Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography, Hillary Ehlen and special to Fargo INC!
When starting a company, the idea from inception to reality is a long and winding road that often involves long hours, hardship and no income. That’s why when starting a business, entrepreneurs often need to do whatever they can to pay the bills until their product becomes viable.
We hunted down three entrepreneurs to talk about how they mastered the art of the hustle.
Business: Genesis Feed Technologies
Side Hustle: Driving truck
This is a difficult article to write. In fact it’s my third attempt in doing so. In the age of social media, we are all too often presented with images of perfect success. We romanticize failures and setbacks. We say things like “hustle harder, grind, fail fast”.
I met a setback this summer and had doubts about sharing it publicly in the first place. Picture a semi. One of those big trucks you see on the highway. There I was in the cab of a semi, hauling water. I needed to do this to pay the bills. My bills. I was hoping to be drawing a modest paycheck at this point but that had been inconsistent at best.
I thought I had failed. We were seven months into our business and we weren’t profitable. (Side note: I hope many of you are chuckling at that last statement. Because I am after reading it now. It’s funny how worries that consume us can seem trivial or silly in hindsight.)
In that moment, sitting in the cab with phone in hand, I had a choice to make. Do I write this chapter of my story with shame? Or do I lean into it and embrace the challenge?
I snapped the picture, paused, then shared that moment with the world.
Earlier that day, I climbed up into the cab of the semi, turned the key and pushed the button to start the engine. As I waited for the air pressure to build, I thought to myself. “If you ever doubted if you were serious about this business, this confirms it right here.”
About seven months ago, I left full-time work to start my own business. I put together a team of three co-founders to do the impossible. Build a software startup company in the animal feed industry.
We had some initial success. We sold our product several times over before it existed. But now we were in a chasm between first release and growth. Cash was steady but it meant some changes were needed. I looked ahead for the next three to six months and realized I needed to supplement my income during this period.
Was this the right move? Or was this a sign to call it quits, get a job and move on? I looked at our opportunities, and what we had accomplished. My gut said I wasn’t done yet and to keep pushing forward.
I thought to myself, what are my options? An image of a grain cart flashed in my mind. I had agreed to help on the farm for harvest, but that was several months away. Did they need help soon?
I called my brother and he needed someone to drive semi. Haul water for the sprayer and some corn to the ethanol plant. I could start tomorrow. Would I be interested?
It had been years since I’d driven semi. What would people think? Is this really what I’m supposed to do? I looked at my schedule, made a few quick and calculated changes. I said I could make it.
Looking back, I am so grateful I chose to make that call and do the work. I was challenged in new ways. It stretched my physical and emotional abilities. Reaching out on social media gave me the opportunity to hear what others have done. I was amazed!
Most importantly, it gave me an opportunity to get over myself. So what if there had been a few set backs? I didn’t need to define them as a failure unless I chose to. The failure would have been giving up and calling it quits. The failure would have been defining myself by those fears and negative thoughts.
During one of the darker moments of this, a fellow start up founder encouraged me. He said “this is a chapter in your story” and that I should embrace it.
I’m glad that I did.
Genesis Feed Technologies exists to bring visibility into feed costs by giving your team real-time access to the right information.
Business: Amped School of Music
Side Hustle: Baking and Illustrations
Life is too short to not do the things that bring happiness. There are some passions that bring such life, excitement and balance that they need to fit into everyday life. To wake up, work, sleep and repeat is not my style. Maybe it’s my personality or the minor ADHD in me, but I thrive on variety. For years, I thought that maybe I wasn’t cut out for a real ‘adult’ life. I couldn’t seem to be satisfied with a full-time job, spending most of my hours on a single purpose. Narrowing my focus and efforts on one project left me exhausted and depleted. I need the interest and color of multiple projects that, when you paint them all together, an exciting yet balanced composition of life develops. Through side hustles, life becomes thrilling and curious while the challenges bring growth and adaptation.
Three passions have followed me throughout my life: art, music and baking. At almost all times of my life, I have been balancing my time with a combination of these three activities. One is usually more prominent while the other two are churning quietly in the background. Growing up with these three passions, I was inspired by my grandfather’s paintings on the walls, watching my sister play the violin and baking cookies with my father. In high school, I learned that I could make cash from these activities and that was thrilling. I would make a few bucks here and there drawing portraits of my friends or teaching violin to campers at the Moorhead youth orchestra camp. I continued this when I attended Concordia College. I worked on my fine arts degree in front of a painting easel while making a modest college student living teaching violin or spending my summers baking Japanese desserts at language camp in Minnesota.
After college and moving across the country a couple of times, my side hustles packed up and moved along with me. With online stores like Etsy and communicating with clients over email, I could move my freelance illustration business with me wherever I was living. When I moved back to Fargo, my role as a baker was called into action and I started up a vegan bakery, Lucid Bakery, while making art and teaching violin in my spare time. Eventually, the number of violin students grew from a couple to a couple dozen and I saw an opportunity to share the gift of side hustles with other people. In April 2018, I started Amped School of Music with Nik Gruber of Gruber Guitars by my side so we could share our passion for music together and with other people.
The music school was born because we knew there were other musicians out there that also needed an outlet for their creative projects. As a musician, life is often a collection of side hustles. Many musicians spend their day at a job that may or may not be related to music, then perform shows on the weekend and teach a few music students if they have a space to do so. It is my hope that the school provides a welcoming space and community for musicians to share music with others while supporting their careers. We wanted a space for musicians to get involved with several music-related projects, from teaching private lessons, instructing classes, leading jams and more. It has been extremely rewarding and humbling to see a growing community at the school as people get involved and musicians are collaborating and teaching each other while making a living doing what they love to do.
The great thing about side hustles is that they are adaptable. They don’t necessarily demand 40 hours of work each week or even a permanent location. Mine have grown more prominent when I have needed them to and withdrawn when life took me in a different direction. My side hustles have blossomed into main hustles while lead projects have taken a step back into supporting roles. The pains of unemployment are often subtle as I have an arsenal of projects that step up when they are needed. For over a decade, my variety of side hustles have danced symbiotically with each other and have allowed me to live a balanced life of both passion and stability. To me, that is happiness.
About Amped School of Music
Whether you want to learn about jazz guitar, classical piano or old-time fiddling, Amped School of Music probably offers lessons for you. They are located at 121 Roberts St, Fargo.
Business: Flight Pros
Side Hustle: Metalworking and teaching
Being an entrepreneur is a wild ride, but knowing you absolutely need a side hustle (or two) to pay the bills is an advanced level of crazy. Welcome to my world, where craziness ensues.
I am a business owner. I am a professional drone operator. I am a metalworker. I am a licensed teacher. These are all true statements, and it makes for an interesting conversation when I’m on one of my various projects and someone asks me, “So, what made you get into this line of work?”
That particular question makes this topic very personal and something I’ve had to constantly navigate through the last couple years of owning a business.
Operating drones is an exciting job and we’ve come a long way in providing customers the best data and experience possible. But, we’re a new business in a new industry and drone work is weather, wind and daylight dependent. To make up for the times when our drones are grounded, I have needed to pick up several projects unrelated to our business.
On Fridays in the winter, I often substitute teach in the Moorhead Public School system. When times are slow, I also have the ability pick up metalworking jobs – a profession passed down from my Dad.
Last fall was a difficult time for our business and the task of finding the resources to survive the winter seemed insurmountable. With the combination of past connections, experience and some luck, I was able to secure a fairly large decorative metalworking job at City Brew Hall in Wahpeton, N.D., that allowed us to keep the business alive and well into 2018.
Putting myself out there to the world as someone who works outside my main field of business is difficult. Some will look at my situation and think, “If he doesn’t focus strictly on his primary business, he’s doomed to fail.” Others will think, “He’s doing whatever it takes to keep his business afloat, he’s definitely going to make it.” I don’t know which theory is right or if it’s somewhere in-between.
What I do know is that side-hustling entrepreneurs are working their tails off during the day, doing their best to move our own businesses forward. When that isn’t enough, we sacrifice time usually spent on business-related projects or with our friends and family just to make ends meet.
All of the side jobs I’ve taken over the years have helped me better myself and provided opportunities to improve my business acumen. Classroom teaching allows me to help others solve problems in creative ways and manage a group of 20+ people working towards a desired outcome. Metalworking jobs give me an opportunity to work on bidding projects, researching new skills, meeting and exceeding the expectations of a customer, and delivering on-time. Each project helps me learn or practice techniques to help my full-time business reach its goals.
Regardless of how insane it has been with a full-time gig and other jobs to fill in the gaps, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without those experiences. I’m thankful for the opportunity to continue to grow personally and professionally, even if it is by non-traditional means.
The determination of the entrepreneur is strong! In the last few years, I’ve been able to connect and share stories with dozens of founders in the Fargo area who are in a similar situation to mine, business-wise.
The one thing I always take away from those conversations is the conviction to make the businesses succeed, no matter what it takes. I commend all of those crazy entrepreneurs out there for their hard work.
About Flight Pros
Flight Pros uses drones to gather data for their clients. They can do map creation,
3D modeling, HD video and images and a list of other services.