You know what I mean. It's that place, or that person, or that activity that invariably delivers a shot in the arm to re-amp your startup mentality, enthusiasm, and passion.
For me, it's farmer's markets, which are like entrepreneurial hubs that take place every weekend and most weeknights. I wander from stand to stand and "plug in" to the juice of adrenaline and chutzpah. That's what it takes to fight the uphill battle of selling enough low-margin items, from homemade waffles to small batch sausages to heirloom tomatoes, to turn a profit and stay afloat as a business.
Farmer's markets as entrepreneurial hubs sounds tame, I know, in comparison to all of the high-voltage options out there. But for me, a good farmer's market is good octane for my entrepreneurial journey. Partly that's because, before I co-founded Enolytics, I had also co-created a food business. A key component of the strategy was exposure and having an active presence in the farmer's markets of Atlanta, where we live.
Farmer's markets gave me a sense of familiarity and community, where we worked alongside other small business startups who'd also gone through the process of becoming a certified food business. Steps in the process -- like membership in a shared kitchen space, regulatory approval for hygiene and food safety and, often, a focused interest in food justice -- are all bonding experiences and points of common ground for vendors at the markets.
Here are four indicators that signal a positive source of entrepreneurial adrenaline.
1. Authenticity and Internal Motivation
Your gut tells you whether something's real, or if someone's just trying to pull your chain and make a buck. That difference is laid bare when you come face-to-face, literally, with vendors at the markets. Sure, they might be driven by passion but the romantic ideal only goes so far in a real farmer's life. Pragmatism wins out, and gets the job done. Do they seem happy, even so? If they do, then it's a sign that the much-lauded "passion" is truly authentic, because it's driven by an internal motivation for the work rather than an over-reliance on external validation.
Noticing whether that authenticity is present is a reminder to check in with our own motivation, and also whether it's visible to the people we do business with.
2. Innovation in Technology
The historical roots of markets may lie in the practice of bartering, and a direct descendent of that is exchanging goods for cash and coins. Look around at today's farmer's markets, however, and you're likely to find methods of payments that reflect the socio-economic realities of their location. In Atlanta, for example, food stamps and EBT cards are worth double their dollar value. At the Oranjezicht City Farm in Cape Town, South Africa, I noticed many customers paying with SnapScan, which works with WhatsApp and Mastercard; sign up happens with any South African bank card. It's hyper-fast and savvy, and eliminates the juggle of your wallet with food plates and drinks.
You may or may not have the opportunity to innovate your company's payment system, but take a step back and explore whether the "transaction" of your business reflects current needs and usage. Take the opportunity to travel in your customer's shoes, and note steps that can be improved.
3. Grounding "Big Picture" Issues
Food justice and socio-economic realities come to the foreground at local markets, and so do other "big picture" issues of the environment and sustainability. South Africans, who are recovering from a severe water shortage, are intimate with practices of water conservation, from limiting water usage to 50 liters a day per person to popularizing 90-second showers instead of baths.
That environmental awareness extends to the problem of food waste as well. At Oranjezicht, there are bins for recyclable food and drink containers (the only kind available at the market) and right next to them are bins for food scraps. Both are highly visible and highly used.
Where does your business "ground" big picture issues in its day-to-day operations? Invite your team to explore the issues that matter to them, and brainstorm ways to actualize your company's contribution toward a solution.
4. Overdeliver on the Fly
My family and I visited Oranjezicht during the weekend when we stayed in Cape Town, and our son bought so many Nutella waffles from the same vendor that the staff decided to give him a discount. It was funny, and a good takeaway.
Is your staff empowered to deliver customer satisfaction "on the fly," so to speak, immediately upon inspiration or as soon as they recognize an opportunity to overdeliver? Our son didn't expect or ask for the discount, but getting it secured the positive experience of the market in his memory. How can your staff accomplish something similar?