Tag Archives: entrepreneur

Baking, Sourdough and Martha Stewart – Is There Room Today for Investing in Stocks and Bonds?

Cara used to call me “Martha Stewart”.  I supposed it was partly her age and being embarrassed at having a mom-dad at home.  I had single parented for a decade by this time and I didn’t want the girls to be somehow disadvantaged because their primary care provider was a guy.

In the days before the richness of online recipes and apps, my “go-to” was a tattered copy of “The Joy of Cooking” and I’ll admit that reading the basic skills part at the beginning of the book coupled with my proclivity to measuring in “about” rather than precise amounts, and sometimes skipping steps, led to as many failures as successes.

In time I started to watch Martha Stewart on TV and slowly built the skills and confidence to master the basics.  And it helped me affirm that my tastes, while decidedly masculine, were appropriate.

My quip back to her was “fine, you can’t have any of the chocolate chip cookies I’m making”, or something like that.  I always felt insecure raising the two girls alone and worried that I would somehow fail them.  I was pro-feminist before I knew what that meant and supported them in whatever choices they made.  If that meant walking to the school to pick one up with her bass baritone sax because the truck was broken down yet again and I didn’t have the slack to get it fixed or making homemade cookies because it was cheaper than store bought, so be it.  The important thing was to make sure that they didn’t miss out or do without.

I read and posted an article recently about a growing trend in making the perfect sourdough bread.  I was intrigued by this group of male tech-employed millennials, their search for perfection and the precision with which they undertook baking that perfect loaf.  I’ll admit that some basic skills coupled with my recent experience with a food delivery service leaves me in the artisanal space and the world of food excellence, but I doubt I have the temperament to pursue the perfect loaf.

One of our CSI members is working through the process of launching a beer bread business, baking sourdough bread from the leavings of the beer making business.  Looking beyond conceptually the impact of both a green and circular economy and how he is creating value from something that was destined for pig feed or the big organic digesters the city runs for bio-waste, I was struck by how the opportunities for making and selling artisanal bread are limited by scalability issues.  The excellence of the product lies in part in the lack of preservatives, so its shelf life is limited, the margins of the product are such that there is no room for sales returns and finally the product is a one-off so there is no suite of artisanal products that can be wholesaled.

If anyone can figure out how to ramp this business up it is Dihan.  He is doing enough to have perfected his recipe and approach, has examined his options and is exploring what avenues are available to him.  I strongly suspect that his final choices are going to rest in both technology and the disruption that technology is causing in the area of fulfillment.

Consider for a minute what the process is for you in bread fulfillment.  You could go to Costco and buy Costco sized bread products.  You can buy the same product at your local grocer, but (bread scandals aside) at a higher price.  Or you could nip into your local convenience store and pay a higher price still.  From bakery to retail, you are largely unaware of the steps and effort to make, ship, stock and manage that inventory so that wherever you buy it, it is easy and convenient.  Well maybe not Costco – but who shows up to Costco just to buy bread?

What you’re buying isn’t something full of wholesome goodness, but a product designed to remain fresh for a lengthy time.  I can buy a loaf of pedestrian whole wheat or some douchie version, but I guarantee you that the last slice two weeks from now is going to be as fresh as the first slice that I took out.  No mouldy nor desiccated offering as it sat out on my counter; truly a marvel of food engineering.

Over the course of two decades I have heard the cries of foul from my peers complaining about discount brokers. Like the male millennial purveyors of the ultimate sourdough experience, there are those that find enjoyment in constructing and managing their own portfolios.  Others with less discipline but more experience are like the home-made pierogi crowd who through years of making them know just the right mix and texture to make the perfect dough (hint, save and use the potato water). They don’t need us to be order takers.  In fact, the DIY group can do it far more cheaply and effectively than I can.

Our chosen profession is in the advice-giving channel; our value proposition is in the experience.  I am toying what it means to be “artisanal” using stocks and bonds as the base ingredients, but I share the same struggle as the beer-bread entrepreneur.  I’m just not sure how I fulfill the client experience in a world of tighter margins and packaged goods.  In fact, I may be convinced that back-to-the-basics is better but don’t know how to communicate that.

So yes Cara, maybe I haven’t lost my Martha Stewart tendencies.  I just haven’t figured out how to make it work for me.

David Chellew and Linda Odnokon have been life partners and in business together for almost 19 years. During that time, they have mellowed into their respective roles and enjoy working with individual investment clients. Dave is a Portfolio Manager and Linda is an Investment Advisor with iAS and work out of the co-work space, Centre for Social Innovation at Queen and Spadina downtown Toronto.

Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC). iA Securities is a trademark and business name under which Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. operates.

This information has been prepared by David Chellew, Portfolio Manager for Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of IAS. The opinions expressed are based on an analysis and interpretation dating from the type of publication and are subject to change. Furthermore, they do not constitute an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any the securities mentioned. For more information about IAS, please consult the official website at www.iasecurities.ca. David Chellew can open accounts only in the provinces where he is registered.

 

Building a Business Village One Engagement at a Time

old-toronto

I’ve often thought about business framed around the idea of the village – a grouping of individuals bound by a commonality. I suppose if you go back far enough in time you’ll find those bonds were one of obligation to one’s master but when I think of village I think of the parish church, local pub, general store and the family doctor.

As parochial and quaint, as pastoral and seemingly unchanging those societies are, in my opinion they continue to exist in part because of an intransigence to the new. Try to be an outsider or agent of change. They are fundamentally designed to keep norms, and norms are safe. And those norms are master to all.

I recently watched a community coalesce around conflict. The condo I live in was dealing with a potential threat to our way of life. A developer on an adjacent lot wanted to convert part of our drive into a lane way to allow deliveries and garbage service – I should add that our drive is private property. Both the management company and the boards of the various constituent condos supported the developer. A number of individuals stepped up and had the measure defeated soundly.

In the threat to the community at large, support in opposition coalesced around a few key leaders. Sans conflict, we revert into intransigence, enjoying the benefits of having most of our needs taken care of by the invisible hand of the condo. As the threat recedes, our complacent norms reassert themselves.

That brings me full circle to the idea of community in business.

If I think back over the years of management education and organizational experience I’m struck by the emphasis on the elemental impersonality of it all. Think of it this way – most businesses see themselves like an advertisement. They choose to be perceived by the way they present themselves in the hope that they offer sufficient appeal to the buying public to meet their needs – to sell a product or service. The public aren’t part of their community.

In the process of self-discovery over the past year and a substantial effort at rebranding our emphasis a key part was on boiling down the essence of what we stood for, who we are presented in an honest and forthright manner.

What my business partner and I, and our marketing guy, seem to be struggling with right now is how to build the business out going forward encouraging engagement. Linda is successful in attracting people who want to be part of her circle, to be part of something larger. I am affable and intense at the same time and rely on my intellect to guide through what can be a pretty confusing landscape. Rob is just finding his feet as a social marketer applying skills he’s acquired going through the process of building a startup.

Where we have failed is not acknowledging that we three form a community that’s part of a larger one. I can talk about target market and business proposition until I’m blue in the face but it doesn’t change the fact that to be successful going forward I, we, have to be conscious of how business has to be operate going forward.

It is easy to galvanize a group and provide leadership in the face of crisis. I can fall back on the very elements that has in the past built successful business practices – fear, greed and envy, as a peer and mentor once hammered at me, but a community can’t be grow unless the process is built on something more sustainable. Living and working in a state of perpetual crisis, or conflict, is inherently unhealthy; creating both dependencies and fear are mere manifestations of that.

So what is it then to try to build a successful business around the sense of a larger community? I don’t know but I’m willing to find out. And I’ll be finding out one engagement at a time.