I’m starting a new company!

In case you don't remember, I really got exhausted doing Brazen Careerist. The pressure was insane and it made me nearly lose my mind multiple times. Now Ryan Healy is running the company in DC, and I sort of miss the startup life — sort of like women endure labor and then a year later they are pregnant again.

So I have been sort of bored and lost all winter, trying to think of what to do next. And then, one night when I was visiting my neighbor, her son propped himself up in his TV-watching chair and told me that he wants me to help him do a company this summer. For his summer job.

I said, “OK, but what do you want to do?”

He said he wants to pave driveways. Like, put tar on them.

So I asked, “How will you get customers?”

“I don't know. That's what I need help with.”

“I think you should start out with a list of ways you can get customers and then see which way is conducive to starting a business. So, if you could get customers for dancing on your head, then you should dance on your head rather than pave driveways. The customers are the hard part.”

“So what should I do then?”

So I told him to email me his Myers Briggs type profile and to find a friend he wanted to do a business with. And then to come to my house on Thursday night.

Zach did that. He brought Mitch. Zach is an ENFJ. And Mitch is an INTP. I asked them if they thought of ideas for a company. They said no. I told them they can't do a company without an idea. Mitch said, “How about a toilet bowl that also has a disposal?”

I guess this would be for high schoolers and their vomit. I wasn't really sure. But I took the opportunity to explain that if you're not an inventor, there's no use thinking about businesses that require an invention.

We talked about how hard it is to think of business ideas. I told them even adults have a hard time, but I'm great at it. I listed for them three ideas that I thought we could do together.

One was small: selling ads on my blog for a commission. One was medium but I can't remember what it was, actually. And one was to produce humane goat cheese.

I recounted for the boys my story about how almost all the goat cheese in grocery stores comes from farms where baby boy goats are clubbed over the head or drowned.

The boys picked goat cheese. I told them it was a big business, and we'd need funding. They liked that. Not that they knew anything about funding. I explained that another day.

I told myself I will send them lots of links so they learn about entrepreneurship. But the boys did not have computers. Further, they do not even get homework that involves computers because not all the kids in the local high school have computers at home. They do research for reports only from books in the library.

Then it occurred to me that they don't read. They can read, they just don't read.

“What was the last book you read?” I asked Zach.

He couldn't remember. Then he remembered: “The Scarlet Letter, for school.”

“It sucked,” said Mitch.

I told the boys that entrepreneurs read. They have to read. The problem is that if you don't read you don't know where to start reading. I decided we'd have to start with reading about sex, to keep them interested. I gave them Dennis Cooper. They liked it. After a while I slipped in articles about entrepreneurship. And finally I assigned them to read Fred Wilson every day.

I’m pretty sure they are not doing that. But they are learning other stuff. For example, we went to a farmers market and I was looking for something to bring home for dinner.

Zach said, “How about some sausage?”

I said, “Jews don't eat sausage.”

He said, “You say Jew! Isn't that a bad word?”

So they started coming over once a week for a company meeting and I'd give them assignments and they couldn't do the assignments because they had to go to the school computer room to get anything done but the school blocked most of the blogs that I sent them to.

This is when I realized the company needed funding immediately: Because I couldn't work with them if they didn't have computers. Really, I'd like to buy every kid in our local high school a computer. But I am a practical person. And I got seed funding to buy computers for the boys.

That was a fun day.

So we've all been working on the company, and sometimes, after the company meeting, I talk to them about college. There is no college counseling in their school. No one tells them how some colleges are
good for some kids and some are good for others and choosing a college is about self-discovery. So I have taken it upon myself to also be their college counselor.

Last week I had them doing college research until almost midnight. I'm worried doors are closing for them and I want to keep them open. The boys worked hard trying to learn differences between schools. I wished I could do more, but really, they have to learn it themselves.

So I said, “Do you guys want me to make you cookies while you're working?”

The boys doubled over laughing. They say that this was the line the teacher at school used when she was seducing high school boys.

I worry that the town thinks something is wrong. The town wonders how I can have a company valued at more than a million dollars when the company does nothing. The town thinks, “Why would she want to spend so much time helping two boys?” The town thinks I'm up to no good, I'm sure.

So I have a new company. And it's funded. And I love that I'm doing a farm-focused startup since I live on a farm. And I love that I'm helping goats. And I love that I found these two kids to take along for the ride.

123 replies
« Older Comments
  1. Writer Vixen
    Writer Vixen says:

    Penelope, this is awesome and amazing in so many ways! To your point that “good ideas get funded quickly,” I believe you are underestimating how utterly opaque that process is to the vast majority of would-be entrepreneurs.

    The way you phrase it, it’s almost like, “Well, I needed to fund a company, so I went to the seed money store!” The fact that you find that so transparent is one of the many personal gifts that make you so successful. Please, please share more about how to fund an idea! BE SPECIFIC. =)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’ll write more about this later. But the big thing, I think, is that I have been searching for an idea for the last 18 months. As soon as I knew I’d be moving to the farm, I knew I wanted to have my next company be farm related.

      I came up with a gazillion ideas and first I’d ask the Farmer what he thought. Usually he could tell me right away why it was a bad idea. If he liked the idea, then I’d ask one or two investors who I am close to, and they’d give me feedback about why the idea wouldn’t work.

      It’s very hard to find a fundable idea. Investors only fund companies that will have potential for a huge exit — maybe $10 million at least. Otherwise it’s not worth an investor’s time to have their money tied up in the company.

      An idea that is worth that much must be an idea that can generate $100 million in revenue within five years. You have to be able to convince someone it would be remotely possible with the idea you have. Very few ideas for companies could, in even the wildest predictions, generate that much money in a year.

      When a person thinks of an idea like this, and the person has the expertise to execute on the idea, they will not have a hard time getting funded.

      I hope this helps. The investor world has lots of unwritten rules – that’s for sure.


      • Writer Vixen
        Writer Vixen says:

        Yes, it helps, and thank you. But like any fascinating topic, it raises as many questions as it answers — such as how, why and who would then fund smaller ideas, which some investors surely do!

        I know that’s on a much smaller scale than you usually think, but isn’t micro-financing for small businesses a breaking trend? What’s in between micro-financing and the $10 million exits? And why is this entire knowledge nugget so cloaked in mystery?

        Truly, I think you don’t realize how gifted you are in this particular way! Looking forward to reading about how you whipped up your current funding. I will stay tuned, as always. ;)

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Investors invest in big ideas in order to earn money. Investors put money into small ideas in order to fill a need inside themselves to do good.

        The return on investment that people get from microfinancing is that they help someone in a developing country get access to a relatively small amount of capital that enables someone to go from stunningly impovrished to self-sufficient. (We have our kids donate through Kiva, if you are looking for a good organization to try this with.)

        Small ideas create small risk and small reward. Investors already have enough money to not need small rewards. Small ideas are lifestyle businesses that the founder needs to figure out how to fund without investment in order to create a job and a lifestyle that is good for the founder, but no chance of grand payout for anyone.

        You absolutely *must* understand this stuff if you think you are going to raise money for your company. I recommend reading entrepreneurship blogs to understand this — try Fred Wilson, Tech Crunch, or Guy Kawasaki for starters.


  2. Iris M. Gross
    Iris M. Gross says:

    You know, this is the kind of thing that I would love to show the young black girls in my family how to do – to learn how to develop ideas for a business and how to get customers. Anything to teach them that they have options outside of spending money and precious years on expensive colleges and “getting a good job”. Of course, I’d need to learn how to do that myself, so I’ll be taking notes from this blog. Thank Barbara Winter for drawing my attention to it!

  3. skilled migrant
    skilled migrant says:

    I came up with a gazillion ideas and first I’d ask the Farmer what he thought. Usually he could tell me right away why it was a bad idea. If he liked the idea, then I’d ask one or two investors who I am close to, and they’d give me feedback about why the idea wouldn’t work.
    Thank you for post..

  4. vicky
    vicky says:

    I love this, but it is terrible what is happening in the school system. Teacher’s hands are tied, and they are just baby sitting. More and more people are becoming homeless. The average age of homeless people is 9 years old. These boys are lucky to have found you. And, as a matter of fact, I am too!

  5. Brownie Shott
    Brownie Shott says:

    What a great deed you’re doing! Teenagers and young adults get none of this kind of mentoring. I have an almost 21 year old who really has the heart of an entrepreneur, but also has some unrealistic ideas about starting a business. Doing the kinds of things such as “reading” that would help just don’t seem important to him, and of course, as his parents he’s still not old enough for us to know anything. :) Wish I could send him to you for 6 months for mentoring. :)These young men are so fortunate to have such a great mentor in their lives!

  6. Ella
    Ella says:


    You’re probably already familiar with this book but I really enjoyed Birthing The Elephant. It’s written more for women but I think it’s a great starter book.

    I did a review of it on my blog recently.

    Also, I had no idea about the practices behind making goat cheese.

    I think what you’re doing is great. High school guidance counselors can only do so much…

  7. monogodo
    monogodo says:

    Normally I read your posts because of their train-wreck quality (it’s the same reason I like watching Horders & Intervention).

    I liked this post because of your comments about being the guys’ college counselor.

    I graduated from HS in small town Wisconsin. I was 7th in my class, and my high school’s first ever National Merit Scholar. Not once did one of the two Guidance Counselors ever talk with me about college. My research consisted of organizing the recruiting letters by geography. One of the biggest decisions of my life, and I got no help or direction at all. I didn’t even know that one could research what college or university to attend. Of course, this was back in the mid-80s, before the interwebs, but still. Had someone sat down with me and explained researching colleges & universities, I probably wouldn’t have selected the one I went to, and I may have ended up with a degree. Of course, my life would be completely different than it is now, and I’m happy with where I’m at in life, but that’s a topic for a different discussion.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      I concur. I graduated from a high school in rural Oklahoma after a very similar experience. I was the school’s third National Merit Scholar, the first in over ten years. None of my guidance counselors ever asked me about my college plans despite the many visits that I made to their office looking for scholarship applications. They assumed that my parents understood the process of researching and choosing a school and would help me figure it out. My parents, on the other hand, were the first people in their families to graduate from college and were more focused on keeping me close to home and keeping the price tag low than on finding the best fit/opportunity for me. The guidance counselors were all shocked when I ended up at a large state school were I could get in-state tuition and a great scholarship. I was shocked they thought I had other legitimate options. I’ve had a fairly good experience, but I’ll always wonder what would have happened if someone had just talked to me about how to really choose a school.

  8. Lori
    Lori says:

    And this is exactly why I love visiting you here…and why I love reading the things people write in the comments…it gives me a smile every time…I think what you are doing with these boys is great…of course there are always going to be those that think it’s weird or make something more out of what it is or make everything about sex and of course sometimes it is about sex but not always…lol…”should I make you guys cookies while you work?”…love that…I love that you are making them think outside the box…people that love being inside the box do not like people who are daring enough to live outside of it…as someone who lives in a rural Minnesota farming community and who grew up on a farm I relate all too well to the thinking and the small minded attitudes.

    Good for you. Good for Zach and Mitch.

    PS Happy Mothers Day!

  9. Michael Eric Nolan
    Michael Eric Nolan says:

    Great post! You are fantastic!

    I helped fund a dear friend to start Alemar Cheese company here in Minnesota – he is now in dozens of cheese shops in Minneapolis and at Willy Street Co-ops in Madison.

    I am sure he would spend some time with your team – let me know if you would like an introduction.

  10. margaret
    margaret says:

    totally inspiring penelope! these kids are in for a great experience, and i can’t wait to buy some of your goat cheese!

  11. Patty
    Patty says:

    Wow. Best story I’ve read in a while. Wishing the three of you much success, you have changed their world forever and it’s going to be so much fun to watch!

  12. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Just absolutely wonderful. Good for you! And the boys, and the goats! I look forward to hearing about obtaining seed funding too as I have a business idea that I think is great and would allow for my godson’s participation (he’s 12). Thank you!

  13. vicky
    vicky says:

    I think as people realize how useless the schools are, they will be looking for those who can actually teach their kids to think, and to be aware of what is actually happening in the world re making a living.

    Of course spelling and math are important; as a person who did edit students’ papers, I know how poor they are at using language.

    However the time of looking for someone to hire them should be gone now…it is very risky and loaded with danger. Relying on someone else to hand you a check is not to be trusted.

  14. Mamie Green
    Mamie Green says:

    I love goat cheese. Had no idea that it was made in such an inhumane way. Good luck with the company and the counseling. I wish I had had a decent counselor growing up.

    • Emily
      Emily says:

      @ Eirini – would you be that excited if it were a 45-year old male giving away laptops & sex books to a pair of rural girls?
      Didn’t think so.
      Oh, the double-standards!

  15. Erin McJ
    Erin McJ says:

    I feel like this isn’t just a good career story or a good helping-future-generations story — it’s also a good *marriage* story. You’ve taken an obvious potential conflict in your life — your love for the farmer and the farm vs. your deep entrepreneurial drive — and turned it into a business opportunity. Everyone benefits. Well done!

  16. Zanne Baker
    Zanne Baker says:

    P – I’ve just GOT to say it – you mean that all those Americans who are SO worried about those children overseas who don’t have computers, and there are children RIGHT here who don’t have them? What? Am I missing something?
    Thank you so much for seeing it to it that two of our children are offered the opportunities to do more.

  17. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    Love this post, perfect for Mother’s Day. I agree with all the positive responses. I’ll look forward to trying the goat cheese. Thanks for the smile and Happy Mother’s Day.

  18. kate
    kate says:

    absolutely amazing. hands down. and you’re changing the trajectory of these boy’s lives. literally. one day, they were headed one place. now, somewhere totally different. and your changing the town as well.

    you’re amazing penelope . . . just living your life, following what you feel to do . . . the lives of the people around you are changed . . . folks go deeper . . . find out there can be a different way . . . find out what’s possible . . . and that being different is challenging . . . but good :)

  19. Paul Hassing
    Paul Hassing says:

    It’s amazing to observe your detractors, Penelope. Instead of:
    1. What if we dramatically improve these boys’ lives for good?
    2. What if we save hundreds of goats from execution?
    3. What if we show how to improve education?
    4. What if we improve rural internet access in the US?
    5. What if we supercharge the local economy with this initiative?
    6. What if we inspire kindred projects around the world, at the time we need it most?
    A. What if you manage to elude everyone in your family and theirs and sexually molest these ‘defenceless’ boys?
    B. What if they were girls?
    The fact is, they’re NOT girls. Let’s cross that bridge when someone comes to it. As a child, I was abused by an adult in a position of trust, so I don’t take this issue lightly. Yet I feel these fears spring from minds who, for one reason or another, are even more preoccupied with sex than you are.
    And from what I’ve read of your work, that’s saying something! :)
    I hope the overwhelmingly supportive comments you’re receiving neutralise the irrational (and perhaps subconscious) fears of a few naysayers.
    Best regards, P. :)

  20. Emily
    Emily says:

    @ Paul Hassing –
    In my case, what rubbed me is the condescending tone of the post – as if ONLY townpeople are the ones who would be suspicious of a grown woman (who the police has visited a couple of times for her own domestic violence episodes) hanging out with high schoolers.

    She may have the best intentions, but she does need to drop the “townpeople here are dumb” tude, because she is the one who looks dumb and close-minded.

    Hope that now you know what this naysayer had in mind :-)

  21. elsa
    elsa says:

    Going through scholl with no computer these days is really a big disadvantage. I am in Portugal, and every elementary kid here gets a laptop for free or very cheap. This is a joint project with Intel and this laptop (Magellan) is now being sold in other countries, in Europe and South America.
    There are private companies involved, so maybe you coud make some partnership there to do the same in your community? You can read about it here

    Best of luck – goat cheese rocks!

  22. Renee
    Renee says:

    I am so thrilled with your new company. I stopped eating goat cheese after your post about what happens to the baby boy goats. I am a visual person and that is also why I cannot eat chicken after seeing Food Inc. This is my personal way to protest, but I will buy your humane goat cheese once it’s available!

  23. Andy Palzkill
    Andy Palzkill says:

    My name is Andy Palzkill and I am the high school counselor for Zach and Mitch. I think this is a great opportunity for these young men and know that they are gaining valuable insight into the business world and becoming more responsible and confident in the process. Thank you for providing them this opportunity.

    I do take tremendous pride in my job and I do work very hard to make sure each student has an opportunity to work with me on college and career decisions. Currently, I am having individual meetings with freshman and juniors regarding this type of information. Each year I do meet with every student on this topic.

    You have helped Zach and Mitch a great deal and they are fortunate to have this opportunity. As a school counselor, this is the best type of real-world experience these young men can have. I do encourage all of my students to look into and discuss career information within our community as well as across the globe. The more information these young people can obtain, the better they will be able to make their career decisions and the more successful they will be.

  24. vicky
    vicky says:

    Hi Andy Palzkill: Are field trips to a university, so that students can better visualize ‘going to college’ part of your school’s program? That is so helpful.

  25. Eirini
    Eirini says:

    Εmily,my comment was not sarcastic,I wasn’t trying to imply anything,far from it.I am sorry if it came through as such.I am all for what Penelope is doing.And there is nothing wrong with puppy love by the way.On the contrary,it can be quite a driving,motivating force if it stays on that level

  26. terri
    terri says:

    I know others have focused on the same take-away from this article, but now I’m worried more than before about our schools. I know there are disinterested teachers and counselors in urban areas where many kids are focused on surviving rather than learning. I didn’t realize that the rural areas had the same issues.Maybe i’m generalizing, after reading this post, but i think the bigger issue is not just these boys, but all of their contemporaries without someone like Penelope or a similar role model to show them the way.

  27. atir
    atir says:

    I read with interest how you run the school system into the ground and complain about all the things it is lacking but, you have no problem sending your children there to take advantage of ALL the system DOES offer.We have a great High School counselor who does college counsling and the students respect him and feel very comftortable talking with him. May-be you thinking you are helping counsel the BOYS is your way of justifing buying two 17 year old BOYS expensive laptops and offering sex material to read as o.k. but honestly they are getting their college counseling at school where they should be”.You say the towns people think you may be up to no good” Well “if the shoe fits”. We may be rural but,not that rural that we can’t see whats right before us.

  28. Diane b
    Diane b says:

    Wow “atir” you seem to feel so threatened by this good Samaritan that you can’t even use your own name?
    While I know P will answer your accusations herself, just wanted to say since she is friends with their parents I do not believe it is your place to judge her.
    And yay they have a good counselor, he even made a comment here. Does he teach entrepreneurship too? Thought not… Stop begrudging and judging and mind your own business.
    Damn I hate small towns and this nasty chatter is exactly why.

  29. Sandra Pawula
    Sandra Pawula says:

    Amazing! I can’t believe there are high schools kids without computers. What a relief that the whole world isn’t connect night and day. Maybe there is still some hope for sanity. I’m happy about saving the goats.

  30. Dale
    Dale says:

    Why did you have the boys assess their Myers Briggs type profile? Also, why did you have him bring a friend along? I find from experience that partnerships are so easy to go awry.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      If I know their Myers Briggs scores I can do a better job of helping them succeed — giving them work they’ll do well at and predicting before it happens where they will be weak.

      I told him to bring a friend because most startups that succeed are partnerships. And it’s more fun to start a company with a friend than to start a company alone. I wanted Zach from the beginning to think that work is about having fun.


  31. jenny
    jenny says:

    This post makes me happy for so many reasons!

    First, the goats. Thank you that you are going to produce a humane product – and no baby goats will be drowned or hit on the head. I like that a lot. I went veg*n recently because I just can’t bear the cruelty animals endure to feed us, clothe us etc.

    Second, you are helping two young people who are starting out in their lives – this is wonderful. You share here with a broad, international audience, but you are also sharing with two people who are right in front of you, so to speak. Brava!

    Third, I have no idea about business, didn’t come from a business family, so all this stuff is intriguing to me. I’ve been thinking for some time that I want to do something for myself. I have a relatively secure job that pays the bills but I dread it every morning. Not because they are cruel or because it’s cold and wet etc.. neither of those things are the case. But part of me dies here every day. So, this is SO instructive. So,I come up with ideas, but all the time I think things like, “I don’t have a degree in that”, “I don’t have the expertise”. So I knock any idea on the head that might even possibly bear fruit. Your post makes me think I might be able to do something else with this life. And I don’t want to make crap that people don’t need.

    Hurrah for you – truly a great endeavour you are on. My very best wishes to the two young men who are on this journey with you.

  32. Angela Palmier
    Angela Palmier says:

    Penelope, I think you’re my new hero–a fantastic role model. I would love nothing more than to have myself in a place where I could help kids realize their dreams. Kids are unencumbered by the “can’t” and are so incredibly talented—IF they’re given a chance. For now, I do what I can. After reading this post….I’m going to do more. Thank you for sharing and please keep posting about this work. I know the work you’re doing with these boys is going to change the mentality of the town. I have a feeling it’s going to change the world…It’s certainly changed mine.

  33. Alanrwhitt
    Alanrwhitt says:

    Hmm. Big city girl, becomes small time goat farmer! Penelope, I first found you several months ago and read your life story. I thought,man this woman has been thru the ringer. This company story proves to me that you are one hell of a human being.

    I am sure you have days when you think you are Oliver Wendell Douglas. ( Not sure you remember that name,Green Acres, the TV show?) When Mr. Douglas moves from The Big Apple to a small town named Hooterville.

    I loved this story. I agree with your first comment, your my hero. I know you were just trying to help out some teens. And shame on those locals for thinking what they are thinking. I think they watch too much reality TV.

    I will bookmark you and love hearing more Tweets from ya. Alan

  34. Tamar Harrington
    Tamar Harrington says:

    So, I’m a little confused. You don’t eat sausage, I infer, because you (sort of?) keep kosher. But you’re okay with living on a pig farm and selling other people pork? I don’t mean to judge at all; I just don’t get it.

  35. Damian
    Damian says:

    Over and over I keep screaming ARGGGGHHHH. This is the future of our country and we put up roadblock after pothole after bridge out. Thank you for 1st taking the time to model the behavior and 2nd for sharing the how to. I had some mentors growing up that have lessons still ringing in my head years later. Maybe that is what we need more of – a way to make mentorship more ‘safe’ for all. In the meantime keep modeling that people do good things because people are good.

« Older Comments

Comments are closed.