Nothing Much Changes in VT & 3 Basics Stay the Same!

Winhall General Store Memorial Day 2019Winhall General Store 2018-2

I was down to the Winhall General Store pretty much a couple of times a day over the long Memorial Day weekend.  Winhall, population 767, is a bump in the road at the bottom of the Stratton Resort Access Road, 15 miles from "the big city" of Manchester, population 1750 or so, and a lifetime from the town of Poultney, 30 miles up the road a piece where my father, grandfather and great grandfather-all entrepreneurs-lived. 

When people, like "The Boys on the Bench" down at the Winhall General Store ask me, (since I've lived in town so long)... "Are you a Vermonter?"...which is code for "Are you a true Vermonter, born and raised here?" , I simply  respond that "my family has lived in this valley for 180 years".  I leave out the fact that I was born in the Cook County Hospital in a tough neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. where I lived with my parents who met and married there before moving to Somerville and then moving out to "the country" in Arlington. 

  • The picture on the right was taken on Memorial Day morning, 2018 at 10:00 AM.  It's "the four boys on the bench" (now including one woman), plus their loyal dog, "Blue", a golden retriever and his dog friend, "Jack". 
  • The picture on the left was taken on Memorial Day morning, 2019 at 10:00 AM.  Just one of  "The Boys" pictured here with the others inside getting coffee, and the good ol' dog, Blue, has again been joined by his dog friend, "Jack",...which I thought was totally appropriate.

Not much changes in the town of "Bondville"-(federal government name), or "Winhall" (State of Vermont name), and the talk at the counter inside or the bench on the porch stays pretty much the same.

  • Yep, it was a damn fine winta' and a wicked wet spring
  • Yep, Route 30 is being torn up to be repaved this summa'.  Gonna' be a mess of traffic
  • Yep, the town's supervisor of roads is still worth a long discussion
  • Yep, Bernie is still a hot topic as the average age in VT climbs to 42 and businesses can't find help.  

IMG_0138As much as I joke about my adopted state, I ain't movin' from my woods down by the river even though I end up driving 1,000 miles a week between the NH beach, Boston and Tufts where I work, and the hills of Vermont. 

Even though I've seen the general store pass through six different city-folk owners over the years, Lorraine, the owner, is here to stay and like any great entrepreneur, she very astutely balances the food needs of Suburban SUV families from Manhattan searching for imported salmon with the boys on the bench who just want fresh donuts.

"The Basics of Life in Vermont "

Among all of  "The Basics of Life in Vermont " I've learned from my own living in this hardscrabble valley for almost 50 years, I'm consistently reminded of three when I'm up in my woodlot and the chipper belt snaps for the third time that day or the ATV runs out of gas...yet again...because I forgot...once again... to check before leaving the shed.

1.  No Job's Worth Doing Unless It's Done Right!
Taught to me by my father out cutting the grass every Sunday and still remembered every day I'm in the woodlot and bending down to pick up yet another stick left over from the winter storms.  I joke about my idiom that "a clean forest is a happy forest", but the reality is that I'm always focused on doing the job right the first time.

2.  You Gotta Get Dirty!
No matter who you are or what you do, you gotta get dirty.  In Vermont this means that I'm on my hands and knees fingers deep in the dirt planting new flowers or deep in the woodlot cutting trees with my Stihl-all properly armored up in Kevlar chaps and face mask.  At work, this means worrying about all of details of an event down the length of the extension cords and taking time to write yet one more personal note of thanks to a student or alum donor.  Sure, I'm big into delegating, but to Rule #1 above, you gotta be ready to get dirty yourself if the job and its results really matter.  And, if it doesn't really matter, why the heck are you doing it anyhow?

3. Focus Your Time All of the Time
At a point when I was first studying entrepreneurship as a volunteer and then chairman of The MIT Enterprise Forum years ago, the best advice that we gave to our hundreds and hundreds of budding entrepreneurs was simply to focus.

  • Focus in very specific markets
  • Focus on the revenue size and the geography of the prospective customers you will hunt.
  • Focus on the specifics of who those customers (today we would talk about "personas") are
  • Focus on what the customer needs not only today, but tomorrow, for your products
  • Focus, most importantly on your own time and your personal bandwidth 

...and it's that last bullet about the inflexibility of time and my own personal bandwidth that has driven my work both running large companies and tiny startups, my teaching at MIT and at Tufts, my time in the hills of Vermont or at the NH beach, and my consistently throbbing search for "just one more startup"

A great kickoff for the summa' of '19.  Lots of projects on the list and lots of travel to the hills of Vermont and the call of the surf on the NH beach.    Enjoy what looks like a great weekend of weather...and just make sure that you focus your time and energy!

Tufts Marketing Projects!

Tufts and Jumbo-1At this time of year, I am also beginning the search for complex, semester-long marketing projects for the fall semester.  The deadline is June 15th.  Just connect with me, and I will send you the instructions. 

An extraordinary opportunity to receive detailed marketing research and tactical plans from a fresh perspective.  After close to 180 projects from just my own students, the overall results have been extremely strong and highly graded (50% of the grade comes from the senior manager of the host company).  The companies cover every possible market and range in size from the development of complete marketing plans for tiny startups and middle market companies to product launches for large public corporations 

Jack Derby

 Please stay connected!

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Jack Derby, Director, TEC-Tufts Entrepreneurship Center
Cummings Family Chair Professor of Entrepreneurship
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