Entrepreneur Report – Bob Greiner, HMC Farms

HMC Farms is a largely family owned and operated fruit farm in Central California. Bob is an owner in the company, however a non-family member in the HMC line. HMC was started in 1887 and has survived many changes and difficult times in the farming industry. This post is less about HMC directly, and more about Bob’s experiences as an entrepreneur.

Bob is one of three siblings, each of which are entrepreneurs or have tried their hand at creating a business. When asked about this, Bob recalled a conversation between himself, his older brother, and their father: “We were underachievers; lazy, undisciplined. One day Dad sat us down and asked us what we wanted to do with our lives.” We didn’t have any real answers, and eventually one of us asked him what he, an electrical engineer, would do if he had to do it over. “He said he would either be a dentist or a CPA.” Lo and behold, several years later Bob became a CPA, going on to earn his MBA from UW while his brother became a dentist. Bob’s path to entrepreneurship was a little different than many. “A lot of it just happened. It wasn’t really intentional – I started off at a CPA firm, and even worked for Boeing for a time, but when I got the chance to be an owner in a business I jumped at it. I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker – an entrepreneur needs to be, and needs to be forward thinking. You can’t be consumed with the right now and you need to be willing to endure some things for the future benefit. When I was much younger, I was a crab fisherman. We were paid on how many crab we caught, not on the number of hours we worked, so there was always that thrill of ‘did we let our pots down in the right spot, did the crab come?’ Part of entrepreneurship is the thrill of the hunt, like crab fishing.” Similar to the mystery of whether you have successful pots, have the decisions you made helped company come together or not.

“Entrepreneurship is a lot of hard work – nothing is as easy as it seems in the dream phase. There are some down times, some scary times.” Bob recalls a specific time when he questioned whether he had made the right career choice. In the late nineties, our business was much different. We were more of a marketing company – we had fruit of our own, but also a lot of fruit wasn’t ours but we did the packaging, etc. “The boxes for the grapes had big wooden ends, they were rigid, costly, bad for the environment. We did a bunch of research, tests, and designed new corrugated boxes to use. We developed the specifications, ordered the boxes – we said ‘we are going to take everyone to these new boxes, save all our farms a ton of money.’ Then a couple months into storage the boxes started collapsing. Fruit was molding, the gasses weren’t escaping…it was a complete DISASTER.” It turned out the box manufacturer hadn’t built the boxes to specifications and after a year of legal pursuit, Bob’s company won out. However, the prolonged legal proceedings took our attention away from running the company so long that “we thought we were going to lose it all. We were dancing along the edge of the cliff, but we were able to put together some deals to save the company. I would have much preferred to have been doing anything else other than that…that was scary.”

Being an entrepreneur has also been very rewarding. One of the best things has been “seeing the business come together and be successful…that taking those lumps early on has paid off. The company persevered through those hard times.” If my son or daughter wanted to go it on their own, “I would say Great! I would counsel them to be better planners…do your homework and be knowledgeable about what you’re doing. Align yourself with good people.”

Bob’s final words to all of us aspiring entrepreneurs; “Know your business. Align yourself with good people. Be optimistic. Persevere. Realize that nothing is as easy as it seems.”

 

As the Quarter Closes

As the quarter comes to a close, so comes a time to reflect on what I’ve learned in class. During each class session, we had the opportunity to hear from amazing, passionate, and insightful entrepreneurs in the local Seattle community. Brent Stiefel shared his story of founding a record label (artists include The Lumineers and local band Hey Marseilles) and his current startup Votiv. David LeClaire shared his insights about the importance of customer service at his local business Wine World and Spirits (spirits being added only recently after the govt. got out of distributing liquor). And Joanna Lord from SEOmoz came in with high energy, keeping everyone engaged while we learned about SEO and SEM.

It was these awesome speakers, along with blog assignments about various startups, that I learned my top lesson about entrepreneurship:

Ideas and businesses fail, but the entrepreneur goes on.

Almost every guest speaker had been a part of a failed startup or business, yet there they were working on the next (potentially) big thing. This was consistent with the startups that I researched and wrote about – just about every single founder/co-founder has worked at more than one startup, and just about each one has been part of a failed business. Some may see this as discouraging, but I find it to be something inspiring, and representative of the entrepreneurial community – it takes tenacity, dedication, and a strong belief in yourself, your partners, and your business to succeed.

This is my one big takeaway from this quarter. Failure of a business idea is an opportunity to learn, and it isn’t THE END. According to this Forbes article, the odds are against you! It states that a quarter of all startups fail within the first year, and by year five, 55% have failed. The odds may not be in your favor, but you can’t be an entrepreneur if you don’t believe you’re part of the 45% who will make it and succeed.