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Got a problem? Make the solution an income

Rebecca Shaw for Progressive Dairy Published on 03 February 2020

“I’d never worked in fashion or retail. I just needed an undergarment that didn’t exist.”

That’s a quote from Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. It’s true. She started out selling fax machines door to door before taking a chance with the $5,000 in her savings account that turned into a 2012 Forbes title of youngest self-made female billionaire and a current net worth of $1.1 billion. And that net worth is just scratching the surface of her accomplishments.

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Sara had a problem. She couldn’t wear white pants and it not be a hassle. So Sara cut the feet out of pantyhose, wore them under her white pants, and the rest is history.

It wasn’t always an easy journey. Money was tight and people ripped up her business card in front of her. Like any great entrepreneur, Sara was stubborn, yet realistic, and determined to make it work. She believed down to her core that women needed this product and knew she had to go through the lows to come out on top.

Another well-known quote from Sara is, “My advice for an entrepreneur just starting out is to differentiate yourself. Why are you different? What’s important about you? Why does the customer need you?”

In the dairy industry, we need to celebrate and embrace this approach of thinking, creativity and innovation, whether it’s toward increasing consumers’ dairy consumption, establishing a positive reputation for our industry or diversifying income on the dairy farm.

One of my favorite examples is CowPots, an “American-made, biodegradable, plastic-free, seed starting pot using composted cow manure,” straight from the cows at Freund Farms Inc. in East Canaan, Connecticut.

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Amanda Freund, third-generation dairy farmer, manages the business side of CowPots today. It’s evident that she’s proud of what they’ve built, which is “an economically viable business that adds value to a byproduct of our dairy farm and exports up to 15 percent of our nutrients [cow manure] off our farm at a profit, while meeting our farm’s environmental stewardship goals.”

When I asked her, what was a key to their success, she responded, “Perseverance is the single most significant word I would use to describe my family’s CowPots venture. We’ve been turned down, denied and refused more times than I can count. But if we let the naysayers define us, we’d still be making these pots by hand in one bay of our farm shop.”

When comparing the two women and businesses, Amanda reflected on a key similarity between them. “Talking about women’s undergarments as a serious business enterprise was probably met with a lot of skepticism and laughs. Trying to be taken seriously when we introduced a pot made from poop confronted a lot of critics as well,” she said.

“It’s about persistence, surrounding yourself with people that believe in you, building a network and taking every opportunity to share your story,” she said. “Not every person needs or wants Spanx, just like not every person has any interest in growing [plants], but every single person that hears our story about why we make CowPots on our farm, [is] always impressed with the ingenuity and innovation.”

Got some of your own big ideas? Here’s my challenge for you. Ask yourself:

  1. What is a problem you can solve in a way no one else can or has?
  2. Could it be profitable?
  3. What is holding you back from doing it? (Money, time, space, appropriate connections, etc.)
  4. What would it take to overcome these obstacles?
  5. Do you have enough energy and passion for the idea to make it happen?

Write your answers down. Not every idea is a million (or billion) dollar idea. Sometimes they’re successful on a smaller scale, or they may fall flat. But the more you think outside of the box, the closer you are to becoming your own Sara Blakely!  end mark

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PHOTO: The Freund family developed a new revenue stream by creating CowPots, a seed-starting pot using composted cow manure. Photo courtesy Amanda Freund.

Rebecca Shaw
  • Rebecca Shaw

  • Dairy Marketing Specialist
  • Cargill
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Here are additional resources, where you can dig deeper into the stories of what’s made these intuitive and creative people successful.

Sara Blakely, Spanx

Amanda Freund, CowPots

Editor’s note: This article is the latest in a series from Rebecca Shaw about female entrepreneurs. Read the others here:

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