If you’ve ever left water out in the hot sun then you know exactly what it looks and smells like by the end of the day. Fresh won’t exactly describe what you’ll find. Put that same container of water into your chicken house and then see what also gets into it. It was during one particularly frustrating day while out feeding animals that Anna Hess and her husband Mark were inspired to find a new way to water their chickens. After a year and a half of design, research and customer feedback they have created a reasonably priced alternative called The Avian Aqua Miser that all backyard chicken owners can appreciate.
However they are not limited to innovation, they’re also authors. Their book, Microbusiness Independence, gives mico-preneurs advice on running their own business and still having time for the things that really matter to them.
Please tell us a little about what you do.
First and foremost, we’re full time homesteaders. We grow all of our own vegetables and eggs, and are starting to grow our own fruit and meat. The problem is that homesteading takes a lot of time, and neither of us is independently wealthy. We also live in Appalachia, which is a very economically depressed part of the country. So our choices were to work relatively low-paying jobs, leaving little time to pursue our homesteading dreams, or move out of the area. Instead, we created a third option, selling Mark’s chicken waterer invention over the internet. By taking advantage of a global market, we’re able to make much more than the minimum wage we’d bring in by selling the same item at the local farmer’s market.
What is the automatic chicken waterer? How does it work?
The Avian Aqua Miser (http://www.avianaquamiser.com) is an automatic chicken waterer based on a chicken nipple. The nipple is a bit like the valve you see on the end of a hamster water bottle — it only lets water out when the animal pecks or licks on it. The great thing about our automatic chicken waterer is that it solves a problem backyard chicken keepers hate. Chickens aren’t the world’s cleanest animals, and they think nothing of perching on top of traditional waterers and pooping in the reservoir, then drinking the filthy liquid. Before Mark came up with our automatic chicken waterer, we were changing our chickens’ water several times a day to prevent the buildup of fecal matter. The Avian Aqua Miser keeps its water within a sealed reservoir, so the water always stays clean and I never have to deal with chicken poop.
How long did it take for you to design and fine tune it into the product it is today?
Mark started working on a solution one day when he heard me out swearing at the chickens. I had put my hand on top of a pile of poop during my morning chores and I was not pleased. It took him months of searching to discover that the large scale chicken factories had been using chicken nipples for years, then a few more months to figure out a way to transfer the innovation to the backyard level. Even after we rolled the product out, we kept fine-tuning it for the first year or so, listening hard to customer feedback. So, I guess you could say it took us 18 months to develop it, although we weren’t focusing solely on the invention that whole time.
How much does it cost?
We sell do it yourself kits starting from $15 and pre-made waterers starting from $30, both of which come with free shipping. Most people choose the do it yourself kits, which I highly recommend as a cheap way to keep your chickens hydrated.
What is your microbusiness ebook about?
Microbusiness Independence (http://www.wetknee.com/microbusiness) documents everything we learned during the first year of our chicken waterer business. We started the business with next to no experience, which made us think that our success could be easily replicated by anyone else with a similar wish to escape the rat race. I hope that the book helps other people skip the first few months of fumbling around in the dark and jump right to the part where they’re running a successful microbusiness.
Care to give us a short excerpt from the book?
Here’s the first page of chapter 4, where we start diving into the nitty gritty of creating a microbusiness:
We all know that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. So, what’s your mousetrap?
Thinking of a product idea may be the hardest step for some folks, but it was the easiest step for us. Mark is an endless tinkerer, with four or five potential inventions always kicking around in the back of his head. But you don’t have to be a practiced inventor to start a good microbusiness. Just follow these three simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to microbusiness independence.
*Choose something unique*
One of our failed microbusinesses involved running a native plant nursery. We figured that we could easily dig a few plants here and there in our 56 acre woods, selling the plants on Ebay and through our own website. So we spent days creating a website with fifty different plants on it, listing prices which slightly undercut similar businesses. Then Mark spent long, cold spring mornings chipping paw-paws and Christmas ferns out of the ground. After shipping the plants, we had to deal with customers who were looking so hard for a bargain that they were annoyed that their $2 plant arrived wilted.
When I finally did the math, I realized we were making only a little over minimum wage — our native plant nursery was never going to allow us to leave the rat race. Trying to undercut the competition obviously wasn’t the best way to go. Instead, we recommend that microbusiness owners find a single, niche product which the consumer can’t get from anyone else. If what you’re selling is unique or difficult to find, you won’t have to drop your prices to rock bottom to attract customers.
Do you have any other ebooks?
We include a couple of chicken-related ebooks with our chicken waterer to help beginners learn their way around chickens. I’ve also put together an ebook about the natural history of a local park (http://www.clinchtrails.com).
What separates you and your ebook from the competition?
There are dozens of get-rich-quick ebooks out there, but we take a very different approach. In fact, we don’t want to get rich, and we’re not writing for people who do. Instead, our ebook shows readers how to minimize the time they spend on their microbusiness so that they can put more time into what really matters — living their life.
What got you interested in this business? Have you always been entrepreneurial?
Mark told me just yesterday that he wanted to be an inventor at the advanced age of seven. Unfortunately, his parents weren’t keen on the idea, so he followed a more traditional path, spending a few years in the Navy, many more years working as a copier repair man, and then a few years working constructon. He really knows what the rat race is like and never wants to go back.
On the other hand, I’ve never submitted a resume and worked a real job. I tend to create positions out of thin air, doing what I love and somehow getting paid for it. I was working for a local non-profit when Mark started tweaking the Avian Aqua Miser, but I was burned out and ready to spend more time on the farm. Mark had the dream, and I had the experience making jobs up as I go along.
Where would you like to see your business in the next year or so?
The first year, Mark’s chicken waterers paid the bills, and that was it. Now that we’ve figured out what we’re doing, the second year has brought in more sales than we know what to do with. We don’t mind the extra money (in fact, we’re going on a second cruise this winter!), but the business is starting to take a bit of time away from the weeding. So we’re starting to look into hiring someone to do most of the repetitive work, building the waters and mailing them out. Mark has about a dozen invention ideas on the back burner, just waiting for a bit of free time to roll them out. Hopefully by this time next year, we’ll have found the perfect employee and will have even more free time!
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