On Saturday I went with some friends to the Turtle Lane Maple Farm in North Andover, Massachusetts. I guess we’re at the age where we do things like that for fun. It was fun, and it was interesting to see something being transformed from its raw state, tree sap, to a fully finished product, maple syrup (and maple sugar and maple candy). Who knew that maple syrup didn’t come from a plastic bottle?
What I really wanted to learn was how they came up with the idea to start their own business. That question nags me all the time. How does someone go from zero to a functioning business? How does someone make the leap?
Granted, Turtle Lane Maple Farm is not their full time job, but Paul and Kathy Boulanger’s sugar house is full of activity. During the maple farming season, February and March, it does effectively serve as a second full time job for them. They sell their products (sorry, there’s no more maple bacon ice cream left), but they don’t make much — if anything — from the effort. Nonetheless, it’s a fully functioning enterprise.
Their operation is small, but sophisticated and professional. There were enough pumps, stainless steel tubs, and digital meters to look like a laboratory. Obviously they know what they are doing. To me, knowing how to do something better than anyone else seems like the only legitimate reason to become an entrepreneur. How could you start unless you had dominant skills?
But they didn’t know what they were doing when they started.
The idea was born when they went on a tour of a maple farm in New Hampshire. Their nine-year-old daughter asked if they could do that at home. Being practical parents, they gave a practical answer: “No.”
Fortunately, the kids were relentless — good for them.
They started out in the backyard, tapping a few trees, boiling the sap on the grill. Then they upgraded to a ten-foot by twelve-foot shed. Now they have a much larger, garage-sized facility and taps all over town.
It is shocking to think that you can start from nothing — no knowledge, no equipment, no facilities, nothing — and transform curiosity into a hobby and then into a profession. That’s audacious. It’s just maple syrup, but that’s bold maple syrup.