NE Iowa Entrepreneurship is Alive and Well (and so is Rural Iowa)

NE Iowa Entrepreneurship is Alive and Well (and so is Rural Iowa)

In a cozy rural Iowa cafe somewhere between Cedar Falls and Decorah, Sarah Bey and I sat down with Peter Awad and Jason Trout of GoodBlogs last month to talk tech, startups and social entrepreneurship. Peter and Jason had been on our radar for some time; as co-founders of GoodBlogs, they’re at the forefront of some dynamite activity in NE Iowa–and they’re setting the stage for big things to follow. 

Wary of the ever-changing, color-coded threat levels of Iowa roads in wintertime, we decided to meet the duo from GoodBlogs at the halfway mark, using Google Maps to pick a location at an equidistant 54 minutes north (for us) and south (for them). New Hampton marked the spot. 

Klunder's Kafe


Sarah and I arrived first. We discovered a place called the Kountry Kafe right off Hwy 63 and texted the fellows we had found a spot to meet-up.  They got lost (no comment here) coming in from the north (apparently Google didn’t have a Kountry Kafe) but some kindly soul at a gas station jumped in his pickup truck  and led them right through town to join us. Iowa friendly! We found out later that it is really called the Klunder’s Kafe. Who knew?  I guess the locals, and certainly not Google.

The walls of Klunder’s Kafe featured portrait posters of graduating high school seniors in Iowa from the 1960’s and 70’s, and the mix of people patronizing the eatery were decidedly older.  As we settled in for a ho-hum café experience, the hostess came by–just as Peter and Jason joined us–and plopped a laminated sign at the edge of our shellacked wood table that said ‘Jean.’ We looked at one another. Jean? Have we been claimed by someone? Are there choices? Could we have had a Kate or a Matt if we wanted? 

‘Jean’ arrived at our table with a flourish a few moments later–a tall woman with streaked, spiked hair, an Iowa drawl (yes, there is such a thing) and full pot of coffee. She sized us up pretty quickly when Jason Trout asked for ‘light roast’. “Oh sure”, she said with a smile. “I’ll run right back and make that up just for you… “

While waiting for what we assumed would be some Iowa ‘mud,’ Jason Troutwe learned that neither Jason nor Peter were Decorah natives.  Rather, both men were transplants from other places- attracted to Decorah  because of the quality of life in NE Iowa. Both were university entrepreneurs- each having launched technology companies in different states while attending college. Peter was a student at the University of Central Florida and learned of Decorah, Iowa from his brother-in-law who lived here and loved it. He visited once, twice and then made the plunge into Midwestern life. Jason on the other hand, was raised in Center Point but looked at a possible move to Northern California, Oregon, Washington, or even Hawaii after graduating from the University of Iowa. When he stumbled upon a persuasive article about Decorah in “Mother Earth News” magazine, he and his wife decided to visit. A few months later, they made the plunge, too.  Their stories confirmed for us the ‘oft-made point about how entrepreneurs can choose where they want to live. Decorah, a burgeoning community for entrepreneurship, is attracting young, startup founders with its small town warmth, arts, culture and natural resources. The coffee’s not bad either.

Meanwhile, Jean the waitress whipped out a pen to take our orders. Klunder’s makes great Iowa comfort food like biscuits and gravy, pancakes with bacon, and the “All American” (2 eggs, sausage, hash-browns, and toast). Under $6!

Jason ordered orange juice. Jean the waitress leaned over and asked if he needed organic orange juice or just regular. Game on.

The idea for GoodBlogs came from informal collaborations between Peter and Jason while they officed next to each other while starting and expanding separate tech businesses in 2007. “Before we knew it, we were popping our heads into one another’s office like, 10 times a day to share ideas or brainstorm,” says Jason. From that informal collaboration came the GoodBlogs pilot website called the Flaming Vegan.

The Flaming Vegan  ( provides a forum for vegan aficionados to post their recipes, track trends and share vegan tips online. Based on the popularity of their posts, Flaming Vegan contributors can earn cash everyday, sometimes twice a day, which encourages more people to share and interact. It is, in essence, a popularity algorithm that sets GoodBlogs apart, and it is attracting a lot of eyes and ears in cyberspace.

In it’s first 90 days, the Flaming Vegan attracted more than 500 blog posts and The Flaming Veganrecruited 6,000 Facebook friends. Users opted-in to newsletters and other online offerings where the conversations continued. The GoodBlog model has garnered the attention of multiple corporate clients from throughout the Midwest, including Transfer Master Products, a leading disability product manufacturer who launched Rolling Without Limits (–and last year, Featherlight, an Iowa trailer manufacturer that built a version of GoodBlogs to engage horse owners online at a site called Of Horse (get it?!) at

The white-haired breakfast crowd came and went as we talked, laughed and over-caffeinated. Jason told us he had been doing a lot of reading regarding the ‘wisdom of the crowd,” a model that has largely informed the business platform of GoodBlogs.

“Why should just a handful of writers and editors decide what is interesting?” He asked. “By letting people vote for their favorite articles, the things they find truly interesting come to the top and the site is better because of it.”

Jean the waitress filled our coffee cups again and regaled us with a few stories, jokes, and her opinion on “organic” produce. It was madly fun and dizzily hard to change topic, but as Sarah noted on our way home, these are the things that characterize the changes occurring in our state. Rapid, opinionated, and sometimes really, really funny.

Revitalized, we discussed how to better connect small Jason and Jeanbusiness owners and entrepreneurs with university types like Sarah and me, and other resources that can help small businesses grow in the state. At UNI, we’re trying to figure out how to keep the conversations going online and GoodBlogs might be one way for us to help make that happen. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, check out Klunders if you are near New Hampton, oh–and I hope you get a laminated card on your table that says ‘Jean’… but if you are so lucky, don’t ask for anything ‘city’ and tip her well, please, because we should all have a vested interest in startups like GoodBlogs and in the rural intellectual property that is Klunder’s Iowa. 

Share this post