“Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” Revisited

A closeup of the pages of a thick book open against a red background.

The second edition of Chris Cooper’s “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” is now out, and it’s been updated and improved.

As we got Coop’s fourth book ready for print, I had a chance to reread it cover to cover.

Below, you’ll find my three biggest takeaways from the revised book.

Click here to take the quiz and find out which stage of entrepreneurship you’re at.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

1. Points of Focus


Entrepreneurship can be overwhelming. You have so many worries and so much stuff to do. It’s easy to become frantic and try to do all the things—many of which are the wrong things. Or they’re the right things at the wrong time.

The cover of Chris Cooper's book "Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief."

To keep gym owners on track, Chris has presented first points of focus for each stage of entrepreneurship. I’ll share three of them here:

  • Founder: Generate recurring cash flow.
  • Farmer: Earn $100,000 in net owner benefit.
  • Tinker: Build a net worth of $1 million.


Are there other things you need to consider? Of course—but they should all relate to these primary goals.

With these points of focus in place, you’ll have a valuable filter: “Will this action bring me closer to my primary goal at this stage?” If the answer is “no,” put the action on hold.

And, of course, Chris supplies a host of tactics you can use to accomplish these big goals.


2. Moving Between Stages


The second edition of the book makes it clearer that there’s no hard checklist for advancement to the next level. And you might move between levels as you and your business evolve.

That’s important because some people are hesitant to level up if they haven’t checked every single box. And other more experienced entrepreneurs feel disheartened if they have to address “lower-level tasks” a second or third time.

Keep in mind that your journey won’t be linear. You’re going to move forward and backward—and that’s OK. Here’s one of the best images from the book:

A graph showing success over time: the ultimate path upward includes periods of backsliding.

Expect setbacks and backsliding but be sure to evaluate your overall trajectory. If the general trend is upward, don’t sweat the small setbacks.


3. Experience Is an Accelerant


Let’s say you reach Tinker Stage and something—say, a two-year global pandemic—knocks your business off course.

Maybe your cash flow suffers and your profit margins decrease or evaporate. Maybe you feel like a failure because you’re thinking about taking a pay cut. Or maybe you lose key staff members and get pulled back into the day-to-day operations of the business.

Whatever the issue, you’re going to be more equipped to deal with it the second time around. Solving problems the first time is hard. Solving them the second time is much easier.

So take heart if you’re a tinker who’s working on farmer-level tasks again or a farmer who’s doing founder’s tasks for a second or third time. You aren’t a failure. You’re going to finish the jobs quickly and regain your momentum, and you’re going to move forward faster this time.


Read and Focus


If you need perspective on your journey as an entrepreneur, I highly recommend you read—or reread—“Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief.”

Get it here. Then dial in your focus and start moving forward and upward with more speed.

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