Guest Post: Who Are We Plowing For Today?

In the almost seven years of this blog's history, there have been very few guest posts. One I remember was JLM's take on Obama's rescue plan during the depths of the financial meltdown in late 2008/early 2009.

Today I am going to treat you to a guest post from AVC regular Andy Swan. Those who read the comments need no introduction to Andy. He's funny, smart, a talented entrepreneur, and a champion of freedom and free markets.

He sent me this post this morning and I love it. Lot's of wisdom and learning in here for everyone:

Who are we plowing for today?

In the early 1930’s in Southern Indiana. My grandpa Rock had just returned from a stint in Detroit, which was a favorable place to find employment in those unfavorable times. He was home to help with the planting season and to visit family….maybe settle down with the money he’d saved.

After the first day of plowing was done, and the sun was going down, he got off the tractor and felt that his wallet was missing from his back pocket. Panicked, he looked everywhere possible, to no avail. It was dark and there was no way he was going to find it that night.

What’s worse is that the wallet contained ALL of the money he had saved in Detroit, around $2500 I believe, a sizable sum during the depression.

After a sleepless night, he woke up and went to go to work. Upon arrival, his “boss”, who knew of the missing money, said “Well, Rock….who are we plowing for today?”

“I guess we should plow for Rock”, he responded.

And so all three jumped on a tractor and retraced, backwards, the plowing that they had done the previous day, with eyes searching for a wallet like the Coast Guard for a raft. After several hours and a lot of lost hope, my grandpa spotted the corner of his wallet sticking about an inch out of the ground. Hopped down, grabbed it and they went on to complete as much of actual farming progress that could be completed for the rest of the day.

With that money, he went on to buy his own piece of land, and begin the building of what would become his personal “empire”….a life’s work that spanned over 70 years, thousands of acres, and a family that continues to thrive beyond his leaving us a little over a year ago, at the age of 94.

Instead of criticizing the failures of others, or questioning their judgment in hindsight (how could you carry that much money on a tractor???)…..

Take some time out to plow for the passionate little guy every once in a while. You might just set a great thing in motion

#Blogging On The Road

Comments (Archived):

  1. Aviah Laor


  2. paramendra

    Great story.

  3. ShanaC

    Lesson one:We all make mistakes- we should help each other get over them.

  4. Erica

    For some reason, this post was showing up shortened in my RSS reader. When I clicked on the title of the post to go to the website, it showed a blank page. I had to just go to to read the full post.-Erica

    1. fredwilson

      That’s because the first time I posted it via my blackberry it didn’t post correctly. I deleted the post and did it again. Sorry about that

  5. MH

    Nice story. I don’t think that the average person today would attack the day in the way your grandfather did if in the same situation… I wish that wasn’t the case. There are a lot of wonderful things to be said about the people who lived through the 20’s and 30’s; I wonder what will be said about us in 80-90 years? Will we (as Americans) stack up to our predecessors?FYI- That’s the equivalent of about $32,000 in today’s money, wow.

    1. andyswan

      I agree. Grow up dirt poor, but optimistic….. “This is America!” Hitchhike to college, make extra scratch running laundry. Depression on, go where the jobs are and save every penny, come back to the place you love and put a stake in the ground.Today’s version seems to be “live with your parents waiting for a job that pays 6 figures and requires no effort.”Discomfort can produce amazing results. Standard reply when asked if he was getting hungry: “I haven’t been hungry since 1932.” 🙂

      1. ShanaC

        We’ve killed off a lot of those jobs, you know- and there is talk of this inew awareness that for whatever the reason “I worked in MCD’s over the summer” doesn’t cut it when you need to look for a job. Working for free is the new in.

      2. andyidsinga

        I love that last quote – pure awesome.@MHensley – I don’t think we’re going to stack up too poorly when looking back 50 – 80 years from now. There are a lot of really good people doing really good things out there – starting at the grass roots.Building things of value is often not as far away as we think. I have a some friends and neighbors who seem to complain less and do more. Speaking about not being hungry – I did a little blogumentary about urban gardening on my own blog : hope this isn’t too spammy: http://andyidsinga.wordpres

        1. fredwilson

          Sharing links to good posts you write is not spammy

  6. SeanMEverett

    The greatest innovations will always come from rookies. Look at the biggest startups of today. Apple, Google, Facebook. They started young, small, and with nothing but worked their asses off.I’m also a rookie just tryin to dig my own plot of land 🙂

  7. Scott Carleton

    I love how his boss was looking out for him. Shows a lot that he (the boss) was willing to spare a day of plowing to help out his employee. There’s a lesson in there for how to treat your people.

    1. fredwilson


  8. Dan Vidakovich


  9. Elbert Clayton

    “Amazing” Things Happen After You Realize That All Your Hopes As Well As Future Dreams Ride On Your Effort To Correct or Go Through Whatever Obstacle You Have Too In The Short Run To Turn Your Dreams Into Reality For Tomorrow ………He Knew That It Was Only A Matter Of Effort To Find That Wallet……Point: “Never Give Up Today Because All Your Dreams Are Out Waiting For You To Spot just a inch above the surface.

  10. Tom Labus

    Great story, Andy.I don’t know if we can count on that type of support from others. It was such a great American trait.

    1. Tereza

      Actually I think a lot of immigrant communities demonstrate this. They give each other jobs, help them get set up. Give them a chance.But across the fabric…not so much.

  11. Aaron Klein

    Andy, what an awesome story. Your grandpa exhibited the best characteristics of “the greatest generation.” I hope we never forget their courage.

    1. andyswan

      We can rekindle it. I know we can!

  12. Mike

    Great post Andy. Unfortunately, both my grandfathers died before I was 10 and I can’t help but feel that I lost out on a great deal of insight and advice.I will say that after 20+ years of having other people help pave the way for my (future) success, I consider it a requirement that I do the same for the next generation.Maybe I’ll even call my next startup “Plow-share.”

    1. andyswan

      Ha, awesome! Count me IN for the angel round!p.s. I wish I would have listened more. There are no ordinary people.

      1. ShanaC

        All people are ordinary- it’s what we do with our ordinariness that makes us extraordinary.

        1. Viktor Ovurmind

          Ordinary people has a value grounded in reality like “fightin for the people”… but it becomes problematic if it becomes a euphemism for powerlessness.[v.o.M]

  13. Donna Brewington White

    Hey Andy — What an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it and to Fred for opening up the space. I love hearing about people’s legacies. As far as I can tell from reading your comments and “hearing” your thoughts, the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree. My own grandfather — a 3rd-grade-educated coal miner with a keen intellect and to this day one of my favorite people — died when I was 10. He worked hard to support his family until his lungs no longer allowed him to go into the mines. He didn’t leave an empire, but he did leave an indelible mark — I knew without a doubt that he loved and accepted me unconditionally. He also believed that if you worked hard enough you could do anything — and while he didn’t progress far in life by most standards, compared to where he started as a true Tennessee mountain hillbilly, he far surpassed his humble beginnings. He was also one of the most kindhearted and generous people I’ve ever known — every day a stray dog and, separately, an impoverished little boy stopped by his house for a meal. He did it very quietly, but steadily. Guess what his name was? FRED!

    1. andyswan

      That’s awesome. From what I just read, it sounds like an “empire” indeed! 🙂

    2. fredwilson

      Nice name 😉

  14. Fred T

    Warren Buffet had an interview on Yahoo’s homepage. And he was saying that he started honing his investing prowess at the heart of the depression. Despite today’s general outlook, he said that today is even a better time to start a great opportunity. With all the technological advances: absolutely. Perseverance is scarce with the general public these days, anybody may have given up easily. But your grandfather, and the ones who made it in life, were the epitome of it.That’s why I admire bootstrappers (and legitimate hustlers), and I have grown to appreciate the things we can stretch creatively to tread through these times.

  15. kagilandam

    Inspiring story. It is neither the $2500 nor the 1-day plowing back … the 69.997 years of hard work that paid off… but the 1-day made a big impact than the rest of 70 years.One of the great film producers who literally lived on foot paths said “It is not that i want to go back and live there again… but when ever i cross that area in my BMW … the memory makes me humble and being nice to others”.

  16. David Noël

    Great story, Andy. Thanks for sharing.

  17. David Semeria

    Excellent Andy.Here’s a slightly less uplifting story from around the same time.My dad was 5 at the outbreak of WWII. With the arrival of German troops in Northern Italy, my grandfather moved the family from the coast up into the hills for safety. They may have been safer there, but they nearly starved. There was practically nothing to eat.One day, whilst out walking with his brothers and sisters, my dad was confronted by some German soldiers. Taking pity on the scrawny little urchins, the Germans gave them an entire ‘wheel’ of Parmesan Cheese. The poor kids couldn’t believe their luck, and struggled to carry the huge cheese home to their parents.But on their way back they were met by the resistance who took the cheese off them.These events left deep, deep scars. The feeling of loss never left them. Today, we may laugh at idea, but for starving children, a cheese like that was like a gift from heaven.My dad always said “It’s much better to never have something, than have it and see it taken away”.And he knew.

    1. Tereza

      Some people say, “The devil is the details”.And some people say, “God is in the details”.Can both be true? I think, probably yes.You just never, ever know where they humanity or the hurt is going to come from.It’s a reason why I’m often reticent to take sides, between any parties (and a classic female trait). You just never know. It’s almost always more complicated than they say.But how someone acts, in that moment, when tested? That is reality.

  18. RichardF

    Thanks Andy. Evocative post and one that also makes me appreciate my own father even more.

  19. Fernando Gutierrez

    Nice post Andy!Can’t even imagine how terrible that night was for him… Makes me feel stupid for having been nervous during the night so many times, waiting for dawn anxious for whatever outcome I could not influence during that hours.

  20. Lynn

    I wake up every morning, look my self in the mirror and feel good about what I do and know I am doing my best. You cannot stand at the end of the pier waiting for you ship to come in. You have to at least send a message out in a bottle. The internet provides a vast sea of potential. Plowing for the underdog everyday, relentlessly I forge ahead for my artists. In a recessed economy where art collectors seem interested in capitalizing on the blue chip art scene, buying up works of art in the secondary market, I continue religiously everyday to work for unknown undiscovered artists who are exceptional creating extraordinary works. It requires an unprecedented determination to push on especially in an environment of collectors whom are followers buying up what they are told to buy, giving more consideration to auction records than the aesthetic of the art. While seeking collectors interested in supporting living artists who are exceptional and are struggling, I have been moved to think “outside the box” I have rented prints and licensed images to the motion picture industry and began renting art to corporations who receive tax benefits. In an environment with diminished sales, renting is a creative way to generate revenue while I “plow”. So in response to this post, I am the underdog and I am plowing for the underdog everyday. Like your Grandpa Rock, I persevere with this endeavor I have carved for myself with passion. I have been inspired by this story as I ready myself for an art opening tonight in Philadelphia. Thank you for this motivational post Andy.

  21. Todd Savage

    Great post. Here’s a great link on some more life advice from one of my favorite people. The power of unconditional love. I suggest spending a few minutes to watch.

  22. johnmccarthy

    A nice reminder that all “self-made men” are helped along the way by others.

    1. fredwilson

      Many times by the women they team up with

  23. Alex Murphy

    Andy,With posts like this, we can reflect on the lessons of history so as to not repeat the mistakes but to carry forward the lessons of humility and hard work. To me, the future is brighter than the past because there is a growing group of people that don’t want to wait for their ship to come in or wait for the 6 figure job while living in their mom and dad’s basement but rather want to go out and make it happen. Lean Startups, bootcamps, etc are growing like wildfire. There are more budding entrepreneurs than ever in the US and abroad, driving innovation, plowing the field. Lets kick ass!Fred … thanks for the guest post. Great community. This is a must read every day even when you are on the other side of the globe.

  24. Mark Essel

    Fun family tale Andy. It’s a wonder that such isolated events can have such a lasting impact on our lives today.Here’s an interesting anecdote from my family history.My grandfather’s mother remarried while he was just a baby. He took the name of his adopted father, who cared very much for Herman. I’m not an Essel by blood, but by marriage. It was 1933 in pre World War 2 Germany and as a young man Herman decided that things were going downhill fast and took the long cruise to Ellis Island. He eventually went on to fight against the German troops and was injured in combat (I never did get that story out of him).I’m still not sure who I’m plowing for. Me, my wife, my family, my friends, my generation?I just know as long there are fields, we’ll keep plowing.

  25. Mark Essel

    They still had their hunger, and it appears to be an inherited trait!

  26. Duncan Logan

    It is a amazing what a little help at times can create.As an entrepreneur running a start up I often find myself sitting in a meeting with a large corporation dealing with someone who has no idea the impact their decision could make on my business, my life, my future. They live in a corporate world where doing nothing is safer and easier than doing something,Every now and then you get a break, someone shakes your hand and says “let’s do this”. I find they tend to own the large corporation.

  27. Stacey Kannenberg

    Great inspiration Andy, as I get ready to make my first angel presentation on Monday for my startup and the #HerInsight team that has already been plowing, seeding and growing for the vision! Thanks Fred for all the wisdom that has helped me get to where I am ready to go! I appreciate your killer insight more than you will ever know!!!

  28. Ronnie Rendel

    B”H I would venture take this story to the next level – there is value in helping another person, taking a person with talents and creativity and set him up as an entrepreneur. The advent of social communities online should lead to these communities “plowing for their members”, although I see this idea as still being a couple of years out.

  29. Tereza

    Bravo, Andy.Needed to hear that. I’m on the roller coaster now. I didn’t imagine it could be so depleting.Even when there are some yeses the no’s can really sting.There’s something profound, totally humble about that moment when someone really, desperately needs it. And someone else gave them mercy. To the one who receives it, that mercy will never, ever be forgotten. These are the kind of people who come out of the woodwork to, for example, show up to your funeral to pay respects. Or move a mountain for you later, when you’re desperate.In your case, it is remembered and honored 80 years later.There is magic to exercising mercy. People don’t exercise enough of it.Your story is a great example of that.Thank you, Andy.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Very insightful takeaway from Andy’s story.

    2. JLM

      The reality is that when we exercise kindness — the only real power any person possesses — we are not kind to another but rather kind to ourselves. What we give — advice, encouragement, compassion, money — we can live without.Our kindnesses — even just common courtesy and manners — make us what we are moreso than anything we ever seemingly accomplish.I also believe they are truly “bread on the waters” which come back to us multiplied and more magnificent.

    3. fredwilson

      What’s stressing you right now about your startup Tereza?

      1. Tereza

        Stressed…moi? LOL. Abso-freaking-lutely.My competitors got some really good press this week. They don’t have much user base, no business model, but the press loves the story. So i’m concerned my launch thunder has been pre-empted. We’re not in market yet because outsourced development on the cheap is like pushing string. We just did some team re-shuffling. A bright spot is that my partner is awesome and could pull in a much better person very fast. He rocks.This week I decided to never do another pitch-by-phone during seed funding. Waste of time. Seed funding is an emotional, not analytical, act. People keep comparing seed funding to the dating process. But is it possible for someone to fall in love with you on the phone? No way. I am kicking myself that I didn’t refuse the meeting. I should have known better.They don’t get to experience the totality and specialness — the magic — of the entrepreneur. By phone they can intellectually find a million reasons to say No. And I have no idea if this person, for example, even tried my demo. Based on the questions I was fielding, it seemed s/he hadn’t.And saying No on the phone is very easy to do. So little emotional commitment by the listener. They can hang up the phone, and go grab a ham sandwich, and forget the conversation ever happened. Meanwhile I’m re-jiggering my funnel and trying to figure out who this person knows so they don’t spread negative energy about my business. And kicking myself that the senior partner really liked me (in person) but I got sandbagged by the junior person. Now I have proprietary info floating out there. They say they want me to come back later. Whatever.Mistakes where I should’ve known better seriously piss me off.Whether to emphasize or de-enphasize my female-ness is a struggle. Lots of conflicting info. One friend/advisor (a woman) told me I should de-emphasize my female-ness and remove my photo from our Team page. That it’s counter-productive. That shook me. But if a firm sends you to their one woman and she isn’t into what you’re doing, then you’re dead.Look, we’re going to get this launched, no matter what. The investors I do have on board are awesome. I love them. They are so supportive and totally believe in me and give me great advice on the stuff they know. They’re not dumb money.In my next life I would like to see a Y-Combinator for women. Call it “XX-Combinator”. Maybe I’ll create it after i’ve made my big bucks. Here’s the logic.Practically no women can code. But in current models the founders have to. Women that start something up, like to know what they’re doing, and be trained and experienced in it. That takes up our 20’s. We have kids in our 30’s. Our entrepreneurial sweet spot is around age 40. Conventional tech investors are not really into this group and the metrics they look for are really hard for these people to hit. Most of the (few) women’s businesses that go big were funded by F&F, not traditional angels and VCs.The XX-Combinator program would provide women who know their target market extremely well, based on persona and professional experience. They have a huge innovative idea about how to crack it. The program would help define their MVP. Benevolent hackers would work side-by-side with them to build it, for equity and possibly paid salaries by sponsors and can convert into CTO positions.It would be scheduled and located so that women with families could actively do it. No “6-months in SF”.It can complement and feed other women’s programs out there (astia, golden seeds, etc.).Also i’d like a list of male VCs who have daughters and therefore have a vested emotional interest in creating some successes in girls’ startup land.Long rant. About four blog posts worth. Save this for your long flight home.TTFN…Gotta take my girls to the town park pool.

        1. fredwilson

          xx combinator is an excellent ideadid you ever consider doing this?…and i hear rumors that techstars may come to NYC this winterif they do, you should think about doing that programas for phone pitches, i don’t take them either. total bullshit. get a f2fmeeting or don’t do it.and don’t worry too much about press. if your competitor’s product sucks, itwon’t matter.product is the first and only thing that matters at the start. if you have acompetitor with a great product, then you should worry a lot.but if not, don’t sweat that stuff

          1. Tereza

            see below — i misread what you wrote. thanks. v thoughtful response. appreciate it.

          2. Tereza

            oh, just removed my previous response bc misread with a partial read on email.lots of great stuff in your note. seedstart didn’t take me. we’ll be in a much difft place in the winter for techstars.the competitor products are not great. just cute.We’ll get there… and well beyond!

        2. Donna Brewington White

          T — You are freaking amazing. In the middle of talking about the source of your stress, you stop to praise your partner, then move on to present a brilliant idea, then take your kids to the pool. I have to believe that this is the stuff success is made of. I see the word “serial” in your future.You can’t keep a good woman down.TTFN

  30. Emeri Gent [Em]

    More than just take some time out to plow for the passionate little guy once in a while, there is a lot happening in the farming community that just bypasses our attention. It is not simply the values that I was taught as a farmers son but the natural world of the farmer family is being overwhelmed by external economic forces.It isn’t just in America that its happening, the tragic cases of farmer suicides in places like India are hardly on the radar, never mind the challenges the American farmer is facing today.I think one way of making that reconnection is getting an allotment or growing your own food and more than just make sustainability a pop news item somewhere between the latest earthquake or banking crisis or sports tournament, there is a direct value to a way of life of the small farmer that is central to our way of life.I heard somewhere that the word “family” is archaic because people live in more diverse ways, but family values are generally small farmer values as well, and no matter what economics and social existence sets up as a pattern of living, there are some hard working values that are not ready for social museum of life yet.Giving a hand to a neighbor is one thing but learning the joy of hard graft and putting some elbow grease back into your life, that is the stuff one does not think they need, but they sure change a life and that is something I call physical intelligence.We all know what social intelligence is but it means nawt if one’s body is MIA. We don’t have to experience the hard life of a farmer but we can do no better than learn what a farmer adds to life.[Em]

    1. fredwilson

      Great comment Emeri

      1. Viktor Ovurmind

        My last couple of extrapolations have led me to ask myself what is the economic model of doing what you love? I don’t want to get intellectually caught up in Keynesian, Austrian et al economic models but simply dig out the essence of what this means. Clearly Rock’s “personal empire” was based on doing what he loved. What if this “love” was central to all economic models?[v.o.M.]

  31. Cynthia

    “A fierce unrest seethes at the core Of all existing things:It was the eager wish to soar that gave the gods their wings.” Don Marques.A few great lines for a few great lessons. Thank you, Andy.

  32. daveschappell

    I saved this post as unread in my reader for the last week, because I loved it so much. It summarizes why I like to encourage entrepreneurs — I’m a big fan of the little guy/gal, who has the guts and energy to try something, no matter the odds. It doesn’t matter if it’s a google-big idea, or a one-person project — it’s the spark behind it, and in their eye, that lifts me up. Thanks for sharing, Andy & Fred.