Peter in which he revisits some of the startups he encountered during his study. Given the diversity of types of accelerators, it may be a complex picture of what is considered a "success" and what types of accelerators might be producing the best results.
The essential difference between incubators and accelerators is difficult to identify. For some, they are two different ways of referring to the same thing. For others, they are different beasts altogether. Peter thinks the difference may be more evolutionary with the first generation incubators being more like shared work spaces, second generation adding some additional services to the mix, third generation adding some networking with funders, and the forth generation being accelerators that involve more mentoring, facilitating deals, cohort groups, and larger funding networks. One of the accelerators interviewed stopped accepting new startups and simply became an Angel startup fund. Life is not necessarily all roses for accelerators. They have problems that require them to adapt and evolve to survive.
So far, Accelerators in Silicon Valley has proven to be quite interesting and hopefully it will generate one or more blogs in the future as I get further into it.
Posted on February 13, 2019 @ 09:47:00 AM by Paul Meagher
The proposal for a Green New Deal is getting alot of discussion lately in part because it may become a centerpiece of the U.S. Democratic Party's 2020 election platform. According to Wikipedia, the original New Deal was "a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms and regulations enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States between 1933 and 1936. It responded to needs for relief, reform and recovery from the Great Depression". The radical measures that were taken as part of the New Deal are often credited with helping the U.S. recover from the Great Depression. Many of those concerned with rising CO2 levels believe we need to enact a similar set of radical measures to avoid a climate catastrophe. The Green New Deal refers to the required set of radical measures that will help avoid that scenario.
The NY congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has posted a proposal on her 2018 campaign website called the Green New Deal that proposes setting up a working group to evaluate some specific technical measures such as:
Dramatically expand existing renewable power sources and deploy new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of national power demand through renewable sources;
Building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid;
Upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;
Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country;
Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water;
Funding massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases;
Making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely greenhouse gas neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.
Alexandria's proposed Green New Deal also includes a set of additional social justice measures which I'm a bit leery of because solving the CO2 problem is hard enough without trying to solve a host of socio-economic issues at the same time. Perhaps this is why Nancy Pelosi made this comment on Alexandria's latest Green New Deal resolution "The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?". It is difficult, however, to avoid the conclusion that climate change and social justice are linked problems so you might want to read the latest Green New Deal resolution for suggested social justice measures that might be included in a Green New Deal.
There is no widespread agreement yet on what measures the Green New Deal should include. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has offered up some suggestions but there are other suggestions and the discussion is just getting started.
Part of the reason why the original New Deal worked was because people were traumatized by the great depression and were ready to do something radical to get out of it. I doubt that people feel the same urgency for a Green New Deal. That sense of urgency, however, could change as CO2 levels continue to rise and exert their obvious and not-so-obvious consequences. I think it is important to start talking about what a Green New Deal might look like irrespective of what government is in power so that we at least have an emergency plan that might help us avoid or mitigate the potentially dire consequences of increasing CO2 levels.
Most of the suggested technical measures above are not radically new ideas. Most of us have probably heard something like them before. What is radical is the timeframe needed to agree on the New Green Deal measures and to get them done (less than 10 years). We need to make up for lost time so there is not alot of time available to debate a perfect set of measures. Radical action is needed more than radical ideas if a Green New Deal is going to happen. City councils in the coastal cities of Vancouver and Halifax have declared a climate emergency as a means of getting their own versions of the Green New Deal rolling at the city level.
The issue of how economic growth figures into a Green New Deal is the most perplexing and contested issue of them all. If the New Green Deal is sold on the basis of increasing GDP growth then it will have avoided the root cause of why a New Green Deal is needed (i.e., increases in CO2 levels are tightly linked to GDP growth so cannot be part of the solution). A growth oriented Green New Deal will not be radical enough to truly address root causes.
At the end of the day it is not the government alone that is going to solve this problem. There will be a major role for the entrepreneurs who devise new ways of solving problems that are less resource intensive. There will also be a major role for investors who help finance these new ways, who are anticipating the opportunities that a Green New Deal might offer. There will also be a major role for new ways of organizing ourselves for collective action. In some cases, such as the REKO Circles discussed in my last blog, you don't need investors or government to take the radical step of enabling a local food system. You just need to get organized.
Posted on February 4, 2019 @ 08:16:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Most people in North America have never heard of a food retail innovation called REKO Circles (REKO is a Swedish abbreviation for "Fair Consumption"). Judging by its uptake in Finland and Sweden, expect to hear more about REKO Circles coming to a place near you.
Basically, members of a REKO Circle join a closed Facebook group (or similar social networking platform). Producers post what they have to sell and consumers add comments saying how much they would like to buy. A time and place is set where producers and consumers will congregate and exchange goods. Usually it is a parking lot. There are no booths or advertising, goods are simply provided to the customers in the amounts requested from the back of their vehicle to the consumers. Everybody leaves on their merry way within an hour of the first arrival.
There are many advantages for local producers and consumers in this arrangement. Local producers who are not big enough to sell to the local
grocery store now have a market. There are no monetary costs for producers or consumers to network online to buy and sell agricultural products. The producer gets more of the money from selling their product than they would if they sold to the grocery store, even at prices competitive with the grocery store. The consumer knows where their food comes from. Consumers can get a significant portion of their weekly food needs met in one place. Producers only bring what is necessary and don't have to transport unsold items back to their home.
REKO Circles may be acknowledged and promoted by municipalities and governments, but REKO Circles to date have generally been organized in a bottom
up fashion though people organizing on social media for the purposes of setting up a local food network.
Below are a few resources that I would recommend to learn more about REKO.
REKO Circles were initiated in Finland in 2013 by a farmer Thomas Snellman. Since then they have grown to become a significant
component of the food retail network in Finland (5% or more). Thomas Snellman gave a TED talk that is worth watching to get the concept from
I originally learned about REKO on Richard Perkin's Youtube Channel where he has been an enthusiastic supporter of this particular method of selling his goods. Richard gives you a good nut-and-bolts view on how REKO works on Richard and Yohanna's farm:
Even though I was familiar with the REKO concept from Richard's channel, I didn't fully appreciate its history or its disruptive potential until I read the paper Farm Fresh in the City: Urban Grassroots Food Distribution Networks in Finland (S.E. Hagolani-Albov and S.J. Halvorson) which can be found in the Global Urban Agriculture (2017) collection of papers edited by
A. WinklerPrins. This chapter is one of the few academic treatments of the REKO concept and does an excellent job in explaining what is different about REKO and why it works in the Finnish context.
Will REKO Circles work in the North American context? That awaits to be seen. You don't need startup capital or the blessing of government to launch a REKO Circle near you.
Posted on January 29, 2019 @ 08:30:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Last friday I purchased a lawn tractor. I already have a lawn tractor so why did I buy another one? Here are some of the reasons:
If one of them fails, I have a backup.
On certain tasks, I can double my productivity (e.g., time to mow in the lawn/garden/vineyard/orchard).
The lawn tractor is not identical to the first so offers additional versatility in performing certain tasks.
The second lawn tractor has a smaller deck width (42 inches versus 52 inches) so might be better at maneuvering
around lawn/garden obstacles.
Last but not least, I got a good deal on it.
The point of mentioning this is to highlight the fact that there are many reasons to build redundancy into your business. That redundancy can come at a cost, not only the acquisition cost, but also the costs of maintenance and storage. Building redundancy should not be done lightly but it should definitely be a consideration when formulating a business plan that lasts beyond 1 year. Once you start experiencing breakdowns, or how long certain tasks take with one machine, or the limitations of the particular machine you purchased, the need for redundancy becomes more obvious.
Redundancy doesn't stop at just acquiring 2 machines. I buy the cheapest Stihl string trimmers I can buy because I don't want to carry around a heavy machine and these work fine for the intended purpose. When they are worked hard they run out of gas, they run out of trimmer line, and the head will wear out. If you want to keep working when these things happen it is nice to have 2 string trimmers. If you have other workers helping you, then you may have to double up on the machines for them as well, although you can also rationalize the redundacy in terms of allowing for 3 string trimmer operators with 1 backup for all the
When you are engaged in a task that determines how much income you will generate, your main limitation may be that you do not have enough revenue generating machines. For example, if you have lots of berries and you want to make jam for sale, you might run into the limitation that your jam making machine can only produce J units per hour. If you had 2 jam makers, you could potentially make 2 x J units per hour. One mistake a person might make is to assume that if you keep buying jam makers your profits will keep going up accordingly. In my experience a person can only operate so many small scale jam makers at one time (2 is the current limit if you are also canning) so the longer term solution may not be to buy x more of the same units but rather to buy an industrial jam maker with a larger capacity or figure out a DIY solution.
The purpose of this blog is to highlight the importance of building redundancy into your business planning. In this age where we are supposed to be consuming less, promoting the acquisition of more is
often not good advice. I am not suggesting that we double up on everything we use in our businesses, but to be judicious and decide which parts of your business would benefit from redundancy and how much. Also, in this age where we are supposed to be as operationally lean as possible it is worth pointing out that there are costs to being too operationally lean if you are ignoring the need for some necessary redundancy.
Posted on January 18, 2019 @ 10:37:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Over the last few days as the temperatures have gotten colder, I noticed that the river has become more iced over. There is a particular pattern to how ice forms on the surface of a free flowing river. Ice moves in from the sides and begins on sections of the river with gentler slopes. There is probably a positive feedback cycle as ice begets more ice. It appears that sections of the river that have the most momentum are the last to freeze.
In physics, we use the equation P = M x V to define what momentum is. Momentum P varies as a function the Mass M of the volume and the Velocity V of the volume.
When studying stream behavior it is important to study it under frigid conditions because cold has a major influence on the mass M and velocity V of water in a steam channel. For details, see the classic Determination of stream flow during the frozen season (PDF) by Burrows & Horton.
The concept of momentum gets applied to business in many ways. For the metaphor to make sense in these contexts it should behave in a manner similar to the defining equation.
To increase the momentum P in a business requires increasing the Mass, the Velocity or Both at the same time.
Businesses such as Facebook have alot of momentum. In the early days the increased momentum came more from the rate of new users joining the platform, the Velocity component V. As Facebook has
matured, the momentum is coming more from the shear size of the platform, the Mass component M.
How does a business achieve momentum?
Sigmanow offers several suggestions for how to achieve momentum. I like the simple example of adding one new sales person a month to your business. Ideally, this strategy would have the effect of increasing the velocity and mass of sales on a month by month basis. It might be one of the most potent strategies for achieving high levels of momentum quickly. Of course, if you can't deliver on the orders then in the big picture the momentum of the business is alot less than order volume would suggest.
There are lots of other strategies for increasing business momentum that you can find by googling "business momentum". I'm not convinced in many instances that the suggestions would actually lead to an increase
in business momentum - they seems like motivational prescriptions with no strong connection to improving business momentum.
Momentum features very prominently in day trading strategies and there are lots of metrics for measuring momentum. If you are looking for momentum metrics studying momentum indicators used in day trading might be useful. The fundamental equation for momentum for day traders looks like this:
M = V - Vx
Where V is the latest price, and Vx is the closing price x number of days ago.
Posted on January 11, 2019 @ 09:02:00 AM by Paul Meagher
My main resolution this year is to become more organized. With this goal in mind, I started to sort my farm receipts for the last 4 months (Sept to Dec 2018). So far, the setup below is what works for me:
Shown here are 4 open legal folders on the couch, one folder for each of the last 4 months of 2018.
I also cut strips of paper, folded them in half, and labelled one side with a
label for the type of receipt that goes there:
CCA purchases (purchase over $500)
License & Registration Fees
I don't have to create the same number of category strips for each folder, just the ones that are necessitated by the types of receipts I
encounter for that month.
I initially thought I would use the 3 slot trays to sort my receipts into the proper month. After sorting receipts by month I would then sort them into the proper category. You can see a three slot tray on the coffee table and on the sofa that I was using for this purpose. It turned out there are some inefficiencies with this approach. As I was placing receipts into the proper monthly slots, I found myself not wanting to mix them together. Instead, I wanted to put frequently occurring gas receipts together in a pile separate from other receipts so I wouldn't have to sort through them again. I also noticed that small tool purchases were popular and that it would be efficient to separate them out as well. I then started examining receipts in more detail and decided that I only want to do this sorting decision once. So I stopped presorting receipts into the monthly slots and am placing them directly into the appropriate monthly folder with receipts of the same type wrapped in a strip of paper with a category label on it. There are also a few miscellaneous folders for special transactions like a land purchase, vehicle and house insurance, and utility statements.
This example illustrates a fundamental principle of Lean Bookkeeping - that you should handle receipts as few times as possible.
Receipts are like a split piece of wood. If you have a wood stove you are probably aware of all the handling that you have to do on a piece of wood before you insert it into your wood stove. Lean Woodburning involves reducing the amount of wood handling as much as you can. For example, last summer I got split fire wood for the farm from a local supplier so my wood handling began with carrying it from the back of the suppliers half ton truck into my wood shed where I piled it into rows. This is an improvement over previous years when split wood was dumped outside the front door of the shed. I had to throw or wheelbarrow wood from the pile into the shed and from there handled it again to pile it. I also didn't have the lawn damage and mess that dumping wood causes.
In previous years, I took wood to the house by carrying arm loads of wood from the wood shed to the kitchen and placing them into a wood storage box beside the stove. This year I got lazy and loaded the wood onto a Costco dolly and leave the wood laden dolly in an inclined position beside the wood stove. I'm saving myself the work of unloading the wood, the weight of carrying it, and only need to make one trip to have a good wood supply in the house. The dolly beside the stove is not winning any awards for beauty but it works for me when I'm at the farm in colder weather.
Any receipts we generate are like a piece of split wood and alot of my disorganization around receipts comes from handling them too many
times. I still have to transcribe receipt amounts into a digital format so there is more handling to come and more ways to lean my bookkeeping process. It would be nice if I was sufficiently organized that I digitized my receipts right away, but it is what it is and you have to start somewhere.
Posted on December 19, 2018 @ 10:05:00 AM by Paul Meagher
In my last blog Business Asset Accumulation I discussed the importance of business asset accumulation to starting and growing a business. In today's blog I want to dive a little deeper into what a business asset is from an accounting point of view and an investment point of view.
Assets are sometimes defined as resources or things of value that are owned by a company. Some examples of assets which are obvious and will be reported on a company's balance sheet include: cash, accounts receivable, inventory, investments, land, buildings, and equipment.
One of the exercises that you typically engage in when creating a business plan is taking an inventory of all the business assets you currently own. If they are personal assets and will not be used in the business then they shouldn't be considered an asset for the purposes of your business plan. We can refine our thinking about assets by using the standard accounting categories to classify the type of asset the business owns. Does the identified asset fall into the cash, accounts receivable, inventory, investments, land, buildings, or equipment category of asset?
A business asset is a piece of property or equipment purchased exclusively or primarily for business use. There are many different categories of assets including current and non-current, short-term and long-term, operating and capitalized, and tangible and intangible. Business assets are itemized and valued on the balance sheet, which can be found in the company's annual report. Business assets are listed on the balance sheet at historical cost and not market value.
For the purposes of accounting we have a common way to breakdown assets (i.e., cash, accounts receivable, inventory, investments, land, buildings, and equipment). For the purposes of investing we have another common way we might want to breakdown assets (i.e., current and non-current, short-term and long-term, operating and capitalized, and tangible and intangible).
The Investopedia article claims:
The management of business assets is arguably one of the most important jobs of company management.
In summary, this blog delved a bit deeper into the topic of what an asset is. Accountants and investors have some common distinctions they use to further classify the asset into a particular class of assets. When you are creating a business plan and you are thinking about what types of assets the business has going forward, you might use these distinctions to help remind you of the different types of assets that businesses often report.
One last distinction I would make is between potential and proven assets. Startups may acquire business assets with the idea of eventually using those assets in the startup business. Until those assets are tested for the intended purpose they are only potential assets. An example would be a water dispenser I purchased many months ago thinking I might use it to transfer wine from carboys into bottles (or another carboy). Recently I needed to bottle some wild blueberry wine that was already filtered and decided I would try using it to bottle the wine. It worked good for the first few bottles and then my concern became whether it could actually transfer the full carboy on a single charge (it has a USB plug to recharge the battery). It did and it only took around 20 minutes to recharge. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this gadget worked. It now goes into the "proven asset" category and I would feel comfortable purchasing a few more of these proven assets (just ordered 2 more) for my mini-winery startup.
Posted on December 13, 2018 @ 12:13:00 PM by Paul Meagher
One way to start a business is to begin accumulating the assets you will need to start that business. Those looking to get into farming, for example, might accumulate a tractor, some old farming equipment and any good cheap acreage they can get their hands on.
When we use the term "startup" we might think there is a specific point in time when that startup was conceived or launched. Sometimes a
startup is what happens after an extended period of business asset accumulation.
If you wanted to someday start a hair salon, and you have the storage space, you might spend alot of your spare time searching for deals on
a building, chairs, mirrors, lights, and products that you might eventually need to "start" that business. You are arguably starting the business already if you are accumulating the assets you will need to start it, but it may not feel like that. We expect some official opening to happen to make the startup seem real.
If you accumulate alot of useful assets prior to starting a company, that can help you get the further funding you might need to ditch your
current job and start your new business. Business asset accumulation demonstrates seriousness, it reduces your launch cost, it can help secure the investment (reduce investor risk) and it means less of your operating income will need to be used to pay down debt that you might have incurred if you didn't accumulate these business assets.
There are many ways to start a business. Asset accumulation is an often used approach. Probably more important in situations where goods and services are physically produced and/or sold. Business assets, however, can include intangibles such as patents, copyrights, team composition, letters of intent, permits and useful know how.
Hobbies can often be turned into businesses because of asset accumulation. My photography hobby resulted in me purchasing more photography assets to get better at my hobby. There are many more assets I could be purchasing if I thought I might ever want to turn this into a paying gig. Some of these asset purchases might come over time without an explicit intention to make money from my hobby; nevertheless, these accumulated assets bring me closer to being able to offer a paying service to people and would involve fewer startup costs to fully launch.
Asset accumulation also signals to investors that you have "skin in the game". Investors like to see that an entrepreneur has sufficient confidence in their venture that they have invested some of their own capital into getting it started. Not just time, but actual money.
Posted on December 10, 2018 @ 11:04:00 AM by Paul Meagher
For a few years now I've used a Canon SX50 camera to take all my photographs and videos. It featured a powerful zoom lens and 12 megapixel resolution. I liked the fact that I could zoom in and take pictures and videos with one hand. It was like having binoculars built into your camera and sometimes I just used it as binoculars. I still like that camera. I nevertheless wanted see if I could improve my photographs and videos by buying a new Canon Rebel SL2 camera. It requires more skill and I need to use 2 hands to operate it so I'm still on a learning curve. I captured a couple of nice landscape photos with the SL2 that I thought I would share.
I'm standing on a strip of land and a bridge that separates both sides of this body of water. The first photo is of the estuary where fresh water from the hills meets salt water from the ocean.
The second photo is where the navigable harbor starts and there is a wind sailing club that calls this section of the harbor home. I like taking photos near sunset and the camera seems to perform better than my old one under low light conditions. It was a calm evening so the glassy water threw off some nice reflections.
I recently looked at a book of nature photography from the late 70's or early 80's. The photographers were winning awards but the photography looked very coarse because the photos had such poor resolution. It was hard to appreciate the beauty of the scenery because the picture quality was so poor compared to today's standards. You had to be pretty dedicated to engage in the hobby of photography back then and the results often weren't that great (by today's standards). Perhaps I need to appreciate it as retro or vintage photography but that was a stretch for me at least.
In these days of needing to maintain a YouTube or Social Media presence it is easy to justify these camera upgrades as business expenses rather than hobby expenses.
Posted on December 1, 2018 @ 04:27:00 PM by Paul Meagher
Yesterday I picked up a couple of thin books on creating business plans. I am hoping this will motivate me and remind me of of the elements to include in my farm business plan. I intend to do most of the plan write up in December. I think December is a great month for business planning as January 1, 2019 is a natural choice to start implementing a business plan. December often marks the end of of fiscal year for tax reporting purposes and you can be starting to figure out what you earned and spent in the last year and use that to help in your planning.
The plan that I am developing with my wife will map out what we will do in the next 3 years to establish an estate winery operation on our farm (where wine is produced and sold on the farm). We have been gearing up for this by planting grape vines for the last few years, but to date we haven't created a formal business plan for how we expect this venture to unfold in the next 3 years.
Often you will need to create a business plan to obtain financing as the funder needs some idea of what you hope to accomplish, when, how much it will cost, how you will promote it, and what you expect to earn as profit. In our case, we need to formulate a business plan as part of a winery registration process. Funding and registrations are popular reasons for needing a business plan.
One element of a farm business plan that you might not see included in other types of plans is a section labelled "Holistic Context". Here the decision makers agree on a set of statements about values and constraints that they need or wish to operate under. Stating your holistic context explicitly can serve to setup valuable constraints on how the rest of your business plan will be formulated. Holistic context statements help to ensure that your plan is realistic with respect to values and the constraints of capital, time, machinery, etc... that the partners have to dedicate to the venture.
If traveling each year, for example, is really important to the partners, and this is included as one of your holistic context statements, then that constraint makes it harder to raise animals that might require 24 hour care 365 days a year. The farm owners state their holistic context so that they don't run into conflict in their business planning and how they run the operation. I wouldn't necessarily include an holistic context section in a business plan that I would be presenting for funding, but in the context of a registration process I think it makes more sense to do.
You can learn about how to formulate Holistic Context statements in
How To Write A Holistic Context: A Step By Step Guide. Ridgedale Permaculture provides an example of a well fleshed out set of Holistic Context statements (scroll down the page to view them). To be honest, I wasn't very by-the-book in coming up with my holistic context statements. I viewed the excise of coming up with some holistic context statements as a useful way of identifying constraints on how the business plan should be put together; otherwise, it is too open ended and only guided by what is good for the business. That can lead to an unrealistic plan for the owners if it doesn't match their holistic context.
The purpose of this blog is to remind entrepreneurs that December is often a good month to write business plans that go into effect
January 1, 2019. I also wanted to share with you the idea of starting the business planning process by formulating Holistic Context statements. These statements can serve to make writing the rest of your business plan easier because they provide useful constraints on your overall business planning and your write up. If your plan only makes sense relative to your Holistic Context statements, then it might be useful to include it as a section of your business plan.
Posted on November 30, 2018 @ 11:39:00 AM by Paul Meagher
A Turkish investor by the name of Abdul Latif Jameel is not a registered investor on our network. There have been 2 reports of him contacting entrepreneurs to discuss investing in their projects. We believe that he is googling public info in entrepreneur proposal summaries to eventually get into contact with them.
Here is his company and contact info:
Abdul Latif Jameel
President: ALJ Yatirim Holdings
The content of the website at aljyatirim.com is taken from another website. The owners of the real website have stated:
Our official website is this https://www.globalyatirim.com.tr/en/, as also stated on the kap.org.tr (Public Disclosure Platform), which is run by MKK (Central Securities Depository for Capital Market Instruments in Turkey). Information as to our board members is also available at: https://www.kap.org.tr/en/sirket-bilgileri/genel/967-global-yatirim-holding-a-s
We have been informed by other third parties as well that they have been contacted by an “ALJ Investment Holdings”, whereby “ALJ Investment Holdings” referred those third parties to aljyatirim.com, the whole content of which seems to have been copied directly from our official website.
Once the information on aljyatirim.com is reviewed, it can be seen that:
Our management and subsidiary information has been altered and copied
Our company name “Global” is on the picture on the main page
There is no phone details and half an address in order not to be searched online.
Our legal team is currently working on the matter, and we would recommend against continuing the communication that you have been receiving.
Anytime you as an entrepreneur are contacted by an investor claiming to be registered on our website, you can use their registered email address to do a status lookup using the Investor Verification tool in the entrepreneur login area. If that lookup fails to verify them as a registered investor, then please report them to us and discontinue communication until we have had a chance to look into the situation. We have had 2 reports so far of Abdul Latif Jameel contacting entrepreneurs for the supposed purpose of investing so we are publicly issuing a warning not to deal with him because he is 1) not a registered investor, and 2) is assuming the identity of another company.
One idea I had recently for how more plastic could be recycled is if there was a way to cheaply convert, say, plastic grocery bags into feedstock for a 3D Printer. If the 3D printed object can be taken back and used to create new 3D objects, then we would have some circular economics happening for plastic products and plastic packaging.
Posted on September 22, 2018 @ 08:30:00 AM by Paul Meagher
The image of the lean startup is often associated with spending as little as possible to verify your business model. The entrepreneur is living on ramen noodles, making a series of low cost minimal viable products and getting it out in front of potential customers to find out if they are on the right track. Eventually the entrepreneur reaches a moment when they can take on investment because they have reached a proof of concept and now need to scale. This type of business evolution is more likely to happen in the tech world because of the relatively low cost of entry.
Problems arise when we take this startup approach into a nonlean industry. A nonlean industry is one that is heavily regulated and which may require a high level of expenditure before you can even get started. You may need expensive licensing, meet standards that are costly to achieve, buy real estate, build structures, do extensive renovations, etc...
You can't do all these things on a shoestring budget.
Take for example the production of wine. To make a good bottle of wine you can make it with inexpensive plastic pails and glass carboys. To be able to get into the marketplace with your wine is not so easy. There are many regulations and standards that you have to meet before you may do so, even though you may be in possession of a product that a customer would like. In a nonlean industry startups need to raise significant startup capital to deal with regulatory compliance and other costs of doing business before they can even begin to do business. The legal cannabis industry, for example, is a nonlean industry as there are high regulatory compliance costs to doing business in that industry. This is offset by the potentially high reward factor, as it is in any nonlean industry.
Vegetable farming is an example of an industry where you can startup in a relatively lean manner and become even leaner over time. You can start simple but in time your lean operation can become heavily invested in efficiency improving tools and systems like this one:
In conclusion, the lean startup movement has a tremendous amount going for it but the image of starting a business on a shoe string budget is not applicable to some industries where other factors (fund raising success, compliance, networking) may have more importance in determining whether you can create a startup in that market.
Posted on September 5, 2018 @ 01:27:00 PM by Paul Meagher
When companies say they want to "scale up" their existing business, we might ask them to be more precise. If they want to double their business, then that would be a 2x scaling factor. If they they wanted to increase revenues from 1 million to 10 million then that would be a 10x scaling factor for revenues
On Youtube, one of the channels I like to watch is Stefan Sobkowiak's channel. He has a unique take on Permaculture orcharding and life in general. In the video below Stephan talks about a 10x scaling pattern for planting an orchard that involves planting 1/2 an acre, then scaling up to 5 acres (10x), and then scaling up to 50 acres (10x), etc... His discussion of this planting pattern takes place early in the video.
I am discussing this planting pattern because it provides an interesting example of how one might go about scaling up an enterprise. The number 10x was recommended by Stephen if you want to get serious about orcharding. That seems a bit extreme in general, but it is helpful to be as precise as you can be about how much you want to scale up your business.
It is also useful to imagine what you would need to do in order to achieve 10x growth. Perhaps you limit yourself to only imagining what it would take to achieve 2x growth - tweak this, tweak that. You can't tweak your way to 10x growth - some more fundamental changes will be required. These are often points at which a promising venture seeks additional funding (Series A, B, C, etc...).
Posted on August 16, 2018 @ 07:38:00 AM by Paul Meagher
One aspect of driving that I do not like is switching between low beam and high beam light. As a vehicle approaches I can't remember what state my beams were in and the indicator is obscured by the top of my steering wheel. I have to quickly duck my head down to see what the indicator says and then adjust the light beam intensity or not. I don't like taking my eyes off the road when vehicles are close so this is a significant safety issue as well.
Companies developing driverless cars must have figured this out by now? I would love to have a vehicle where I could activate automatic
control of light beam intensity. I suspect that this is already out there somewhere now but I don't research new vehicle technology enough
to know. I did some googling and came across a recent research paper Intelligent Automatic High Beam Light Controller (2018) that proposes a simple, low cost solution:
In order to make the driving at night time a safe experience and more friendly to the other drivers on the road an automatic high beam light controller is needed. This paper presents, a simple, low cost and easy to install, design for an intelligent automatic on/off high beam light controller. The proposed design was implemented using the required hardware and components. The experimental results show that the controller provides the driver with the required automatic control; by turning on and off the high beam light when facing other drivers. Moreover, the system will turn off the high beam light if there is enough lighting on the surrounding environment such as when driving inside cities.
This automatic high beam light controller example illustrates the point that I would like to make about the future of driverless cars. Instead of
expecting driverless cars to arrive on the scene some year in the future in all the new car models, I would suggest that the companies developing
driverless car technology are going to need to figure out how to modularize the different technologies involved (such as automatic high beam light control) and to gradually incorporate these modules into new car models. In other words, there will be a gradual transition to
driverless cars with new car models offering one or more modules that assume control of some aspect of driving such as high beam control.
Another feature might be to automatically stay between the median line and side of the road. It might not be available under low light conditions unless you have the high beam control module.
We often take for granted all the abilities that are required in performing a complex act like driving. The car industry might eventually agree
upon what the list of component abilities are and strive to make their component modules interchangable or reusable across car platforms.
In my opinion, what is interesting about companies developing driverless car technology may not be so much the end game - the fully automated driveless car. Rather, it is the component technologies they are developing and how those component technologies will be gradually released in new car models. I would argue that the roadmap of driverless car technology is to develop modules that automate different aspects of driving, not to fully automate driving in some high tech car of the future.
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