If you (re)build it, they will come

(Guest post by Nathan Benjamin.) I don't pretend to have a fail-proof recipe for a successful business, but I do know that for us, it's about purpose, the planet and a bunch of people who all see a baseball game where others see only a field. A recent study in The Wall Street Journal found

Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. January’s topic is company culture.

About the author: Nathan Benjamin is the founder of PlanetReuse and InvenQuery.

The PlanetReuse team takes advantage of the ping-pong table in the coworking space where it offices.

I don’t pretend to have a fail-proof recipe for a successful business, but I do know that for us, it’s about purpose, the planet and a bunch of people who all see a baseball game where others see only a field.

A recent study in The Wall Street Journal found two-thirds of people would take a pay cut to work for a company that focused on sustainability. Why? Because we want our lives, and our work, to matter. InvenQuery was created around an environmental mission, and we stay true to that. It infuses who we are, what we do and why we do it. I’ve learned that if you create a company around a vision that’s about making money and doing good, you attract goal-focused and mission-driven people who are passionate about what they do. And they do it well.

Ray Kinsella believed deeply in the power of belief and so do we. Plus, as an Iowa native, I’m contractually obligated to quote the film Field of Dreams. Here are a few of the beliefs that I, and the InvenQuery team, hold sacred.

Go the distance

We practice what we preach. Our team shares a vision, a passion and a commitment to positively impacting the environment. Our workspace expresses that value: our walls are made of reclaimed flooring, our carpet is repurposed, our desks (right) and chairs are reused, and our recycling program is more than a lonely blue bin. We don’t leave our commitment to doing good behind at the end of the workday. Our team volunteers together to support nonprofits we believe in: serving dinner at the Ronald McDonald House; helping with Habitat for Humanity home builds; playing in charity golf tournaments. There’s a sign in the hall that reads “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We’re trying to do that.

There are no rules here

Creativity is oxygen to a startup. If we’re not encouraging innovation, we might as well pack up and go home. Challenging assumptions and asking “What if?…” is not just key to our business model, it’s vital in fueling happiness and productivity of our people. While we all have our eyes on the same prize, we each bring different backgrounds, life experiences, perspectives and strengths to the table. Allowing everyone in the office to have their voice heard encourages participation, collaboration and crazy ideas that turn into really solid strategies.

As entrepreneurs, we’re always rethinking and rewriting our basics, ensuring we’re flexible enough to respond to our environment and customers. Most of us have come from the corporate world, where bureaucracies and standard operating often squelched individual ingenuity. Here, it thrives.

Ease their pain

There is a bell curve of time spent in front of a screen and productivity output. Taking breaks throughout the day relaxes the body and opens up our brains for better creative thinking, lowers blood pressure and increases general well-being. We get our work done, but we also realize the importance of having fun. It helps that our office space (on the 5th floor of the impressive bizperc, Think Big Partners; coworking space) in the Kansas City Crossroads district includes some pretty great perks. We brainstorm during ping-pong. Track our daily chin-ups (right). Allow ourselves to be silly. We enjoy an occasional beer in afternoon meetings. Play soccer on the weekends. Make candy runs. Take the stairs. We listen to old-school rap on Fridays. Bike to work. Walk to lunch. We have meetings on the roof in nice weather. We make lattes in the morning. Some (most) of use hilarious accents. Our CTO does an amazing Shakira.

Hey Rookie! You were good.

It doesn’t matter how smart your business plan is or how well you can pitch a product; if you don’t have the right people working with you, you’re destined to fail. I hire people who are highly capable, not just of designing and coding and selling, but of seeing the larger vision of our organization and embedding in into everything they do. Talent is great but motivation is better. We don’t hire jerks, know-it-alls or slackers. I feel like our mission is embedded in my DNA, and I want to work with people who feel the same. I may be the leader, but we’re all on the same boat and the only way we’re going anywhere is by rowing in the same direction.

Don’t we need a catcher? Not if you get it near the plate, we don’t.

Confidence is vital to a startup, specifically if you’re the leader of that startup. It’s your belief that drives people to come in early, stay late and keep going when times get tough. Don’t have a wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-with-ideas vigor for your business? Chances are nobody else will either. Confidence is contagious, and your faith in your people, your purpose and your product is what will carry you to success. There’s a reason why the great innovators of our time attracted loyal teams and customers. It’s because they believed. Enough so that, eventually, others did too.

Like I said, I don’t have all the answers. What I do know is that if you are eager to positively change the world through your business and your people are too, then go ahead and swing for the fences.


Credits: Photos courtesy of PlanetReuse.

About the Author: Nathan Benjamin, LEED-AP, founder and CEO of PlanetReuse and InvenQuery, is a nationally renowned entrepreneur and thought-leader in the field of reclaimed building materials. After founding PlanetReuse, a national reclaimed materials brokerage and consulting firm now in its fifth year of business, Benjamin was inspired to launch InvenQuery, a technology company that offers a scalable all-in-one mobile solution for retailers of unique items, featuring a comprehensive inventory management and marketing system that is adaptable across many vertical markets.


Founder Friday is brought to you by the Iowa Economic Development Authority

Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) is dedicated to supporting innovation by connecting entrepreneurs with resources and development opportunities in Iowa. It salutes the founders of today and tomorrow; encouraging ideas that will invigorate a new economy. Please visit iowaeconomicdevelopment.com for more information on how IEDA can help your business ideas come to life.


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