A time to plant, a time to uproot

This is a guest post by Troy Miller, the founder of KoalaPay.

Steve Gray was at one time the President of multi-billion dollar McLeodUSA. He told me once that the company’s evolution “was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” While I didn’t know during that difficult time, anecdotal evidence suggests that the company’s challenges were both exciting and painful for many.

While the history and subsequent events could be considered the end, an interesting thing occurred. The employees involved ultimately picked themselves up and moved on, often to great success. Steve is now the Chairman or CEO of multiple successful companies. He’s a Senior Advisor for a multi-multibillion investment company, The Carlyle Group. He’s also the catalyst behind Cedar Rapids’ proposed $150 million entertainment venue which is designed to redevelop the western portion of downtown Cedar Rapids.

Could you imagine if he had just given up?

Could you imagine if he had just given up? Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy for him to move on from what was seen by pretty much everyone as a major challenge. One decade following the challenges of McLeodUSA, he still receives "energetic" public feedback from a few of their former investors. But he didn’t give up and his community is better off for it.

Other talented individuals who once worked at McLeodUSA have spun off what can only be described as incredibly successful companies today. A few examples include Bruce Lehrman of Involta, Chuck Hammond of Raining Rose, Lydia Brown of both Ascent Iowa and the SkyWalk Group and Scott Eberle of Fiber Utilities Group.

Several months ago, Steve asked me about my decision to shelve KoalaPay, my mobile wallet and rewards app that leveraged Dwolla as a merchant-friendly payment solution. Years prior to KoalaPay I had been in retail with a few of my other companies, Naomi’s Kitchen (which is celebrating a decade this June) and Isaac’s Creamery (which I successfully exited last year). My best summation for why I failed is—wait for it—that KoalaPay had the wrong product/market fit. The writing on the wall was clear to me (and my personal pocketbook); it was time to move on.

At the same time, it’s no fun to fail, to scuttle a ship you built for a long anticipated journey, to uproot the seedling you planted. It still stings a bit when folks ask me how KoalaPay is going because I then have to acknowledged that it failed. Teddy Roosevelt had amazing insight on failure, noting:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood ... if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

I now find myself in what Dr. Seuss called “The Waiting Place.” As I search for the next arena within which to dare greatly, I’ve started a patent holding company and I recently published a 25 page document titled “Mapping the Venture Capital Ecosystem in Iowa’s Creative Corridor.”

I continue planting seeds with the intent of creating things that I’ll never regret spending time on, such as life-long experiences for and with my children. My oldest of three, Isaac, is working on amazing Arduino, C++, and Java projects through the Big Ideas Group (BIG) school and I’m able to help usher in radical changes in how education will be conducted in Iowa, slanting toward entrepreneurship and project-based (real world) experiences.

My son has yet to painfully fail in such a way that it results in the uproot of one of his projects, but it’ll happen some day. The parent inside of me will be happy that he had the experience. The entrepreneur inside of me will hate watching him fail, but frankly, it’s the individuals who dared greatly who change the world.

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven — A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.

— Ecclesiastes 1:1-2

Troy Miller is an entrepreneur based in Iowa's Creative Corridor of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. He's the father of three children and husband of one wife. Troy has worked in wireless telecom, education, fundraising, retail food, and mobile payments, as well as investing in his and other Iowa Startups.

Photo Credit: Headshot by Joe Pyle Photography. KoalaPay screen via koalapay.com