Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Gray Shipley, partner at Shipley Farms Beef, located in Vilas, NC, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We produce local specialty meats in the Appalachian Mountains, built off our family farm in the North Carolina High Country. We raise, package, and sell mountain-grown beef in cooperation with other local farms, selling online and off the farm, as well as to local chefs, schools, and grocery stores across the Southern Appalachian region.
We do things the way we've done it for 150 years, with "no shortcuts" - raised on pasture without steroids, antibiotics, growth stimulants, or feedlots.
Tell us about yourself
I started in beef eight years ago, when my 101-year old grandfather decided he was bored with retirement and wanted to get back in the cattle business, so my dad and I joined up with him to re-start the family farming business. For me, so much of what we do is connected with my grandparents. They were both so genuine, selfless, committed to their faith and community. I'm driven by that legacy of stewardship - realizing none of this really belongs to us, and we're here to leave the land, people, and community around us better off than we found it.
I'm also increasingly fascinated as I learn more about how much nutrition affects health and how beneficial animal protein and animal fats are because that's what our systems are designed to live on. Turns out so much of what we've been taught about nutrition for the past 50 years just isn't so, and the consequences to national health have been really substantial. So, it's cool to be in an area where the products we're creating can have a positive impact on health.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I'm most proud of the team of people we've put together. I haven't done anything meaningful by myself. COVID nearly put us out of business three different ways, but our people - including my dad, who is tremendous, just a fantastic leader - found a way to come out of it stronger, with a new meat processing division that helped solve a huge problem not just for us, but also for all the other local farmers in our community.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Saying no to good things - never having enough bandwidth for all the good and interesting things to do, try, read, learn, and experience - always hard for me to not have as much capacity as I'd like to, and to have to prioritize what's most mission-critical means saying no to some experiences and initiatives that would be really fun and interesting.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Figure out what your purpose or mission is in life, and spend it on that. If you find yourself just going through each day focused on making money, you haven't found it yet.
- Business is about people - focus on who you serve and who you work with. That's what makes companies great. Don't try to build a company on what you can do on your own.
- Do a few things well - find something to be excellent at. Don't get distracted by shiny things, and don't just be kind of good - aim for the best in the world. We want to produce meat products at the intersection of great agricultural practices and great food quality that the best chefs in America and Europe, and Asia all want to have in their restaurant and want to come here and see what we're doing. With the people we've got on our team, I think that's where we're headed.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I'd love to see more people learning to think again. There's a lot going on in society that makes absolutely no sense, yet people accept it because they're told to. The dividing line between those who are successful and those left behind is fast becoming whether or not you believe what you're told without thinking about it. Be cautious of those who would dictate what we ought to do, but far more, those who would dictate what we ought to believe.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email email@example.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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