Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Reinvention

It's been more than a year since the last loaf of bread left The Lancaster Food Company bakery. The half life of grief might be about six months, but the final final move-out wasn't until February of this year; the main was November 30th of last year. So I'm crossing a threshold about now, looking forward more, but still examining what went wrong, what went right.

It's a lot less painful when I remember three things: we did a lot of good for some people, I did everything I could, as did my partner, and people weren't buying enough what we were selling fast enough.

The regrets pop up now and again, but less frequently, and I'm learning to just welcome them in, serve them tea, then send them on their ways. One regret is foundational: we didn't ask ourselves what the best possible product line would be. I did question bread because of the reliance on plastic, but that's not the right business model question, but this is:
If we're going to make food so we can hire people and build a sustainable company, what is the optimal choice given shelf life, the time it takes to produce a batch, and cost of distribution?
The rest is standard--competition, branding, sourcing, etc.

The shelf life of our bread was 10-14 days, depending. Each batch took about 6.5 hours to complete. And with bread you have to take unsold product, then try to monetize it to recover losses. It's a very, very tough business. As much as we loved the products, and miss them, not enough people were buying them frequently enough.

A better choice would have been a product with a shelf life of, say, 6 months, that took an hour or two to make. Product expiration risk goes way down, distribution opportunities go way up, distribution costs go down, and it takes less labor per batch. That's one reason we added cookies--longer shelf life, shorter production time.

Alas, it's over, and after another six months I might have enough clarity to document the lessons learned, but for now I'm looking forward.



Which leads me to "reinvention." I don't think reinvention is the right term; a person commits themselves to a path, accumulates knowledge, skills, bruises, and insights along the way, and then applies that and their core spirit and personality to a new path. And maybe they learn new skills that ultimately illuminate that path, but they're still the same person with the same combination of vision, skills judgment, ethics, and drive, with perhaps more insight.

Me? I've been a songwriter and musician and still am. A sound engineer, a recording engineer, a gaffer. A dishwasher, waiter, paperboy, junk food retailer (in school), line cook, food deliverer, panel assembler (for 31 minutes), proofreader, computer designer, computer builder, computer deliverer, computer installer, networking technician, programmer, software designer, software salesman, software CTO, CEO, VP of Applications, marketer, project manager, bread delivery specialist, brand ambassador, taste tester, business developer, communications manager, garden manager, elected official, fundraiser, venture capital wrangler, Board member, volunteer, and likely many things in between.

I've done some of these very well, some poorly; some I've hated, and some I loved.

And now I'm working on what's next, more than a year later, starting from scratch with an empty bank account, but full of energy and ideas and moving ideas to plans, thinking about my future, my values, my people, what I care about and don't, and the situations and steady state I'd prefer in my life.

Wouldn't it be nice for someone to recognize your value and just reach out and find a place for you that works for everyone? From what I've heard from colleagues who've been through this, it just doesn't work that way. You sometimes get lucky, but typically serial entrepreneurs are that way partly out of necessity, especially when you've had a failure. Nobody wants you.

So you pick up your pieces, find bits of duct tape and glue to get yourself back together, dust yourself off, and get back to work. You hustle. It's taken me a while to get past the depression that comes with the grief, and now I'm cranking pretty hard on all fronts, but yeah--it's been a grind.

I'm applying for jobs, but rarely get an interview, so I'm starting a consulting business while I develop a side project that has serious potential, though it's not a serious contribution to the world. Maybe it'll bring a bit of happiness somewhere, but it's not a world-changing product or company.

I have a running list of what I'd like to work on next, and next to that a list of principles I'd like to live by, and so far nothing on the first list lives up to those principles. It doesn't mean I won't do them--I need to make a living. But I haven't landed on the one thing that will get me up in the morning with energy, drive, vision, and a sense of mission. Not yet, anyway.

That said, I'm looking for someone who can help me develop a circuit board. Ping me if you know of anyone (preferably in Grand Rapids or Lancaster). I'm digging in again, and it's always more fun to work with an expert than to try to become one. 

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