Inspiration and solutions come from unexpected places. Be open and keep looking!
Michelle Klieger is the founder of Stratagerm Consulting, based outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Stratagerm provides strategic guidance to agricultural businesses facing external challenges related to supply chain optimization and input selection.
From a young age, Michelle aspired to be a wildlife veterinarian. After a college internship in South Africa as a veterinary technician, her interest shifted from medicine to wildlife conservation. Since that summer in South Africa, Michelle has been fascinated by the global food system and its impact on land availability for wildlife. Her mission is to help farmers produce enough food to feed a growing population, using land efficiently to ensure adequate space for wildlife.
This goal led her to a job after graduation helping companies understand international regulations and increase their sales abroad. She helped companies export high-quality U.S. seeds globally to increase local production of crops. Higher crop yields mean less land is needed to grow the same amount of food. This work took Michelle to dozens of countries, where she met with government officials, business owners, and farmers on a wide array of issues.
Michelle’s extensive business knowledge, high emotional intelligence, and commitment to colleagues and clients alike has enable her to excel in the world of business consulting. Her passion for the subject permeates every presentation and discussion, and she is not satisfied until she has found solutions to her clients’ biggest challenges.
Learning happens in many forms, all of which bring valuable insights. Michelle is a lifelong learner, constantly asking questions and searching for new experiences. She is an adjunct professor at Bentley University in Waltham, MA. She holds an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Maryland.
She recently moved from the D.C. area to Natick, Massachusetts where she lives with her family.
Where did the idea for Stratagerm Consulting come from?
Agriculture is being disrupted. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it was raised. Today, more production is managed by robots and sensors than ever before. Plants are being grown indoors. And cheaper is not necessarily better. Everything is changing, and I wanted to be part of this new wave of modern agriculture. So, I started a consulting firm that combines my formal business education and my practical seed and international trade knowledge. Using my experience, I am able to help all different types of companies succeed by offering strategic agriculture consulting services.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day starts at 7:30 a.m. with my prioritized to-do list. After I’ve completed the things that will have the biggest impact on my business and the needs of my clients, I take some time to read news articles and try to learn something new. During my “lunch hour,” I take my dog for a long walk and clear my head. Then I finish the day with client meetings and other tasks that allow me to interact with other people.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I share my new ideas with other people and gather feedback and build on the constructive criticism I receive. First, I bounce the idea off my inner circle. If I’m on the right track, I create a pilot product and share it with select clients. Then, using client feedback, I release the product and share it more broadly.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Growing more food in cities excites me. It’s really shaking up how our food is produced, where our food is produced, and who produces our food. Less than 2% of the U.S. population feeds the entire country and a large part of the world. The average age of the people producing our food is 58 years old and they live in rural communities. But new agriculture technology and urban farming are reinventing agriculture. There are beehouses on NYC rooftops, indoor farms that grow hydroponic lettuce, and backyard chicken coops. All of these ventures are breathing fresh life into agriculture and helping more people understand where their food comes from.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The last thing I do each afternoon is make a list of the most important things I need to get done the next day. The list is waiting for me when I get to my computer in the morning. I don’t have to think, I just start working and if I get called away early or interrupted, I know I’ve finished the most important things already.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Talk with as many people as possible. I’ve never been good at striking up a conversation with strangers while waiting in line. My brother still keeps in touch with people he met waiting to board an airplane three years ago! For the last five years, I’ve traveled the world and attended a lot of conferences, and I got better at talking to new people. I started Stratagerm and moved to a new state at the same time. I forced myself to attend networking events to meet people in my personal and professional life. These conversations have been so rich and so helpful. You never know what you might learn from a stranger.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The beauty of our food system is that Americans can walk into a grocery store and have the option to purchase more diverse, safer, and cheaper food than in other countries.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I am constantly reading. Success for me was when I could afford to purchase my own subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and the Harvard Business Review. Being current on news and markets is critical for my business. In addition reading books that challenge my world view exposes me to new ideas and viewpoints.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Whenever that self-doubt creeps into my head, I ask myself what is one thing I can do (right now) to move my business forward. I write that thing down, and it’s the first thing I do when I go back to work. This helps me focus on the future and prioritize tasks that will have the largest impact on my business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I had no experience in sales. So, I decided to research sales techniques. I found people that recommended pitches for cold calls and I tried it. I had very few successful conversations and wasted a lot of time trying to engage. At about that time, I hired Blueprintgreen Career Coaching & Consulting and shared my struggles. I learned that this type of communication is emotionally draining for me and that there were other ways to sell myself that played to my strengths. I started looking for ways to bunch my business development efforts together. I looked for conferences that I could attend or speak at so I could share my message and then go back to other work. Instead of burning out by making 1,000s of individual calls and emails, I give one speech. This tradeoff works for me!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I wish there was a way to automatically put my Amazon books wish list into my Libby account. Libby lets you check out Kindle books from your local library system. If the two systems were integrated, when I add a book to Amazon, I would automatically put it on hold at my local library. Amazon might not like this because it might reduce book sales, but I would love it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
My new town has a composting service. It’s $99 for the year. Every week they pick up our compost curbside. It’s no extra effort on my part and every week I feel great about myself for helping the environment.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I love LastPass. I use it to create and store secure passwords. It works on my computer and my phone. I’ve even picked phones based on their LastPass integration. Now that I need to share business passwords with other people, it lets them use my passwords without being able to see them, and I can revoke access if needed. It keeps my accounts secure.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Demise of Free Trade: The U.S.-China Trade War Explained, because I wrote it. The current trade war is changing our world and our businesses and I wanted to write an easy-to-read book that explains what is going on, how we got here, and why the trade war is not over.
What is your favorite quote?
“All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.” — Michael John Bobak
Inspiration and solutions come from unexpected places. Be open and keep looking!
Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism. Everyone sees the world differently and by allowing your ideas, your business, or your processes to be reviewed, you may find a better way to do things.
Try to be comfortable outside of your comfort zone. The biggest successes happen when we push ourselves. You are never alone and you can always ask for help.