It's funny and beautiful how a moment of whimsy ends up being a fulcrum point in his life.
It seems there's a lot of interest in gardening / food production among tech people. For me, one of the reasons I love gardening is because in many ways it's totally different from working inside with machines, but there are important and unexpected overlaps. For example if you have a solid understanding of the OSI model which informs your method of system design, you can easily move into gardening where knowledge of the layers of a forest plays a similar role. Having this experience in tech makes it easy to zero in on similar structural principles in gardening, learn about them, and apply that knowledge whereas many others clearly don't.
Just like a person who doesn't understand the value of a proper foundation in tech (hardware, lower protocols like DNS, etc.), a similar gardener won't first seek to build strong healthy soil, and they will constantly fight against nature rather than work with it, doing more work while getting fewer results.
As an aside, regarding onions: last year I cut off some green onion bottoms from the store and put them in the ground (including the little roots). They grew back and gave several more green onion harvests before winter set in, and now they're back on their own! Permanent green onion. You can do this with a number of plants, btw. Try it!
My life pivoted on a similar moment of whimsy. When I saw the post about the first startup school way back in the day, I just randomly decided "you know what, it's on the other side of the country but I'll just sign up and figure it out". Ended up flying to Boston on a super cheap flight, crashing on my friends couch who was in grad school at MIT, and meeting Steve and Alexis (of reddit), and that's how I ended up working for reddit 18 months later.
And yet, I can spend another 5 minutes in the grocery store agonizing over which of two near-identical bags of chips to buy. Funny how that goes.
I posted a bitchy comment using a throwaway account on Reddit about ten years ago.
It directly led to me moving across the country, getting hired at Google, and finding myself in my dream job doing programming language stuff full-time.
Life is weird, man.
Also, Vidalias (and, really, all of the alliums) are wonderful.
So here I was "in the game industry" and spending zero time actually making games. I posted a rant complaining about that.
Some random redditor said, basically, "I work at Google. If you're a decent C++ programmer, I'll put in a referral for you."
Meanwhile, my wife and I had taken a trip to the Pacific Northwest and decided we wanted to move to that area. I started looking for jobs at other game companies in Seattle. I flew out there to interview at ArenaNet. Since I had a referral, a Google recruiter expedited an interview at the Seattle office while I was in town. I wasn't very seriously considering Google, but I wasn't about to say no.
I bombed the ArenaNet interview. (I think the main sticking point was a question around the time complexity of adding an element to a growable array. I said it was constant, but couldn't effectively explained amortized complexity to them and they didn't seem to understand that amortized complexity existed at all.)
Wonder of wonders, I just squeaked through the Google one.
However, I randomly took a one-day improve class that Google offerred. There, I met another Googler on another project and we started talking about language nerd stuff. He later ended up forming a team to work on Traceur, which was a project to prototype language changes to JS. They were ramping up, and he remembered I was into language things, so I asked me to join.
That project wound down later so I went looking for other projects to join. Dart was ramping up then and went there. It's been a blast.
But, literally, if I hadn't posted a comment on reddit and taken this improv class, my whole career might be different. I might have left Google to rejoin the game industry or something else entirely.
My first job out of college happened because I met and befriended one specific person in college (was there for 5 years).
My second job (and first startup) happened because I went to a 4-person dinner/game-night at a friend's (who I met at that first job) house, and talked to one of the other attendees who was interviewing at this company, and was willing to refer me (was barely there for a year and a half, but it fundamentally changed my view of work and employment).
Fast forward, and my current job (nearly 8 years now) happened because I checked an email account that I hadn't looked at in several years (and saw a recruiting email of a type I'd usually ignore), because I was trying to sign into some random account on the internet and I'd used that email address as the recovery account, many years before.
Obviously there was more to it than those single events, but each of those things were essential in opening up the opportunity in the first place.
My personal life and social circles often grew from similar simple, one-off, surprise events.
It's weird to think about being on this side of a potential life changing choice, but it's really not nearly as big of a deal to me (I'm keeping my fully remote-friendly job) as some people seem to think it is!
I really hope more people do it more often! It's a very effective and wholesome way to foster understanding and spreading of good ideas, and dampening the damning effects of a lot of tribalism in today's political climate.
Also - predators. You can buy ladybugs in most garden centers for almost nothing, and they eat aphids for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Literally.
They still do, depending on where you live. My daughter brought home a sunflower seed from a field trip last spring. By the end of summer we had a 7ft tall sunflower growing next to our deck. This year we have several more already sprouting in that area.
It also had a side effect of really enhancing the plot of pretty terrible clay soil we plucked it in. Lots of herbs we attempted (and failed) to grow last year are already starting to flourish this year in that spot.
> [...] she interrupted me mid-sentence and hollered in exaltation to her husband: ” THE VIDALIA MAN! THE VIDALIA MAN! PICK UP THE PHONE!”
The happiness I feel reading that is so sublime. His work is needed and appreciated -- and what a humble trade with a beautiful simplicity to it. It is repeatable; others could do this too! Imagine what our communities would be like if most families had a little something like this. It reminds me of G.K. Chesterton's "Three Acres and a Cow"  slogan (implying that can be enough).
The plan was I'd just run to the local grocery store and just fulfill online orders and if demand was there, purchase from local farmers. I didn't get any further than than just mentioning the business idea. Kudos to Peter for executing and meeting a need. Looks like he also owns onions.com, so they are making enough money to acquire that domain name.
I suspect that, like vinyards, if demand stays up long enough we'll find all sorts of weird little spots all over the world with nearly the right kind of soil and moisture and heat.
 Rereading: It's a regional appellation but the taste has much to do with low sulfur content in the soil.
This is such an excellent quote and motivational.
Congratulations! You're an inspiration. A few questions, if I may:
1. Do you plan to expand to other produce other than just the onions?
2. How did you arrive at your current business model (like min order quantity, areas served, return policy, shipping rates etc)?
3. How do you deal with customer complaints, in particular, with something as prone to decay as organic produce?
4. What significant part of the way you do this business changed after v1? Esp, as multiple customers would have inevitably given you comments and suggestions.
5. You mentioned you're registered as a LLC. You don't intend to raise VC money? For instance, YC prefers not to invest in LLCs.
6. What does the tech stack look like (Shopify? Weebly? AWS? Frameworks? Payments? etc)?
And this is what every company finds out eventually. Shipping is key and out of your control. Thus, Amazon starting its own fleet of air carriers.
I wouldn't say every company. Just the ones shipping products that are relatively heavy.
- A captivated reader
There's certainly value in being The Vidalia Man, having connections within the industry, and owning the domain. At the same time, the lessons you've learned (not to mention the platform you've built) could apply to just about any other niche agricultural product, such as ramps in the northeast, or southern flour.
How do those two tensions play against each other when it comes to deciding where on the spectrum between "I sell onions and only onions" and "I will become the next Amazon" to fall?
This is the first time this has ever happened to me in my life.
Though I've only been 35 or older for a year. Should I expect more decisions like this?
I'm quite fond of buying domains myself. I just came here to tell you I'm so happy to have found someone with a hobby like mine, though it is more accurate to call yours a business. My wife hates it, but many of the ideas I have had, have started with a domain name and that being my lift off point.
I tend to buy 1 year registrations for $8 like they're lotto tickets or something.
Thanks for a great article :)
Are they people who graduated and moved away, looking for a little bit of home? I'm suspecting a fair number of Gatech alumni, for one. Or people like me who have to negotiate the onion content of dishes very carefully with friends and family (shallots and Vidalias make that easier).
More seriously, how much interaction do you have with the farmer(s)? Seems like there would need to be a lot of communication to make something like this work.
Super cool story!
And yes, I communicate quite frequently with the farmer. We got along quite well, and I'm fortunate for the friendship I have with him & his team.
"I'm a web guy. I’m not a farmer."
I already knew that, because in just a couple paragraphs, I was already recognizing the style of writing as... SEO, "influencer", I don't know what to call it?
It's a personal first-person voice, which right off the start tries to establish that the author is a human being writing about their life -- but also that they are an expert in what they are going to tell you about, and very successful too.
The text includes many one or two sentence paragraphs, and has aggressively styled pull quotes and/or callouts. Short sentences too. Not entirely complete sentences. Interspersed.
It makes sure to open up with some kind of very short story that is only tangentially related to the content but is folksy and cute. (Smuggled vidalia's onto cruise ship).
The information is very cleverly structured to keep you reading, by dropping just enough of the actual info, page to page, to pique your attention and make you think there's an interesting story here, but not enough that you can leave having actually learned anything before you've read a pretty big chunk. And is written artfully for this purpose, it works, and keeps you reading. Sometimes at the end you feel rewarded, other times you feel like it was a shaggy dog story. The best authors leave you happy, of course.
It's got information to convey, but the goal is not to convey the information as effectively as possible, but to keep you reading as long as possible -- and, usually, to sell you something.
I don't know if I have a value judgement on it exactly -- okay, I'll admit it annoys me, perhaps because it all sounds the same while trying to convince you it's a folksy authentic voice. But either way, it's a thing, a genre even, that I'm not sure I've seen anyone comment on.
It's: "Content Marketing Voice".
(Also selling people onions on the internet is "purpose over profit", really? What the world needs now is frictionless access to vidalia onions shipped directly to your home?)
Still, more interesting than most...
I think you missed the point about "purpose over profit", it really gave this guy a feeling of that. And him telling that personal story is valid. It's interesting to think about why you seem to have deliberately side-stepped the point of the story.
Actually, analyzing and thinking about the way you wrote this comment, it seems you're just bitter that someone found something they really liked, that gave them a sense of purpose, and now you're trying to find some way to diminish that to yourself, to make yourself feel better, without actually taking the responsibility to do something to make your life better. Which tells us that you wished you had that purpose, but you feel you don't.
Some free advice: go about making that purpose for yourself, rather than making yourself feel better by trying to diminish the achievements of others that trigger you right in the feels. Another way to say it is, instead of making it all about this guy, when you get triggered, stop and think about "why do I feel that way?" and go deep into that. It's not about other people. What you feel is about you. Learn from that. Don't project, don't take it out, don't blame others, just learn from that uncomfortable emotion you're writing this thing to avoid.
Don't get me wrong, this is more than advice. I've seen that attitude cause a lot of unnecessary hurt and conflict in the world and in relationships, and I want people to stop it.
It's a pattern I've see a lot. Definitely has it's own genre voice as well.
Certainly. It is still interesting to analyze as a genre, this is how we make sense of the written world. Perhaps you are doing that same assumption of purpose with my writing.
> I think you missed the point about "purpose over profit", it really gave this guy a feeling of that.
Is the point of "purpose over profit" to engender a feeling of purpose in the people who think they are doing it? Is that the "purpose"?
I think everyone should endeavor to treat their customers, suppliers, and coworkers with respect as human beings, instead of trying to take them for all they are worth. I agree doing so will make you happier. Which can perhaps be surprising to someone who tries it and has never done it before, how much it improves their own life. This is called being a decent human being, and there's no reason for everyone in every job not to do it. There's nothing wrong and a lot right with trying to behave like a decent human being in whatever business you are in, it's commendable, but it's not "purpose over profit."
I think it's disingenuous to elevate the idea of "treating people like humans instead of just instruments for my own profit, while at my profit-focused endeavor" to "purpose over profit", and disrespectful to people who really do make significant material sacrifices for a non-profit-oriented purpose.
What do you think his "purpose" was here, and in what ways were any profits sacrificed for it?
Wow. You sure read a lot into someone's analysis of a writing style. One that I think accurately described the details of the piece of writing. I'm trying to summarize my feelings on your post without actually being hostile, but I can't help but find your entire comment to be really low value, even if it was meant well.
- Least expensive order is a 5-pound box for $34.95
- Runs on Shopify
- As they're seasonal, there are some built-in scarcity aspects I hadn't thought of (which is kind of neat business wise).
Two aspects I might try if this was my business:
1. Some kind of "Chef/Restaurant" option
2. An option to send 1 beautiful onion (ala the referenced Harry and David's)
I sincerely believe that our society would be much happier and healthier if top-shelf/"celebrity" vegetables existed that could cost $XX, sort of like in Japan.
Someone would probably pay $1000+ for "The best dozen onions of the season"
Vegetables can vary by an order of magnitude in nutritional density based on growing and harvest conditions. I wish there was a way to pay 10x for vegetables that are reliably 10x more nutritionally dense (as verified by laboratory analysis of random samples from every harvest).
What could make an onion beautiful enough to buy for $100/ea? If you made these, I bet you'd find a market in Japan. Could make a good gift for people who like cooking.
Reminds me that middlemen provide value in a lot of ways, even though they are hated and everyone thought the internet would disintermediate them all.
 - https://success.docker.com/article/docker-hub-user-notificat...
https://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching... | https://startupbook.net
>> if a little dated
Argh! I know. I literally opened the Doc this week to start to parse out sections to update. It’s overdue ;-)
I'll see myself out.
But seriously, this is the type of side projects I dream of. Not the next soul sucking social network, but rather something meaningful and real.
Current social networks allow you to hit "join" or "like" and that's all the participation you need to get your validation. You're part of the group just by signing up, rather than because you helped make it a community by contributing.
That's probably why this story resonates with people here so much. It's not just a tech business, it's an attempt to contribute and be an integral part of the local community. Not something every startup gets to do.
Edit: Send me an email and I will be happy to let you know when we launch.
Like an onion
I believe M&T is a single farm/growing operation.
That being said what he's doing is something that is hard to reproduce simply because Vidalia onions cannot be grown except in a certain geographic area. You can take the same onion and grow it elsewhere, it will taste exactly or very close to the same, you just cannot sell it as a Vidalia. I'm surprised that there aren't more of the boutique style shops for things like Vidalia onions, Georgia peaches, etc.
Source: born, raised, lived whole life in Ga within a farming family.
The EU has a system-wide concept of products (mostly but not exclusively foods) that are by definition produced in a set region, by a particular method etcetera called the Protected Designation of Origin. This is inspired by laws in some of its member states (most famously France's AOC laws which protect Champagne) but because it's a system rather than being stapled into the law for one specific product it makes it practical to use for less famous things where the heavy lifting of actual legislation would be too much to ask. If your town produces a peculiar furry hat, and then one day sales of the furry hats begin to drop off because it turns out somebody is making replicas in China and selling them under your town's name, applying for PDO is a relatively straight forwad way to fix that across the entire EU without trying to attract attention from legislators in two dozen countries.
Of course PDOs can be abused (e.g. arguably protection of Newcastle Brown Ale was pointless, its only producers were indeed in Newcastle, but when they decided to move they simply applied to discontinue the PDO status...) but overall it seems like having a framework makes more sense than only doing this as actual national legislation (a rule saying Vidalia onions are from Georgia only works because the US government enforces it, the part in Georgia state law has very little effect)
It's why you can buy "Swiss Cheese" from Wisconsin and Bourbon Whiskey from Orlando.
I didn't grow up in one of the counties that are considered under the bounds of the Vidalia area (although pretty close) but we grew the same onions. They tasted, smelled, and looked exactly the same. Were I to try to sell them as Vidalias I could have been sued, but we were growing them for personal consumption anyway.
4165 Highway 101 North, Tillamook, OR 97141
I know you're probably joking, but you should order some. They're delicious.
Even more simple than that really, taking an existing industry and using a domain name to create a front end to that industry.
There is opportunity everywhere. Especially if you don't require creating a billion dollar company.
Thanks for sharing Vidalia Man.
The good thing about a business like this is that it's much less likely someone is going to swoop in and steal your idea and customers because you took a little longer to work out the kinks.
We all seem to agree like things like this is a good thing, but then we undermine people's ability to do it by favoring things like real estate, domains and "middle man businesses" instead.
I guess bunnie said it best: "supply chains are made out of people" https://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?p=4266
Real business is hard because of all the not obvious things you need to account for.
In Shenzhen you might make hundred boards, go down to the market and buy a hundred boxes and leave them with the shipper. Boards don't work? Re-work them or make another hundred. Box doesn't work? Buy another box. You don't like your box supplier? There is a hundred others on Taobao.
In NYC it might take you weeks to do the same thing while you are bleeding rent (and everything else) so you need the thousand boards and boxes to make it work (or you are selling very few in your spare time). And if something goes wrong you are probably fucked.
I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.
Well, there's a massive middle ground between plastic bags on eBay and placing a $10,000 order for boxes. I didn't mean to imply they couldn't eventually place a $10k order, but often you can order in smaller (but still large) quantities to check the quality. Or just use Uline for a while until you've gotten samples from enough locations to confirm a provider can service your needs.
We don't have the details of this part, so a lot of things could have gone into the decision to place a bit order which made it what appeared to be the correct choice at the time. I just thought it sounded a bit risky given the little information we have.
That's life in a nutshell, I guess.
Or put other way - I'd love to find some great "regular" business ideas to both fund and assist in getting off the ground to the tune of $5-50k, and if successful make a few thousand a month down the road in a couple years - not millions on some future exit.
Basically I want to seed-fund/invest in/be involved in what HN calls "lifestyle business" - just a regular old sustainable business expected to grow 10% a year and comfortably employ a couple founders and employees.
Many good reasons this market doesn't exist and is "hard", but one can wish. It would feel fare more satisfying to invest money in actual hard working people with real but boring (read: low risk) business models than tossing it into the S&P500 or engaging it yet more rent-seeking by buying up small properties to turn into rentals.
To respond to the "rent from investment property" concept, you can get in on investment properties at a fairly low price (IIRC 40% discounts) if you invest when builders are looking for prospective buyers. i.e., before anything is built. I looked into doing this some time ago, but the builder couldn't find enough buyers, so the property was never built.
I've been trying to work this out, that seems like a massive discount, what's the expected profit margin for the builder? Surely not much more.
Why not get a loan? Would be cheaper, certainly on the land. I don't get it, something doesn't add up for me.
It comes down to: if you are interested in real estate investment (either renting or flipping), you are going to find the property more valuable than a bank, who isn't as interested and would just auction it off if they had to own it.
The situation you're describing seems to suggest that it would be better to split up the permitting and the building.
Company A buys land, gets permits, then either sells on to a builder, or contracts a builder.
But then I don't understand why so much capital would be required just for getting permits.
I'm guessing it's another example of different countries doing house buying/building differently, and none of them optimal.
There are lots of permits that only become available much later in the process. For example, an occupancy permit is only granted once the building is in a habitable state.
There are always permit delays of some kind or another because no matter how much research and planning you do, there are things that are simply unknown or that have to be changed (and thus re-permitted) at the proverbial last minute.
I remember that it was a substantial savings, but I can't say exactly where the 40% number came from. It was condos in a retirement community so the builder was making a big deal of "these tenants won't leave until they die..."
Edit: Don't know why this is objectionable. $5k is like one months living costs in many places, and sometimes one months savings. You aren't going to get much in return for that. You need to go somewhere cheaper where that kind of money can buy someone some time. Unless you can provide something else.
I could scrape the $5K to get an idea off the ground, but if it failed I’d regret it. Simply put, it’s not money to risk.
This is why it’s more common for people that are already well off to be entrepreneurs — they have a safety net.
Source: I have owned multiple small businesses.
Sounds like a viable startup opportunity. Especially with the Beyond Meats S-1 post from yesterday where hackers talked about buying meat directly from farmers.
Its the nature of the beast, you invest money to make money, the internet is no different.
This guy has one partner, Incentives are aligned, if I were one to buy onions online, I can see myself still being happy with them in 20 years time. Maybe it cost more, but they don't have a monopoly on Onions, their ability to pass on that cost is limited, which is the major concern, is it not?
I wonder what others think about this quote. Could he not have started the same exact business with another domain? Is owning the "right" domain that important that is should "come first" and be forgotten without it? naively I'd think Google@2019 gives more importance to content then to the domain name. No?
However, I guess it did function as a sort of method of brainstorming business ideas.
Some ideas of the stuff you could sell:
- Specialty sodas
- Heirloom seeds
- Specialty light bulbs and/or batteries
- Spice packets
- Carpet cleaning powder
- Specialty candles
- Prepared origami paper
- Specialty pens/pencils/crayons
- Funky hair accessories (someone recently asked me why there aren't many superhero themed ones because it would be a huge market)
It's fascinating how these small market niches exist but it really is the other 95% that makes them take off.
Thanks for sharing this!
Edit: Looks like they have some competition: https://www.vidaliaonion.org
My brother and I started our company the moment after we bought our domain name: retreat.guru. We actually wanted a different domain but didn’t get it; retreat.guru was the runner up. Then we had a spontaneous 3 hour call where we mapped out the entire global wellness retreat marketplace we would build - all based off the domain name! 5 years later we are still going strong.
We are based out of a small mountain town in B.C. Nowhere near the buzz of Silicon Valley. We gradually took investment and grew from revenue as well. We are very vision driven.
‘I sell ayahuasca retreats on the internet’
These stories are good to tell, sometimes what can help a farmer the most is just someone who can help market and sell their crop.
(They’re real good)
I'm not downplaying what he did - it's really cool - what I'm trying is to get a better sense of the business dynamics here.
I expect you could make the same comment about just about everything on the planet that is grown or made, but then sold by someone else. The original person could try to sell it to consumers, but that would take so much time and effort they wouldn't have time to grow/make the thing in the first place!
Being flashy helps sometimes if your customers are fickle and you need to sell them on something they didn't know they wanted, but if you've got an enthusiast audience or specialized product, substance is all that is required - at least at a fundamental level.
This site provides one very specific thing to a niche market. It's the difference between opening an office supply store vs a site selling one specific type of rubberband.
The costs of shipping is killer.
Can you think of any example where this is not true?
You're now ranked #1 for "vidalia onions" in Google -- but, I'm really curious what the evolution was after buying the domain?
Whole wheat bread, lightly toasted with a smear of mayo and a thick slice of Vidalia. Mmmm... So good.
1. crouch down and reach out your leg gently tapping the "invisible ground"
2. throw a pebble.
3. throw a bunch of sand to see exact available surface area.
Plus if there's "really" an invisible bridge you could throw a pebble at, it should already be covered in dust anyway. Unless the guy who lives in the grail room comes out and sweeps it or something.
that's the point of my rant! :)
I checked using the search box, and it appears this the 12th most voted post of all time (so far!).
Not trying to be a killjoy, but everytime I hear about people reserving domains for fun or future, it just tells of so much privilege. Americans and other Westerners people have already reserved so many domains. Domain name squatting always is a rich-get-richer story.