Co-CEO Colson Steber was a guest of Todd Westra on The Growth and Scaling Podcast to talk about his entrepreneurial journey from staff member to owner and Co-CEO of Communications for Research (CFR) and Ag Access.
Colson’s father, Jim Steber, started CFR in 1997 as a telephone research recruitment company. Colson joined CFR in 2012, shortly after graduating with his Finance degree and MBA. He moved through a few different roles and learned about the company where he acknowledges that being in the family business helped him gain trust and access to opportunities that he may not otherwise have had. On the flip side, as many fathers and sons do, Colson and Jim had some disagreements over how the company should proceed further. So Colson decided to buy the company.
Purchasing the Company
Colson teamed up with Curtis Burrow, his father's right hand man of almost 15 years, to purchase the company in 2016. Curtis and Colson took on debt to sustain the company, and were doing everything they could to build up business and continue the cash flow they needed to pay back that debt. At the same time, their largest client which made up a large portion of their business was acquired by a new private equity fund, leading to a lot of income being jeopardized. It quickly became an evolve or die situation. And evolve it did. CFR is now three times the size it was when the two bought it.
A big part of this growth was diversification and a development of Ag Access in 2020, a core service offering which grants customers access to a community of over 400,000 ag related professionals from farming to animal health to hobby growers to landscaping and turf management. Another major factor was hiring two sales people in sales seats. As a sole salesperson, CFR could only grow as much as Colson could sell. But allowing others to come in and expand the capabilities there opened up the growth potential. At this point, the company has diversified away from a single client being a huge amount of their income and stable relationships have developed. When asked about future business, Colson says “[t]he people that invest in research are going to continue investing in research.”
Peaks and Valleys of Entrepreneurship
When asked about his favorite and least favorite parts of his early entrepreneurial journey, Colson talks about himself as the entrepreneur personally much more than the business itself. He states “[a]s long as you’re listening, entrepreneurship is the greatest vehicle for personal self development that can possibly exist. And for my own self I mean who at my age and experience level has the opportunity to invest so much back into my own personal growth.” Overall, “[w]here this company can go is how much I can personally grow, and then see this company become a true self expression of what I’m capable of.”
As for his least favorite parts, he mentions being forced to do everything on his own due to cost constraints, but then later having the growing pains associated with bringing on others to do the work and in turn letting go of some things. He also discusses how hard it was to build up the company and fight against his own ignorance, spending a lot of time mulling over the things he’s done or could do wrong, and having to re-evaluate each time he saw the financials.
You can connect with Colson on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/colsonsteber/
You can learn more about Ag Access here: https://ag-access.com/
Listen to the full episode below!