Archive for April, 2015

Lessons Learned from my boys and their bunny business (Part 2):

April 27th, 2015

The past few years have seen ups and downs in the Jehle Bunny Business (JBB), but the boys have faithfully continued on their course. However, like a normal business, things will change. My eldest son has a year left in gymnasium (Swiss high school), and his life will change drastically. Negotiations are going on at the moment, so the outcome of the JBB is still unknown. It may be that the angels offer a friendly takeover and return to the “bunnies as pet” model. It may be that the younger son buys out the elder. No matter what the outcome, we have all learned some valuable lessons from this (ad)venture.

 

1. Be prepared for big success

 

The first year was much more successful than expected for everyone involved. As I wrote in the last blog, we had 50 rabbits to care for and find buyers for. The boys and their parents were just a wee bit overwhelmed. The lesson here is: be prepared to be a big success and make sure you know what you are able to do if the BIG CHANCE comes your way. Make sure you are prepared with a “what if” plan. Make a few of those kinds of plans, because there will be surprises. Try and be prepared with – and for- various scenarios.

 

2. But you won’t be able to foresee everything

 

No matter what, something you haven’t thought of will happen. The bunnies escaped from their cages and “got together” and, voila, you had eight more babies. Be prepared to change in the middle of things, because you will have to change your plan, and maybe often. If you don’t change, you will not survive. Period.

 

3. But there will be losses

 

Even if you are flexible and change, there will be losses. The fox or cat comes; the bunnies catch an illness that even antibiotics don’t fight; the mother dies or get sick and you have lots of young ones to take care of; and not all of them survive.

 

You need to plan your business so that the losses, especially in the first few years, are covered financially before you even start. Therefore, you must know if you are able to cover those possible losses. Many people say that if you quit your job to start up a business, you should be able to cover six to twelve months of working before making any income. But in fact, with some ventures, it may take years to break even. Losses are part of start-ups. That’s why so many of us start up our business while still working at another job, or have spouses (or other family) who can be our “angels”, or have substantial personal savings invested in the business.  In the end, though, there are no profits if you don’t market your product.

 

4. Marketing is key, even if it‘s not “you”

 

The boys continue to be weak in the marketing area. This is why we, the venture capitalists and parents, have stepped in to sell the products. An entrepreneur friend of mine said the other day, “I am going to ride a strange bus to a strange part of town to meet someone I do not know.” This concept of doing the unfamiliar is so important for marketing a start-up. If you are unable to stretch yourself and do the unfamiliar, you might want to reconsider your start-up plan. Everything will be new, but especially the marketing part, and even if you aren’t a marketer-type, you will constantly have to put yourself into unfamiliar situations and be willing and able to initiate.

 

So, if you are a great planner, are prepared like a Scout, are able to cover losses for some time, and are willing to, like the proverbial Trekkie, go where no one has gone before, then get ready to start-up!

Jehle Bunny Business: lessons learned from rabbits and chickens

April 20th, 2015

A personal experience from my family gives you, my readers, a bit of information about me; and at the same, it time gives you some points to ponder regarding start-ups.

 

Jehle Bunnies for sale!

My two sons are entrepreneurs of sorts. They have a bunny business that we in the family call the Jehle Bunny Business. My husband, Patrik and I are the venture capitalists and my husband is chief of marketing and sales by default. Luckily or not, bunnies pretty much take care of themselves regarding re-production.

 

50 rabbits!

The first year the boys started the venture, there were almost fifty bunnies running about our extensive garden. I had sleepless nights thinking of what could happen if the babies had more babies. It did happen a few times, but for the most part my sons were pretty good about checking out the sex of the babies and keeping them apart.

 

But sometimes bunnies escape. To this day, this remains a problem, as our animals are so-called “happy” bunnies. They are free-range with movable fences that are not always perfectly escape-free. But I think our maximum number of rabbits we have had remains at the fifty mark, and that was only once.

 

Loss happens

Unfortunately, there were losses. That year of the fifty bunnies, a main coon cat discovered the babies and regularly carried them away in broad daylight until they were too big to be taken. The cat owner felt no remorse, even though at least one neighbor tried to guilt her into it. But cats are rather wild and hard to control. We then discovered one could put coverings on the tops of the cages. It stifles the adult mothers’ movement a bit, but it keeps the babies from being eaten by cats and other creatures. Of course, the rabbits are in secure cages at night because we have foxes and weasels in the neighborhood. We also discovered that the rabbits can die an untimely death, even if all the health and safety suggestions. Loss happens.

 

Marketing remains “the issue”

Considering that the boys had their own business and bought a few things like a fancy camera and a laptop with their earnings, they have never been very motivated in the sales and marketing area. The elder is more likely to sell a rabbit than the younger, but if one looks at personality, it is interesting. The elder is the classic introvert, the younger is more of an extrovert. What is the issue, here? Is it motivation? Ownership?

As the boys get older and leave home, I have suggested downsizing even a more drastic change: bunnies as pets with the end of the business. This suggestion has not been met with the most positive of responses, and surprisingly most of the protest comes from my husband, the de-fault rabbit farmer, because when the boys are gone for any reason, he feeds and waters the bunnies, sets them in their outdoor cages and puts them away at night. So what have we learned from our boys’ entrepreneurship? In my next blog I will write the lessons we have learned. Stay tuned.

Relationships First in Switzerland

April 13th, 2015

When talking to foreigners who have started a business in Switzerland, one of the first things they emphasize is the need to get to know the people and their culture before making a move out on your own. I happen to agree one hundred percent and there are a few benefits to this advice:

 

You have a Swiss network.

 

If you come straight from another country and start a company without any local connections you are doing yourself a disservice. The Swiss work on a relational basis, so if you want to work with someone, you need what they call “Vitamin B”, where B stands for Beziehung, the German word for relationship. One entrepreneur said “go anywhere and join anything, but join it: church, a golf or tennis club, whatever”. Another said that working in the country first helps to build relationships, but also to learn the mentality of the Swiss.

 

You know the culture better.

 

When you first arrive, you must be like a detective asking yourself questions about one does business here. Of course you have read the books, too. But mostly, your own experience will best tell you how to act and react. What you might find if you are a North American is that the Swiss are not only more relational, but also slower in developing relationships. This slow pace seems to be counterintuitive if the Swiss are so relational, but it has to do with the Swiss version of “saving face”. Nobody wants the other to be embarrassed for any reason. Therefore, you may not be invited to your neighbors’ or colleague’s house for quite a while. One way of breeching this barrier is to initiate. But be forewarned, a friend made in Switzerland is a friend for life.

 

You know where to go for help when you need it.

 

If you live in Switzerland for a while and gain some local friendships and a handle on the culture, the next step is to find out the rules, regulations and possible situations where you will need to protect your start-up from problems and financial risks. There are governmental institutions and private companies just for that purpose. When you have been here in Switzerland long enough and have your friends helping you along the way, you will be told about these places as you need them, or hopefully, before you need them.

 

 

Relationship brings safety.

 

When you work here and do it all “by the Swiss book”, you will be taken care of. The Swiss government is pro-SME and the taxes are favorable for business of all sizes. If you have a network of friends, former co-workers, clients, neighbors, and the government helping you, you are well on the way to a successful start-up. But take it easy, get to know the locals, have fun on the way, and make lots of friends.

To (write) a (business) plan or not to… that is the question

April 6th, 2015

For those entrepreneurs like me who are starting up without any financial support from institutions or angels, a traditional business plan may not be the first thing one makes. But perhaps a more bare-bones model of a business plan might still be helpful. Below are a few reasons for minimalist plan:

 

1) Communication

 

We need to be able to communicate our business goals with all the stake-holders in our start-up. For me, that means my family, perhaps some of my friends and neighbors, and my work colleagues. I need to make sure that everyone involved or affected has an overview of what I plan to do with my enterprise.

 

Part of communication is being able to verbalize to first to yourself, then your stake-holders, and finally your potential clients what your core business is going to be. What do you want to do, for whom and with what? When you are able do this, you are well on your way on the path of success.

 

2) Goal setting

 

It is true that we all need goals and a plan helps to set and reach (SMART) goals so that each step in the start-up leads smoothly to the next. At the same time, when one does not have financial backing, one can go slowly enough to completely realize each step so that the next goal on the horizon can be successfully reached, as well. In this sense, I am more at ease to reach my goals well and not skip or skim over some essential steps.

 

Part of goal setting is to make an evaluation of the current situation and then go from there, one step at a time, taking the time to reflect after each success (or failure).

A plan can also keep you from putting the cart before the horse, making sire you are ready for the next step.

 

3) Making alliances, i.e., networking

 

If you have a business outline, you are better able to present your new endeavor in networking situations. If your core business, your elevator pitch, has been written down it does two things for you: it gives you that time in writing to think through your venture and to put it into concise words. It also gives you the words to tell someone else.

 

4) Marketing and getting those clients/customers

 

In the end, most entrepreneurs are starting a new venture to make some money. If you work through a plan well enough to be able to tell colleagues and stake-holders, you will also be able to communicate the plan to potential clients.

 

5) In the end it is your decision

 

Writing a more formal business plan is an individual decision, but an important one. However, whatever you plan regarding your financial support, it is advisable to make at least a sketched-out plan for your own mental clarity, goal setting, and for the sake of making yourself answer to that question, “So, what are you doing these days, anyway?”. When deciding whether to make a formal business plan or not, it is key to think of your own personal and financial situation and go from there. Of course, a business coach would be of great help in this process.