St. Edward, Nebraska is just one example of many small rural towns doing great things in the Silicon Prairie.
When I met Travis Stephens at the Pipeline Innovators Event in Omaha this past January, he informed me that St. Edward is a small town of 800 people northwest of Columbus, Nebraska. I can say that I have never been to or through St. Edward.
Our meeting was accidental. I was the first person at the evening gala because I got the time wrong and showed up 30 minutes early. So much so that I heard the band finishing up their sound check. Travis was probably one of the first 10 people there, but he showed up at 7 when the evening’s festivities actually began along with our initial conversation.
So, what was a guy from rural St Edward, Nebraska doing at software technology innovation startup business awards banquet?
“I started an online retail shop for after-market center pivot parts,” he responded when I asked him why he was there. “It’s called Direct Pivot Parts. We are located in Saint Edward, NE. I was asked to join this year’s cohort for innovators. I am still thinking about it.”
For those of you reading this article that didn’t grow up on farm or anywhere near a farm, we are not talking about pivoting your block chain technology platform to serve a different customer. (That is a different definition of a pivot). In this scenario, a pivot is a very large sprinkler for crops that moves across the land in a circular or linear pattern. The technology itself revolutionized farming half a century ago. Direct Pivot Parts is revolutionizing the way farmers repair, purchase, and replace existing pivot parts by creating access to a lower-cost option and market transparency.
“When we first started 3 years ago, we began by selling overstock items on eBay and Craigslist. We were the first to sell after-market pivot parts online,” said Stephens. “We focus a lot on social media marketing, YouTube videos, Facebook, Instagram etc.”
If you are like me, then you are interested in the back stories of entrepreneurs, their experiences, where their vision comes from, and what drives them on a daily basis. So, I invited Travis to lunch last week when he was back in Omaha at the Excellence in Ag trade show at the CHI center to get his story and the story behind the epigenesis of his company.
I had never been to an Ag trade show and I am guessing the majority of you haven’t either. He does several of them each year as promotion to reach farm customers. When I walked into the convention hall at the CHI center, several thoughts ran through my mind and all of them were about the differences between the two events in which we had spoken, an agriculture expo and a software technology awards banquet. I immediately noticed my slim fit Stich Fix pants were probably going to stand out amongst the crowd of baggy blue jean-clad farmers in baseball caps. There were giant machines everywhere that did very specific farm jobs like bale hay and shade cattle. I met quite a few farmers and entrepreneurs that day on my way to lunch with Travis each with their own story…and a similar mindset grounded in humility.
“Hard work with reward. I truly believe that if I just work hard it would pay off.”
A simple answer from a humble guy that has built two successful companies. Travis grew up on a farm in St. Edward that his family still owns, and he went to college at Hastings Community College. He received his degree in electrical and HVAC technology. Travis worked as an apprentice before getting his contractor’s license at age 22. He started his is own business that does electrical, plumbing, and HVAC called Steven’s Supply and still owns it today. Direct Pivot parts was a spin out from all the repair work his company was doing on pivot irrigation systems around central Nebraska farms. In many circumstances, they had to build the parts from scratch.
“I learned a lot the first ten years of owning a business.” When I asked him if that knowledge and experience could have been learned at a university he said, “It’s possible, but it would have been tough.”
Travis spends most of his time now on growing his five-man organization. He has focused more in the past few years on networking and building relationships – hence the reason for attending startup events and ag shows. He spends a large chunk of his time on sales and marketing currently but is still heavily involved in product development.
Direct Pivot Parts has five fulltime employees and is always looking to grow. Visit https://directpivotparts.com to learn more about Travis Stephens and his startup.