Growing up there was an old John Deere tractor that sat out in our front yard. It was my grandpa’s. As a kid I remember sitting on it and pushing the levers and pretending I was working the miles and miles of farmland I could see around me. Both of my parents grew up on the farm and both of my parents rode John Deere tractors. Naturally, I have an affinity for the brand. Over Thanksgiving weekend I got to visit the John Deere Pavillion in Moline and learned a lot about the company’s founder, Deere’s past and their bright future.
As an entrepreneur, marketer and currently in a start up I was struck by a few lessons from the John Deere story that every entrepreneur seems to be able to benefit from noting. Chief among them grit, a trait recognized recently as key to business success.
Three lessons stood out from my time at the Pavillion.
Startup Lesson 1: Never give up and keep coming back.
Grit. It means a lot of things to a lot of people. To John Deere it was finding a way to pay back a debt when it seemed like there was no way he ever could. In fact it’s arguable that without the debt John needed to repay, the plow and the iconic company may have never been.
After losing his father, young John became a blacksmith to help his mother provide for the family. With a loan from an investor he started his own blacksmith shop. Unfortunately, the shop burned down and the investor came looking for his money back. Young John had two options: either face debtors prison or find another way to earn the money to pay his debt. So John headed west from Vermont to Grand Detour, IL to see if he could make another go of blacksmithing. It was here that he would see opportunity in challenging farming communities around him and develop the self-scouring plow.
Startup Lesson 2: See opportunities when others see challenge.
It’s Plato who said that necessity is the mother of all invention. I imagine John Deere would have agreed with this. The great start up success stories of our time as well. When others see a problem, successful entrepreneurs see an opportunity. That’s exactly what John Deere did when he saw farmers in Illinois struggling to plow the nutrient rich soil with their cast iron plows. The dense soil would stick to the plow and the stewards of the earth would inevitably lose time having to clean off the plow. John saw inspiration in a steel sawmill blade and thought that polished steel would handle the sticky soil much better than cast iron. He was right, the sticky soil slid right off the plows. The rest, as they say, is history. Farmers loved the plow and a company was born.
Startup Lesson 3: Keep moving forward, imagine the future and go for it.
John saw a future where farmers didn’t lose time cleaning off their plow. A debt was repaid and a company was born because of it. Throughout the early history of the company, time and time again growth came because John Deere company kept moving forward, imagined the future and shaped it. Today, they’re following those values. From prototyping machines that walk through the woods instead of driving so the machines don’t disturb the ecology to lawn mowers that mow lawns by themselves. John Deere continues its tradition of innovation and integrity in the founders name sake securing the company’s future.
Integrity, quality, commitment, and innovation
Four values ring out from John Deere the man and provide the foundation for John Deere company’s mission going forward. Too often companies overlook starting with values and mission. Values? A Mission? That’s fluffy. Right?? Wrong.
These guiding principles led John Deere to success and have built a global company with a bright future. Without the foundation, what would have been? Now, if only I could find that old tractor from my childhood.
What values and missions have you seen lead to success around you?