Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sharing Bread

There are a lot of people who can only talk about a business. They can’t even generate $1.

There are so many people who know how to charge people for comments and time. They can’t even produce one thing – not even inspiration.

Even more so, the words “honest business” would be hard to apply to any company.

The word "company" comes from Latin, symbolizing people being such good friends that you would share bread with them. Con = together. Panis = bread. To go along with one and share bread. To accompany.

More than one month has passed since I heard a woman’s story that humbled me.

I can’t stop thinking about it.

Salon - A French concept of a conversation in a room to elevate minds - outlook, knowledge, and understanding.

I didn’t know her story going into a Salon where I was a keynote speaker. So was she.

I was about to give a speech about Arts Patronage – how it is possible online for people to commission work from people who inspire them. Paying something beyond $0.99 to an Artist. Commissioning an inspired project.

I wish for a photo of an eagle flying over the Lagoon in Stanley Park of Vancouver. I will pledge $...obo. A birthday gift for...

For that Salon, in Halifax, we launched a prototype to register desired gifts--works of art, or projects--online.

Next in Vancouver, we are launching an online food gifting service for Starving Artists and Causes.

We are preparing for New York where people one day will go to an inspired music café to leave a gift for someone to pick up.

Someone you know left a gift for you @ .... click here for details. There might be $20 cash for your music or dinner.

Sound impressive?

* * *

I was looking into her shadow

I was humbled by another story. By a woman. By a farmer from the country. By someone ditched by her husband. By someone ditched by her business partner, who left behind $167,000 in spoiled product (she mortaged everything and had $2000 left). By someone who turned down a $64,000 a year job as a chef. By someone who helped Artists. By someone who was turned down by a midwifery school for being too old. By someone who travels more than an hour to St. Lawrence market on Saturdays to sell cheese. By someone who wasn’t bankable. By a Mennonite.

She cussed a few times during her speech – her words simple, authentic and humorous. For people in the city.

Online and offline she got people to pre-pay for cheese yet to be made. She got people to subscribe. She generated $250,000 in subscriptions. Her business now generates more than $1 million in revenue at a profit of $150,000. She donated $15,000 to Doctors Without Borders.


As a business reporter many moons ago, and as an advisor to investors for many ventures…I can honestly say, I have never seen this before.

She did exactly what I was trying to do for inspired Art, but with cheese. For $200, you got a $250 voucher for any cheese she made in the next five years.

I want to note company shareholders are also called subscribers. She changed the meaning of subscription. She sold “futures.” Investors were consumers.

550 subscribers generated $250,000 to fund cheese next spring from five different milks.

In some ways, she was also selling prepaid Art. She saw her cheese-making as Art.

I don’t often say give it up for a business model. But today I do. I first heard it on October 8, 2009. One month later, I still can’t stop thinking about it.

She cast more than one shadow

It’s not even just the business model of Obamaesque public financing. It’s not even the economic efficiencies she created. This is a model for local produce, local foodies and local business.

She called it Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). In the crowd, randomly some of her customers were even there.

Chevalier n. ~ a distinguished cheese expert. A designation awarded by Confrérie des Chevaliers du Taste Fromage in France. An equivalent to a wine sommelier.

"Pecorino Toscano originates in Italy ( pecora is “sheep” in Italian). It's a pressed, cooked cheese with a natural rind whose history dates back more than 2,500 years. The Monforte Toscano, which has been aged six months, has a rustic, mottled rind that brings to mind an artifact just unearthed. Its paste is a pale straw colour, with warm tea tones near the rind. It exudes a pastoral well-being that engages the senses before you even take a bite. The texture is dense with some crumble, but remains moist. The flavours are soft and have an earthy depth, a sour cream richness and a subtle, sweet complexity with a bit of meatiness at the rind."

Her name is Ruth Klahsen from Monforte Cheese. Before this, she cooked for a theater in Stratford, earning $32,000 a year plus benefits. She turned down a 100% pay raise to start her business. That’s double pay. And for all her staff too. Before this, she could cook duck confit for $5.95 for Artists to eat well. “I felt like my art was helping their art. And if you double my salary if f—cks it all up (crowd laughs)…it messes it up because it means the confit of duck is $12.95.”

PS To be my own devil's advocate, Ruth really gave me a chance to contrast our business with hers. She creates an asset (cheese)…something tangible and tactile, that a buyer can taste. It’s also inspiring. Our business has less up front cost. But in our model, Art is harder to imagine, harder to taste, less tangible or tactile, arguably, less stable to make. But Art does have the potential to create more inspiring stories. To make things beautiful. It’s key for us to highlight these stories. Stories like Ruth's.

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