Imagine starting a new company with your best friend. For many, the idea of working closely with someone they know sounds appealing—the perfect recipe for entrepreneurial success. For others, it sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Despite the differing opinions, history has provided examples of high-profile partnerships that have worked tremendously. Think Ben and Jerry’s or Hewlett-Packard.
Friends understand the vision and endure setbacks
Given that friends already understand each other’s subtle signals, there is less chance of being offended, or surprised, by someone’s communication style. Friends can detect and read intentions with greater ease. Moreover, companions tend to have ‘history’—whether from working in the same industry, sharing life experiences or educational paths—which gives them a particular outlook, and, therefore, the ability to agree on the direction of the business.
Emerging research suggests businesses founded by friends in the startup sector are more likely to prevail under financial pressure. When companies go through financial loss, or lack of funding, existing partnerships within management help to solidify the team. Conversely, teams composed of ‘strangers’ were found to be less likely to endure financial storms.
Kortney Murray, CEO and Founder of Coastal Kapital LLC—a commercial equipment and asset-based lending company—has become a leader in the financial services industry by building her core team with friends and associates.
“My company is molded around the people that I care for most,” says Murray. “Although I’ve never had children, my management team has become a part of my ‘family’. We co-create vision, we have fun, and we share in the fruit of our success. As we grow, I add to the team those who feel like the ‘right fit’.”
Is this person the ‘right fit’ for your company?
Working with friends does have its unknowns. How will people act or perform in any given scenario? To avoid this, some specialists advise ‘dating’ a prospective employee, running through a number of business scenarios in an attempt to gauge strengths and weaknesses. Whilst Murray describes her approach to people as ‘empathic’—understanding needs and reading emotions—she has also invested in a highly sophisticated screening tool that measures one’s ‘culture index’.
Murray explains: “The index provides a deep insight into natural ability, creativity and best-fit within the organization. It highlights stress points and helps me to anticipate when someone might feel stretched. The mathematical index is based on sound science and removes much of the guesswork, so I don’t have to try and be ‘psychic’. I can focus my energy on growing the company, whilst getting the best from each employee.”
Never assume you know what others are thinking
Assuming you know what someone is thinking, planning or feeling is one of the most common mistakes when it comes to teaming up with friends. Murray, for example, would once have described her best friend from college as being “the same person”.
“We are so vibrant, excited, and constantly laughing,” Murray continues, ”but, in fact, she absolutely can’t stand sales or being on the phone. She’s timid in her approach…If I had not asked those probing questions at the outset, I would have hired her for sales!”
Preserve friendships and prioritize marriage
Balance, like most areas of life, can be difficult to achieve. As the ‘boss’, how can you have the tough conversations with people you know, without jeopardizing relationships. To keep potential friction to a minimum, Murray advocates “being sensitive to employee needs”. She explains: “I don’t like to micromanage. They respect my business, I respect their time. It’s a mutual agreement. If you have to finish up early because you have family matters to attend to, it’s fine as long as we maintain that level of trust and respect.”
For any would-be entrepreneur, the toughest challenge must be working with family members. Business spats can quickly spill-over into home life and place added strain on relationships. Murray is quick to point out the reality of growing a business alongside her husband: “We’ve had 12 years of marriage; 10 of those in business together. He probably takes on more than he should; I should allow him a little bit more space. Although we work well together, I want to find time to date my husband again. In some ways, our business has taken away from our personal life.”
Murray continues: “Entrepreneurs are often guilty of forgetting about themselves. You ask everybody about themselves, but sometimes people don’t ask you about you. You have to be the strong one. I’m really trying to make time for myself. If I’m thriving, it’s going to have a positive impact on others.”
The Perfect Investment: RAD Diversified and Income-Producing Farms
Amidst the global lockdown of 2020, Dutch Mendenhall, founder of RADD America, began looking for an alternative to standard residential real-estate investments. So, he turned his analysis to farms and was blown away by the immense potential he saw. After going public in late 2019, RADD America purchased US farmland and made slices of the real estate available at minimum investments of $10,000.
Income-producing farms vs. other real estate asset classes
According to Mendenhall, an apartment complex in today’s US real estate market commands approximately a 4% or 5% cap rate. Farms offer somewhere around a 15% to 20% cap rate.
“When I first began looking at investing in farms, I compared each acre to an apartment or housing unit,” Mendenhall recalls. “The variety that income-producing farms provide is what I really love about them as an opportunity. With one season producing wheat and corn the next, you can double tap — you can raise livestock on top of agriculture. Putting money into the farm only pays off in time. Everything from improving soil to increasing irrigation makes a major impact on potential income, and so much of America’s farmland has fallen into disrepair during the last 20 years.”
When Mendenhall began investing during the early days of the pandemic, sustainable acres of producing farmland sold anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000. Today, he finds that income-producing acres of farmland easily sell for $9,500 to $10,000.
“I’ve seen farmland values almost double during the last couple of years,” Mendenhall says. “Currently, we’re in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Idaho, but we are analyzing land all over America. What reports don’t show is the difference between a properly maintained acre of farmland and an acre that is in disarray. There’s only so much workable farmland on the market today. We’ve hit the tipping point, and now, there’s a scarcity of land for people to buy. If you have the opportunity to purchase amazing agricultural land, you have to pull the trigger quickly.”
Income-producing farms as an asset class
Mendenhall is no stranger to investors. Since 2006, he’s connected them to deals in short sales, wholesaling, residential properties, and storage units, though he admits that every asset class has caused the same excitement as farmland. “At this point, we can’t find enough bargains for our investors,” he says. “They take real pride in their investments and keep asking us for more.”
RADD America takes a true grassroots approach when connecting its investors to farmland. “The farming world is different from any other in real estate,” explains Mendenhall. “We start by having our acquisitions and agricultural teams meet with farmers. When we get ready to brand cattle or plant, all the local farmers come and help. In the same spirit, our teams go out and help the local farmers when it’s their turn to brand and plant. To do it right, you have to build a relationship and a connection that’s quite different than other types of investing.”
RADD America is composed of expert investors and expert farmers. The company offers its investments through fractionalized ownership. In other words, the company purchases one farm and then allows a joint pool of investors to own it together.
“If you don’t have a team that knows how to farm and maximize income, you’re not going to get the best possible return for investors,” warns Mendenhall. “Thankfully, our team isn’t so big for this type of investing that we forget who we are, and we have the economy to scale at a great pace.”
The impact of global competition on income-producing farm investments
RADD America closely monitors global trends. In Mendenhall’s experience, investors win when they move before the market. However, when they move after the market, they lose.
“When Russian first invaded and sparked its war with Ukraine, for example, we kept a close eye on its global impact,” he says. “As one of the largest producers of wheat in the world, we knew that Ukraine — now in the midst of a war — wasn’t going to be able to produce wheat at the same scale, so someone else needs to step in and fill the gap. We’re constantly monitoring what’s happening in the world to stay on top of evolving trends.”
In terms of global competition, Mendenhall is frustrated by foreign entities staking ownership of American farmland and agriculture. In this area, China has positioned itself as the number one threat to the sovereignty of the United States.
“When foreign powers have ownership of agricultural land in the US, it puts us all at risk as Americans,” remarks Mendenhall. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen soil quality erode, closures of meatpacking plants, and numerous fires. The likelihood of nuclear war in this age is very small. The quiet war of buying American agriculture and unsettling the American dollar is the threat we face today.”
Clearly, RADD America has a lot to pay attention to at home and abroad. “We’re monitoring weather patterns and making one-year, three-year, and five-year predictions,” Mendenhall explains. “We’re also paying close attention to interest rates to see where this shifting economy is headed. The up-and-down cycles are faster than they’ve ever been. Monitoring the industry is critical. With expert investors and agricultural specialists from RADD America on your team, farmland can be one of your most promising and rewarding investment opportunities.”
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