Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 9: Jered Lawson and Chase Adam

Passion powers entrepreneurs; tenacity pulls them through, and entrepreneurship can do good for the world explained todays guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere, my radio show on Sirius XM Channel 111.

jered lawson

Jered Lawson

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were:

  • Jered Lawson, co-founder of Pie Ranch, a 14-acre farm on California’s San Mateo coast that is reconnecting people to their food
  • Chase Adam, founder of Watsi, is on a mission to provide healthcare for every person in the world
Chase Adam

Chase Adam

Listen to the full interviews by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below, but first a word about the show: Entrepreneurs are Everywhere airs Thursdays at 1 pm Pacific, 4 pm Eastern on Sirius XM Channel 111. It follows the entrepreneurial journeys of founders sharing their experiences of what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries to entrepreneurial education and more.

The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs, lows and pivots that pushed them forward.

Jered Lawson discovered a passion for community farming while in college. He founded Pie Ranch to create a healthy local food system and educate the next generation of farmers. Although driven by a passion for changing our relation with food, Jered didn’t start out thinking of himself as an entrepreneur.

I think I had, in some ways, even consider(ed) myself the antithesis of an entrepreneur in the traditional sense of somebody who’s driven to create a business that’s profitable.  

… Now … I can see myself as somebody who had that entrepreneurial drive, but instead of thinking about personal gain … it was more about how do we create lasting social change?

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Before founding Watsi, Chase Adam worked in a market intelligence company. He also worked in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica and helped start a national health program in Haiti. Here’s how his vision for Watsi kept him focused:

I think the first one I’ve learned is … to find something that I care about more than myself, to find a problem that I care about solving more than … anything else … that’s going on in my life right now. …It’s so easy to quit as an entrepreneur. …There are so many times when I’ve been tempted to quit or give up because it’s hard, it’s hard to start something new. If I didn’t believe so strongly in the end result and what we’re trying to build I think I would’ve given up 10 times over.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Both Jered and Chase looked for ways to make a big difference in the world.

Jered worked for a time helping other community farmers, then decided he wanted to help in a more hands-on way:

I got to that point where I thought, “All these places that I’m promoting for that connection to the farm … I would love that for myself as well.” I always had this idea that maybe I could have a hand in the production as well and… the person I fell in love with also shared that dream. …We had this idea that it would be great to start an educational farm that had a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), that brought youth to the farm, and provide those same kinds of experiences that I had growing up in LA…

I think in some ways … the only way you can make a go at it, is to find other people that share such a … passion. … Farming is not like your high-tech startups. …

You’re recognized as a serial entrepreneur. We see ourselves as the other “cereal” entrepreneur but spelled with a “C.”

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

After helping to set up banks through his work with the Peace Corps, Chase wanted to be a change agent on large scale. He discovered a way to do it on a bus ride in Costa Rica.

These banks I was helping to start were now running on their own. I essentially retired myself and said, “You guys do this and I’m going to work on some other things.” I came back to the States, hadn’t been back home in a year and a half … and tech was this big thing. …

Everyone in San Francisco was starting these tech companies. I had never … heard of a tech company, didn’t know what a startup was. These … guys and girls my age were raising millions of dollars to build apps and build startups that were reaching tens of millions of people. That to me just seemed crazy.

… I just spent a year trying to do a $2000 … offering for this bank to reach 100 people. I came back to Costa Rica after that trip back home and honestly I felt a little jaded. I was really excited about the work I was doing abroad but it felt really small … compared with the scale (of how) things were happening in San Francisco.       

It was an eight-hour bus ride… to where I was serving (in the Peace Corps). … After about seven hours, I’m now in the indigenous territory. A woman gets on the bus I’m riding on and … starts asking all of the local passengers for donations to pay for her son’s healthcare.

… It was a little embarrassing but I tuned her out because people get on the bus all the time … ask(ing) for donations (and)… no one ever donates. I remember looking up a few minutes later … and almost all the local passengers … are giving her donations.

… It turns she had her son’s medical record with her. It was in a red folder, she was passing it around the bus. …She really seemed to earn the trust of these local passengers. I gave a small donation, she got off the bus and a few minutes later I remember thinking, Why isn’t there a website for this? Why isn’t there a website that makes it really easy for people like this woman to raise money for healthcare?

… I got back to my little village and there was the indigenous government office about two miles away. It was the only place in the entire territory that had WiFi. …

… I just immediately draw my bags up at home, ran up there and … started Googling every combination of “funding healthcare,” “crowd-funding healthcare” I could think of. I thought surely this must exist.

(But) It didn’t exist. …

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Jered grew up in the city. His love of the outdoors was born on family vacations to Yosemite and at summer camp. Here he explains the origins of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement he’s working to foster.

It’s where a farm is … supported directly by a community of … the eaters … It’s …shared like investments. There are shareholders who commit in advance of the season, and then the dividend is their harvest. Every week throughout the harvest season you get that diversity of foods …being harvested from that farm.

… in the deepest way possible, (the community is) even closer to the farm than (they are buying at) a farmer’s market. There are usually events on the farm that families, households, individuals can (attend). There are regular newsletters that describe the activities… (such as) … “What’s happening with the drought,” or if there is a bumper crop of tomatoes, come on out and bring your family and pick some more, and do some canning. These kinds of direct relationships are … lost in our anonymous market place of the global food system.

… The first CSA in California was in 1988, and that was the farm … I visited as a 19-year-old … and planted pumpkin seeds. I was visiting a friend who was an apprentice on this farm, and he came back and visited me in the fall at UCSC, and brought me one of the pumpkins from the seeds that we planted.

That experience of … having the seed go in the ground, being out in this beautiful place with this amazing family, and people who were working this land, were all the ingredients for what to me was that kind of disruptive idea of a food system that’s really based on health, from seed to table.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Now he’s training next generation of farmers:

…We’ve come from a great training program just down the road at UCSC and we feel like there’s a really strong demand for skilled practitioners in organic farming, diversified organic farming, that’s really geared towards local markets.

Steve: You also supply food to some companies now in Silicon Valley, right?

Jered: …That’s … the third dimension of what we do. I got invited to participate in an innovation lab at Google, in their food program that brought …folks from all over the world to engage in this kind of thinking about the food system and how we can make it more healthful and just. … really a shared mission.

Steve: You’re apart from Silicon Valley but you’re connected as well.

Jered: Right. For us, it was such an exciting opportunity because clearly the power that exists on this side of the hill is part of what is needed to develop these kinds of more meaningful changes in our food system.

(Our vision is starting to come together.) … For the last two years, we’ve created … an institutional level CSA where the company’s food program commits in advance of the season and we bring them food from the farm on a regular basis.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Chase shared what happened when Watsi launched:

… We’d had one of these coming soon sites. “We have this nonprofit. Sign up now and we’ll notify you when it launches,” and we had about 600 people sign up. … The morning we launched, we sent this e-mail to 600 people saying, “Hey, we have this website. It’s now live.”

(By this time, we had 10 people from the hospital we had partnered with) who needed money.

… We launched at 9 am and …I remember thinking, “Okay, it’s going to go viral. This is it. It’s going to be the next big thing,” and we waited a few minutes and I’m looking at the list of donors. There are no donors. … and then my mom donated and then …my co-founder’s mom donated.

… and our friends donated, we had this little stream of donations and then it just died. By 10 am, no more donors. … It was a little depressing.

… I had been an avid reader of (the online news forum) Hacker News (and)… posted a link to Hacker News (at around 10:30). … It said, “I want to show Hacker News this website we just built to save lives. Give us your feedback.” The idea was that people would look at this website and critique it. … Within an hour, it was the No. 1 post on Hacker News. … 16,000 people visited Watsi in that first day …

It … exceeded all of our expectations. … (the traffic briefly crashed the site, but) once the site was back up, in about an hour we funded healthcare for every single patient we had. …

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Watsi was the first nonprofit Y Combinator supported. Here’s how the company got on the accelerator’s radar.

The goal was to fund-raise. We didn’t have any money in the bank. I had three months of savings….In that period of time, I needed to …raise enough money to at least pay my salary to help me keep going. (But) everyone turned us down … because we didn’t understand how to fund-raise as an organization. We didn’t have any connections. We didn’t know anyone in Silicon Valley. We didn’t know anyone in the foundation world. We just didn’t know how you went about raising money for a nonprofit organization. A big thing we learned is that in the nonprofit world, funders tend to be very risk adverse. 

… Everyone talked to us and said, “This is a good idea but I’m going to give it another six months, give it another year and see what happens.”

…We got really desperate for money. After about 2 1/2 months … I had about 2 or 3 weeks left of savings, until I was going to have to move in with my mom. The Huffington Post had this online voting competition. (If) you got enough people to vote for your nonprofit, you would win $10,000. At that point … I thought I could live on $10,000 for a year. This is it. This is all I need.

… We get to the finals of this voting competition. It’s us versus one other organization. …. The last night of this competition … we’re neck and neck. … It’s about 10 pm, the voting ends at midnight and I’m out of ideas. I’ve asked every single one of my Facebook friends to vote, multiple times. All of the sudden, I notice that we start to take off; we start to get all of these votes. (Turns out) Grace, my co-founder, was at a bar in San Diego (and) convinced the bouncer … to make every single person vote on their phones for Watsi before they entered the bar. …We ended up winning the competition.

… Then, we ended up meeting Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator. He wrote us our first big check. …

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Jered and Chase by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Reetu Gupta, co-founder of CirkledIn and Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, founder of The Startup Couch.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.

2 Responses

  1. It seems that both of them are successful in their own field as entrepreneur and they’re enjoying the advantages of it. If you’re really love what you do and put your heart in it, no doubt that you’ll be successful in your venture. These two just proven it and thanks for inspiring us. Good job!


  2. Steve,

    This was a great conversation! I listened to it on XM.

    Well done! Would you be interested to speak at Menlo College in Atherton? I’m professor in the Business Program.



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