Most of us have subjects we are passionate about. When that passion develops relatively early in life and continues to be a passion as we develop our professional careers, that is what I call a Persistent Passion.
I am fortunate to have at least two persistent passions in my life. This is a chronicle of how entrepreneurship developed into one of those persistent passions.
Chicken or the egg?
Growing up on the family farm in North Dakota, I had more opportunities to exercise my persistent passion for entrepreneurship than might be obvious.
Some of my earliest entrepreneurial activities involved one of the chores I was assigned: picking eggs. I collected, washed, and packed into cartons the dozens of eggs our Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds laid.
Being naturally nerdy, I tracked egg output from day to day, and drew line- and bar-graphs to correlate with the hens’ daily laying. As the surplus eggs were given to neighbors and family friends, I began tracking that, too. When a few of those “customers” donated a few dollars, I kept track of that as well (it was my first “earned income” though at the time I looked at it as spending money for toy tractors).
Sometimes before my Mom went to town for groceries she would ask if I wanted any treats. I remember requesting graph paper and colored pencils instead of candy or baseball cards (or whatever it was that normal boys collected).
My parents had to have been aware that their eldest offspring was not destined to be a prom king.
Shamelessly converting family into customers
When I was done with my childhood chores, I had no shortage of hobbies. One of those hobbies was a pursuit of history: fossils and antiques, mostly. When I set up my museum in my bedroom closet and my mother discovered that cow bones were among the curated collection, she hastily worked with my father and uncles to acquire an outdoor venue!
“Frank’s Museum” moved into an old school bus body and then later into the century-old house which my great-grandparents had homesteaded in. The museum became a favorite attraction among visiting extended family members (I have aunts to this day who give me grief for making them sign the guest book and for collecting $1 entrance fees–though I insist in my defense those fees were voluntary!).
At Halloween and Easter, I hoarded my own candy treasure to use as a trade commodity when my siblings’ supplies had run low. I remember selling Smarties for as much as a penny per pack to the eager sucrose addicts.
Dominating the publishing industry of South Heart, population 300.
I never grew out of this drive to be in business and found a focused interest on what was then called “desktop publishing” using second-generation personal computers and dot matrix printers of the early-90’s. I worked with my sisters to create a family newsletter on more than one occasion. My cousin Lucy and I collaborated on our own satire projects (as an adult she went on to build a successful content marketing firm).
When my classmates were reading Sports Illustrated, People, and motorsports magazines in the school library, I was subscribing to three or four business journals and a couple of graphic design publications.
As a Junior in high school, I collaborated with my friend, Kim, my sisters Mary and Holly, and a couple of other friends to create a community newspaper for our small home town of South Heart. The Talk of the Town was a bi-monthly publication which consisted of articles we wrote by way of interviewing people in the community.
Our Aunt Tami generously donated use of her business’s copy machine for us to crank out each issue’s 350 copies of the 12-15 page newspaper. In addition to her grocery store, we distributed the newspaper through the Cenex gas station and the local cafe (side note: 15 years later, my sister Mary ended up purchasing the cafe in South Heart where she had worked as a waitress part-time during school). We sold ads to businesses in the county, and accepted subscriptions from several dozen readers who lived out of state and had found out about their home town’s new newspaper through word-of-mouth.
The Talk of the Town became a fairly big undertaking for us students, and along the way we made a lot of mistakes but learned a lot too. With the excessively lofty title of Editor-in-Chief, I gained an incredible insight into working with a variety of personalities (all of us were volunteers), technical skills like copy editing, layout, and desktop publishing, and of course the business side of things: marketing, accounts payable and customer relationship management.
I learned that journalists have remarkable behind-the-scenes access to events and community figures. I came to respect the quantity of labor that goes into articles which often are read only briefly and then tossed aside.
Birds of an entrepreneurial feather flock together
When my parents allowed me to attend “Business Challenge”, a week-long business camp for high school students, I recognized that I was not quite as odd as I had thought. OK, I realized I was still odd, but I wasn’t alone in my interest in entrepreneurship!
In college, I became an active member of the Business Club, which afforded me even more opportunities for exposure to the business world. We engaged in fundraisers, toured factories, and invited local business leaders to share their insights with our hungry minds. I had the privilege of serving as club president for two terms, and I firmly believe I learned more about small business from that experience than I did from any three or four of my Business Administration courses combined.
This eventually led to my internship with a short-lived tech startup and then founding of my own technology services firm in 1999. Hurtdidit, LLC remains my primary source of income, though I switched focus from website development to contract work in the oilfield in 2010.
I have to give a metric tonne of credit to my parents for indulging their nonconformist son in his pursuit of interests which probably would have tried the patience of a less supportive parental team.
I will probably change direction a few more times before I finally grow up. However, I don’t think I will ever outgrow my persistent passion for entrepreneurship.