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Mooney: A case study in being results versus process orientated

Startup Business

If you’re results-oriented, can you learn from failure?

I’d argue you can’t, at least not as efficiently as if you were process oriented.

Here are three case studies to examine:

Pitching the company

KinoSol had made it to the final six companies of an elevator pitch competition while in Texas and we had a 50 percent chance at a larger payday. Mikayla (Sullivan) delivered the pitch just as planned, with poise.

Kinosol didn’t make it into the top three. When we had the time to sit down as a team and reflect, the first question asked was, “What should we have changed in the pitch?”

It’s easy to assume we did something wrong because we didn’t win. And while it’s much easier to remember when the pitch didn’t work, we had cashed in multiple other competitions, with that exact pitch.

Customer discovery

Each semester I help students work on and launch their ventures through Iowa State University’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative Business Incubator.

One semester, a cohort member sat out to complete their early customer discovery. Their hypotheses were well thought out, and they had a strong starting point for who to interview. After a one-week sprint, their customer discovery was not going according to plan and they were beginning to become discouraged.

We sat down to talk about it, and I quickly realized they had only interviewed three of their ten target contacts. We reviewed their questions. Their process was above average for this stage. I nudged them to “get out of the building” for those final seven interviews on the week.

By semester’s end—and having stuck with their process—they had interviewed over 70 people; 45 had validated their hypotheses.

They’re still building their company today, because they didn’t let the 0-3 start stop them.

Poker face

While at the final table of a larger online poker tournament, I found myself to be five of nine in chip stacks of the remaining players. If the tournament had ended right then, I would have taken about $4,000 for fifth place. But ninth place paid out a little over $1,000, and first place was over $20,000.

The player to my immediate right was someone who I had played against before; a fellow professional. He barely had me covered in chips, and currently sat in fourth place. It folded around to him in the small blind, me in the big blind; just the two of us. He shoved all in with a little over 20 big blinds to my 16.

With Ace-Ten, I quickly called. He had Ace Three, and he hit a three on the turn.

I was out in ninth place.

In that moment, my correct play was not rewarded. It’s easy to feel as if I had missed out on at least $3,000, maybe more. But it was the correct play, mathematically, and that would be just one of the millions of hands of poker I’d play in my career.

While it’s disappointing to work hard, only to see something pay off with failure, what does it mean to “fail fast,” “fail and learn,” or my personal favorite phrase, from mentor and AgEI Director, Kevin Kimle; “fail successfully?”

Maybe it’s simple.

Maybe we as founders should stop beating ourselves up over the results and trust the process more often.

Clayton Mooney is the co-founder of the Ames-based companies Kinosol and Nebullam and a familiar face in the Iowa startup ecosystem. Learn more about him here.

Mooney: A case study in being results versus process orientated | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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