Talent Cornerstone: Reflections on the Startup Process

By Alan Langrall of Green Top Grocery

gtg-logoThe four cornerstones are constants in the lifecycle of all co-ops, whether they are startups or stores that have been opened for some time. People often come to the table not knowing what they have to offer, or what is expected of them. Helping volunteers find the fit for their personal talents, and work within the group setting, requires thought and evaluation. When the right person is in the right job, the entire group benefits.

In 2012, Alan Langrall came to the fledgling Green Top Grocery (GTG) startup the way many people start at co-ops. He saw a poster for the first community meeting and was curious. “I still remember that poster featured a big stalk of broccoli with a light bulb base, and something about it really got my attention.“ He kept going to follow up meetings and became an owner at the first event when ownerships were offered. Not yet knowing what was involved in a startup co-op board, Alan volunteered for the first board. “I must have figured they all seemed to be smart folks and that we could just figure it out as we go “ With others, he has attended several Up & Coming conferences, and is excited to see GTG is now in the process of building their store. The staff of FCI is delighted that Alan is sharing his personal story of working to build a co-op, and he welcomes emails at ablinil@hotmail.com.

It’s all about the love, right? Good ideas naturally attract good people and good fortune, right? While certainly recognizing the maximum effort and the considerable time, energy, and hard work that has gone down, Green Top Grocery has indeed been very fortunate. Fortunate

  • to have had that genuine, influential, community minded, original organizer who recognized the opportunity and first came up with the whole idea (Elaine),
  • to be positioned early (through funds made available) to find and hire that someone with the unique passion and outreach skills needed to grow our owner numbers (Katie),
  • to still have that uniquely talented and generous graphic artist as part of our original heavy lifting team (Melanie),
  • to be close enough to that thriving, established, model co-op to be mentored and be supported in so many ways (Common Ground Food Co-op) and
  • to have the consulting resources of FCI and CDS Consulting Co-op available that have played and continue to play a huge part in the success of GTG.

For me, these people and the gifts they bring really stand out. There are many more outstanding people involved, and other examples of the love and nurturing they bring to the task. May our good luck and fortune continue.

gtg-marketign-cookiesAs an early owner and board member, I would often have conversations with new owners and others about our co-op. I came to see myself as working in the background of the organization. My contributions are valuable, but of a different nature than some others. They were the heavy lifters, and I was okay with that. We have had a wide range of lifters and levels of involvement over time as people come and go. I have happily done my share as needed, and at very least continue to show up. There were many times where my energies and skill set proved no match for the meeting organizing, document designing, newsletter writing, spreadsheet producing, or tech savvy contributions of others. At one co-op conference I was reminded that organizations benefit and even need people like me. My contributions are more on the order of balancing and calming in nature. I like to believe there have been times where that was needed.

I recall being part of the reconciliation process through two separate rough patches. Fortunately our consultants helped and their advice was well received. Who knows if my actions moved the pivot points, but it felt right and very necessary at the time. Feelings were indeed hurt each time. Both times, after a few tears and eventual forgiveness, we got back on track. Looking back, it probably made us stronger. I do recall how fragile the whole thing felt with nearly everyone being a volunteer. I wondered what really holds this thing together, and realized it’s really all about the love. You really do have to love it and believe in it. I still wonder occasionally, but now I see it and marvel. As we continue to grow, our momentum feels strong, and that feels pretty great.

Event planning and logistics have ended up being my co-op niche. I just signed on again for another annual meeting planning committee. There will be more events, and a store opening. Check lists! Phone calls! Meetings! Let’s go! We have things to celebrate.

I value this important thought from another co-op conference participant: “If it’s not fun, what’s the point?” Cheers, fellow startup co-ops! Party on!

FCI: Why We Like This:  Right from the beginning, matching people’s skills and gifts to the tasks of starting a co-op is super important. The TALENT cornerstone is all about that—putting people to work, seeking out great workers for every task, and building them as steam and keeping the momentum going as the startup progresses. This personal story shows how one committed volunteer can find a niche, adapt to the changing needs of the group, and bring enthusiasm at every turn.

Tips for Forming Your First Steering Committee

Reposted from February 5, 2014

Try to avoid the “raise your hand” technique. Starting a food co-op is essentially starting a business and you want to be intentional about this very important time in your co-op’s development.

Identify and recruit your “dream team”. Your “dream team” will build, protect, and carry out the vision for your cooperative market. Think about honest, intelligent, well-connected people in your community who would be great to work with. It’s likely that you’ll have a hard time finding people with co-op experience. Don’t worry about that at this point. It’s common for steering committees to be passionate yet inexperienced with co-ops or groceries.

Know thyself. Be sure to take stock of what you’re good at, and what you could use some assistance with. You might be a great “champion” of the project, pulling people in, but maybe not so great at keeping a group organized and on task (or vice versa). Look for people that will compliment you well and create a team with varied strengths.

Look for cooperators. Be careful about who you recruit to the first steering committee. It will be very difficult later to remove those who may try to make the co-op fit their vision as opposed to the group’s vision of a cooperative market.

Now is the time to seek out and recruit the kind of diversity you want your co-op to have. Try to come up with a mix of people (nonprofit, business, retired, etc.). Be leery of developers or those who might have a serious conflict of interest (this does not necessarily include farmers).

Educate early and often. Cooperatives are not top of mind for a lot of folks and even the best of us need regular education. We have a wealth of webinars and resources available to walk you through organizing your co-op, cooperative vision, timelines, etc. Here’s a good one on Creating Your Vision from our very own Stuart Reid and national expert on startups Bill Gessner.