Highlights from last week’s “How They Built It” Power Breakfast

The Des Moines Business Record hosted a Power Breakfast panel discussion last Thursday titled, “How They Built It.” Five panelists discussed the stories of how and why they built their businesses, sharing lessons they learned while doing so.

The five panelists were:

  • Tiffany Johnson – Co-founder and producing artistic director, Pyramid Theater Company
  • Nancy Mwirotsi – Founder and executive director, Pursuit of Innovation
  • Dr. Chris Nelson – President and CEO, Kemin Industries
  • Casey Niemann – Founder, AgriSync
  • Connie Wimer – Chairman, Business Publications Corporation

Here are some of the key takeaways from the event:

The more feedback the better

Throughout the event, panelists brought up the importance of asking for a lot of feedback about their products as early as possible.

“When I was in the early days, trying to explain to people what we were doing, if I was in the agriculture industry they instantly got it. And then if I went to somebody who was disconnected from that, they were not quite sure that it would work,” Casey Niemann said. “Maybe dig in with people are in the same vertical and same domain. Try to get perspectives from people who have been that industry for a number of years. I’m a big believer in asking bluntly for feedback. And even if they say no, get into the why of what that is and really do a gut-check on yourself.”

You’re going to make mistakes

“We celebrate failures and recently had one of them,” Dr. Chris Nelson said. “We attempted to get into the personal care business with various natural ingredients. We actually worked on it for 11 years and lost money every year. We finally closed it late last year.”

“Think about it, startups every day are living and dying on failure, right? “They’re saying, ‘How fast can I fail? And what can I learn from it?’ said Casey Niemann. “My encouragement is, what are you doing to foster kind of that freedom to fail inside of your organization?” he later added.

Starting a business requires risk

At the end of the discussion, each panelist was asked how risky they would rate themselves on a scale from one to ten.

Connie: “I would put myself at a 10. I kind of love risk. There’s some kind of satisfaction to it.”

Casey: “I’d say I’m more of a 7 or an 8, but my wife would say I’m an 11.”

Chris: “I would put myself at a 9. 10 years ago, I would have said 10 but maybe I’m a little older now.”

Nancy: “10. I dropped everything to be able to do this for the kids. I’m a single mother who at about that time had received a child support check for 33 cents. That tells you a whole lot about taking risks and sticking with it.”

Tiffany: “I’d definitely say a 10. It’s a tough market to try to create a company that’s specific to culture and in an area that you are marginalized in. It’s a risk to get people to buy into that.”

Previous coverage

Key takeaways from last week’s “Innovation Acceleration” Power Breakfast -Dec. 3, 2018