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Damon Pistulka, Colson Steber
Damon Pistulka 00:00
All right, everyone, welcome once again to the faces of business. I’m your host, Damon Pistulka. And I’ve got a guest today we’re going to be talking about showing up with relentless, intentional action. I’ve got Colson Stever here today with ag access. Coulson, great to have you.
Colson Steber 00:23
Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Damon Pistulka 00:25
Oh, man, I’m excited about this. I was looking at your profile. We were talking earlier, I mean, relentless intent, action. Let’s just start there. What? What went through your mind to put that on your profile? LinkedIn, you said that is my headline, relentless, intentional actions.
Colson Steber 00:46
It’s my personal mantra. My word for the year this year is relentless. I am very, very focused on taking intentional action every single day to get 1% better, like find how to ultimately, like live my future self and vision that I have. And it’s basically a commitment to make it public. But that’s exactly what I’m here to do is to show up with relentless, intentional action every single day.
Damon Pistulka 01:25
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Man. I love I love hearing that I love when people make a decision to do what to put go all in on that. So was there was there something in your life that that you just woke up one morning, and this hit you or what? What really made you decide to take this, this action.
Colson Steber 01:47
I mean, I’m that we could go on for days of but it would certainly start at least like much of who I am right now starts with basically like the end of a 2018 as I take like a stock of my life, because I have largely worked to like optimize my life and have put some actual like process to how I run myself.
Because like I am always always like, Action Man, right. And I have to figure out how to kind of rein myself in. And the only way to do that is you know, I don’t want to actually slow myself down, I just want to like, actually be running in a direction. And but I was at a breaking point of breaking points. So just like hating everything about who I was as a person, and father and leader and businessman.
And like, like decided I had put a stake in the ground and start doing quite a bit of new things. And, you know, fast forward now. But 123 years later, it’s it’s certainly been a journey. And I spend a lot more time working on like, well my own personal purposes and like, figuring out how I need to grow and develop then you know, the average person gets to spend the time which is why being an entrepreneur is so awesome. Because you get the opportunity to invest back in yourself.
Damon Pistulka 03:34
Yeah, yeah, that’s incredible man it’s love hearing that love hearing that I went through a similar My journey started in about 2019 2019 in the fall 2019 And it’s life changing when you when you do it so what did you What did you when you made that decision? What is what are some of the things that you realize now doing this for a while really working on with relentless intentional action
Colson Steber 04:12
I mean, for me, it’s like always creating space being very very, like intentional with what I bring my attention to. And like always working to like simplify and narrow the focus all right, and then I something I picked up at the end of 2018 to read new and reset my year was dominant core to to book it’s it’s not designed your life, but it’s it’s some similar title to that, that talked about creating awakenings in your life continuously, both externally and internally.
And Um, I literally like curate my stack. And it’s like my learning journey of like, how I’m going to increase internal awakenings. By always, like taking time off and having some solitude, I’m going to meditate every single day, like, and being on my own spiritual journey to figure out who I am and how I’m going to show up in the world.
But then I also have to create external awakenings. And so on a daily basis, like I always read books, now I like never miss a day of reading. And now I finished 40 books a year, and, you know, typically 25 to 30 of them are like leadership development, you know, personal development stack, and you get to hear the same thing.
That’s a deep dive written by someone that, like has invested in writing an entire book on it, but a lot of different ways. And you, you start making new connections in your mind. And then the other one is to be really intentional with the relationships this other external one. Like, where am I building community, that I’m surrounded by the exact right people? So that I’m becoming who I actually want to be? Yeah, that’s
Damon Pistulka 06:26
awesome. That’s awesome. For me, it was it’s, you mentioned many of the same things that really changed it for me in reading is one. I don’t know if I’m up to 40 books a year because I often reread. That’s one of the things I do, but they are in the leadership and personal development space. It’s, it’s amazing. You said, what reading two or three books about a topic from different writers? Really, really gives you? Oh, yeah, and how that works. Awesome guy,
Colson Steber 07:00
I struggle with it a given conversation I’m getting so someone without referencing back to like, a piece of content that I’d feel that I should suggest to them that will like meet them where they are, and actually provide a nice step. Yeah.
Damon Pistulka 07:18
Yeah. Oh, awesome. Awesome. Good stuff. Good stuff. Well, I’m, it’s really cool to talk a bit about that, and this list, but let’s go back and let’s talk about your your company ag access. And and let’s talk about that, because we’ll get back to relentless, intentional acts. I got some other questions here. And that bow now. Ag axis is, is a research logistics company. Correct? Correct. And how did you? It’s kind of a niche industry that not a lot of people understand. They know it’s there, probably, but explain kind of how you got into research, research, logistics and all that.
Colson Steber 08:01
Yeah, well, yes, a typical person would think it would exist, that’s probably not a narrow enough niche to actually matter. And, like, differentiate your cell phone. And so you know, that was definitely where ag access came from. Because it’s, it’s so specialized, that if you find me for it, like, because it actually fits it, like I’m the obvious choice. So, I mean, that journey is certainly a long one.
But the speed version is that we’re in our 26th year of operating as a company, this company was started in 1987, by my parents, by the predominant way of conducting market research at the time was with telephone interviewing. And then I joined the company in 2012. That was still a primary, like, value driver of like the services that the company provided. But by 2012. You know, the online survey had already took over and, you know, tech started to solve just a myriad of like, tedious detail, process issues.
And we have to figure out where we meet the market. I had to reinvent what that was going to look like. And by the time myself and my partner, have bought the business from my father in 2016. So it’s been six and a half years now. I was at the point where essentially, I had just jumped in and because I was trusted, even though as a 22 year old I started like, you know, I earned by coming up with an idea and then going and selling it and then figuring out well, does that work or not?
And is it actually repeatable? And can we be profitable doing it. And by the time I did that for about five years, I settled in on, like, there’s something here on these very custom research projects that are very, very involved, where you have to know how to engage the audience. It’s a real expertise that we do have, and we can run these research operations.
And I call that research logistics. And we ran with it, meanwhile, like, a significant proportion of the work that we did was in the ag sector. And so after I read a book called The Pumpkin Plan in 2019, I, I Pumpkin Plan the business and said, You know, I need more ag sector clients, because I know, we’d like we know, these audiences in ag and animal health better than anyone else.
And we can actually be the go to for every major company. And like, the tech, ag tech is blown up just as big as any other part of tech exploding every industry, and there’s lots of opportunity to be added. So then, the great pause of 2020, offered an opportunity to actually launch that business. Right now we’ve been two and a half years into operating as AXA, we have access is just as big of a company as CFR.
Damon Pistulka 11:49
Nice, nice. So that niching down really has helped you then to focus in and provide more relevant services to your customer base, or you can more efficiently or how has it really helped you to niche into like that lean into that.
Colson Steber 12:10
mean, think of the specificity. I mean, what I have up on my other screen right now is somebody needing to look into feed for a specific additive, that’s going to be researched for like, one time, one livestock, right. And that livestock and our job is to go and know, the, like, who the owner is that the veterinarians, the all of the like, decision influencers around the feed of this livestock have to be engaged in a conversation, to can actually conduct research with.
And in reality, like, you know, the, the lead consultancy, that’s working with us is you know, a design firm. They’re not they don’t know, agriculture. And so, like actually, you know, learning it, but through having researched in the space is like enormously valuable when you back to, you know, the people that were doing the work for.
Damon Pistulka 13:23
So in your industry, then because you’ve niche your niche down like you are and just say I’m a I’m a pork producer, and I want to research a feed like this. You’ve got producers, veterinarians, and other people in that food chain, maybe even food resellers or whatever the right the animal feed resellers. So you’ve got those connections already, so you can get to them faster, and they know who you are. That’s what you’re kind of seeing too is benefits in this.
Colson Steber 13:55
Yeah, I mean, I have I have a team member whose job is to know the top 40 Swine producers in the United States because they substantively produce about 70% of the meat that actually gets sold. Yeah, yeah. And they’re their whole job as the their whole job is to like network within those businesses.
So when the primary suppliers be it for their equipment, their, you know, antibiotics or veterinary products or their fee more there, but like it, you know, all of those companies, whether they’re hiring us directly, or they’re hiring a, like consulting firm that is helping them to design an app or, you know, figure out what the packaging is going to be or like, talk about the efficacy of the, you know, uptake of a new drug, right. I mean, all these things require actually going and talking to the producer or whoever it is in the supply chain. And it’s our job to have the relationship.
Damon Pistulka 15:08
Yeah. Yeah. That’s incredible. That’s incredible. So Wow. So how much you talked about tech and ag? I don’t remember. Because when we’re talking about tech and tech, how much how much?
I mean, when you see tech in a bag, is it kind of mind blowing how the applications we’re seeing now, because just the little bit that I see is no, like, I don’t know, if I even mentioned to you before I grew up on a farm in South Dakota, you know, back when they before there was no till farming. So and, and when my brother quit farming in, like 2004, something like that, I couldn’t even hardly drive a tractor anymore, because they had so much electronics in it.
And that’s, that’s getting 20 years ago, and now, you know, you don’t even touch them, they drive themselves, for a lot of it, you know, at least going across the large fields where I was from now with the DPS. So what are some of the interesting things that you can talk about that you’re like, Wow, I never thought they would do this. You guys get drug in.
Colson Steber 16:23
So, so it’s, it’s an interesting challenge, because, you know, tech decided that they though that controlled environment, as if, you know, the insanity of the weather, and an actual plant is a controlled environment would offer this, like, you know, ability to just change how we feed the world.
And I mean, there’s, there’s still far more tech companies that are fully funded, that are completely out of touch with the reality of like, being a farmer, and the fact that a farmer is already very quite busy doing the actual work of farming, and are not too concerned about your tech solution.
Which I feel like is like, truth that I see get uncovered. Continue continuously. And, you know, people think, Oh, well, climate change is coming. So let’s talk about how we conserve water and how and what are we going to do for carbon sequestration on farming?
And I mean, I’ve, we’ve literally probably conducted at least 100 studies around those two topics in the last two years. And like, it, I mean, it’s rather absurd to think that, like, the farmer, the farmer is going to be much slower than the tech than the 100 different solutions that they will get offered. To conserve their water. Right? It’s, it’s got to reach a point where there’s, like, real trade offs to be made. But you see that happening, right? The tech is getting so good, that it can’t be ignored.
And it actually can drive increased profitability, and a can respond to the incredibly tight tightening labor market. And, you know, I wish I could, I can do my best, but I’ve tried to, like lay out, like the future of the farm a bet to my wife, as we sit back on the couch, because I mean, I there is, I mean, it is, you know, the tech only improves, right?
And over the coming decade, I’ve been there, these ag expos, right. And if you look at that now dimension of these different solutions coming together, you’re gonna see, I mean, it’s not a matter of I mean, there’s going to be an ability for a machine to pull out in the morning and run across and use a myriad of sensors to determine let’s just say one finite thing, which would be like the nitrogen, potassium and right the NPK of the fertilizer of the actual soil composition, right.
Yeah. And that will be able to be tested as that is going down the field, and it will be able to be precision treated down to the micro gram from that piece of machine for this specific plant.
Yeah. Which is going to completely change the game of the efficiency of agriculture, right? Because that’s, that’s fundamentally like monitor Adding a field and deciding what to do on that field. And then like going and actually doing the work to spray it or add fertilizer or whatever, is, in reality, it’s highly inaccurate, right? And a lot of tech solutions, essentially improve that accuracy, improve that accuracy and improve it, right?
That’s going to get to a pretty incredible level, like where we’ll be, and then you know, a different, a different machine will then come through and it will auto sense. And and it’s actually, it won’t even auto sense, right? Like it’s literally looking at and will see the bug that’s on it, and it will micro spread, it will like see the weed that is starting to pop up and it will dig down and take the root out. Like an any think of that, like, I mean, that will be reality within the coming decades.
Damon Pistulka 21:02
Yeah, yeah, some of that some of that tech, like you said, some of the less bold things you mentioned, the fertilizer or pesticide application or herbicide applications, and then to the ramifications in organic farming. If you want to grow crops that way, with automatic, or automated weed removal is pretty crazy what you’re going to be able to do, because now right, organic farming is a pain in the butt, you know, and that’s not all
Colson Steber 21:33
it’s not. And as there’s, as there’s more desire from the world to get crops that are high production, but also maintain the standard. I mean that that like I mean, we were doing studies all the time for ESG. Of trying to, I mean, it’s going to be a tool point, again, like on the opposite side where like, I mean, you a few years from now, you might scan the QR code, and on your on the your package a lattice, and be able to like follow the journey of that scene.
And you would be able to do it in the sense that and then I mean, that efficacy of the actual treatments that can be done that don’t use the, like chemicals that have produced the, you know, mass production that we have today but can deliver the results when you when you accompany them with the precision tack. I mean, it’s it’s, it’s like it’s gonna be a completely different landscape over the next couple next couple decades. Yeah.
Damon Pistulka 23:01
When you look at the the farming ecosphere, most people don’t realize the the margins and the way that the change in farming over the last, you know, decades, and how it you know, used to be that you might be able to family, a family farmer or a larger farmer could survive off of, you know, a few 1000 acres, and now it’s, you know, 10,000 acres or specialty crops or all these other things to really to generate enough and that labor cost is a significant portion.
In the overall when you can when you can automate things or get some other tech that significantly changes the amount of cost that you have into it. It’s just, it’s really fascinating. And then from the opposite of the the user side of it, the beneficiary or the user side, it would be amazing to be able to go into the grocery store when you’re buying, like you said lettuce and go, okay.
If somebody cares, was this grown locally? Or was it was it flown from halfway around the world? You know, because I’m, I’m concerned about the environmental footprint of the food I eat, that can be a big thing or even like you’re saying that could also say what, what fertilizers were used and what other treatments were on that when it was on the you know, being grown. I mean, that’s crazy. Crazy.
Colson Steber 24:20
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, but yeah, I mean, if you want to talk about like the headwinds to farming, like, farming is a capital intensive business. That has a whole lot of people like trying to get theirs out of that out of that pie. And, you know, none of us should envy the farmer. But everyone should respect how, how savvy a business person that farmer is to actually even pay themselves back At the end of the day, like it is, there is a lot happening.
These are not they amp up the complexity of running a business, because they don’t, they’re not. They’re not a manufacturing facility. But when you when you think of how 10,000 acres of strawberries is grown to deliver on a weekly basis, the insane consistency that we experience in the grocery store. And you get that you really get into the how that works. It is incredible that it gets pulled off.
Damon Pistulka 25:39
Yeah, yeah, well, and then you think about with the inconsistency of weather from year to year, and and, and then labor and everything, the whole nine yards, it’s like you said plus, their farmers are typically selling into a commodity markets because there’s a price for strawberries, like there is for everything else that’s set by the market. It’s not set by the farmer.
And if there’s a glut somewhere else in the world, they can, you know, it’s going to affect you. Yeah, this is awesome. stuff. Good stuff, we’ll close this, let’s get back to talking a little bit get off of farming, I talked about a lot.
The, at the tech school and honestly, is that some of those tech is really, really cool. So when you when, when you run into the, when you’re doing these research projects, helping these people with logistics, putting the putting the data together and stuff? What are some of the biggest challenges that you guys run into? Just from an operational standpoint, in your business? What are some of the things that that really are challenging, but maybe fun challenges?
Colson Steber 26:49
In terms of like core to what we do that what do you do? Like, yeah, that’s a challenge is that? Like, essentially, we’re asking for people’s attention at a, you know, at a world where everyone is vying for their attention, right, we’re asking for a different type of relationship where they can actually like, really be kind of in the know about, like, what’s, what is getting developed?
And how is this going to impact me? Right? And it’s going to like, and what’s going to affect them, they can really influence the decisions and the design of this stuff, right? Yeah. And then there, and then, like, we do pay them a lot of money, but you have to break through the fray. Right. And that’s, that’s like, I mean, it’s never ending.
I mean, it’s a challenge. But like, I I like, I definitely take the look of like, if it was at all, simple to get this done, they’d already be a research tech company that would have replaced us, and the, and like, our customer wouldn’t need to hire us. And so the reality as, as a business, we have to just continually identify those issues and take that approach of where’s the opportunity? How do we get better? What’s our process look like? Can it get simpler? Like, it’s a relationship, not a transaction?
Can we turn this into? You know, like, what’s in there for them? Right? Where’s the value? Where’s the value? And, and then you break through right, then so I mean, that, like I said, I have people whose job is to network within these different fields. And, you know, that is an advantage, because back to that same lettuce grower, if I can get to the top five owners of lettuce, and then they control, you know, hundreds and hundreds of 1000s of acres of lettuce. Yeah. And, and essentially, that becomes the market value for me.
Damon Pistulka 29:15
Yeah. You made you said one thing that really made me think is that they can influence the future in their industry. And I think that would be a real attractive point for anyone that’s doing research is is you’re going to find those people within the industry that care about that, that want to that want to be able to be want to be at the forefront one and want to help influence the industry in positive ways. So
Colson Steber 29:46
when you’re on the outside, people think of like big ag and stuff, but I would actually put it as like the largest agriculture operations are continual really concerned with the sustainability of their operation? Right? And, and how do they meet that? Like they like one way is that you, you know what’s coming by?
I mean, if there’s a C chemical equipment, or ag tech, you know, growingly in ag tech, but certainly on seed chemical and equipment, if they’re out, going to make some of the ammo, it’s most likely it’s getting researched, because they’re gonna make 10s of millions of dollars of investment to get into it. Right. It’s getting researched. And there’s a high likelihood that we’re the ones that’s actually fulfilling that research.
Damon Pistulka 30:42
Yep. Yep. So you can help help the people you’re talking to be more successful in their businesses? Exactly. Very cool. Very cool. So what are you looking forward to, for next year, what any, any new things are coming up with stuff that you’re, you’re excited about trying,
Colson Steber 31:04
I’m on a crazy deep dive that I do every year to, like, try to do as much of a complete reset as possible, and figure that out for 2023. So I know, I want to, like, challenge all of my assumptions, changed my relationship with my own business, and make sure that I’m actually setting course, to do what I want to do that I’ll like, actually fulfill my three year vision and my 10 year vision.
So I mean, in, in ag access, I am I, you know, it feels like we are reaching a tipping a tipping point where we’ve put ourselves out in the world enough, that it’s not just that people are trickling in, to find us, it’s that were being, you know, sought out and referred around. And that and like to say, how do I, as a small business turn around, and like meet that and make sure that we like, make it better, right. So that we meet it in a way that it becomes sustainable to us? Is, is what’s on my mind?
Damon Pistulka 32:38
Yeah, in you know, that is that is interesting, you’re doing that it’s great to do because actually, I’ve got a client now I’m helping it they’ve, they’ve they’ve plateaued, they really don’t understand why they have but the process you’re going through and rethinking everything, challenging assumptions, and, and and then restructuring your business or whatever you need to do to meet that new. Whatever you call it a new paradigm, or new reality for you. Is, is what’s going to allow you to scale the next level. That’s really cool. So what’s
Colson Steber 33:11
a question that you would pose to me that I should be asking myself to challenge those assumptions? I’ve been collecting questions.
Damon Pistulka 33:18
I think though, you’re challenging your assumptions. And then and then anything, there’s nothing, nothing can be sacred. mean, honestly, you can be doing something the same way every single day. And it can be that one thing that’s killing you. And when you look at it, I’m actually actually when I get done here, I’m I’m in a book club, we’re doing the circle of innovation with Tom Peters as the book are going through now, it’s older book, but you know, it talks about the the CTO, the chief destruction officer, and you’re in that that person’s role is to how do we drive in from innovation by wrecking things.
And I believe that without you know, without killing a business, you need direct thing, you need to really go listen, I don’t care if, you know, think of these people that do email marketing and and when the effectiveness of that wanes, and you say, well, we just have to do even more email marketing.
That’s well, that’s ridiculous. Ridiculous. It’s like, okay, let’s, let’s, you know, just keep banging our head in the wall, are we going to figure out how to walk around that wall and really make something that’s much better that’s looking at it from a different perspective. And I think I think your your kind of annual reflection is what will keep your business viable long term, because if you’re doing that, and you’re taking a deep dive and willing to really change, you’ll, you’ll find good things.
Colson Steber 34:43
Yeah. Some of that I know I’ve got to do is move to video, right? So like, in my own work day, I’m on video all day. I send videos to everyone I speak To vote we’re not on video, and our recruitment and in our relationships with those people that we needed to be doing research with.
Damon Pistulka 35:12
Yeah, the people in the field that you want to get research information from?
Colson Steber 35:18
Yeah, I mean, so we often are on video. It depends on the research methodology. Right. But I literally think in terms of like, we’re not engaging them up front. On, like, with video. Yeah, it’s not. We’re stuck in text. And that’s not what people actually relate to.
Damon Pistulka 35:43
Yeah. Yeah. Well, and it’s, it’s the, it’s interesting that you say that, because I’m old enough to know, because I am looking, I got an upgrade for everyone. And it, you know, you see the transition and what people did, and people that are my age, I mean, email was a big thing, when that came out and doing it.
And now some of the people migrated to text, but now with with the iPhone and video and FaceTime, and it is so easy to communicate by video that, and it is a much more robust form of communication. You can build relationships with it, you can do a lot more with it than you can text especially because the brevity of it, but yeah, that’s a that’s like
Colson Steber 36:28
95 employees and nobody, nobody goes into an office. Yeah.
Damon Pistulka 36:34
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s an and then to on the backside on the business side of it. With with virtual employees, you have to be much more you talked about your relentless, relentless, intentional action, you as a leader have to be much more intentional with your communication, because the kind of thing that happens in an office with people walking around talking doesn’t happen. And you intentionally create that.
Colson Steber 37:01
Yeah, there’s no, there’s no interaction. That happens unless it’s curated. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. It’s been a great gift of a COVID. In my opinion, oh,
Damon Pistulka 37:15
the virtual virtual work. I’m telling you, we and I know, I know, there’s some people I face to face is great. It’s great in the right situations, it’s what you need. But when you look at how business can happen, when virtual is is perfectly acceptable, the way that you can get it done. The efficiency and the effectiveness of it cannot be denied. Denied,
Colson Steber 37:43
or sent sitting down having an actual conversation here. I’m not like I get to walk out and like, participate in bedtime. And like fly all over the place. Yeah. Present for our lives.
Damon Pistulka 37:57
Yep. Yep. Yeah. Good Stein. I’m
Colson Steber 38:00
doing that from Florida. But I’m before I had an office in St. Louis, where everybody showed up to work every day.
Damon Pistulka 38:06
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, Colson it’s been awesome talking to you and I can hear we were talking about showing up for free, relentless, intentional action and I can hear it in your voice and the things you’re telling me about live in that and relentless intentional action in the way it’s helping you. Before we leave though, you’ve got a few good quotes on your on your profile here on LinkedIn and I pulled up not that we have to do those but what is a quote of the day that you would like to leave us with that was a stamper.
Colson Steber 38:51
I decided like three things pop off in my mind. Okay, so I will do my quote for this year. Okay. I read this to myself every day. It’s on my edits on the background on my desktop, out of every 100 Min 10 shouldn’t even be there at or just targets. Nine of Nine are the real ciders and we’re lucky to have them for they make the battle off but the one the one is a warrior and he will bring the others back. Heraclitus
Damon Pistulka 39:33
Awesome, awesome, awesome Colson. That’s, that’s great. That’s great and true and true. So thanks so much for being here today. Thanks, everyone. We got some people. It’s got several people that have put comments in thinks this might be somebody you know, they’re talking about growers. Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. So Uh thanks for stopping by today thanks so much Carlson for being here we will be back again next week with another guest on the faces of business hangout calls and we’ll talk for a moment right