What every entrepreneur can learn from growing a vegetable garden.
“Plant the seeds and it will grow.”
I recently learned that this old adage is as flawed in vegetable gardening, as it is in business.
As a first-time green thumb, with time, money and having discovered a space to plant a garden, I had convinced myself that for me it would be different (the first-time creator’s illusion).
I’d been inspired witnessing those around me show off the spoils of their labour, sharing stories of their endless abundance of produce that they gave away so generously and frivolously to friends and family alike — what a life!
I wanted in! We would start tomorrow.
Having visited the hardware store I was armed with my first-ever shovel.
We didn’t know what we were going to plant, but that didn’t matter, we were gardening and on the path to a life of riches.
It was within minutes that we discovered our first hurdle. The soil was terrible. There was not one living creature throughout the entire lot, no worms, no ants, no creepy crawleys. Barely even a weed!
We’d originally seen nothing growing here and assumed we were onto a winner. We convinced ourselves that if nothing was growing here it was the perfect chance for us to own this space and dominate.
What became clear was that the lack of competition was not a sign of uncharted territory, but rather a lack of desirability for those who’d seen it before. The parallels to business were profound.
We were, however, only minutes into our mission and committed to making this work — no matter the costs — so we decided that we would simply replace the soil.
We returned soon after with nine bags of various fertilisers, soil enhancers, compost and anything else the store would sell us.
It wasn’t going to be enough to get rid of the terrible soil, but we would mix it in and hack it together and to the naked eye you would know no difference.
Surely it would just bond together. After-all at least half of the soil was ‘top-of-the-line’ so that should surely be enough to build a world-class foundation.
However, as any developer would know, trying to integrate into terrible foundations is rarely as simple as it sounds. Having mashed it all together we began testing it, flooding the area with water, and soon discovered that certain parts were unable to absorb the water, whilst others simply saw the poor soil rise to the top.
This was not as we had planned, but we couldn’t turn back.
We’d proudly announced to friends and families that we were planting a vegetable garden over the weekend, and that simple commitment meant we must push forward no matter the cost.
With our dodgy foundations laid it was now time for the exciting part — what produce would we be bringing into this world?
I had big dreams. I wanted tomatoes. Everyone loves tomatoes. If we had tomatoes we would be sultans of our street.
However, on arrival at Bunnings I was politely informed it was neither the time nor the right environment for tomatoes to grow. What about corn then? A similar story.
Frustrated I began to question whether this person knew what they were talking about. Maybe they just didn’t like tomatoes, or weren’t brave enough to step away from the rule book and try something new — I was an innovator, a disruptor, after-all.
Surely as long as I planted it, it would work out how to grow. I was willing to spend any amount to make sure of it, and we had nice new soil. It looked amazing…on the surface.
Fortunately, I was eventually talked out of this advice and went for a more ‘safe’ option that was more suited to the current season, our environment, and our level of expertise — lots of sun, minimal care, minimal knowledge required. Perfect!
This was going to be a harvest people would talk about for decades to come.
That was three weeks ago….this is today.
It is the classic first-time founders story.
I now realise why people politely smiled when I announced I was about to build the world’s greatest vegetable garden and my strategy was to simply plant the seeds and prepare for overnight success (sound familiar?).
Faced with sun-drowned snow peas, lifeless lettuce, and broccoli with bite marks, I’m constantly looking at my garden wondering why they are not growing faster — and with no idea what signs I should be looking for, I just focus on one simple metric — rapid growth — and it’s lacking.
But I’m willing to pay for it, I tell people. Who can help me? Who has the magic-potion, the snake oil?
My girlfriend keeps telling me this is normal, “it’s nature” she says.
But who has time for organic growth?
We’ve already sunk too much money into this to simply let it fall over, and despite the fact I can see where we went wrong right at the beginning I’m certainly not willing to dig it up and start again, there has to be an easier way.
I need the vanity metrics, I don’t care what’s happening below the surface, I just want to see my beautiful plants basking in the sunlight and for others to see that too — and I don’t really care how they achieve it, just make it happen.
It’s the impatient founder’s fallacy, as any great creator knows that the path to success is established in the planning, the strategy, and only on these solid foundations can growth and scale occur.
Too often though we only hear people talking about success once their harvest has ripened and it is because of this, that this illusion perpetuates and people only seek the ears of others when they are basking in their glory, rather than reaching out when they are ankle deep in mud.
And so this is where I find myself today.
As I reflect on this short journey the parallels to the world of business are profound. As I reflect on my initial rationale and motivations it is so evident why they were so flawed and I’m sure others can learn from my mistakes.
What I am learning is the best gardeners do not build a garden simply to prosper from its produce, they do so to continually learn from the process so they may become better over time.
They do not plant a garden with the wish to never do so again. They do it, primarily so they can continually do so again and make it a lifestyle, the parallels to business are so clear.
Simon Sinek often shares the importance of having a true understanding of your ‘why’ and reflecting on my motivations for creating this garden it is so clearly apparent why I became so frustrated when I was not able to simply enjoy the riches of what I had planted less than three weeks ago.
It is a critical question to ask, not only of yourself, but your founders as it is so often why business partners become so frustrated when challenges arise and they discover their motivations, dreams and aspirations for starting were far less aligned than they ever realised.
So with that I am now faced with a choice.
Do I embark on a humble journey of learning and discover what it takes to grow a vegetable garden from those who’ve been there before, or do I continue to try and defy nature and seek the shortcuts and quick-fix solutions, to only then throw my hands in the air when these hail-mary solutions don’t work, just as I had been warned?
At the core of this decision will be my ‘why’. Deep down, ‘why is it so important for me to start this journey, what is it that I’m so desperate to achieve through doing this, and what am I willing to give up to make sure this happens?’
Before you start a new business I suggest asking yourself and your partners these questions.
It will require some soul-searching, you’ll delve deeper than you feel comfortable, but it is critically important and will save you a great deal of hardship, rather than waiting to have these conversations when it’s too late.
I wish you well on your ventures, and hope you enjoyed this story. Who would have dreamed I would learn all these lessons from simply embarking on the challenge of creating a humble vegetable garden.
But I can’t recommend it enough because it takes you back to the basics of creation, and from what I can tell, in the garden as in business, the key to success is in the planning, in the strategy, and in being clear on your ‘why’ and connecting with others who can help you achieve this mission.
So with that I hope you’ll connect with me, and if you have any gardening tips please share them, I’m now all ears.