Guest Post

Degrees of Nerve

by Craig Lieberman

When I think about the importance of having nerve in my business, I think of three distinct periods. The first was the nerve it took for me to leave a comfortable job with benefits to pursue my passion and create my own specialty food company in 2003. That experience was everything that you'd expect starting a business would be — exhilarating, terrifying, etc. When I launched 34 Degrees, it was initially an importing business specializing in gourmet foods from Australia. By 2006, we had established our brand and its reputation for high-quality specialties from the Southern Hemisphere. Then I had a life-changing realization: My business wasn't working the way I wanted it to. There were many inefficiencies and elements of the business that were beyond my control, such as a fluctuating exchange rate, customs issues, and all the headaches associated with importing products being made a half-a-world away.

Summoning my nerve again, I decided to completely transform my business. My desire to bring my work and my love of food closer to home ultimately inspired me to discontinue my importing venture and become a manufacturer focused exclusively on making my own product — 34° Crispbread — in Colorado. The idea was to focus on a single product, make it locally and make it the best cracker available.

We began making our 34° Crispbread in 2007. By 2008, our transition from importer to a local manufacturer was complete. That year, we tripled our business.

Now it's about keeping or exercising my nerve on a more daily basis. With the country in a recession, I think it takes tremendous nerve for business owners and professionals to strive for success each day. But I also think there's a silver lining in these trying economic times in that they motivate you to continually assess and reassess every aspect of your business. I ask myself every day: How can I have an even more polished, more efficient, more innovative business? When you're flying high, you may not scrutinize the specifics of your business the way you would in a challenging environment.

For example, we've been focused on cost-effective and creative ways of adding value to our existing products (we currently make four flavors of 34° Crispbread: Natural, Rosemary, Cracked Pepper and Sesame — and we're about to launch a fifth). In the last year, we've created a dynamic new shipper for the crackers that allows retailers to merchandise them more effectively. We also created a foodservice pack. Thanks to the new shipper, we won the business of a major supermarket chain — getting into their 1,200 locations nationwide.

If you know you have a great product or service, growing your business may be a matter of tweaking it in an innovative way or adding value by repackaging or repurposing it to better meet your clients' needs.

I think finding or keeping your nerve is even more important in tough economic times. That said — I wouldn't do anything differently in my business if the recession were over. We don't make major business decisions based on outside events. Our business is driven from the inside — from a belief in taking calculated risks, from continual research, from our collective experiences and a constant desire to innovate and improve, regardless of external factors.

Craig Lieberman is the founder of 34 Degrees, an all-natural specialty cracker company based in Denver, Colo.

  1. GREAT point. Drive your business from the inside, not based on external factors that are out of your control. Very nice post.

    Esther Steinfeld

    Comment by Esther Steinfeld — 10/22/2009 @ 3:34 PM

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