Don’t knock it until you try it.
Montana Army National Guard 2nd Lt. James Rolin was pretty skeptical when his wife, Kathy Rolin, proposed a business idea built off edible insects. Like any good husband, he went along with it. Three years later, he has become a believer, happily sharing the many sustainable living benefits offered by Cowboy Cricket Farms.
Kathy and James Rolin are among a growing trend of veterans choosing entrepreneurship, with the Small Business Administration reporting 9.1% of all U.S. firms being veteran-owned. Kathy Rolin, who served in the Coast Guard, came up with the concept of Cowboy Cricket Farms as a nutrition student. She decided to recruit James Rolin, an ordnance officer, to be the marketing manager and network coordinator. The only thing left was to figure out how to get American consumers to expand their palate.
Cue the Chocolate Chirp Cookie.
The couple had started businesses before “with varying degrees of success,” James Rolin said, but nothing quite like the concept of Cowboy Cricket Farms.
“I’ve never eaten an insect before, so when she brought this idea to me, I thought, ‘well, this [business idea] is ridiculous.’ There’s only two reasons why Americans eat insects: number one, you’re vacationing in Thailand or number two, you’re in the military and going through SERE school. That’s it,” James Rolin said. “But of course, that was a very ignorant way of thinking about it, and as usual she was right and I was wrong, and a couple of years later, it’s hopping right along. We’re still growing, we still have struggles — very much — every day. We need more sales; we need something, but it is pretty amazing to look back at just how much it’s grown over the last two-and-a-half-years.”
Cowboy Cricket Farms sells a variety of products using different flavors, like wasabi, tropical and cinnamon. The owners are also mindful of how they talk about the company to those customers experimenting with a more “ethical” type of protein for the first time.
“What we found is, if you give someone a whole roasted cricket, they probably won’t eat it. If you give them the powder, they really don’t know what to do with it. But if you give them a delicious chocolate chip cookie, which is made with the cricket powder, then it suddenly all makes sense — it’s just an ingredient and it has extra nutrition in it,” he said.
They solicit constant feedback from their customers as part of a larger strategy to develop long-term relationships, and in some cases the input drives new product ideas.
The couple has also found business value in connecting with other entrepreneurs through organizations like Patriot Boot Camp, a nonprofit providing active-duty service members, veterans and their spouses with access to mentors and educational programming. James Rolin says it provides a completely different experience than other networking opportunities.
“With Patriot Boot Camp, the single biggest thing is that camaraderie of veteran entrepreneurs. There’s so many things I go to with entrepreneurship, but you can’t quite pack the same around Silicon Valley startups as you can a bunch of Army guys,” he said. “There’s just a different culture and it makes us a lot more comfortable.”
Jen Pilcher, PBC’s CEO, says the organization’s core program targets those veterans and military spouses at the early stage of their business. She recommends entrepreneurs look at the viability of their business, which is exactly what the three-day boot camp does using a community of experts and peers.
“We have 200,000 people transitioning out of the service every year and right there you have this group not too sure what to do, so they kind of fall into those three buckets of education, employment or entrepreneurship. I think a lot of people are very intrigued — so they’re exploring entrepreneurship at that stage — and that’s where Patriot Boot Camp comes in. We take a lot of people with ideation, so they have an idea but they’re not really sure if this is what they want to do,” Pilcher said.
Other common characteristics of businesses who attend the boot camp:
- Pre-revenue or just starting to get revenue
- One-to-three team members
- Ideation up to two years in business
- First entrepreneurial training
Attendees are connected with subject matter experts across various industries. Pilcher says this is the time to be “vulnerable.”
“If you have these 25 minutes to talk to the expert, don’t spend 25 minutes talking about your company. Come prepared with your questions and say, ‘this is where I’m struggling.’ Be vulnerable,” she said.
Both James and Kathy Rolin have each attended several of the Patriot Boot Camp events, and James Rolin echoes the sentiment that entrepreneurs need to be open to help and criticism.
“Think about your pride and then get rid of it because if you are pretty much prideful — I’m not saying don’t be proud of your work — but, you need to ask for help. When we started accepting help, things opened up a lot faster. Make sure that what you have is an actual business. That is something that is difficult to answer because people get so passionate … if you like it, it doesn’t mean anyone else is going to like it. You have to be analytical and see if there is a market for the business and test that market, if possible,” he said.
A list of upcoming program dates and offerings can be found at Patriot Boot Camp.
Want to support a veteran-owned business and try something new? Check out http://cowboycrickets.com/collections/food.Read comments