The business world is a place where the deep, practical experience of older professionals, when teamed with the innovation and enthusiasm of young entrepreneurs, can create a win-win scenario.
Such is the case of the advisor/advisee relationship between Ludwig Furtner, 66 and Cassie Langstraat. 24. Furtner is a volunteer advisor for the Sebastopol Entrepreneurs Project (SEP), which offers individualized consulting, co-working space, and classes for local business owners. Langstraat, who recently started a nationally distributed publication— Permaculture Magazine North America—with a business partner, needed help getting the enterprise firmly planted on solid financial ground.
Furtner retired approximately five years ago, after a career that included business and product development for two of the largest forest products and building materials companies in North America—Weyerhaeuser and Boise Cascade. After retiring, he sought and found an opportunity to share his expertise on a volunteer basis through SEP.
“I generally work on new business opportunities; that’s what most of our clients are pursuing. And my background aligns very well with those types of opportunities,” Furtner said. “My expertise is in customer identification, market segment targeting, and cost analysis to make sure when the business is successful, that it’s profitable.”
That happened to be just the type of assistance Langstraat needed after, in early 2016, she and her business partner Hannah Apricot Eckberg launched their quarterly magazine, an offshoot of its parent publication Permaculture International. The magazine is currently available by subscription and at retail outlets, including independent bookstores like Copperfield’s, natural food groceries and co-ops.
The association with SEP initially started with Langstraat and Eckberg renting co-working space at the SEP headquarters on Gravenstein Highway North, near Sebastopol, to save on office costs. It didn’t take her long to realize, that at $50 per month, SEP’s advising services were cost effective even for a start-up.
“I already had done a business plan,” Langstraat said. “So it was actually a great time to meet up with these guys because I needed to know how to implement it.”
Langstraat and Eckberg share a background in writing and editing and a passion for permaculture, but neither had experience in financial management. That role ultimately fell to Langstraat.
“That was all very new to me,” she said. “But I was really passionate about figuring it out.” Furtner was matched with Langstraat and a key part of his advising has focused on how to do long-term revenue planning.
“With a quarterly publication, you have to always be looking down the road because your revenue—including subscriptions and ad sales— occur on a quarterly basis, while business expenses are incurred on a much more frequent basis,” Furtner said. “So keeping track of cash flow has been really important.”
As lead advisor for Langstraat, Furtner has been able to “pull in” other SEP advisors— including a chief financial officer, banker and attorney—to help Langstraat on accounting practices, loans and contracts.
Over the months of advising, Furtner and Langstraat have established a relationship of mutual trust and respect based on the common goal of making Permaculture Magazine a success.
“[What I get from Ludwig] is a beautiful conglomeration of support and wisdom,” Langstraat said. “The support might actually be the biggest part because anyone who starts a business knows it is insanely hard and often scary. Ludwig has been there for me during some of my deeply insecure moments, and has explained to me that everything will be okay, in a practical, numbers-founded way that I will actually believe.”
As for Furtner, the process of engaging with young entrepreneurs provides him with exposure to new industries and ways of thinking.
“And I also get the benefit of having a young, energetic, bright individual to work with who is pursuing a personal dream based on business fundamentals that can make it successful,” he concluded.