Interview with Greg Fisher
By: Bella Sparhawk at Blake's Seed Based
Greg Fisher is a professor at The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and advisor for Blake's Seed Based. In this interview, he shares how he went from starting his own business to teaching others how to do it. Professor Fisher's guidance was instrumental in helping Blake's Seed Based launch from an idea to a business. Greg's intelligence, humility and entrepreneurial spirit make him a truly unique individual. Read on to learn more about Greg and his passions. Hopefully you'll be inspired to #SeedYourPassion, whether that's starting a business or mountain biking through South Africa!
1. Can you tell our audience about yourself?
I was born and raised in South Africa. I initially studied accounting and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in South Africa. I worked for Deloitte straight out of college, but I hated accounting and auditing. Yet I loved working for Deloitte. To find a way out of accounting, I did an MBA. While doing my MBA I co-founded a training and development business called LearningLab. After 2.5 years building the business, I had the opportunity to exit by selling the business. I was drawn to academia and teach in a business school, so I sold the business with idea that I would become a business school professor. I moved from South Africa to Seattle to do a PhD in Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington. After getting my PhD I got a job as a professor at The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. Eight years on and I am still a professor at Kelley.
2. What inspired you to teach entrepreneurship?
I had been an entrepreneur and I was intrigued by how many elements of entrepreneurship could be taught. Launching a venture and bringing new ideas to market is complex and challenging, but with the right perspective, tools and guidance it becomes a lot easier. I wanted to make it easier for others to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.
3. As a Professor of Entrepreneurship, what stands out to you as an idea with promise to be a business?
Good ideas are born out of problems and frustrations. To search for good business ideas, I encourage people to think about the aspects of their day-to-day existence that frustrate them. Focusing on issues of frustration encourages people to identify opportunities to solve real problems and it prompts them to focus on issues that they can relate to. For me, right now, an aspect of my life that frustrate me is access to regular healthy home cooked meals; I don’t like cooking but I do like to eat healthy and I like the variation of a home cooked meal – I think there is a business opportunity to create an Airbnb type platform for home cooked meals. I wish someone would do it.
4. What does it take to be an entrepreneur? You’ve talked about “entrepreneurial hustle”, could you explain that concept?
I strongly believe that being an entrepreneur boils down to consistently “finding a way” to make things work; operating with a sense of urgency and ingenuity. I worked with colleagues to carefully study the behavior and early actions of 48 successful entrepreneurs, and we identified that they consistently and repeatedly engaged in seemingly urgent, unorthodox actions that were intended to be useful in addressing immediate challenges and opportunities under conditions of uncertainty. We called this entrepreneurial hustle and we argue that it is a necessary condition for entrepreneurial success. If you are not willing to consistently operate with urgency to seek unorthodox solutions to address immediate challenges and opportunities, then I don’t think there is any point in becoming an entrepreneur. Our research highlighted that entrepreneurial hustle leads to increased opportunities, greater learning, more resources, and a stronger network of supporters. It therefore helps build a much more viable and sustainable business.
5. Challenges are inevitable in starting a business. How do you advise facing challenges?
Break the challenge down and ask yourself “what can we do today to get us closer to a resolution.” Starting a business is about what you do day-to-day, so break your big challenges down into actionable tasks and then just carry out those tasks. The energy that comes from completing a small task or overcoming part of a difficulty builds momentum towards overcoming much larger challenges and achieving more significant goals.
6. What are the biggest mistakes you see starting entrepreneurs make?
Thinking it is easy and giving up when things get tough; expecting to achieve a year’s worth of success in a month or many years’ worth of success in a year. Building a successful business generally takes seven years, some people are lucky, and they achieve significant success quicker than this, but most take at least seven years to achieve true sustainability. So, in starting a business, only do it if you are willing to stick with it for at least seven years, otherwise you are wasting your time.
7. How do you know Blake?
Blake did his MBA at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University; I am a professor at the same school. He was in my class in his very first semester at Kelley.
8. What were your initial thoughts on his business idea?
I was intrigued, mostly because Blake described the difficulties he experienced in finding healthy snacks that would not trigger his nut allergy. He was frustrated. I had a friend with a son with a nut allergy and he was equally frustrated. The clear focus on a problem and creation of a viable solution were intriguing to me.
9. How were you involved in starting Blake’s Seed Based?
I mostly just provided advice; I suggested that they should do a Kickstarter campaign to experiment, get things going a build some traction. I also provided some feedback on formulation, packaging and early strategy. In addition, I wrote a business school case study on the founding of the business and I have used that in my class to generate good ideas for scaling the business and to help other MBA appreciate and understand the opportunities and challenges in starting a business from scratch.
10. What advice did you give Blake when he started, that you’d give to other new entrepreneurs?
Focus intently on the problem you are solving and the customer set that experiences that problem most significantly; you can’t be everything to everyone so be very clear on the problem and the target customer. Build a cool brand; others will try copy the essence of the product, but your brand is what makes you unique and special over time.
11. What advice would you give to Blake’s Seed Based now?
I would keep offering the same advice plus suggest that a key to the next phase of development is a key focus on building out the team. Recruit very carefully as you do this, one or two bad hires at this stage will take you down, a few good hires will help launch the rocket ship.
12. What’s your favorite Blake’s Seed Based bar flavor?
I love the taste, density and richness of the Chocolate Mint protein bar, it is my go-to snack on long, strenuous mountain bike rides. I love the Blueberry Lemon snack bar for day-to-day snacking; it is a real treat to stave off the 4pm workday slump and it keeps me away from the less healthy snack options (soda, candy) that I otherwise might be tempted to tuck into.
13. Our motto is #SeedYourPassion, which means going out in the world and doing what you love. How do you #SeedYourPassion?
I ride my bike. I have a number of different bikes for different purposes – mountain biking, road riding, gravel grinding, commuting – and I love to ride them all. Right now I am preparing to ride a 1500-mile race across South Africa called the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa. It is a mountain bike race that will take me through some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the country. I will be eating a lot of Blake’s Seed Based bars on the trip; they are the perfect energy source for such an endeavor.
14. How do you balance your passions with your career?
I like to set big goals related to my passions (biking, running). Big goals scare me into action. I am pretty much a workaholic, so I need big goals that scare me away from my work desk and onto the trails or into the outdoors to prepare.
15. Who or what inspires you the most?
The promise of adventure inspires me. I like to be fit and strong enough to embark on (what I think of as) big adventures. It is that promise of adventure that gets me to do things I would not otherwise do.
16. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received (in life or business), and how do you incorporate that advice in your life?
“Do today what others won’t so tomorrow you can do what others can’t” Building a career as a professor was very tough and tedious early on, but it ultimately has a allowed me engage in a career I love and in which I have a great deal of freedom and autonomy; riding 1500 miles self-supported is tough and tedious, but it allows me to see and experience many things that other people won’t.
Thank you, Greg, for sharing your story!