Listen to our interview with Shawn Sadowski of My New Enterprise
Silicon Valley or Wall Street isn’t the only place you’ll find really smart people. The folks at My New Enterprise are interviewing small business owners all across the country and finding that some incredibly smart people work on Main Street all across the country. In today’s podcast we talk with Shawn Sadowski about some of the things they’re seeing, some of the surprises, and why they’re so encouraged about the state of small business in the USA.
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Patrick Wiscombe: Serving just over 375,000 listeners each month, this is The Business Fuel Podcast. Good morning, I’m Patrick Wiscombe. Thank you for tuning us in and taking us along wherever and however you’re accessing the podcast. Coming up today, we’re going to head over to Kentucky and talk to Shawn Sadowski. He’s the CEO of My New Enterprise. But before we do, let’s bring in VP of Communications at Lendio, Ty Kiisel. How are you?
Ty Kiisel: I appreciate the new title and I’m good.
Patrick: He’s the Director of all things written at Lendio, plus he’s an author on Forbes.com. Just do a search on his name, Ty Kiisel, at Forbes.com to access his stuff.
Ty Kiisel: Thanks. Let’s talk to Shawn. Mike Glowser and Shawn Sadowski are the founders of My New Enterprise. They started riding bicycles in Oregon in June. They are riding across the country with the goal of interviewing 100 entrepreneurs in 100 different cities to learn what makes these mainstreet businesses successful. In my Forbes piece this week, I spoke with Mike about the trip. Lendio decided to be one of the sponsors of this because we believe in small business. We think the guys in Silicon Valley aren’t the only smart ones. There are small businesses who are doing brilliant things to make incredible businesses, they just don’t get the same press. Shawn, why don’t you tell us from your perspective what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Shawn Sadowski: Let me give you a little background about our company and what we do. The company was founded about five years ago. We started traveling all over the country and the world, documenting stories of successful entrepreneurs. Our goal was to be able to profile these entrepreneurs and provide insight and resources for students and other entrepreneurs to create successful ventures. We can learn best from those that have already paved the path. Instead of having a professor stand in front of a class and tell you how to build a business, let’s go out and document these stories from real entrepreneurs and see what we can learn from them. Let them do the teaching. We’ve been following some research that suggests there has been a real surge in entrepreneurship in small town America. So we really wanted to focus on small town America, Main Street businesses if you will. As a whole, those businesses make up a bigger part of the economy than the Facebooks, Googles and other big boys. So many of these stories go untold. We decided to do it by bike because it was a way to really slow down. To pass through cities, get to know the businesses and get a feel for the landscape. Don’t rush and really understand what makes theses entrepreneurs tick.
Ty Kiisel: That makes sense. You said entrepreneurship is increasing in small towns across the country. Why do you think that is?
Shawn: That’s an interesting question and I don’t know that I’ve got a specific answer. But there really is a surge to wanting a simpler life. Many people are having a desire to simplify their lives by moving out of the big cities. Small businesses are alive and well in small towns all across this country.
Ty: You have been doing this for awhile. I would imagine you went into this with an idea about the things you would learn. What are some of the things that you have learned?
Shawn: One of the things that stood out is I’ve never realized the advantage that small business owners have by living in a smaller community. The community really seems to rally around that business and want that business to succeed. We’re finding the business owners are able to cater to that community and support their customers really well. And they’re not fighting for space or attention necessarily. They start a business and the market share is immediately there. Not only that, the community pools to help the business succeed.
Patrick: You mentioned you have about half of your list that you’re going to interview. How do you find the other entrepreneurs in the cities?
Shawn: We are very much on the ground doing the work. As we go into town, we start asking questions of the locals. We want to know who are the movers and the shakers. Who are the cool companies that are really making it happen. Some of our most fascinating companies have come from doing that.
Patrick: Give me the top two or three businesses that surprised you when you rolled into town.
Shawn: One of the neat companies that we found was a woman named Vicky Stobbe who is the co-founder of a company named High Street Companies in Newton, Kansas. One of her companies is a home decor company. And the other is a kitchen supply store with all sorts of neat things. Her other company in Wichita, Kansas is named Red Bird Boutique. It’s a funky, fashionable boutique for women. So Vicky was fed up with working for somebody else and decided she would start her own company. Because she started in a small town, the community rallied around her and the companies have just thrived. Her store in Newton has become a sort of weekend destination. People go up there just to go shopping. So that’s a great example. Dave Tibbits is the founder of Jackson Hole Whitewater in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He started the company 15-20 years ago and he has built up quite a following there. He is know as the best provider of rafting services in the area. They’ve branched out into accommodations advice and scenery advice to make sure their customers are taken care of. Another great company, Gayle and Will Williams, founders of Idaho Sports in Grangeville, Idaho. They produce the padding that goes on chair lifts for over 300 ski resorts all over the world. So this small town in Idaho is doing international distribution, has dozens of employees, and is doing very well. I could go on for the next two hours about the cool companies we’ve found.
Patrick: Have you found some good practices that you can bring back to your company?
Shawn: That’s a really good question. These business owners are experts at creating more with less. The traditional process taught in schools is that you come up with a great idea, find some money, then go find customers. We have not found that to be the case with the entrepreneurs we met. The idea is much more organic than that. These entrepreneurs find something they are good at that the community would really benefit from. They start off small and talk to the community members to see if they would be willing to buy. The whole funding process and going out to find money is a result of needing to expand as opposed to needing the money to prove the idea. They are very good at finding resources other than money to get their company off the ground.
Ty: What have you learned that surprised you as you’ve gone across the country?
Shawn: The whole community aspect has been very enlightening. These small town entrepreneurs are experts at building communities and rallying people around them to support their business. As I thought about that, I wondered how that would translate to companies in big cities. The concept is that you have to find a community of people that love what you do and could benefit from what you’re offering. And then provide phenomenal products and services. The other thing we found is that not one of the people we’ve interviewed said that the reason they are in business is to make money. There’s really a driving sense of purpose. They love what they do and they want to be part of their community. They want to stick around and it’s a really refreshing approach to entrepreneurship. I think Silicon Valley has really hijacked that concept. The focus for small town entrepreneurs is on community, taking care of people, and providing great services. It’s not on finding an exit strategy.
Ty: These are people that run the business because they know somebody needs to run the business. But they really love getting their hands dirty in the running of the business.
Shawn: I can honestly say that the vast majority of entrepreneurs have a passion for what they do. There’s a reason for why they started their company that far exceeds making money. They like doing the work of their business. They like engaging and interacting with their customers. They like being a part of the creative process. When they’re out there and involved in the process, they really have their finger on the pulse of what their customers want. They’re able to shift and adjust based on feedback from the community. If they were in the 12th floor office, they wouldn’t be able to make the adjustments that will ultimately make their company succeed.
Patrick: You mentioned that small businesses have an advantage because they can move so quickly. Have you talked to anybody that had to change their entire business because of feedback from the community?
Shawn: It’s typically not a drastic change, just small pivots. Virtually every entrepreneur has said that the business they have today is not the business they had when they started. They’ve had to shift and pivot based on what the community wants.
Ty: I feel encouraged about business in small towns across the US. Are you feeling that or am I just getting excited because I like these stories?
Shawn: I’ve been think about that. I’m from Salt Lake City, Utah. We’re a big city; not a Manhattan or Los Angeles, but we’re not a small town. I’ve heard these stories over and over and I think there are some real advantages to starting a business in a smaller town. I’m extremely optimistic and encouraged by what we’re learning out here. There are endless opportunities and there’s a much clearer path that what we ever initially thought there would be.
Ty: One of the reasons you’re doing this is for an upcoming book. When will that be available?
Shawn: To put all this data together will take some time. We anticipate the book will come out next year, in 2015. But we are posting videos from the tour on our website, mynewenterprise.com. We’re creating short, documentary style videos about many of the entrepreneurs so you can learn about their companies. The goal is to take all that video and create new training programs that will help inspire entrepreneurs to create new companies. We’re having a lot of fun. This is our passion. Our hope is that we’re creating something that will help people and make a difference. We appreciate you helping us spread the word about what we’re doing.
Patrick: It looks like you have another week on the road.
Shawn: We’re ending the tour in Yorktown, Virginia. Then we will head up to Washington DC for a few days.
Patrick: You can follow their adventures on mynewenterprise.com. Shawn, good to have you on the podcast. Good luck for the next week.
Shawn: Patrick, Ty thank you so much. It was a pleasure chatting with you.
Patrick: Remember you can pick up a fresh edition of the podcast every Tuesday morning on Lendio.com/blog. Or you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Just do a podcast search for Lendio. You can also read a transcript at Lendio.com/blog. That will do it for this week’s edition. So for Shawn Sadowski, Ty Kiisel, I’m Patrick Wiscombe. Thank you for listening. We’ll talk to you next Tuesday.
Bringing you interviews with top business professionals and business financing tips to help fuel your American dream. This has been the Business Fuel podcast, with your hosts, Ty Kiisel and Patrick Wiscombe, heard exclusively on Lendio.com