By The Captain - Jonathan Williams
As you know, I have a little soft spot for seaweed and, also, I like to do things a little differently. Now here's a fact, laver seaweed picking has been taking place on Pembrokeshire beaches for 100’s of years and I was, I believe, one of the first to ask the question "how much can you actually pick a year and what is a sustainable amount to pick, and can I grow it?"
I’ll never forget seeing a plaque in Scotland on a derelict building on the side of the beach stating how in 1935 the salmon industry was at its height and they landed something like 5 tonnes of salmon and there were wild celebrations in the community. However, within 5 years there were no more salmon to fish and the local industry had simply collapsed as well as the fishing community.
I really didn't want to build a business just for it to collapse a few years later and decimate the local environment while making money. So when Swansea University called me to see if I wanted to part fund a PHD into the study of laver seaweed in Pembrokeshire and that it would cost me £1000 a year, I didn't sit down and review cash flow projections etc. I just said yes, because I wanted to know the answer.
When Swansea University called back 2 weeks later and said one of the funding partners had pulled out, so now it would be £3000 a year, again, I didn't look at cash flow projects or create business plans, I just said yes because I wanted to know and just for the pure greater good. I thought I would find the money to make it happen.
At the time the business was in debt and some months I couldn't pay myself a full wage. During the winter months, 0% credit card loans became my cash flow and the summers were spent paying them back. For a small business which was operating at break-even point to commit to such an expenditure in hindsight was absolutely ludicrous.
The PhD study was to identify the laver seaweed species in the local area, monitor sustainable harvesting techniques and to develop laver seaweed babies which could then be used to start a seaweed farm. All great stuff, and some of it ground breaking, but it would cost me £9000 and I wouldn't even own the study. This means as soon as it is finished every single person or business in the whole world would have access to the research and could use it for commercial gain. So again, an absolutely ludicrous decision.
But here's the thing, 3 years later I am still here running my business and credit card debt free. The PhD study has just been completed and has some ground breaking discoveries that will help the seaweed world and you know what, that means more to me than margins, cash flow, bottom lines or profits.
Yes they are important for the existence of my business, but to develop scientific knowledge to be part of helping develop a greater understanding of our world, well I think it's the best business decision I ever made.
What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.
See you all down the beach, the unsuccessful businessman.
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