Jake Keiser triumphantly climbed entrepreneur's mountain in the mid-2000s.
The ascent began in 2007, when she left a Corporate America marketing job with a Boston publishing company. She started her own business, Keiser & Co., which did public relations, marketing and graphic and Web design. In less than a year, Keiser and a team of nine freelancers she worked with were busy with projects. The company had clients nationally and in Tampa and Sarasota, and Keiser was a Business Observer 40 under 40 recipient in 2008, when she was 34.
Then, in winter 2013, after surviving the recession without totally losing her business, Keiser sought another mountain to conquer. Her move, both geographically and philosophically, stunned her friends. She packed up her belongings and bought a five-acre farm in Oxford, Miss.
More than three years later, Keiser, 42, continues to work the farm daily, selling goat's milk and cheese, while doing graphic design work remotely for the bulk of her income. Beyond the farm, Keiser sought a new lifestyle, one more simple and self-reliant, and wanted to get out of the daily grind. She calls her transformation, from being social and wearing hip brands to rising at 3 a.m. to check on chickens, her “Gucci to goats” moment.
“My whole life was work,” says Keiser. “I worked at 1 a.m. I worked on vacations. But only working to make money made me feel empty.”
Keiser grew up in Mississippi, and graduated from Ole Miss in Oxford. Even though she rode horses when she was a kid, she was more urban than rural. Farming never came up. “I'm not country,” says Keiser. “I didn't grow up in this environment.”
The farm, which includes chickens, turkeys, dairy goats, barn cats and a livestock guardian dog, is the most fulfilled Keiser has felt in years, she says. She paid $150,000 for a three-bedroom,two-bathroom house, the five acres and a shed she turned into her barn. She chose Oxford for the familiarity with her college days, and to be near some friends and family.
Says Keiser: “I didn't want to be completely disengaged from culture.”
While she has culture and is closer to her beloved Ole Miss Rebels, Keiser says she's gone a week without seeing a human being while she works her farm. That solitude, she says, is a pleasant surprise.
“This just feels right,” says Keiser. “I'm very passionate about what I'm doing. I'm just seeing where this takes me.”
Blast from the Past
Here are some of Jake Keiser's answers to an interview when she was a 40 under 40 recipient in 2008.
What's in a name: Her birth name is Julie Ann. She got the name Jake by combining her initials with the first two letters of her last name.
Good advice: The best business lesson Keiser learned in running a fast-growing marketing and graphic design firm is to empower others in the company to do more. That was hard for an admitted Type A. “If I'm going to be a control freak,” Keiser said in 2008, “I'm not going to grow.
Future plans: Keiser also talked about the risk in going from a steady paycheck to running her own business. But she had the self-reliant vibe even then. “It was really scary,” she said. “But it was also wonderful to know that I'm totally self-sustaining.”
— Mark Gordon