Are there any stray goat hairs on my clothing? That’s the question Elaine Philbrick needs to ask herself before she goes to a swap for her company, Derivative Advisors, a financial derivatives firm, because when she isn’t executing brokerage deals, she’s running a “goatscaping” business, which rents out eager cloven-hoofed animals to chop down invasive weeds like poison ivy, thorn bushes, and thickets.
Philbrick says she is the only swap broker in New England and the only goatscaper in Eastern Massachusetts — and definitely the only swap broker who also operates a goatscaping business. As different as these two pursuits seem, Philbrick said that the two businesses were both new service concepts when introduced and both fill a niche in the Boston area, which is what she looks for as a business owner. She spoke about her endeavor, the Goatscaping Co.
“My [children], who couldn’t care less about my job in an office, appreciate the concrete nature of working and playing with doelings and bucklings. It’s a business they can understand and be part of. They enjoy speaking with customers and helping me deliver supplies, fix fencing, and feed the goats. When I first read about goatscaping, I thought it was a great concept. With my MBA training, I imagined a business model I thought I could pull off. The only thing holding me back was no land, no “mad” money, and no time as the working mother of two elementary school age children. I solved the “no land’’ problem by getting a CSA farm, Colchester Neighborhood Farm in Plympton, to agree to let us keep our goats at their farm. Their farm benefits from attracting customers with charismatic farm animals without their expense or responsibility. I solved the time and money problem by finding a partner, Jim Cormier, who was willing to do the goatscaping work in return for some equity and future salary.
We bootstrapped — cash from the first customer went to buying more animals and equipment to rent to the next customer, and so on. Because Jim and I kept our day jobs we were able to defer our salaries for the first year in order to build the business with sweat equity and avoid borrowing. Jim went full-time last year and that year we did over 225 goat weeks including 50 residences. This year we cover the North Shore, MetroWest, and Rhode Island, in addition to the South Shore and Cape Cod, and are booked solid all summer.
I enjoy being part of a green business and doing my bit to help lower the use of herbicides. So I was able to have a second career of goatscaping without risking the first one in finance. I encourage anyone at the same career crossroads to go for it — don’t be afraid to think outside the box and do something new. Both my businesses were unproven concepts and had lots of naysayers until we tried it and proved they work. Don’t hold back because you don’t have all the answers now. There’s always a way to solve the problems and make it work.”
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at email@example.com.