Rural Lessons

What they taught me about building a business

Both of my Grandparents grew up in the rural northeastern cornfields of Wisconsin. It’s a land largely the same today as it was then — still speckled black and white with mobs of Holstein cows. It’s a place where people live on the land in the grace of a harvest. They were the children of Belgian immigrants coming to our country to live in the limitless potential of liberty’s greatest experiment. Theirs was a conservatism authentically rooted in personal pride and spiritual humility.

To them, conservatism could be described as stewardship and was ascribed to almost everything — family, work, sweeping the floors.

Holstein Cow by Scott Foresman

Sweeping the cobwebs

As a young child, there was no task too small not to merit such a heavy and aspirational word as stewardship. The shed in our backyard could testify to this. In keeping with tradition, it was built by hand with a foundation we “helped” my Dad lay. It likely still contains my ten-year old handprints. The siding and paint perfectly matched my adjacent childhood home.

When I was charged with the spring cleaning of the shed, I am scant to describe my lesson in sweeping, which must be done with a firm grip and both “deliberately,” and with “purpose.” Needless to say, every square inch was clean, and every cobweb removed.


Garage start-up

In college, the garage where our small business venture was born wasn’t much when compared to the shed. It was a part of a small old house, near Lee University, just outside campus. The garage itself needed its own spring cleaning, full of scraps and garbage from the previous owners. It had no electrical, no lock, and no air-conditioning. In short, it was perfect. We turned it into Southtree headquarters.

Sure it was small. And yes it was only the two of us, my friend Adam and me. But we had to start somewhere. As we instinctively set out sealing the concrete floors, putting in electrical, and shimming up the brand new door with a lock, we were practicing the stewardship instilled in us.

They say in Genesis God commands us to subdue and fill, to cultivate if you will. This is what it felt like and it felt like being alive.

It was a struggle, and it was lonely, and we had doubts. But we brought order out of chaos, breathing life, and building organization.

Maybe this is what being “made in His image” means. Creating, and seeing that it’s good.


Captaining the ship

These feelings are even stronger today then they were then. Now there are nearly forty employees — forty souls, relying on us. Some of them are newlyweds, some have children they’re providing for, all of them are deserving. Now there are thousands of customers, and millions in revenue. Now it’s a bigger ship to captain, with a new set of challenges, and all future territory is still uncharted.

When I can, I walk the offices late at night. In the stillness, every moment and step in the journey comes flooding back to me and I think back to my Grandparents, and a shed. Oftentimes I am overwhelmed with emotion by the grace and wonder of it all.
Who am I, but a steward?

Rural Lessons: What They Taught Me About Building a Business originally appeared on Medium