With such a high from the previous week, how was this week supposed to live up? As the final week in the NYC Module of CEU Business School kicked off, I began to look for closure and attempted to connect the dots. What better way to do this with none other than a visit to Brooklyn’s Grange Farm, a 65,000 sq ft rooftop farm at the Navy Yard. This was no novelty hippie project; the founder, Ben Flanner was running a profitable well run business that was a pioneer in the green roofing industry. Typically, green roofs are built using non-edible seedum plants from the cactus family, they reduce heating & cooling costs because of their insulation effect, and they provide rain collection. Famous examples of these are Chicago’s City Hall and San Francisco’s Academy of Sciences. However, Ben wanted to create a green roof that was even more valuable…one that would nourish Brooklyn’s food deserts with fresh vegatables. In the post-industrial revolution age, we don’t think of farmers as entrepreneurs but there are many business lessons to be learned from farming.
1) Real estate: Grange Farm has to find ways to secure the roofs that they will use. At the moment, it is better to lease. They have to make capital investments to improve the roof surface to be farm ready. The owners of the properties must assess if it is worth it to lease to roof farms or is it better to have another use such as solar panels. During the presentation, the question about parking lots was raised and at the moment, parking space at ground level is much more valuable to store vehicles than to grow crops.
2) Production capacity: Once the cost per square foot of the roof is known, the farm can begin to plan the farming production and understand the profits of the various crops per square foot. This reminded me of the decisions my previous company had to make before hiring new people: will this person produce greater revenues than their cost? The same is with crops: will X crop will bring $Y per square foot to cover the lease cost of that square foot?
3) Minival viable product: The market for vegatables is more dynamic than you’d think. What’s hot on the NYC restaurant scene changes like the weather. Grange Farm must continuously test out new veggies (like products). To do so, they plant in small batches to create experiments from which they learn the cost per square foot and if there’s a market available. It’s done the same way at conventional businesses.
4) Shift from Goods to Services: With Grange Farm’s early success, they were being contacted by others globally for advice on how to build rooftop farms. Ben mentioned that he typically charges hourly for the advice; however, he acknowledged he should charge more and possibly find a better model. I was reminded of my company’s switch we made: as IT Conultants, we typically charged by the hour which made things unpredictable for us and our clients but when we switched to charge service subscriptions and on a per project basis, we increased profits, predictability, and satisfaction. I couldn’t help but think that this is a model Brooklyn Grange could replicate. Additionally, other lines of revenue such as weddings and events on the roof that were already being utilized could be ramped up.
5) Data: Grange Farm did a good job of collecting lots of data on their farm. However, Ben was using still using excel sheets to crunch his data, which was ok. However, there seemed to be an opportunity for him to create proprietary software unique to green roofs.
This visit was a perfect example of how I now view other businesses; I try to learn from them, think of how they can be improved, and consider how they could work elsewhere. Being able to apply this way of thinking and connect the dots in the final week was a key takeaway from our time in New York. And now it’s back to reality to finish up the final month of the MBA program in Budapest!!!