It’s been way too long since I’ve published a post, so I thought it would be good to give a bit of an update. I’ve been busy with all sorts of business projects and one big life event, which I’ll mention at the end of this post.
After really slowing down my schedule, almost to a complete stop in 2018 and 2019, I’ve been steadily building back into somewhat of a normal work routine. Perhaps I should say new normal, as it doesn’t look anything like a typical job schedule. I suppose I am still finding my way (and loving the discovery process) toward what a sustainable and enjoyable work routine will be.
I discovered that I did miss being part of a software engineering team and also missed working directly with folks who are building unique and special companies. So you’ll see my recent activity has drawn me back to some familiar territory, but with a new structure and schedule.
New Software Company: 3Together
The software company a few friends and I started last June has entered a new gear. We’ve expanded our team to include two senior software engineers and a senior product support leader.
As our first product came together, we knew it was time to pick up a bit of speed and round out the product features to ready it for beta testing over the summer of 2021. We also felt it wise to bring on someone to lead the product support and feedback from our early adopters so we could rapidly iterate through issues and new features.
Our first product is called SwellChat, and it’s what we believe to be the world’s first telebenefits offering. Think telemedicine, but for the HR and employee benefits industries. A way to have a private, personal conversation between an employee and an HR/benefits expert, or for a broker at an agency to help employees understand and make the most of their valuable employer-provided benefits—all with HIPAA and the employee benefits professional in mind.
We’re now testing the first edition of SwellChat. You can learn more and join our Founders Club here. If you join the Founders Club, you’ll receive two free years of SwellChat and be able to help shape the product through your input. You will also get access to a private SwellChat user group on LinkedIn where you can connect with and learn from other early users of the product.
Our Family Farm
After I stepped away from my role as a busy CEO of a growing public software company, my wife and I decided it would be fun to own a farm. I suppose all those years of being in conference rooms and working on digital products created a vacuum devoid of the outdoors, nature, living and physical things. So we purchased a 275-acre farm and set about bringing it back to life.
Over the last several months we’ve continued to improve the infrastructure. We’ve added new roads, improved several fields and made them ready for grass, completed some renovations, and marketed our two businesses that grew out of the farm.
When we purchased the farm, our intent was to convert it into a regenerative farm, which means the farming practices we employ actually help to regenerate the soil. We consider ourselves soil farmers. Everything we do is meant to improve the biodiversity in the soil layer and stimulate the natural growth of healthy grasses.
Along the way we learned that people really love visiting our farm, hosting family get-togethers, business events, and—with the completion of our renovated farmhouse—professional chef dinners and cooking classes.
We’ve created two distinct businesses that both operate on the farm: 1) growing healthy, local, spray-free and antibiotic-free food, and 2) hosting family events, weddings, large and small chef events.
Salty Oak Farm
Salty Oak Farm is the name of the farm as a whole and our venue space. When we were restoring the property, one of the central themes that kept surfacing was that this is a place of community.
We soft-launched Salty Oak in the fall of 2020 as we were putting the final touches on the farmhouse and property. We immediately had a great reception to our farm dinner series. We have a ticketed dinner each month with either a chef in the community, a restaurant partner, or in some cases food right out of our fields prepared by our head farmer, Alex Russell, and his wife Natalie. We’ve had oyster roasts, chicken fries, gullah cuisine—you name it. It’s a joy to have the local community come together and break bread under the stars on a working farm!
Fast forward to March of this year and we were in full production with all of the renovations now complete. In April we hosted a beautiful open house for event planners in partnership with A Charleston Bride, which had just helped plan my oldest daughter’s wedding. We had a great turnout and have been booked solid since! It has been a lot of fun to share what we have been building for the last few years.
A long time family friend of ours, Stephanie Czerwinski, has come onboard with Salty Oak as our Venue Manager and takes so much pride sharing the property with others. It is a pleasure to host all types of gatherings and to watch the property become a place of real community. Things like cooking classes, small dinners, larger dinners, company retreats, weddings big and small, family reunions, even my wife’s birthday party! Salty Oak Farm is now a place where people are making lasting memories, and we feel extremely privileged to be a small part of those life events.
Around the same time Salty Oak was coming to life, we were also in the process of launching the food production side of the farm, Chucktown Acres, with our partners Alex and Natalie Russell. Chucktown Acres produces high quality regeneratively farmed meat, eggs, and produce. We offer everything from beef, chicken, pork, eggs, kale, lamb, strawberries—the list goes on and on.
One of our original intentions for the farm was to produce clean and healthy food for our local community, without using sprays, pesticides, and practices that damage both the product and the soil. We were fortunate enough to meet Alex and Natalie right as they were completing a five-year apprenticeship at Polyface Farms in Virginia where they had learned these regenerative farming techniques.
Chucktown Acres is off to a great success, with a loyal and growing customer base who appreciate the care that is going into their food. If you live in the Charleston area, you can order products online and have them delivered to your home, or stop by the farm anytime. We also showcase our products at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market in the spring and summer months as well as the McClellanville Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon year round.
It has been thrilling to learn how we can both eat healthier and heal the earth at the same time using regenerative farming. The kids love interacting with all of the animals, and it has been fun learning something completely different than software.
Two Tech Investments
AmplifiedAg, our indoor farming business, is experiencing incredible growth. I’ve been an investor since near the start of the company and serve on the board. As we grow, we are both raising additional capital and expanding our team, including on the leadership team.
Serving on the board has allowed me to watch the growth unfold from a different vantage point than when I was a member of a management team. One thing I noticed earlier this year was an opportunity to expand and update our compensation programs. I volunteered to create and chair a new board committee on comp and recruiting. We’ve been able to do a review of the current stock option plan and make timely updates to the stock based compensation programs and administration.
Our compensation committee has also been able to help the management team create a new framework for incentive programs and tie them to a set of quarterly and annual objectives, which has helped focus the company’s efforts during this critical time of growth.
Tip: I encourage you to join a board. Serving on a board provides you a unique perspective on a company or nonprofit organization. Not sure where to start? Contact a few local nonprofit organizations that you respect and offer to serve.
A friend and I both invested in QuickSortRx earlier this year. We also joined the board of directors. It has been a very enriching experience for me personally, as it has allowed me to use my 20 years of SaaS experience in very tangible and practical ways.
One such recent effort was helping the co-founders design a sales team and a sales compensation program, as well as recruit and hire our first sales person.
We are now ramping up our outbound sales activity, formalizing our presentations and demos, and creating a series of small content pieces that can be run on a rotating basis to generate more product demo opportunities.
One of the reasons I invested in QuickSortRx was because the company was already profitable and I knew that my investment would immediately be used for healthy growth initiatives. The other reason I invested was I felt my experience mapped well to the type of products and type of enterprise customers that the company already had. It has been very rewarding—and a lot of fun—to work with the team and watch the early fruit of our combined efforts.
If you are considering investing in an early stage company, quitting your job to join an early stage company, or joining a board of a company or nonprofit, my encouragement would be to look for a nice overlapping map of your experience, talent, interest, and the needs of the organization. When you align well with the needs, you will get an emotional boost from providing value that will likely grow your interest and passion, which in turn should become a flywheel of added value for everyone.
Move to the Mountains
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, my family and I were getting a little restless and wanted to get out and explore the country and be in nature. When things seemed a bit safer and travel began to open up, we booked a house just outside of Yellowstone for a few days. We also had some friends generously lend us their home in Telluride, CO.
We came away from those two experiences with a desire to be in the mountainous West more and explore Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and Idaho.
I spent a lot of time on Zillow and Youtube and found Steamboat Springs, Co. We visited a few times and fell in love with the town and the mountains. Steamboat is a ranching community with a rodeo right downtown. It is also a ski town with an incredible ski mountain and ski scene. Together, the ranching and ski vibes create a unique western experience and lifestyle.
We found a home and a ranch, purchased it, and moved west in June. It has been an incredible summer of riding horses, hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, going to the rodeo, and hosting many friends and family.
Our three youngest kids started school at the local school in August. They’ve made friends and love the school so much that on Friday nights they get upset that they can’t go to school on Saturday! (Who’s kids are these?)
Up Next, Back to My Blog and Podcast…
Well, that should give you a sense of what I’ve been doing over the recent months. Each one of these updates leads me to want to write more about each experience. I plan to get back to a routine of writing on the blog, so please do check back.
We are also working on season two of my podcast. We’re going to do 10 episodes on sales and marketing strategies to take your SaaS business from $7,500 to $100m in revenue and an IPO. (My first customer check was from a Ford dealership in Greenville, SC, for $7,500). We’ll share experiences, and I’ll interview folks who helped us get that first check and others who were there all the way through an IPO and $100m in revenue.
If you’ve worked with me in sales or marketing over the years and would like to help us build season two by sharing a story, please let me know via LinkedIn. Thanks!