Entrepreneur's Story: Sometimes You Have to Get Messy to Succeed

Last year, three Opus College of Business students  took their entrepreneurial, marketing and business skills to new and interesting heights by organizing thousands of people to throw 200,000 pounds of overripe tomatoes in the first-ever Midwest Tomato Fest. They're planning a second-annual event this year--scheduled for July 14--in partnership with Living Social and at a new downtown venue. We sat down with one of the event's founders, Kamal Mohamed '12, to discuss some of the lessons he and his partners learned in putting on such a messy event.

How did you come up with the idea for the Midwest Tomatofest?

I was on a service trip to India the J-term of my Junior year of college. There I met a girl from Spain who told us about tomato fight festival in Spain (La Tomatina). I thought, since the United States loves to celebrate other nation's holidays, why not this one. We already have Cinco De Mayo, and Saint Patrick's day, a Tomato Fest will fit right in.

What challenges did you face in pulling off the event last year?

Any challenge you can think of we faced it. Being a first time event, we had to convince a venue to take a chance on a festival as weird and risky as ours to be hosted at their location. We had to convince investors to give us the capital to put on something of this magnitude. We were learning as we were creating, and we always had to be on our toes because things changed everyday.

How did you measure the event’s success?

We didn't go bankrupt. We measure the event success with a few factors. First, the relationships we built with vendors, sponsors, and owners. Second, everything we have learned from the first year allowed us to make our event this year bigger, better, and closer to the cities--in the heart of downtown Minneapolis.

What were the biggest lessons learned?

If you are ever seriously considering starting a business, the most important thing you will need is not only a good team, but the right team. As an entrepreneur you have to swallow your ego, and understand you do not know everything. Step aside and let those better than you in a certain skill or area do the job. Furthermore, my friend used to always say "chances make champions." If you truly believe in an idea, give it your all, and sometimes the chips might fall in place. If you fail, don't go hide under a rock. Own up to your mistakes, and on to the next thing.

Besides the venue, what are you changing for this year, and how to you plan to make the business sustainable (not just “green” but long-term successful)?

The great thing about this year is that we are no longer "rookies", and we have the data to prove we are a serious business. My team is great at focusing on the details that could be overlooked. We focus on details because it is the difference between make or break. This year other being in downtown Minneapolis, we have more quality sponsors, more vendors, better music, better flow of ticket sales at the door, and most importantly more tomatoes...alot more tomatoes. Lastly, taking care of our relationships with our investors, customers, sponsors, and putting them first will ensure our success moving forward.