This week we spoke with Noah Herron, Biochemistry BS ‘06. Noah is the owner of Urban Farming Seeds and Urban Vines in Westfield, IN. In this episode, Noah shared why his first job as a chemist after graduating from IU wasn’t a perfect fit, but how it inspired him to take his hobbies of gardening and making beer and wine and start his own business. He also shared how his hard work and discipline at IU gave him a competitive edge over his peers in other majors and prepared him for entrepreneurship. Enjoy the episode!
MOLLY: Hey Hoosiers, and welcome back to another episode of All Careers Considered. This podcast is produced by the Walter Center for Career Achievement, which is the career services center that specifically serves students and alumni in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. We’re on a mission to help you achieve career success by supporting you in your pursuit of impactful experiences, designing your life, sharing your story and building meaningful connections.
My name is Molly. I’m the assistant director of strategic alumni engagement for the Walter Center. And I’m also the host of this podcast. You may have heard that you can do anything with your College of Arts and Sciences degree, and I’m here to show you that that really is the case by interviewing alumni to ask them how they got to where they are now.
Next up is my interview with Noah Herron. Noah graduated from IU in 2006, with a degree in biochemistry and is the founder and owner of Urban Farming Seeds and Urban Binds Winery in Westfield, Indiana. In this episode, Noah shared what he learned from working as a chemist for a few years after graduating and how he decided to take his hobbies of gardening and making beer and wine in his home and start his own business.
He also shared how his hard work and discipline at IU gave him a competitive edge over his peers in other majors and prepared him for entrepreneurship. Enjoy the episode.
Alrighty. Thank you so much for being here, Noah.
NOAH: Thanks for having me.
MOLLY: Yeah. So I know that you own two businesses, both Urban Binds, which is a winery up in Westfield. And then also Urban Seeds Farming. So I’d love for you to just talk to us a little bit about what those companies are for people who might not be super familiar with them.
NOAH: Yeah. So when I graduated in 2006 I went off to Eli Lilly and worked as an analytical chemist for a few years and just didn’t really like the corporate lives, so I had a bunch of magazines in my garage and just decided to kind of mess around with them and, and turned one of the seed packet or one of the pages into a seed packet. And I had a small little garden at the time. So I just decided, I was like, well, I kinda messed around with websites and whatnot, and so I put some seeds online on Craigslist and kind of like pushed the links out there.
And this is back in 2008 kind of before… And they’re just a lot of things I did probably you couldn’t do nowadays, but so I tried getting the website out there to as many people as possible and then continued to work at Eli Lilly and kinda came at home at night and, and filled two or three orders at a time.
And then next day, same thing and, and just kind of snowballed over the next few years to when I was able to quit my full-time job and started doing Urban Farmer Seeds. I think I finally ended up going full time and I think, ’09 I was able to go full-time with Urban Farmer and just started doing it by myself. And I just woke up in the morning, filled seed package, worked on the website. Just kind of continually did that every day. And then after a couple of years, finally, it was kind of got to be too much for myself and just hired on my first employee at Urban Farmer. And just kind of been through three new websites now for Urban farmer.
And we actually just lost one last week. So been working on that and my hand is killing me just all that. There’s so much like just clicking and getting things going and whatnot. But, but now Urban Farmer on average you have about 12 employees there. So, so a lot of people just kind of work In a way and right now is our busy season. So, we might have a little bit more people working for us.
And then Urban Vines, the winery, I started getting a little bored with Urban Farmers, kind of the same thing over and over. So back in 2015, I bought a book and my background is in biochemistry and I love just kind of being able to fiddle around and make different things.
I was making beer and wine at home and I was like, Oh, and the area we live in Westfield, there was only one brewery, no wineries near us or anything. So I started reading books and, and making a little bit more wine at home. And my wife was like, no, you’re not doing it. You already got enough going on. And I was like, well, let’s try. So, so we ended up the, the one thing I’ve learned in business is location. My mom was not for newer. And, and I just know that when you’re going to do something locally, that’s, that’s going to be attracting a lot of people was a location. So I sent out letters in the mail to several different landowners in the area that I thought like their property would work well.
And out of the 20 letters I sent out, one person actually wrote back and it was actually the best I’ve got lucky, cause it was probably my favorite property out of all of them. So after some negotiation, we, we purchased the property, that was back in 2016, and then started building the building and started Making wine, not really knowing what I was doing. Just just kind of small batch wine and opened up. And we’ve been open for three and a half years now. And our growth has really well.
We started distributing wine about a year ago. And now we’re in 450 stores. Throughout Indiana. We’re kind of known for our funky sweet wines. We have some like cotton candy wine. We have a peanut butter and jelly wine, a lollipop wine that people really, really like. And I mean, they are like super delicious and they’re definitely for the sweet wine drinker, but I mean, they definitely grab your attention and and that’s kind of where we’re at today. So
Wow, that is super fascinating. And as someone who I had heard of Urban Vines and I’ve been there a few times, but I didn’t know about your background with also, you know, the farming business and all of that. So very interesting, interesting stuff.
I’d love to backtrack a little bit to when you were a student at IU so I know you graduated, like you said, with a degree in biochemistry, and then you got this great job at Lily when you graduated, which is, you know, for students that is kind of a pinnacle job, right. Being a chemist, at Lilly. So I’d love to know more about when you got that job. Were you thinking like I’m going to stay at Lily for a while? Or were you just like, I’m just going to do this for now and kind of see what happens or what was your kind of plan there?
Yeah. And so, I graduated and I didn’t have a job right out of college. So I went home and when I got home, I was like, Oh my gosh, I got to find a job as quickly as possible. So actually, I got hired to Lilly through a third party contractor. So I wasn’t. Necessarily an employee of Eli Lilly. I was an employee of the third party and I basically was in there working, doing everything.
I was an analytical chemist in there. And honestly, like, I grew up like, I didn’t, I don’t like a lot of rules. I don’t like, like, like having to scan in like, so for instance, you go to park in the parking lot. You have to scan your badge to go through the front door. You have to scan your badge. To go to your office, you gotta scan the badge and to go to the bathroom, you got to scan the badge.
And I just wasn’t, it wasn’t like the greatest environment for me. I, I liked, I liked it a little bit, but it’s just something I’ve always wanted to be entrepreneur. I’ve always kind of gone by my own rules. So it was definitely a great job out of college that, I mean, a lot of people would appreciate, but my entrepreneurial spirit was just kinda pulling me and wanting me to do something else.
MOLLY: Yeah. And I’m glad you mentioned that because I feel like that’s something that you know, a lot of recent graduates don’t think about, like, what am I looking for in a job environment? So not just the job specifically, but what is my day going to look like when I show up to work and everything like that.
So, okay. So you were doing that in between 2006 and 2009 when you kind of went full-time with your business. So. And you said you were just kind of doing that in the evenings, you know, kind of starting your business. So at that time, did it just kind of seemed like a hobby or were your wheels kind of spinning and thinking, I really am going to try to plan to start my own business.
NOAH: Yeah, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I I lived with my I, a buddy who also went to IU and we were in broad ripple and I was, had a little 10 by 10 bedroom and with a little computer and I just put a little, I started, I put a rack and like the side of my bedroom.
And just kind of came home at night and had maybe a couple of orders if I was lucky and I would fill them, get them out sending emails to customers, make sure there’s good customer service, but I mean, the first couple of years, I mean, my friends kind of laughed at me or like, what are you doing? Why are you selling $2 seed packets?
And it did feel like it was really tough just cause, I mean, you work so hard and you get two orders at night and it was making 10, $15 at most or whatever it was. And just kind of continually doing that. But the next year, those customers that I, that I sent to ordered from me and also newer customers did, and our website had a little bit more reach.
So then we got more orders and it still wasn’t enough to really do too much. But then it just kinda, it’s one of those things after like after year three or four, it kind of really snowballed. We had enough customer base that I was starting to make money that I could kind of think about going part-time or just fully quit my job.
And it’s just kinda hard work, just putting your head down and working hard and just knowing what you wanted to do, but. I mean, I, I, honestly, when I first started didn’t think it was going to be a business or a full-time business, it was just something I was just kind of interested in doing. And I really like to start businesses that are my hobbies that you really enjoy doing so may enjoy gardening.
So I tried to find, I mean, there’s several different areas that you could make a company around gardening and you can go out and install gardens. I mean, you could get into landscaping, hardscapes, selling seeds, garden supply center. There’s so many different areas. So I just picked one that I really, really liked and I could use my marketing skills, internet, like website design and all that stuff and go towards it.
And then same with beer and wine. Like I just really enjoy like hanging around friends and drinking beer and wine, and also like figuring out how to make it myself. And so now it’s kind of on my next business and we’re thinking about start, we just bought a. A new property in Westfield that we’re going to start a cidery and event hall wedding center type thing.
So, so that’s, so that’s our next goal is to kind of get that going over the next year and see how that goes.
MOLLY: Congrats. That sounds awesome. And I also know, like up in Westfield, there are so many new like neighborhoods and just developments up there. So I feel like, like what you said about location, that is a really great place to kind of build new businesses.
NOAH: Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s definitely, I mean, we lucked out with the location of Urban Vines, but any type of restaurant, anything that involves people driving or coming close as, I mean, it’s very important to, I mean, choose a really good location that, I mean, I just, you, you mesh well with the community and bring people in and you get a lot of cars driving by and I mean, it’s just super important.
MOLLY: Yeah, absolutely. So it sounds like you had, you know, your hobbies and you’re obviously like a smart guy, you know, how to kind of start a business and your mom was an entrepreneur, but I’m curious to how, where did you get kind of those business skills? Like, did you have to take any extra classes or how did you feel equipped to handle kind of the business side of things?
NOAH: Yeah, I mean, so it goes back to my childhood then kind of into going to IU like I said, my mom was an entrepreneur. She owns. I think three or four businesses as we were growing up. I mean, none of them were super successful, but I mean, she made a living. She never had her. I mean, she was always her own boss and we owned a company called Franchise Cafe in Fort Wayne that we’d like Three Rivers Festival we would drive a, this little trailer around and shave ice. I would get home. I was maybe nine or 10 years old. I’d get home and we’d dump like $5,000 of cash on the ground. I’d sit there for an hour, just, just counting it.
So like, things like that, my mom and I could do together. It just really made me kind of get the entrepreneur spirit and then going into IU it just really helped with my, just like skills and just relying on myself and my parents, not really being there to help me. I mean, being in chemistry classes and biology classes, or when I was there, they were kind of early, that goes on. They’re always like seven or 8:00 AM. And, and being in the fraternity a lot other Kelly school businesses seem to be a little bit later in the day.
So that was kind of having to be the first one up and then get on the B-line bus and you get on third street and get all my classes done. And we always had classes on Friday mornings and stuff. So it was definitely, I had to prioritize and learn scheduling and just make sure I got all my work done and just kind of stay on top of it. So that was definitely one of the skills that really helps me and my day-to-day life now.
MOLLY: Hmm, that’s really interesting. I’ve never really heard someone kind of make that distinction, especially with your schedules and just having to kind of be motivated to get up and get to those classes, especially on a Friday morning. So I’m sure that served you well kind of later.
NOAH: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I always want, I wanted to be a doctor, but I wrote I’m not actually that smart or I’m not book smart. So I basically just had to outwork everybody or not even outwork everybody, I had to work hard just to be on the same level or even like a decent student. I was competing against doctors and the smartest people that taking tests and stuff. I mean, so I just wasn’t that smart. So I just had to work harder and just kind of keep my head down and just kinda get by.
MOLLY: Yeah. Well, hardware can definitely, I mean, obviously do a lot of great things for you, so that’s awesome. Something I like asking people that are business owners, I would be interested to hear kind of about what the work-life balance is. Like. I mean, I would imagine that you work a lot. I mean, you have a lot of cool exciting projects going on, but what has that kind of been like? Has that surprised you at all? Or were you kind of prepared for how much work you’d have to do?
Recently I’ve been able to kind of take a step back. It’s the important thing I’ve learned is you got to find good people to, that can manage your business as well. So both companies, I have really good managers there that I can kind of take a step back.
I’m an early riser and I get to work like six or 7:00 AM and I try and get most of my stuff done by noon. And then I can kind of step away. Go home. I never stopped working. So it’s like, I, I worked for like five or six hours early in the morning and get done by noon. Come home, have lunch. My kids are young. My wife stay at home wife to kind of hang around them for a little bit. And then I have an office at home and kind of work throughout the day and just always keep on top of the heat. I get like a hundred or 150 emails a day. So it was kinda. Make sure I’m answering those, but, and with COVID it’s kind of, I mean, I can do satellite.
I’ve learned a lot. I mean most of my business and everything I do is online. So it doesn’t matter where I work and, and both my companies are less than a five minute drive away from my house. So not spending a lot of time on the road, fortunately having to get from place to place and I’m able to work online.
So it hasn’t been so bad. Like it hasn’t been so bad recently. I mean, it was definitely first, first five or six years. I mean, it was 60, 70, 80 hour weeks working by myself, making sure all the orders are getting out and all that stuff. But now that I have I mean, a good, good employees behind me and whatnot. I mean, it’s made, it’s made a huge difference.
MOLLY: Yeah, I bet. That is really nice. And also you mentioned COVID. I remember when I first kind of heard about Urban Vines maybe a year or so ago, I remember seeing that you all have those igloos outside in the winter. And I mean, you guys were ahead of the trend because that’s need, that’s kind of what people want to be able to get out of the house and still social distance. So I bet you all are doing really well with those.
NOAH: Yeah. Yeah. We actually with COVID with both companies when it hit last March our seed company, people not wanting to go to go to the grocery store and wanting to have at home gardens went absolutely insane. And then in 2020, summer for the winery worked out. I mean, as well as COVID could, worked out because nobody really wanted to be inside of a restaurant or eat inside. And we were on a five acre property with a pond and vineyard and people could kind of, it was one of the nice places outside, you could gather with friends. So we did really well. And then, like you said, with the igloos and everything we’re getting through the winter.
Were not killing it, this, this winter time, just because like, we’re not allowing people to stand up and the ability, and everybody’s got to have a see so we’re at capacity that we can’t really do anything about, but we’re hoping March and April starts to warm up and people can start going outside again.
MOLLY: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think that kind of wraps up the questions I had, Noah that was super interesting learning a little bit about you and kind of your career and everything. And I would love to kind of wrap up if you have any kind of last words of advice for students that may be, you know kind of have that science background, but also that entrepreneurial spirit, like you do. What kind of words of advice would you give to students?
NOAH: Yeah, I would just say, I mean, choosing a major is kind of tough. I mean, knowing where you want to be in 10 years from now is tough. So, I mean, just do something that you like, that you hope that you can somehow use in the future. If you’re, do you really think you’re going to be an entrepreneur and you are, if you’re not, if you don’t think you’re going to work necessarily well and like a big corporate arena, and you think you really have an entrepreneur spirit. I mean, get something that like you could kind of use in the future. I mean, you just, I guess you don’t really know exactly what you’re going to be doing, so just try to get as many skills and be as well well-rounded as you can be coming out of college and just kind of follow your passion and do what you love.
MOLLY: Yeah. That’s great advice. And then if students want to connect with you or maybe they had any follow-up questions, would there be a way they can get in touch with you?
Yeah. Yeah. My email is email@example.com. Anybody can email me with any questions they have and I’m definitely happy to help out.
Cool. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Noah. It was great talking to you and best of luck to you.
NOAH: Thank you. Appreciate it.
MOLLY: Yeah. Thank you.
Thanks so much for listening today and thanks to my fantastic colleagues for providing production assistance and inspiration for the podcast each week. Those folks include Ian Sory, Camryn Schreiner, Maureen Langley, Amy Cornell and my entire Walter Center team.
To learn more about the Walter center at IU and the services, resources, and events we offer, please check out our website at careers.college.indiana.edu. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to receive timely updates from the Walter Center as well. To connect with alumni like the one in this episode, please make a profile on the Walter Center Success Network. It only takes a few minutes to create an account and start building your professional network. If you liked what you heard today, be sure to subscribe on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcast to make sure you don’t miss an episode.
And last but not least feel free to reach out to me, Molly Burkhardt, personally on LinkedIn, or send me an email with any questions or feedback you might have.
Thanks again, everyone. And we’ll see you next time.