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Unpaid Work [Entrepreneurship
Posted on November 29, 2023 @ 10:58:00 AM by Paul Meagher

  1. Unpaid work is a foundation of value for startups.
  2. Unpaid work is one of the most frustrating aspects of starting a new business as there is no guarantee that the work will ever be compensated.

Startups seek funding to create more value in their startup. At some point it certainly makes sense to seek an investor or funding so that you can conduct your business with more resources and volume. Your chances of funding are increased if you have put in an appropriate amount of prior unpaid work, aka sweat equity, to create value in your startup. The unpaid work allows the entrepreneur to cite significant milestones they have achieved on route to the vision they are seeking funding for.

I have been making wine at our farm for a mini-winery business for the last 5 years without earning any income from my efforts. Maybe this is a case of persistence being a bad strategy, or I could look at it as me creating startup value through unpaid work. Certainly I have days in which I wonder why I am doing all this work “for nothing”. I recently bottled some 2020 Blueberry Wine and did some taste testing. The results gives me hope that the work is not in vain. The next stage in my unpaid winemaking work involves submitting paperwork to regulators, getting a building inspection of my barn, getting food insurance, creating labels for the wine, and many other hoops. Hopefully, by next summer I will have my first paying customer and start to reap some reward for this unpaid work. My short term goal is to have income from the winemaking business start to pay for the costs and for further development.


Creating a Floor Plan [Real Estate
Posted on June 29, 2023 @ 08:14:00 AM by Paul Meagher

We are hosting two weddings in our barn this year. So far we have hosted one wedding in the barn so we don't have alot of experience or client resources. The bride from our upcoming wedding asked whether we had a "floor plan" as they wanted to do some venue planning. As it happens, we don't have a floor plan but I said I could make one. I just sent her a floor plan I created this morning which she was ok with. I thought I would blog on some of the issue I ran into in coming up with a floor plan.

The first step in creating a floor plan was to take some measurements so I could create a spatially correct representation of the wedding event space. The wedding area does not consist of the whole barn so I didn't take measurements of the whole barn area, just the areas where the wedding would be taking place; what I refer to above as the "wedding event space". Also, there are three levels to the barn, so I only took measurements for the first level so far. It is a smaller wedding so the second and third levels will likely not be used.

The first measurements I made were the inside perimeter measurements. I deemed it necessary to indicate where all the doors were on the perimeter but not where all the windows were. These can be added in the future if needed. After getting the measurements for the main doors and perimeter I took some measurements for the distance and size of the stairs leading to the second level as this takes up quite a bit of space on the first level. I decided not to be too concerned about being completely accurate in my measurements and often rounded to the nearest foot or half foot.

Once I had some measurements, I had to figure out how to diagram the floor plan. I looked into some software but decided that route might take too long so I resorted to using graph paper. Standing at the front sliding door of the barn, I knew the width measurement of the event space (53.5 feet) was greater than the depth measurement (41 feet) so I knew the graph paper would be oriented in landscape mode for the floor plan. There were 40 squares on the longest side of the graph paper so I divided 40 by the length of the longest side of the event space (53.5 feet) and got the conversion factor I would apply (40/53.5) = 0.784 to all my foot measurements to get the number of grid squares it corresponded to. I then multiplied the longest depth measurement (41 feet) by the conversion factor (0.784) = 32.144 which I rounded to 32 squares. Luckily I had just enough squares running in the vertical orientation to accommodate the conversion factor so it worked out well; otherwise, I would have to estimate a smaller conversion factor that might work. Coming up with a good conversion factor between your measurement unit (feet or meters) and the corresponding size of a grid unit is critical. In my case 1 foot equaled .784 of a grid unit which is close to .75 or 3/4 of a grid unit.

Once you have your conversion factor you can draw the perimeter of your floor plan in a roughly accurate manner by converting each length measurement into the number of grid units (and partial grid units) it corresponds to. A roughly accurate floor plan was good enough for what I wanted the floor plan for but if I needed it to be more accurate I could record my length measurements more accurately (to the nearest 1/2 inch say) and graph the converted numbers more accurately (1 foot = .784 of a grid unit rather than .75 of a grid unit).

A floor plan can be developed iteratively. I took enough initial measurements to get the overall shape of the event space and the location of some main doors and the stairs. I plotted the points where these measurements began and ended and then used a ruler to draw lines through the points. I realized that I was missing measurements for a number of non-primary door locations and went back to the barn to get the measurements of where they were located and how wide they were. I also needed some more measurements to precisely locate the stairs on the floor plan.

Below are the two documents I started with. The top document is a basic outline of the event space based on the first set of measurements I took which are recorded in the second document. I eventually added more doors and the stairs to the top document and added more measurements to the bottom documents to properly graph them. Don't be surprised if you find the process of floor planning to be an iterative process of updating your floor plan and the document containing the measurements that it is based on.

floor planning documents

The next issue I ran into was how detailed you want your floor plan to be. Should all the doors be labelled with meaningful names or just letters? Should stairs and the head table area be labelled as such? Should the main entrance and exit points be labelled as such? This is when I decided I wanted to create a bare bones "base floor plan" that did not include any labeling and only include the most necessary aspects of the floor plan. I could always begin with this floor plan and add details to it in various ways for different purposes. What I did was I put my base floor plan in my printer and clicked the copy button. I then took the copy and marked it up with labels. It looked sloppy on the first copy so I made another copy and added labels again. That copy was a bit better but had some issues so I made another copy and added labels which was good enough that I took a photo and sent it to the client who was happy with the floor plan diagram. I also sent along a photo of what an actual wedding setup looked like in the barn so the floor plan was paired with some photographic imagery.

I realize there are good software solutions for the problem I was trying to solve and eventually I may digitalize my floor plan in software that will take my measurement info and create a perfect floor plan representation from it. If you find yourself in a situation similar to mine where you want to create a quick low tech solution then some of my suggestions above might be helpful in your efforts. The main suggestions are: measure the perimeter and main features first, decide the level of accuracy you require, if using graph paper figure out the conversion factor from your measurement unit (e.g., feet or meters) to a grid unit, graph your measurements, create a base floor plan without labels, make a copy of the base floor plan and apply labels and other details to that version of your floor plan to achieve a final result.

Low tech floor planning is a useful skill to have and can make you look more professional in your interactions with clients and regulators. If you are doing a renovation, you might want to follow this approach to creating a floor plan of your renovation. We eventually intend to use the event space for selling wine and will need to send a floor plan to regulators detailing how we are strictly separating retail and hospitality areas from manufacturing areas of the barn. Having a simplified base floor plan without any labels is useful for creating floor plans that identify different features that are important to a particular clients interests in that space. Often these details can be added as "overlays" on top of the base floor plan. If you have a printer/scanner, you can achieve a similar result by printing out your base floor plan and marking it up with labels and other features for a final result.

Photo from first wedding we hosted in our barn


Bookkeeping Improvements [Finance
Posted on May 3, 2023 @ 08:11:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In the last few years, my year end book keeping efforts for our farming venture resulted in a group of text files with each text file dedicated to different expense categories. I also had a text file for income and one for the calculation of taxes collected and paid out. The files were all neat and organized and ready for auditing if it ever came to that. I was audited once and no major issues were found (they generally do have to find something to justify their time). The audit was triggered by a larger than normal tax refund I claimed because I purchased some farm land to add to our farm property and was able to claim most of the sales tax back as we weren't generating much farm income at the time and where I live farm income from hay sales does not require collection of sales tax which was our major source of farm income at the time of the audit.

This year as part of my yearly effort to improve my bookkeeping system I decided to develop a web application called Expense Tracker that would allow me to input and review my expenses online. I developed 4 objects to implement the relevant functionality: ExpenseCategories, Expenses, ExpenseReport, and ExpenseReadWrite (for importing expenses in text file format and viewing them prior to committing them to the bookkeeping database). I refined the Expense Tracker code base in the context of inputing expenses and discovering issues as I went and fixing them. The resulting web application is not something I would release to the general public but it is good enough that I was able to input this years farm expenses into my Expense Tracker and I was able to view a report of my categorized expenses with total cost and total sales tax calculated as well as costs and sales taxes paid out over all categories of expense. I was able to enter category costs directly into my income tax forms.

When I was entering expenses, one feature that became handy this year was an optional "Note" feature for expenses. There are some expenses like Machinery Fuel, Truck Fuel, Electricity, and Internet for example that generate quite a few invoices during the year. Rather then entering each one individually, I found it easier to enter the total cost and total sales tax paid over the year as one expense claim entry. The date of that expense was the billing date of the last invoice for the year. In the "Note" box for that expense I entered a breakdown of all the expenses that I had accumulated into text file and totaled up. This saved me from having to enter all my expenses individually. If I had the time I could have developed some code to import the text file as individual expense entries but the "Note" feature was a big time saver this year and allowed me to complete my taxes without further pressure before the deadline.

If you tell people you created your own bookkeeping software they are likely to inform you of an app or some other software like Excel they use to track their expenses. There are lots of options out there. My experience, however, is that given my background as a web developer it was not that difficult to develop personal expense tracking software so why not develop something that meets my particular expectations? What would make it more difficult is if I was making a commercial product and had to spend alot of time refining the product for different devices, making it secure and making it look nicer.

What are some improvements to my bookkeeping software that I would like to make?

  1. The "business use of home" and "business use of vehicle" categories of expense can be tricky because you are not claiming the full amount of the entered expenses. Because I had to meet a deadline to file my taxes of May 1st, my expense tracker didn't address this issue and I made manual adjustments to correct for this.
  2. When you purchase more expensive items, you can't claim the full cost in the year of purchase but only some percentage depreciation for that year. I do not currently handle depreciated costs and I made manual adjustments to correct for this.
  3. I don't have an income tracker. The income tracker would allow me to enter income by income category and generate a report of the income coming in from different farm ventures: Concerts, Weddings, Camping, Hay Sales, AirBnB, Bike Rentals, and eventually Wine Sales. Concerts may need to be broken down more into Ticket Sales, Merchandise Sales and Food Sales as we like to separately track these categories of income and expenses.
  4. If I have an Expense Tracker and an Income Tracker, theoretically I should be able to create a farm dashboard that reports what my year-to-date totals are for: Total Revenue, Total Expenses, Sales Tax Collected, Sales Tax Paid Out, Profit.

After many years of making a conscious effort to improve my bookkeeping systems, I'm starting to feel a sense of mastery and that next year will not be a long drawn out process to get my books ready for income and sales tax reporting. We have started entering our expenses so far this year into the Expense Tracker and will hopefully be entering expenses on an ongoing basis rather than throwing receipts in a folder because we are too busy to keep track of expenses and waiting until year end to sort it all out.


New Business Statistics [Entrepreneurship
Posted on April 20, 2023 @ 03:57:00 PM by Paul Meagher

You might have heard that the rate of failure for startups is high. If you google "startup failure rate", you will be immediately confronted with the statistic that 90% of startups fail. There are lots of sites that parrot this number.

Jason Feifer, who is the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, disputes this claim in his 2022 book Building for Tomorrow:

Don't believe any of that. The statistic is wrong - by the numbers and more important by the definition of fail...

First, the facts: About half of businesses survive their first four years according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Does that mean the other half failed? No. At the time that they closed, about a third of those businesses were successful. "It appears that many owners may have executed a planned exit strategy, closed a business without excess debt, sold a viable business, or retired from the work force," the study says. In other words: Just because a business ends, that doesn't mean it ends badly....

Even if the stat were true [i.e., Nine out of ten new businesses fail ], we would need to define the word fail. If a business truly does fail - if it ran out of money, laid off its staff, and totally crashed and burned - is that a failure? Maybe .. but maybe not! Great businesses have been built out of the lessons from failed ones. YouTube began as a failed dating site; Twitter began as a failed podcast platform called Odeo; Instagram began as a failed app to help plan meetups called Burbn.

This is not just true for companies. The most successful people in the world have told me that they attribute their successes to their failures. pp. 134-137

If you research some of the sites that report that 9 out of 10 startups fail you will notice that they often use a restrictive definition of what constitutes a startup. They often restrict the word startup to refer only to companies doing innovative work in some high tech space that are funded by private capital. If the people reporting the statistic want to restrict the use of the word startup to these types of businesses then they are arguably misleading the general public when claiming 9 out of 10 startups fail. I suspect most people believe that those who open salons, restaurants, retail stores and other types of businesses are startups also and assume the failure rate applies to them also.

Whenever anybody quotes a statistic on how common startup failure is, they should make an effort to be clear about what they mean by a startup and what source they are relying upon to make their failure rate claim. Depending on the definition of what a startup is, who the source of the statistic is, over what time horizon, and how they define what failure consists of, you could be looking at a huge range of possible statistics for what the "startup failure" rate is. Talking in general terms about the rate of "startup failure" is not likely to be that useful.

Is starting a business a risky proposition? Yes, but probably not as risky as most people have been lead to be believe and the reasons for closing down a business may not be as dire as we imagine.


Bookkeeping with ChatGPT [Trends
Posted on March 31, 2023 @ 10:12:00 PM by Paul Meagher

I am currently working on book keeping for our farm business so me and my wife can file our 2022 income tax. The farm generates a large number of expenses for the different enterprises we operate on the farm (e.g., concerts, camping, bike rentals, weddings, airbnb, haymaking, winemaking) so it is non-trivial to do the bookkeeping for all the farm expenses. This year I decided to improve my bookkeeping approach by creating a web application called "Tracker" which will be used to store all farm-related expenses. I want the Tracker program to be able to read and write text files where each line of the text file records an expense. The expenses text file has fixed width fields so that the Tracker program can parse through each line and know what parts of the line are used to record different aspects of the expense (e.g., date, cost, tax, description, category, seller). This will allow me to finesse some banking records, for example, into a structured text file that my tracker program can read and insert into a database. Likewise, the Tracker program can output the contents of the FarmTracker database into a expenses output file with the same format as expenses input file (so that the output file can be modified in a text editor and read back into the database). I want to be able to do my bookkeeping by manipulating text files OR with on online program that will allow me to list, add, edit and delete the same expense records using a web interface.

The reason for wanting to move between both ways of working with expense records is because I have done my farm bookkeeping in the past using text files and found that I can often work with them faster than I can work with data entry forms. My wife, however, is not likely to want to work with text files so I thought creating a web application interface to the farm expense data using a database to also store the expense data might allow us to both work on the books for our farm using our preferred approaches.

You are probably thinking that there are lots of accounting and bookkeeping applications already out there so why re-invent the wheel? I have used online bookkeeping/accounting programs and personally found inputting data to be a bit more cumbersome compared to working with raw text files. I use a powerful text editor, Ultraedit, so I can slice and dice text files with it fairly well and when costs and taxes, for example, occupy fixed positions in each text record, I can easily select those columns of numbers to compute total costs and total taxes for any given category of expense. I think, however, that I can do more by creating a web application interface to these text files that also stores the data in a database that will allow me to do reports on the data more easily than on text files. I expect this to be a program that I continue to develop over time but I do need something that works well enough that I can start working on my bookkeeping with it by next week.

I'm aware that ChatGPT is all the rage these days and thought I would try using it to help me develop my book keeping software. ChatGPT generally doesn't exactly solve the problem I ask it to solve but it gets me in the ball park and with some customization I can get it working in the context of my program. I thought I would share with you a couple of questions I asked ChatGPT and the answers it gave me so that you can see how useful a coding partner ChatGPT can be.

So one question I asked ChatGPT was:

Show me php code that outputs fixed 3 right justified fixed-width fields with the first column being 5 characters, second column being 10 characters, third column being 10 characters.

The answer it gave me was:

$firstColumn = "12345";
$secondColumn = "1234567890";
$thirdColumn = "0987654321";

// Pad the columns to their fixed-widths
$firstColumn = str_pad($firstColumn, 5, " ", STR_PAD_LEFT);
$secondColumn = str_pad($secondColumn, 10, " ", STR_PAD_LEFT);
$thirdColumn = str_pad($thirdColumn, 10, " ", STR_PAD_LEFT);

// Output the columns with fixed widths and right-justified
echo sprintf("%5s%10s%10s", $firstColumn, $secondColumn, $thirdColumn);

This snippet helped set me on a path to figuring out how I might output the database records in a way that matched the format of each expense line in my expenses text file. It isn't a customized solution that I can just pop into my program (variable names are generic, for example) but it refreshes my memory on how to approach fixed width outputting of data into text files.

As I continued working on the software, I wanted to optimize how easy it might be to input an expense record. I'm a bit rusty on my javascript so I asked ChatGPT this question:

Javascript code to populate a cost input field and a tax input field from a price input field

The answer it gave me was:

// Assuming the cost, tax and price input fields have the following IDs:
var costInput = document.getElementById('cost');
var taxInput = document.getElementById('tax');
var priceInput = document.getElementById('price');

// Event listener to calculate and populate cost and tax when the price input field changes:
priceInput.addEventListener('input', calculateAndPopulateCostAndTax);

function calculateAndPopulateCostAndTax() {
  var price = parseFloat(priceInput.value);

  if (isNaN(price)) {
    costInput.value = ''; // clear the cost field if price is not a valid number
    taxInput.value = ''; // clear the tax field if price is not a valid number
  } else {
    var tax = ((price / 1.00) - (price / 1.08)).toFixed(2); // Assuming the tax rate is 8%
    var cost = (price - tax).toFixed(2);
    costInput.value = cost; // set the cost field with the calculated value
    taxInput.value = tax; // set the tax field with the calculated value

As you can see, ChatGPT is a pretty good helper when it comes to developing web applications and I expect to have it open in my browser as I'm coding in the future.

Scott Willison had an interesting blog entitled AI-enhanced development makes me more ambitious with my projects. His examples of ChatGPT supported development are more advanced than mine, but the same conclusions he draws apply:

As an experienced developer, ChatGPT (and GitHub Copilot) save me an enormous amount of “figuring things out” time. For everything from writing a for loop in Bash to remembering how to make a cross-domain CORS request in JavaScript—I don’t need to even look things up any more, I can just prompt it and get the right answer 80% of the time.

This doesn’t just make me more productive: it lowers my bar for when a project is worth investing time in at all.

In the past I’ve had plenty of ideas for projects which I’ve ruled out because they would take a day—or days—of work to get to a point where they’re useful. I have enough other stuff to build already!

But if ChatGPT can drop that down to an hour or less, those projects can suddenly become viable.

Which means I’m building all sorts of weird and interesting little things that previously I wouldn’t have invested the time in.

Likewise, I probably would have been more reluctant to work on my Tracker program if I didn't get some good feedback from ChatGPT about how to approach certain parts of the program that might have taken me more time to figure out. ChatGPT is a game changer for programming and for many other domains as well. ChatGPT is helping me develop some personal bookkeeping software but it might be worth pondering whether ChatGPT can help with aspects of actual bookkeeping as well. I haven't gotten that far but I suspect I could start googling ChatGPT and Accounting/Bookkeeping to find some interesting applications.


The Hairpin Path [Books
Posted on March 28, 2023 @ 01:35:00 PM by Paul Meagher

I designated March my reading month and have just finished my second of 5 books. Looks like I won't finish all 5 books as I had hoped but I am aiming to finish 3 by the end of the month. The second book I finished was Richard Dawkins 2009 book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. The main reason I read this book is because I have read bits and pieces of his work and wanted to dedicate myself to reading a complete book of his. I have 4 other books by him in my library and hope to tackle a couple of his earlier books next - The Blind Watchmaker (1986) and Climbing Mount Improbable (1996) next.

It would be difficult to do a short review of a book that discusses the large range of evidence and arguments in support of the natural selection theory of evolution. Instead what I will do is discuss one interesting idea, the hairpin path, from the book that also illustrates a point about non-fiction reading as well.

The idea that I will discuss is that you can trace an evolutionary path between any two animals, for example, a leopoard and a rabbit. This means that every animal on earth is related to every other animal on earth via a chain of intermediate species that connects these two animals. When I read the book the first time I admit to being a bit confused in trying to imagine what type of animal might be the intermediate animal between any two species you might pick. In my second reading of the first chapter of the book I noticed that he also mentioned the idea that the intermediate species is to be found at the "hairpin bend" that you reach by going back in time for both species until you reach a bend where they meet:

...The point is that for any two animals there has to be a hairpin path linking them, for the simple reason that every species shares an ancenstor with every other species: all we have to do is walk backwards from one species to the shared ancenstor, then turn through a hairpin bend and walk forwards to the other species.

Second, notice that we are talking only about locating a chain of animals that links a modern animal to another modern animal. We are most emphatically not evolving a rabbit into a leopard. I suppose you could say we are de-evolving back to the hairpin, then evolving forwards to the leopard from there. (pp. 25-26).

So on my first reading I had the misunderstanding mentioned in his second point, but when I returned back to the first chapter to re-read some of the book I became more aware of the hairpin relationship that he was advocating and that was more plausible and understandable to me. When I finished the book I made a hairpin turn back to the beginning of the book and the re-reading of the first chapter clarified an important point that I missed on my first reading.

When reading a non-fiction book it is often useful once you finish the book to review the book again from the beginning in order to clarify your understanding in certain areas and to develop an overall map of how the book's argument is structured so that you have some chance of remembering some ideas from it. My inability to get through all 5 books I hoped to get through in the month of march is in part due to not recognizing the need to re-read parts of a book again once I have finished it in order to properly assimilate the book. If the book was not very good or useful, I would perhaps skip this step but when you have read something that provides some insights or a better understanding of the world, it often pays to follow the hairpin path back to the beginning to either read or scan through the book again for ideas you want to remember, to remind yourself of the main arguments of the book and how they are laid out, and if you have the time to reread some chapters to see how much you really assimilated on the first reading. I'm not a big believer in speed reading and as my example shows it is easy to miss critical ideas because you are either tired, distracted or in a rush to finish parts of a book. You are also potentially denying yourself a pleasurable part of reading: when you come back to the same parts of a book again you are doing so with the benefit of having read the book already and that experiences can make for faster assimilation of the material, making more connections as you read, and appreciating finer aspects of the arguments and their overall relationship to the rest of the book.

The hairpin path is important because it is what connects us to all other species on earth and you could spend a lifetime studying the ancestors of all animals to see how different animal species diverged from various hairpins along the way. If you wish to study these paths then Richard Dawkins' book The Ancestors Tale (2nd Edition, 2018) is worth reading. The hairpin path is also interesting because it suggests a method of reading non-fiction books that is counter perhaps to the ideas of speed reading. The hairpin path involves getting to the end of a non-fiction book, perhaps one that you have marked up with lots of stars and footnotes, and then returning back to the beginning and starting again either reading or scanning the contents again to reinforce your understanding and memory of the books contents.


Bio-Inspired Design [Design
Posted on March 22, 2023 @ 11:11:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Yesterday I went for an ATV ride to enjoy the first warm spring day of 2023. Along my local ATV route is a beaver dam that I like to visit. Usually I visit the dam because I enjoy it as a unique landscape to look at, however, this time I started to wonder how the beavers actually constructed the dam - how was it engineered? The thought occurred to me that I might want to build a similar dam structure along a marsh on our farm property. To do that, however, I would have to better understand exactly how the beaver lays down sticks as it builds a dam.

The dam I visited yesterday is probably over 30 years old as it has been around since I started coming to it over 10 years ago and even then much of the dam was overgrown with grass from the rotting of the sticks and accumulation of sediment to form soil. I observed that the dam doesn't fully block the flow of water, instead it allows just the right amount through to keep the water levels where the beaver apparently wants it. I also observed that the downstream side of the beaver dam had sticks and branches running mostly at right angles to the bank like a buttress holding a wall in place. There were only a couple of places along the dam wall where I could observe the sticks and branches because the rest of the bank was covered with soil and grass over what existed below. In a mature dam, the grasses growing along the front of the dam likely prevents the erosion and failure of the dam. It is not clear whether there are any beavers actively managing the dam anymore.

This morning I did some more research online of how beavers engineer their dams. I found a 2016 article by Gerald Muller and James Watling called The engineering in beaver dams that had some of the information I was looking for. Beaver dams are build using wood when it is available in sufficient quantity to build with, otherwise they build using stone. Here is a short summary of how wooden beaver dams are built:

Most beaver dams are built from wooden sticks, with stones at the base. The cross section is triangular, with an average width-to-height ratio of 2.9, Watling (2014). The dams have a shallow upstream, and a steep downstream slope with a sealing layer made of mud and leaves on the upstream side. A gap is usually left in the sealing layer to allow for the water to flow through the dam. (p. 4)

This paper mentions that the University of Oregon constructed artificial beaver dams as a way to manage river flow. An article reporting their work includes an image of their artificial dam:

Notice the use of posts instead of sticks wedged into the stream bed to hold up the dam wall. The use of juniper in their dam is also unusual in my experience as most of the dams I've seen consists of alder, birch and other deciduous trees. One wonders how their analogue dam will hold up in the face of rising waters. Will it perform as well as a beaver's dam? It is useful to see how others might approach constructing an artificial dam.

The wikipedia page on Biomimetics has lots of examples of technologies inspired by studying nature. Often these examples look at some feature of a plant or animal that has some interesting characteristics (e.g., stickiness of a burdock) and applies the principle behind that characteristic to solving a human problem (e.g., tightening your shoe to your foot using velcro straps). The case of the beaver is a bit different because it is not a characteristic of the beaver that we are trying to emulate but the behavioral output of the beaver. We are trying to recreate the intelligence of the beaver to design our own version of a dam.

Beavers are recognized as ecosystem's engineers and keystone species for the effects that their dam building has upon the environment. Their dams, for example, can change a seasonally flowing river into a perennially flowing river. It can provide habitat for a large variety of animals, purify water, affect sedimentation in rivers, and change the level of ground water in the adjacent landscape. In addition to their dam building, they also build a lodge from similar materials to raise their families. They swim into their lodge underwater but the inside of the lodge is above water. This setup provides protection from predators and creates a warm and dry environment to raise their family even in severe cold. The beaver is a very smart and industrious rodent.

I decided to discuss my bio-inspiration in this blog because I mostly visit nature to get some exercise, improve my mood or enjoy the vistas. I am not often overtaken with the desire to understand the principle behind some natural design to solve my own problem.

On a final note, the beaver pelt has been the source of bio-inspired design for wetsuits. Maybe if I was a surfer I would have been bio-inspired to see that application. Bio-inspiration may be more likely to arise if you have a problem you want to solve and look to nature for possible solutions rather than expecting nature to jump out at you with a solution to some problem.


St Paddy's Day Tune [Events
Posted on March 17, 2023 @ 10:28:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Getting ready to celebrate St. Paddy's Day. Listening to a band, The Villages, that we went to see last weekend. They have a nice Celtic sound that seems appropriate for today. Hope you have a happy St. Paddy's day!


mRNA as a Drug [Books
Posted on March 10, 2023 @ 08:47:00 AM by Paul Meagher

As mentioned in my previous blog, I am trying to spend more time reading in March by focusing on 5 books to read. One of the books I have finished reading is a 2022 book by David Heath called Longshot: The Inside Story of the Race of a COVID-19 Vaccine. The reason why I selected this book is because I had only a vague understanding of how the mRNA vaccine came to be. This book definitely helps to fill that gap in understanding. In this blog I want to discuss the first part of this book which discusses the history of vaccine development and some of the fundamental discoveries that lead to our ability to use mRNA as a drug. The second part of the book discusses the formation of the company Moderna which was the first unicorn company devoted to deploying mRNA as a drug. The final part of the book discusses what researchers learned about vaccine development from recent major viral outbreaks (AIDS, RSV, MERS, ZIKA) and why people thought using mRNA technology as the basis for a COVID vaccine was a good idea.

The idea that you could view mRNA as a drug was popularized in a Ted Talk by Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel (published Dec 27, 2013) which I have incorporated below. Viewing mRNA as a drug is a succinct and memorable way of expressing why mRNA is potentially valuable. Before we get to that, however, I want to discuss the two fundamental discoveries that were made on route to our ability to use mRNA as a drug.

To use mRNA as a drug you needed to solve two basic problems:

First you need to find a way to avoid an immune response to injections of mRNA. Katalin Karikó and Drew Wiseman were pioneers in resolving this issue. Katalin's specialty was understanding how to practically work with and think about mRNA (see researched the molecule for most of her academic career). Wiseman's specialty was immunology so his lab could conduct the studies on how the immune system responded to mRNA injections. They observed that some injections of mRNA cause inflammation, but others don't. On that bases, Katalin Karikó looked for what the solution might be for injecting mRNA in a way that reliably avoids an inflammatory immune response. Katalin "began to realize that the nucleoside uridine was critical to causing inflammation. So she looked for ways to modify it" (p 66). Based on a suggestion by a Hungarian scientist, she replaced uridine with pseudouridine and that form of mRNA reliably avoided an inflammatory immune response. Kariolo and Weismann published this result in a paper on August 23, 2005 called Suppression of RNA Recognition by Toll-like Receptors: The impact of Nucleoside Modification and the Evolutionary Origin of RNA which caused no buzz at the time but is now recognized as a seminal contribution to the development of mRNA therapeutics.

The second problem you needed to solve if you want to use mRNA as a drug is to demonstrate that injecting mRNA into a cell can produce a desired immunological response. Katalin and Drew published another seminal paper on November 16, 2008 called Incorporation of pseudouridine into mRNA yields superior nonimmunogenic vector with increased translational capacity and biological stability that demonstrated this. Turns out that the pseudourindine substitution they made to mRNA to avoid rejection by the immune system was also important in producing a bigger immune response (higher levels of a particular protein) then when you didn't modify the mRNA. mRNA is the code used in ribosomes to make proteins. Katalin and Drew came up with an mRNA code to make the luciferase protein which causes bioluminance in fireflies. When you injected modified versus unmodified mRNA into a cell, you could use a luminance detector to measure that the modified version of mRNA generated more light than the unmodified version of mRNA which tells you that more luciferase protein was produced using their modified mRNA molecule. The final part of that paper describes the potential value of their research:

These collective findings are important steps in developing the therapeutic potential of mRNA, such as using modified mRNA as an alternative to conventional vaccination and as a means for expressing clinically beneficial proteins in vivo safely and effectively.

Katalin and Weisman were pioneers in mRNA therapeutics and many believe they will eventually receive a Nobel Prize for the work which these two papers discuss. Their influence in the field is by no means over as both are still active and likely to produce more mRNA innovation and products.

The next 2 chapters in the Longshot book feature the rise of Moderna. The name is derived from "modified RNA" or "mod-RNA". Below is a famous Ted Talk delivered by CEO Stéphane Bancel in the early days of the company. Many were inspired to join the company and invest in the company due to this video. This presentation bears some similarity to Stephen Jobs' 2007 IPhone launch in that it made people realize the potential of a new technology, in this case the potential of mRNA technology in medicine. 3 years later, Stephen had raised 1.9 billion dollars and Moderna was valued at 5 billion.


5 Book Reading Challenge [Books
Posted on March 3, 2023 @ 12:23:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Lately I've been wanting to get back into reading nonfiction books (my preferred form of reading material). I enjoy watching Youtube and Netflix but it doesn't leave me with the same sense of satisfaction as completing a good book. Towards that end, I have decided to dedicate more of my time in March to reading. I've got 5 books that I'm currently working on that I am setting the goal of finishing by the end of March. I hope to blog about some of what I am learning from these books. I find social media, youtube, netflix are all taking up more and more of my time so it takes more of an effort of will to try to read full books, to regain some of the reading discipline I used to have. Alot of universities and highschools try to implement a reading week this time of year. I think you need a full month of reading to finish a few books and develop or renew reading habits. For me, that translates to a 5 book reading challenge for March.


Slow Entrepreneurship [Entrepreneurship
Posted on February 17, 2023 @ 07:47:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The concept of slow entrepreneurship can be illustrated by a farmer who plants perennials that take a long time to mature. If you are planting an apple tree orchard, for example, it can take 10 years or more for the orchard to start generating income. During the orchard startup phase, you can do things that will help speed up the growth process (e.g., fertilizing, pruning, irrigation, etc...). You will have ongoing maintenance work to manage vegetation around the trees and perhaps manage for pests and disease as well. When your orchard starts to produce you will have to master a new set of skills. You will need to devise methods to harvest your crop efficiently and store it effectively. You will also need to devise methods for adding value through whatever processing you do with your harvest - grade them and price them based on grade, make hard or soft cider, make apple sauce, make apple pies, etc.... When you start selling, you will need to have systems for tracking sales and inventory. When you start making a profit, you will spend more time evaluating potential capital expenditures because 1) you have revenue to spend and 2) you need to manage your income tax burden to make sure you are spending the right amount each year so that more of your profit goes into growing your business than to the tax collector.

When we talk about startups we often equate them with a high velocity growth trajectory. The example of the apple orchard venture, however, reveals that there are businesses that take a long time to get to the point of profitability. Different skill sets may need to be acquired along the way as the business progresses towards profitability and post profitability.

I planted a few different types of perennials on our farm that take many years to mature so I am engaged in slow entrepreneurship for a few different types of perennials. I also have a few different types of businesses I am trying to start on the farm. Our most successful farm venture to date is our farm concerts which we started hosting 4 years ago. I've been gradually buying and building infrastructure for those concerts and last year was when that business venture made enough money to generate some profit for the farm as a whole.

I have also been slowly developing a bike rental business at our farm. That was admittedly not a well planned out business as it started from a love of biking and a good deal on 6 bikes that were being surplused by a bicycle sales and service company that was done renting them for the year and wanted to get rid of them. I have since been adding to my fleet and last week I purchased three more used bikes with good brand names to add to my rental fleet. I didn't have any kids bikes last year and lost sales to 2 families because the parents also needed bikes for their kids. One of the used bikes I purchased this year was a kids bike and I hope to buy one more before my rental season begins in a few months. My bicycle rental business is an example of slow entrepreneurship for me because it has taken me a few years to understand the needs of my potential customers and to have the range of bikes needed to satisfy demand. I also don't have alot of time or money each year to devote to the bike rental business unless it has the potential to be more profitable than it is now. Each year I try to evolve the bike rental business a bit more and maybe it will take off more this year with an upgraded website, expanded fleet, and better marketing.

Another business venture that I am investing some time and money into is offering camping at our farm. The camping business might be complementary to the bike business if people end up renting a campsite and explore the local area on our bicycles (i.e., ecotourism). I am not relying on this synergy being true but will be promoting it. Last year I was able to rent out campsites on my farm for a weekend to a group of long distance cross country runners (and some of their family members) attending a running event in our community. I have portable toilets I purchased for our farm concerts that I was able to use for these campers. I started using Hipcamp last year to manage camping reservations on our farm during our outdoor festival. Camping for our outdoor festival grew significantly last year and will grow further this year as we increase the attendence limit and more people opt to stay for the night. This year I want to use Hipcamp to offer camping throughout the summer, autumn and fall. For me, that means creating some shower facilities to offer as well. We provided an outdoor sink for campers to use to clean dishes. The drainpipe from the sink got clogged with grease so we will likely need to look into installing a grease trap and improving the drainage field we are using for runoff. We also need to invest more into a second lane that campers can use to enter and exit their campsites. We started adding gravel to make a second lane through our field because it was used as an exit road during our fall concert series and got tore up when the field conditions were soggy. I will be investing in more loads of gravel this year to thicken and extend that road both for our concerts and for campers to use. My goal this year for the camping business is to book campers throughout the summer, autumn, and fall and not just when we are hosting runners and outdoor concert attendees. I'm not looking for rapid growth in camping revenues just a gradual increase in sales over last year.

We also have two weddings scheduled for our barn this year and I'm still feeling out the wedding venue business. I'm still learning about how I might package what we have to offer. Something I learned recently, for example, was that I probably should price the venue in part based on the number of people who will be attending the venue as there is significant difference in a reception with 50 people and one with 200 people attending. Over the last few years, we purchased alot of chairs and table for our indoor concerts that can also be used for weddings. We are now working on acquiring some decorations and setting up a permanent PA system for the barn. The 200+ wedding this summer will be a learning experience and will inform how we eventually price and package our wedding venue for the 2024 season which people will be booking for this year.

We have a wine business that has been taking a very long time to get going for numerous reasons that I won't go into here. Suffice to say that it is another example of slow entrepreneurship although the reasons for being slow in this case involve alot of regulatory hoops that need to be jumped and having everything in place for the application process. For example, getting a license to sell wine requires getting commercial insurance which requires having a fire marshal inspect our heritage barn. Last year the fire marshal quit or was fired so it was not even possible to get an inspection until they replaced the fire marshal. Slow entrepreneurship can be a fact of life when the business is subject to a high level of government regulation.

Our farm venture provides a few examples of slow entrepreneurship. I like engaging in slow entrepreneurship when it is not caused by high levels of government regulation. I like making small improvements to a business venture over time that help to make it increasingly viable and hopefully profitable. Slow entrepreneurship gives me a license to start up multiple ventures at the same time because I'm not investing alot of time in each venture. Slow entrepreneurship adds variety to my life as I don't have to dedicate all of my time and effort to one business venture. Some could accuse me of spreading myself too thin and perhaps my ventures would take off faster if I focused more on one venture. That is probably true, however, I am holding out the hope that the different ventures will, over time, merge into a synergistic agritourism package - a customer comes to camp at our farm, drink some wine, enjoy a concert, go for a bicycle ride, and perhaps enjoy a meal from our outdoor barbecue (we have been investing in outdoor cooking equipment for our food sales at our concerts).

In food culture, there is movement called the Slow Food movement that was meant to contrast with the culture of "Fast Food". Perhaps in entrepreneurship studies we need to explore a similar "Slow Entrepreneurship" movement to encourage an alternative vision of what entrepreneurship might consist of, what its characteristics might be, why some entrepreneurs might want to practice slow entrepreneurship rather than a faster and more dedicated form of entrepreneurship (Fast Entrepreneurship?) that promotes a vision of startups with a rapid growth trajectory. The lean startup concept, for example, seems to put a premium on getting to profitability as quickly as possible.

The role of the investor in a slow versus fast startup might be quite different as well. Investing in a slow startup might be at a stage where alot of entrepreneurial learning has occurred, where alot of infrastructure is in place, and there is now an awareness that an injection of capital (and perhaps new skills) will be needed to get to the next stage of the ventures evolution. That stage might be very profitable and might increase the tempo of the business venture going forward. Slow entrepreneurship can lead to profitable rapidly expanding businesses. Similar to when an apple orchard hits a certain stage of maturity it can start cranking out apples at an exponential rate as maturing trees produce more apples and new trees come into production. Maybe you want to get an investor involved when the trees start producing and you know you need more people, equipment and skills to manage the next stage of that businesses growth. Slow entrepreneurship, however, also offers the option of growing a business slowly over time without any rapid expansion phase.

I wrote this article before googling the term "slow entrepreneurship" as my version of what "slow entrepreneurship" means was inspired by how I am approaching some of my farm business ventures. I encourage you, however, to google "slow entrepreneurship" to explore other ideas on what slow entrepreneurship is and the reasons one might have for engaging in it.


Farm Real Estate [Farming
Posted on November 15, 2022 @ 09:14:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I am working on adding real estate development to our farm enterprises. Specifically, I have 12 acres of vacant land that I purchased in 2018 that has some desirable features that I would like to enhance one step at a time in the next 2 or 3 years. The land is registered under our farm name but is not land that I want to develop for farming per se because it is located too far away from the farm land where our farm house and buildings are located (about 40 minutes drive away). I think it has a better use. The vacant land parcel is at a higher elevation that has a nice view of a lake, has a power line nearby, is semi-cleared land, and has a great mobile signal (4 and 5 bars) considering the remoteness of the area. Currently, the biggest obstacle to developing the area further is lack of road access to the area where the view below is taken from. Creating road access to this view location is what I am trying to do more work on before the winter closes in on me which is coming soon.

I've encountered some developers who survey remote properties into remote lots that are not selling very quickly or at all. Getting land properly surveyed is important if you want to sell land, but it doesn't add alot of value to the parcels to make them more attractive. Some land investors are happy to buy and hold land, put in the minimum amount of work to add a bit of value (i.e, survey it into smaller lots) then sell when they can make some threshold level of profit. The person I purchased the land from mostly just held the land as part of a portfolio of vacant land properties. He held this one for around 8 years and approximately doubled his profit on the resale.

I purchased this property as a 19 acre purchase with 7 acres on one side of the road, and 12 acres on the other side. The more property ids the better when purchasing land. In this case there were 2 property ids. The other 7 acres has wild blueberries growing on them along with a cleared field and some woodland. I don't plan to sell that land as I want to keep it as part of my farm for the blueberry crop that I use to make wine with.

I would like to run power to the area I want to develop but as soon as I do that I may increase the taxes I pay on that land as it may no longer be classified as vacant land. The amount of yearly tax I pay is very small now. Adding electricity would likely increase it by quite a bit by tilting it towards residential rates making a buy and hold strategy less profitable. So you would want to time the addition of an electrical service to minimize land taxes. I can run things off a generator for quite a while before I would need to hook into the grid, although it is nice to know that the grid is there if I want to access it.

When you are developing land as real estate it is important to have a target in mind as to what you might sell that land for in the future as it may dictate the amount of investment you might make. In my case, it would be more like a figure that would motivate me to sell the land because I have difficulty parting with land and once I improve the land it may become even more difficult to do so. I estimate that I paid around $10,000 for the 12 acres. With a minimal investment just to get a road in place and do some landscaping to reveal the potential, I think I could get the resale amount up to $30,000 in 2 or 3 years? If I installed water, septic, power and landscaping then I might be looking at $80,000 to $100,000?

Developing remote land can also be an excuse to spend time in nature and engage in physical work that is productive while also providing exercise. Selectively clearing land with a chainsaw and moving it with an ATV is not a bad way to spend a day. I do alot of work at the farm that can seem like drudgery. The chance to hang out in some wilderness land with the objective of making it desirable for habitation is something I look forward to working on when I can.

Starting with A Nice View


Live Sector Award [Events
Posted on November 10, 2022 @ 07:22:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I attended the Nova Scotia Music Week in Sydney, Nova Scotia last weekend. It consisted of live entertainment from numerous Nova Scotia musicians performing 30 minute sets in 6 different venues from Thursday evening to late Saturday evening. We experienced lot of great musical performances. They give out music awards in different categories on Sunday. A series of events we put on that are branded as Blueberry Jam won the "Live Sector" award for 2022 (award for event + venue). We were up against some larger and more well funded events so we were happy to win the award. The main team behind the events are Adele MacInnis-Meagher (left - wife, venue owner), Rankin MacInnis (center - organizer/promoter/merch/musician), and me, Paul Meagher (right - husband, venue owner).

A couple of noteworthy winners were:

Dee Dee Austin: 16 year old indigenous singer who won 2 awards. This is one of her pop tunes. She also has a powerful song "Buried Truths" about residential schools.

The Town Heroes. The lead guitar player, Mike Ryan, and drummer, Bruce Gillis, who started the band hail from the same regional community as me and my spouse. They won two awards. We had the The Town Heroes perform a couple of times at our concerts. Small detail - the drummer is wearing a "Blueberry Jam" branded tank top in this video.

We hope to have these musicians, and many others, perform at Blueberry Jam 2023. To create a great event does not require that it be massive in size. I find myself needing to restrain the urge to grow too big, too fast and let things grow more incrementally. Adding another 250 people would be like adding the equivalent of the concert size in 2020 and 2021 when that was the covid limit of how many we could host. Possible that we might only add 250 more people to the size of our concert in 2023 even though the venue capacity could be significantly more (3000 versus 1000) if we wanted to push the envelope.


Fight Inflation with Community [Economics
Posted on October 29, 2022 @ 07:12:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Rising inflation is one of the biggest issues confronting us now. We are told that to stop inflation we have to increase interest rates to the point where we create a temporary recession that will eventually reduce demand that will either stop price rises or reduce prices back to more manageable levels. That is one prominent macroeconomic view of how to control inflation.

Another way you can help control inflation is through community. I was recently reminded of this when I hired a larger company who I had no personal relation with to deliver gravel to fix a road through my field that got rutted during our last concert at the farm. I hired the company because they were quick and efficient in the past and I wanted to complete the project while the weather was good. The company charged me almost $500 to deliver a 20 ton load of gravel. Luckily for my pocketbook I only purchased one load. There was a 5 day delay in delivering another load. I had to return my father-in-laws tractor which I was going to use to spread out and smooth out the gravel and decided to cancel my order for more loads at that time.

Next to my farm is a business owner who mostly does forestry related work but owns alot of machinery. He approached me after the first load was delivered and mentioned that I could probably do the job cheaper if I got the gravel from my father-in-laws gravel pit. I approached him again after I told the first company I didn't want them to deliver any more gravel. His big excavator was in a pit nearby, not my father-in-laws pit, but I wanted the job done so asked him to proceed with that gravel. He started delivering gravel and brought in a mini-excavator to form the road. He did an excellent job and at the end of the day charged me 200 dollars a load. I believe I got that rate because in this case I interact with my neighbor even if it is just to wave to him as we pass by each other in the morning, his machinery and pit were nearby the job site, and he gave me a neighborly price for his services.

In rural areas you tend to run into people more frequently and the bonds of community are built up from these interactions, sharing the same landscape, and sharing a common culture where you both are knowledgeable of the same news to talk about (like a new golf course that wants to expand into our community and the controversies surrounding it). The community is potentially an inflation fighting resource when you have need of other community members to help you with your projects.

Another case is a 12x16 foot outbuilding that I am putting up to store some farm machinery. I was thinking about getting around 12 pieces of 2 in x 6 in x 16 foot lumber for the roof rafters from a nearby hardware store that would likely charge me 2 to 3 dollars a foot for the lumber. The main reason I was thinking of going that route was because the lumber was a standard width (1.5 inches) and you can buy required hurricane ties for that width. My brother mills wood and I checked out his wood pile and he had some nice 2 in x 6 in lumber milled up. I talked to him yesterday morning about what I wanted and he came by with a load of wood that afternoon. That wood will be substantially cheaper than the wood I would have purchased at the local hardware store and the wood is also quite a bit stronger because it is milled to a true 2 in x 6 in dimension, not 1.5 in x 5.5 in that nominal store bought 2 x 6 lumber is. I should be able to buy some end wall hurricane ties to secure the rafters to the plate (the interior rafters use a different type of hurricane tie that typically only comes in a size that fits 1.5 in wide lumber) and get up to code.

You won't be able to get cheaper gas from your neighborhood gas station or groceries from your neighborhood grocery store. There are limits to how much you can use community to help you fight inflation. That does not negate the fact that there are some significant expenses that can be substantially reduced when you engage certain people in your community to assist you in your projects. I probably saved over 2500 dollars in gravel and lumber costs in the last couple of days by reaching out to my community for assistance with my projects.

I think fighting food inflation is another primary use of community. I have been on the giving end of this equation where I have allowed neighbors and family to freely harvest from my wild blueberry fields. While I could have asked for something in return, I wasn't going to be able to harvest it all and was happy that someone was getting the benefit of eating the berries.

In conclusion, in these times of rising inflation I would argue that community is an important resource in helping you fight inflation. The community isn't necessarily a bunch of people who hug each other each time they see each other. It can simply be loose associates who you interact enough with, and share some common points of interest with, that you might get different treatment than other people for goods and services, or who you might treat differently for the resources and services you have to offer.


Event Business [Agriculture
Posted on October 25, 2022 @ 02:21:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Alot of my time and energy from august onward went into preparing for a couple of annual festivals we hosted at our farm. Our festivals are branded "Blueberry Jam". Our summer festival took place outdoors August 17-18, 2022 at the beginning of the wild blueberry harvesting season. Our autumn festival (the "Harvest Series") took place inside our barn Oct 7-9, 2022 a couple of weeks after the blueberries are typically harvested. We started the festival after I purchased some wild blueberry fields 4 years ago and we were looking for a name that would pay tribute to blueberries. These festivals are now the largest revenue generators for our farm.

A summer without covid restrictions meant we were able to host more people at our events and in tighter quarters. We decided to release 600 tickets per event for our two-day outdoor festival. We sold around 400 tickets on Friday and sold out on Saturday, turning people away at the gate. That was more than the 250 per event we were allowed to sell last year due to covid restrictions. We hope to grow the outdoor festival further next year.

The Villages band was a headliner on the first day of our two day outdoor festival (Oct 17-18, 2022). They delivered a lively performance with their unique celtic rock music to an appreciative crowd. Their music is featured on the sound track our videographers Dave & Sky created on the YouTube video below which we will use to promote the 2023 outdoor festival.

We used social media, mostly Instagram and Facebook, to market the event. The music event organizer, Rankin MacInnis, frequently posted to Instagram and Facebook to create ongoing buzz and also created some great graphics and merchandise for the event. For a small fee, concert goers could tent in our field for the night. There was quite a bit of uptake on camping and I expect that aspect of the event to continue to grow and evolve next year. Camping makes it economical and possible (no accommodations otherwise) for people to travel from farther away to attend our festival.

Our events have 4 sources of income: concert tickets, merchandise, camping, and food. I feel we can continue to grow on all aspects again next year as people appeared to have a good time this year and we have a large and growing amount of Blueberry Jam merchandise out in the public helping to advertise our festivals and brand.

We recently hosted the autumn concert series in our barn each night from Oct 7th to 9th, 2022. We had 4 music acts per night that went from 8:00 pm to midnight (although it often went later). We experimented with selling 150 to 170 tickets per event because we weren't sure what the capacity should be post-covid where people were free to dance and mingle more freely. Here is a video from our Saturday night concert with a soundtrack from the Aaron MacDonald band who performed the closing act that night.

Our music events don't adhere to any particular genre as we have artists performing rock and roll, country, folk, reggae, indie, etc... Me and my wife will be attending a 4 day music conference from November 3rd to 6th, 2022 where we will be able to sample alot of new and established music performers. Whereas we used to go to this annual music conference just to enjoy the many and varied music performers, we are increasingly attending the conference to look for musical talent to suggest to our music organizer and for other music events we might host on the farm next year. Our outdoor concert is also nominated for "event of the year" at this conference but we are up against alot of larger events where we are a smaller rural event, so I'm not betting on a win but we are evolving/innovating in the music+venue+parking+camping+food+merch+branding space that is a festival.

I never really expected to get into the event business. The main reason I wanted to host the first event was to create some awareness for the farm so that when it came time to sell our wine there would be some brand recognition for our farm. Four years later, we still haven't sold any of the wine we are making (hopefully next year) but our event business has taken on a life of its own to the extent that we are more concerned about whether the wine manufacturing/selling regulations will interfere with our event business.

As I wind down the event business for this year, I look forward to what next year will hold. Partnering with a skilled music organizer was a good decision as it paired nicely with my skill set as the venue developer. I look forward to our ongoing collaboration in growing the Blueberry Jam festivals. The combination of hosting a music event and offering overnight camping intrigues me. I now have an inventory of 4 portable toilets which allows me to host music events and campers for up to 200 people without any portable toilet cost except toilet paper and my time to clean them. We hosted our first wedding in our barn this year and have two booked for next year. We also offered tenting to a large group of runners who couldn't be accommodated otherwise. The running event has booked our venue for tenting next year. The event business has tipped our farm into the profit making zone for the first time since we owned the farm. I can no longer use the farm to lower my taxable income, but the farm will not make too much of a profit after I reinvest the profits into improving the venue for next year.


Wedding Venue Business [Events
Posted on August 18, 2022 @ 01:46:00 PM by Paul Meagher

We hosted the first wedding at our farm this year. We hoped it would be a good learning experience and that it would help us figure out what package of services to offer and how to price them. The bride's mother had alot of experience decorating for events and was a very take-charge personality. She provided some useful insight into what our future customers might want/expect.

A wedding is a complex event that often involves ceremonial aspects, food aspects and music aspects. Alot of planning goes into it. It has been my experience that customers would like to know what their ballpark costs might be without extensive discussion of all their requirements (which they may not know in the early stages of planning). This used to be a stumbling point for my sales efforts, but now I have a better sales script which involves providing a base price for the core elements of my wedding venue offering which might be all that they ultimately require: rental of the main barn over 3 a day period (setup day, event day, cleanup day), rental of our collected chairs and tables, and rental of a couple of portable toilets we own. Theoretically, the wedding venue client could host their wedding at our farm if they only rented these three things from us.

I have three add-ons that customers can also consider purchasing:

  1. Rental of a single bedroom trailer accommodation that we also list on AirBnB. It can be useful to have an area for bridesmaids to socialize and get ready for the event, where all family members might have access to a flush toilet, and as overnight accommodations for friends and family of the wedding party.
  2. Rental of a secondary attached barn where they can store and prep food items for an event. In the attached barn, we have a couple of fridges, an electric stove, food prep areas, running hot/cold water, and we can keep it clean and hygenic. We also have outdoor equipment for deep frying, grilling, barbequing, making pizzas, and boiling pots of water or grease that they can rent. If the guest wants to save money and make the food themselves using our kitchen and equipment it would potentially be cheaper than a catering alternative and that is a selling point for this add-on. Alot of wedding venue clients, however, are happy to outsource food to a caterer so this is not part of our core offering at this time.
  3. We have sound and light equipment for the concerts that we put on in the barn and we can also rent this equipment to wedding venue customers if they want to manage the music themselves versus hire a dj and have them setup their equipment in our barn. Again, we expect some wedding clients to want to outsource that aspect of things to a dj or musician so it is not part of our core offering at this time. It is, however, an option for those looking for a cheaper alternative to hiring a dj by doing it themselves with out equipment.

One insight I obtained from the mother who setup the barn for our first wedding was that she didn't think the portable toilets should be an "addon" cost, that it should be part of the "package". I resisted this idea initially citing the fact that I was only charging a $200 addon fee for my two portable toilets where they would have to pay $500+ if they were renting from a portable toilet company (extra cost mostly for delivery/pickup fees) so I was saving them quite a bit of money. I eventually swung around to her way of thinking and decided to roll the portable toilets into our base package cost and not itemize it as a separate addon cost. The base cost was increased by $200, I just don't point out that $200 of the base cost is for portable toilets.

When I'm selling our wedding services/package, the competitor I have in mind are those selling wedding tents and all the addons required to host a wedding or some part of it. Our offering is very competitive to that type of offering and informing the client that they might be paying x for a tent alone makes our costs look reasonable. The wind isn't going to blow our barn down, but it might wreak havoc upon a wedding under a tent. A barn venue also looks alot cooler then a tent venue in my opinion.

So getting into the wedding venue sales business for me involves figuring out what my core offering is and how I would price it. I realized that decorating, catering and dj services are also common services that wedding organizers purchase but that I was not capable of offering myself. What I could offer was to support wedding venue clients who might want to deliver some of these services themselves to save money. They can rent my facilities and equipment as addons to the base package to make that happen.

Next year my goal might be to host 10 new wedding events at our farm. I'm in discussion with 3 so far and haven't formally put out a shingle yet. My sales approach is sufficiently refined that I think I can now build a website to advertise my wedding venue services in a straight forward manner.

Renting the barn out as a wedding venue is only one of the enterprises we have on the farm. It has the potential to add a good income stream for a few months to the farm. There is alot that I still have to learn about this industry but I though I would share some of what I have learned so far as starting any business involves figuring out the needs of your clients, providing base pricing that is easy for them to understand and relate to their needs, identifying what your value propositions are compared to your competitors, learning from your customers, and setting sales goals so you can project what the venture might contribute to your overall bottom line.

July 30, 2022 wedding setup in our barn


Product-Market Fit [Entrepreneurship
Posted on August 9, 2022 @ 07:55:00 AM by Paul Meagher

According to Wikipedia, Product/market fit, also known as product-market fit, is the degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand. Product/market fit has been identified as a first step to building a successful venture in which the company meets early adopters, gathers feedback and gauges interest in its product(s).

I recently came across an interesting discussion of how Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, came to establish product/market fit for his company:

For those looking to establish product/market fit for their company, Brian's story offers a few interesting lessons. The most obvious lesson is that the technology you are developing may not if fact have good product/market fit and it is only after you talk to early users that you can determine if it does or not. If Brian didn't talk to his early users to find out why they were abandoning his wallet, he would have never discovered the additional feature he needed to develop, the "Buy Bitcoin" button, in order to establish product market fit. Establishing product/market fit in this case was not so much a pivot away from what he was doing as an evolution of what he was doing to incorporate a new and necessary feature. He still needed the wallet but he needed something more to differentiate his offering and make it successful.

It is also interesting that Brian's insight into product market fit came from getting the stories of those who gave up on the platform and why. Understanding what was required to keep users from abandoning his technology was the key to figuring out product/market fit. In the early days, understanding the negative signals can be more important for establishing product/market fit than looking for positive signals.


Expense Journaling [Management
Posted on May 25, 2022 @ 01:55:00 PM by Paul Meagher

A problem I run into this time of year is I start generating farming expense receipts at a more rapid pace. I end up throwing them into a pile to organize for accounting purposes later (i.e., shoe box accounting). This usually results in a long accounting process when I do my year end income tax and sales tax returns where you are trying to remember what certain receipts were for, you can't figure out the date of the receipt because different vendors format dates differently, some receipts might go missing based on banking records, some receipts fade, etc. Recording every expense within a few days of making them would solve alot of these problems and might even make ongoing and year-end accounting process relatively painless.

What I decided to do was start an expense journal for myself for the farm starting in May 2022. To get started I simply started entering my May 2022 expenses into a text file. I called the file "Farm-Expense-Journal.txt" because I'm just recording expenses by date.

The text file editor I use, UltraEdit, has a great column editing mode that allows me to easily select a column area containing a column of numbers and use a "Sum column/selections" feature get their sum. I take care to line up each column of numbers or letters in straight vertical lines so I can get sums easily and so it looks neat and organized. If you confine each column of numbers or text to a certain width, you can easily create a program that will parse through this file and get totals broken down by category, date range, or seller. Here is what some recent journal entries look like:

Date       Cost      Tax   Item                        Ctgy     Seller   
05-19     16.99     2.54   Trailer 2 Inch Ball         ST       COOP-PH
05-19    155.82    23.37   Machinery Gas               GDO      ESSO-MABOU
05-21    213.91    32.06   BBJ Graphics Design         EE       FIVERR
05-21    235.60    35.34   Trailer Ceiling Pine        AE       KENT-INV
05-24    661.42    33.08   Farmhouse Power (6 months)  E        EMERA
05-24   1040.11    52.01   Barn Power (6 months)       E        EMERA
05-25   1413.04   211.69   Deposit for Villages        EE       FELDMAN
05-25     44.83     0.00   Wire Transfer Fee           IBC      WISE

In the above, Date is MM-DD formatted. To repetitively include the year seems like extra work. I only record cost and sales tax amounts, not the total amount because generally in accounting the (before tax) cost and the sales tax are the quantities you end up dealing with separately for year end income tax and sales tax reporting. I provide a brief description of the expense, the category I assigned it to, and where I purchased it from.

Coming up with a category structure for coding your expenses is a critical part of expense journaling. I have a longer list of farm expense categories, but these are the ones used in the expense journaling above.

[ST] Small Tools
[GDO] Gasoline, diesel fuel, and oil
[EE] Event Expenses
[AE] Accomodation Expenses
[E] Electricity
[IBC] Interest and Bank Charges

How long a record should you create for each expense? You may want to limit yourself to around 80 characters. Why? Because you can easily print it off if you want to and review/share it with your business partners. If your business partners are using the same coding system and formatting for their own expense journals, you could also consider merging your expense journals to get the full picture on your business expenses.

One way I am starting to think about expense journaling is like a dietary journal where you try to record every calorie you are eating (expenses). You can then compare that to how many calories you burning off (income) and balance them out in some way.

The expense journaling system is still a work in progress.


Applying 8 Forms of Capital [Economics
Posted on May 5, 2022 @ 11:08:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In my last blog, Capital Conversion, I introduced the idea of 8 Forms of Capital.

I knew I had only touched the surface of this topic so in today's blog I want to search the net using the term "8 forms of capital" and comb through text results, image results and video results and share some of my top finds.

Googling on "8 forms of capital" brings up as a top text result this page titled Wealth: The 8 Capitals. What is interesting about the author's approach is that they take a community-level approach to thinking about capital and all the forms that it can take. I introduced the idea of 8 forms of capital at the individual level, but it can also be applied to groupings of people in a community, bioregion, urban area, etc... For those seeking to apply the 8 forms of capital beyond the individual level, this might be a good article to read.

Googling on "8 forms of capital" brings up as a top image result various images associated with the the Gitcoin Governance website. According to the Cryptopedia Gitcoin page, "Gitcoin combines open-source programming projects with a crypto payment system". I was wondering if the cryptocommunity was exploring the intersection of "8 forms of capital" and "cryptocurrency" and it appears the Gitcoin community is playing around with these ideas.

Googling on "8 forms of capital" brings up as a top video result a video by popular Youtuber Patrick Bet-David (3.4 million subscribers) who added one more form of capital (9 forms) and discussed its relationship to entrepreneurship.

In conclusion, in today's blog we took a tour around the net to see some applications of the concept of 8 capitals. We found these resources by googling "8 forms of capital" and compiling some top picks from the text results, image results and video results.


Capital Conversion [Finance
Posted on April 26, 2022 @ 09:53:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Currency conversion involves exchanging currency in one denomination (e.g., USD) for currency in another denomination (e.g., CAD). Today, if you wanted to exchange US dollars for Canadian dollars, 1 US dollar would yield 1 dollar and 28 cents in Canadian currency. The yield often varies in ways that exhibit a trend. Investors often look for opportunities to exchange currency when the exchange rate appears to be approaching a peak before it goes down again. Currency exchange platforms can be setup to notify you when a certain exchange rate is exceeded which might be your signal to buy the target currency.

The purpose of this blog is not to discuss foreign exchange (forex) trading but to use the idea of currency conversion as a way to think about capital conversion.

Capital Conversion, as I will use the term, refers to any conversion, or flow, between the 8 forms of capital discussed by Ethan Roland & Gregory Landua in their often cited essay 8 Forms of Capital (2011).

The 8 forms of capital they identified are: social, material, financial, living, intellectual, experiential, spiritual, cultural. The 8 forms of capital appear as 8 forms of currency shown in this essay diagram.

The importance of the concept of capital conversion arises because it can potentially be used as an explanatory framework for how a business might get off the ground and why certain businesses get funded.

A business might get off the ground by converting different forms of capital into financial capital. For example, a person that has an active and positive presence in a community might be able to convert social capital into financial capital if they started the right type of business in that community. The conversion rate may not be high resulting in rapid wealth, but it could be what gets you started and helps you to continue to grow financial capital and other forms of capital over time.

In terms of funding, a startup might be worth funding because they are a store of several different forms of capital (social, material, living, intellectual, experiential, spiritual, cultural) that can be converted to financial capital sufficient to generate a return for an investor.

The main takeaway of this blog might be the idea that starting and funding a business can be understood as a capital conversion process between the multiple forms of capital.

Curtis Stone has a nice video in which he discusses these different forms of capital.


Fighting Inflation [Trends
Posted on April 22, 2022 @ 09:31:00 AM by Paul Meagher

One of the biggest concerns alot of people in North America have now is inflation. The rise in gas prices is one of the most obvious signs of inflation which has knock on inflationary effects for many other consumer items. Fertilizer prices have gone up significantly which will likely have effects on the price of food; if not, farmers could be going out of business. Supply chain issues are causing goods like automobiles to become scarce (i.e., lack of semi-conductors to build new vehicles) which is leading to increased prices for existing inventory. Real estate prices are also seeing inflationary pressures due to lack of supply, low interest rates, investment buying and a multitude of other factors. The rise in costs also puts pressure on businesses to pay higher wages which is an inflationary cost for businesses as well.

The consumer is hearing news about rising inflation and starting to adjust to the new reality. Is this new reality similar to the new reality that the pandemic brought us and which we had to adapt to in many ways? There were winners and losers that came out of that new reality. Are there going to be new winners and losers if inflation continues to rise? Will new business arise to help businesses and consumers save money?

The way items are priced is a critical factor that will be important for businesses to watch. There is a natural temptation to increase prices but if your product or service is more discretionary then necessary, you might be pricing yourself out people's willingness to pay. Restaurants have to thread the needle between dealing with their rising costs while recognizing that customers might decide not to eat out as a way to save money.

Inflation, like the pandemic, is not a positive reality to have to adapt to but adapt we must. Some businesses may even find a way to thrive in this new reality because they are offering solutions to helping low and middle class consumers save money. If you can do that without compromising too much on quality then you might have a winning proposition.

This blog was inspired by Joel Salatin & Dr. Sina McCullough's recent video discussing the strategies they are using to fight food inflation while eating healthy.


Side Projects [Entrepreneurship
Posted on April 20, 2022 @ 02:37:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Where do new businesses come from?

In one version of the story, the founders have an idea or a market opportunity, pursue that idea/opportunity with a lean methodology, and eventually, if they were correct and the market responds, they will be on their way to launching a successful company.

In another version of the story, the entrepreneur starts a side project for whatever reason while continuing with her bread-and-butter work, but that side project starts to evolve and appear like a bigger opportunity than she initially imagined. The entrepreneur involved in the side project wants to use it and maybe a few people she feels inclined to share the idea with. The idea is shared and the feedback helps the entrepreneur figure out things to add and remove and the feedback gets better. The entrepreneur sees more possibilities in her side project and decides to launch and make it available to a wider audience. The wider audience responds, the entrepreneur devotes more time to her side project, and a new company is born.

In the first version, the company is more of a planned undertaking while in the second story the company is more of an evolved side project that may adhere to lean principles by necessity rather than through conscious adoption.

From this observation, one could draw the conclusion that learning a startup methodology is not really necessary to creating a successful company. We've been starting companies for a long time now without any Learn Startup theory and principles. One of the ways we have been doing this is by launching side projects that morph into a business. These side projects operate under a different set of constraints than our main projects, they get done when there is time, there is very little to no budget directed at them, if they get shared with a small circle of people then there is the opportunity to collect feedback and better adapt the product or service and perhaps receive encouragement to share your product or service more widely with people they know, and so on.

There is no recipe for choosing what side project to work on, they often arise out of ideas and experiences that you are interested in pursuing for an extended period of time. If the ideas and experiences involved in your side project are intrinsically interesting to you, then monetary rewards do not have to be the motivating aspect of your side project. By working on a set of ideas for an extended period of time, and sharing your ideas with others, you may get to the point of launching your side project for the greater benefit of others. Seeing that others want to use your product or service may be the main goal of our side project. If that is achieved, however, then other possibilities open up. If your side project has some traction in your niche then that is a good foundation for seeking investment to further the evolution of your side project.

So if someone asks you "How do I become an entrepreneur?" you might advise them to take a class in entrepreneurship, learn how to pitch their idea and do all the stuff that startups have to learn how to do. You could also ask them if they have any side projects they are working on or are thinking about working on.


Good Enough Management [Management
Posted on April 8, 2022 @ 09:13:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I don't make an award winning wine, but I hope I make a good enough wine that I can sell it and make a profit doing so.

There are a long list of things I should be doing and buying if I wanted to become a better wine maker, but it is work that I juggle with other work that has a higher priority. I have to be satisfied with just being able to get things done (i.e., add to wine inventory every year) using cheap brewing and storage containers in areas of our old wooden barn retrofitted imperfectly to making and storing wine. Some day I hope to have more time and money to make professional wine in bulk tanks and oak barrels residing in impressive buildings, but for now, I'm satisfied with making a good enough wine.

My trellis system is not very spectacular either, but it is good enough. Most of the original untreated wooden posts I put in the ground are now weather beaten, some being eaten by fungi, and some others by ants. I started adding steel t-posts to the trellis system each year and will be doing so again this year. The work is keeping the trellis system standing vertical but the professional vineyard managers would not be impressed by the look of it. I am trying to keep down costs pre-revenue so I'm going to have to be satisfied with a good enough trellis and a good enough vineyard.

Sometimes good enough management is what is required because the world throws you curve balls all the time that you didn't anticipate. If you are operating in an environment of high uncertainty, spending too much time trying to come up with a perfect plan can be counterproductive. A good enough plan that you don't obsess over may be the optimal plan.

I understand that in some cases you need to up your game and engage in Perfectionist Management. Accounting can be like that. When hosting an event you need to plan out micro details. When negotiating a deal it is good for both parties to conduct extensive due diligence and to consider all scenarios. Eventually, though,you hit a point where the accounting, event planning, and deal making work is good enough.

The most important aspect of good enough management is that you ultimately achieve your objectives. It is not as concerned about adhering to "best practices" because often the best practices assume things that are not true of your situation. Good enough management is not an excuse for shabby work or putting in minimal effort, it is more of a strategic decision to prioritize and manage the quality and conduct of your work based on how important the work is, the resources available to you, and how much uncertainty there is.

The purpose of this blog is to explore the idea of "Good Enough Management", what it might be, when it might be necessary, advised, or rejected. I think it is ok to accept a good enough standard for certain work, that more may not be required, and that you can achieve success operating at a good enough level. If you do things good enough, for long enough, it can grow and result in a successful business.


Payback Period: Part 2 [Finance
Posted on March 9, 2022 @ 09:15:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In my previous blog I applied the concept of a "payback period" to a farm investment I recently made, namely a portable toilet. In this blog I want to apply the concept to another recent purchase I made, discuss limits to its application, and how it might mislead you into making a bad investment.

Oil Fryer Example

This is the time of year that I like to make investments for our farm property for the year ahead. Our primary focus this year will be hosting on-farm events and hopefully selling our wine (once we get licensed to sell). We anticipate generating at least double the revenue this year from farm events. Some of the investments we need to make in order for that to happen should be made now rather than after revenue is earned from the events. The concept of a "payback period" can useful for determining if certain equipment purchases might be worth investing in or not.

At our last event in 2021, we tested out a 4 gallon oil fryer for making french fries to see if we could offer good quality fries and how people would respond. We had good demand and people enjoyed them. The fryer attaches to a normal propane cylinder and can be operated outside like a barbeque. It fries using 4 gallons of cooking oil which means it doesn't decrease in temperature too much when you dump fries previously soaking in water into it. This means you can potentially keep up a fairly steady rate of fry production however there is some loss in temperature even with 4 gallons of oil. The fryer has two baskets so I try to cycle the baskets so they are not being loaded with fries at the same time and this helps to alleviate that problem and maintains steady production.

We used our last event in 2021 to 1) figure out a process for slicing up the fries efficiently, 2) gauge the rate of production of fries, 3) determine what container we would use and how many fries we would include, 4) what condiments we would offer and 5) what we would price a serving at. This experiment in selling fries was more about testing systems and learning than it was about making money. One thing I did learn was that if we wanted to serve fries to +500 people at an event this year, we would need at least one more fryer. Yesterday I decided to pull the plug and invested in a second fryer with a final price tag with tax of around $720.

Some simple math might be used to estimate a payback period. If we sell a generous serving of fries for $10 per serving, then 72 servings of fries would yield $720 in revenues. Of course we have costs in oil, potatoes, condiments and containers that might mean we have to sell 100 servings to recoup the investment. Nevertheless, I would expect this $720 investment to be recouped on the first outdoor concert event and then we are into revenue generating territory. The fact that an additional fryer would be required to generate more food revenue from fries, and that the payback period is very short, makes it a good investment for the farm. It should be noted that my decision to buy the first oil fryer was based on a food truck selling out 250 lbs worth of fries during our first event so I knew there was good demand for that type of food offering.

Payback Period Limits

Some equipment purchases seem to be more readily analyzed in terms of payback period than others. Some equipment you just need to purchase and it doesn't necessarily generate an obvious payback. An example is a lawn tractor that we need to purchase this year as our existing one is starting to breakdown more frequently and we rely upon it quite a bit. Mowing grass helps make the property look nice and is used to maintain the vineyard and orchard but it is hard to put a price tag on that and it is hard to avoid the need for lawn mowing. In contrast, if I were purchasing a mower that would be used to make square bales then I could use the revenue generated from the square bales to compute a payback period. While I think the concept of a payback period is helpful in making decisions about equipment purchases, it does not obviously apply to all equipment purchases you might need to make to run your business. When the required equipment is not linked to saving or generating money, other factors come into play to determine the particular piece of equipment you might decide to purchase.

Payback Period Failure

I purchased 9 bicycles 4 years back thinking I would rent them from the farm. That business never really took off. As I was purchasing the bikes I was already counting the money I would be making renting them a few times a week. I got the bikes for a good price. A bike shop was getting rid of 5 hybrid bikes it was using for rentals and the rental season was over. I later purchased 4 new mountain bikes for a good price on a year-end clearance sale.

One issue that I didn't really anticipate was the space the bikes would take up, especially if you include helmets, repair stand and extra parts. It almost requires it's own small building. I have been storing them in the barn but they are mostly just taking up space that I would rather use for other purposes. When you take into account the space requirements, and the market cost of storage, the total cost would go up significantly and the payback period would lengthen considerably. So, keep in mind other costs that you might not be considering when you purchase revenue generating equipment, especially the storage aspect.

I also didn't give enough thought to the disadvantages of renting from my farm. The biggest disadvantage is that you have to peddle 2 miles (4 kms) up a fairly steep hill to get to our farm. You have to be a pretty dedicated bicyclist to want to drop off your car at our farm, go downhill for a day riding the countryside, and then finish off your day cycling up a steep hill for 2 miles. For this business to work involves more complex logistics than renting from my farm. I would do better by bringing the bikes to a better location and picking them up from that location. I don't have the time to hang around trying to sell bikes off farm so this didn't happen. The bike rental business is currently a small sideline and I should decide this year if I want to keep doing it or sell my fleet.

My bike rental business was also disrupted last year by a nearby e-bike competitor who dedicated all his time to renting e-bikes and attracted customers who might otherwise have considered renting a traditional bicycle. It is worth giving serious consideration to whether you might not achieve your payback period because your business could be disrupted by other competitors.


Where you can easily apply a payback period to a purchase, and you have some evidence that the equipment will either save costs or make money, then it can help to guide your decision making towards making a good purchase for your business. The payback period concept is not useful for some equipment purchases that have no obvious relationship to saving or making money. Also, you must be careful not to convince yourself that an equipment purchase will have a short payback period by not taking into account all the factors that should be entering into the decision (e.g.,storage costs, location of your business, availability of labor, interest rates on a larger purchase, competitors, etc..).


Payback Period [Finance
Posted on February 25, 2022 @ 04:53:00 PM by Paul Meagher

In this blog I want to discuss the concept of a "Payback Period" and how it can be used to analyze an investment decision.

I will use a recent investment I made to illustrate the application of the payback period concept.

Early this week I purchased a used Portable Toilet of the type that you use at outdoor events or for construction crews. It was pretty near brand new and I paid $1000 for it.

We held a couple of multiday weekend events last year at our farm that required renting portable toilets. The cost to rent each toilet was $100 ($25 transport, $75 rental). We will be hosting more events on the farm this year. In a non-pandemic year where there are more events happening, and there is significant inflation in the economy, the portable toilet rental company may need to charge more than $100 per unit for the weekend this year which I consider to be a pretty good deal. By having at least one portable toilet that we own and don't have to rent, a conservative estimate might be that we save at least $200 in fees for renting toilets each year in which case the investment will have a payback period of 5 years or less.

The payback period could be faster if we managed the portable toilet unit on site by transferring waste to a larger storage tank and only bringing in a vacumn truck to empty that larger storage tank. Sounds gross but I spent some of my youth shovelling cow manure into a wheel barrow so I am not easily grossed out by the thought of human manure handling.

Purchasing the portable toilet also gives us the ability to offer washroom facilities at the barn without having to make a larger investment into septic system upgrades right now. We can also be flexible in where we setup the portable toilet.

We have our first wedding event planned for the barn this year. We will likely rent the portable toilet out for wedding events which would speed up the payback period and start generating profit once the payback period is reached.

The payback period concept is a useful concept that can be used to think about investments involving buying certain goods that might assist your business. The payback period for an investment can change under different scenarios for how the purchased asset might be managed. Generally there are several different factors that people take into account when making an equipment purchasing decision and if the decision seems like a good one from several different aspects then it might be a good purchase to make.


Property Owning & Investing [Real Estate
Posted on January 27, 2022 @ 09:05:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Liz Hodgkinson in her book "The Complete Guide to Investing in Property" (5th Edition, 2010) distinguishes between "owning" a property and "investing" in property. She argues that we don't automatically "invest" in a property when we buy a property because many property buyers don't have an overriding intention of making a profit from the property. This distinction was probably clearer back in 2010 shortly after the subprime housing crisis when many home owners found that the value of the property was worth less than the cost of their mortgage. In today's environment of low interest rates and rising housing prices, the distinction is arguably less clear, but the possibility of a housing bubble that could bust at any moment or rising interest rates means that if you are actually investing in property you are more likely to have a strategy for dealing with some of these potential threats to your investment.

About 3.5 years ago, I purchased 4 adjacent parcels of remote vacant land (no buildings on it) at what I considered a good price. At the time I justified the purchase of one 9 acre parcel on the basis that it was a property investment that I might make more off in the future owing to the fact that a power line ran through it along the main road (most parcels around here don't have access to the grid), that it had great cell coverage for a remote area, and that it had a nice view that overlooked a lake from a distance. The other parcels were purchased because they had wild blueberries on them that I wanted to use for wine making. Purchasing wild blueberry land was the main reason I purchased 3 of the parcels with the idea of property investing being my main justification for the remaining parcel.

The reason I mention this is because even though I thought I was investing in the 9 acre parcel as a property investment, I wasn't really doing much to increase its value. That started to change late last year when the power company cleared away a wide section of trees around the power lines. This opened up the possibility of putting in a road to the middle of the parcel. Just before xmas of 2021 I spent a few days cutting down more brush to define where a road might go into the property. One of my goals this year is to install a culvert, haul in some gravel, and make an actual road into the property. The simple act of making a road begins to open up other possibilities. With a road in place, I can get a power truck in to extend power service into the property. I can also bring in my trusty old Massey Ferguson 135 with a bush hog to start maintaining some cleared areas before trees start to grow back in. This will help to define where lots might be setup.

It is easy to convince yourself that you are making a property investment just because you purchased some land that has some desirable features. In some cases, you can in fact just hold the land for a period of time and make a decent return. A realization for me this year is that I could increase the speed at which the land might increase in value by strategically adding features that would make it increase in value more quickly and signal to potential customers that work was done to make it more valuable. The reason Liz's distinction between investing and owning property resonated with me was because I realize now that simply owning a property doesn't make you a property investor. I need to be more actively engaged in figuring out how I can more rapidly increase the value of that property if I want to call it an investment.


Always Investing [Investing
Posted on January 19, 2022 @ 12:05:00 PM by Paul Meagher

We may be accustomed to thinking of investors as the party that invests into a company, but the entrepreneur is also investing time and money into growing it as well and those investments will determine the success or failure of the business. So an entrepreneur also has to be an investor and must continually ask whether they are making the best investments they can with the limited time, money, and assets they have at their disposal.

Today I invested $240 into getting a yard of cement delivered and poured at my farm property. I used the cement to stabilize the corner of a building with a cement foundation. The corner was being worn away by rain damage as rain tends to concentrate on that corner. Turned out that I had quite a bit left over and was able to pour a ramp up to my barn floor so that I don't have to use planking to reach the lip of the barn floor. That is a nice bonus.

Overall I was very happy with my investment into the farm. There are many things I could have invested my time, money, and assets into, but investing a bit of money to protect a valuable farm building was a high priority investment this week. I also have a better idea of how much cement is in a yard and how to form and trowel cement so this was also a time investment into developing cement skills that will likely come in handy in the future.

Each day tempts an active entrepreneur with projects to engage in and money to spend. Sometimes you have to spend and engage in projects, other times you need to disengage and not spend. It is this pattern of investing and non-investing that is key. Many ideas may seem to be important, but in the long run they are a waste of time and resources. An entrepreneur has to be a shrewd investor of money, time, and assets. They need to be always investing.


3D Business Planning [Entrepreneurship
Posted on December 4, 2021 @ 02:15:00 PM by Paul Meagher

In this blog, my aim is to identify the most important features of business planning. Three critical features of business planning all begin with the letter D so I am calling this perspective "3D Business Planning". The 3 critical features of business planning are: Decision making, Design and Documentation. Business planning is the interplay of these 3 types of activities in pursuit of an economic return.

Decision Making

I think it is helpful to highlight the importance of decision making in the business planning process. Your business plan may not reveal the amount of time and thought you spent in coming up with the main objectives outlined in your plan and the approach you settled upon for achieving those objectives. Often the decisions you make are constrained by available capital and resources and by the costs associated with various options for achieving your goals.

The two other features of business planning, design and documentation, are helpful in the decision making process. Often the decision you are making involves selecting between different design options based on cost, feasibility, aesthetics or other dimensions. Documenting your design digitally or on paper can uncover issues (easier for others to critique) and assist in making good decisions.


There is often significant design work involved in business planning. That work might involve designing a physical space, a manufacturing process, a business logo, a website, a corporate structure, etc... When you are designing something you often end up coming up with 2 or more options and deciding on one of those options. Startup business planning may be for a conventional business with guidance from how others have done it in the past, or it could be for a new idea that involves design work that is more creative and innovative in nature. The designs you come up with as part of the business planning process can help your decision making and also help to fill in critical parts of your business plan with fleshed out details to work from.


You can do designing and deciding in your head, but ultimately if you want to share your business plan with others your need to document your decisions and designs in a business plan document. Documenting your decisions and designs in a final form allows these decisions and designs to be constructively criticized by yourself and others. Critical feedback is necessary if you want to get some useful feedback on your decisions & designs and refine your business planning.


In this blog I didn't get into the nitty gritty details on how to put together a business plan for a potential funder. There are many other sources that provide that these details and I encourage you to consult them.

What I focused on in this blog were higher level aspects of business planning. 3D business planning focuses on decision making, designing, and documenting as three critical aspects of business planning. One can view deciding, designing and documenting as discrete stages of business planning, but I view them as being mutually supportive activities. Business planning is when design, decision making and documentation come together to create a plan for conducting your business into the future with an economic return that makes it worth doing.




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