Interview with Humble Beginning Entrepreneurs March 2019.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture? How did the idea for your business come about?
I was beyond broke. I was getting back on my feet after being sick for nearly 5 years. I had lost nearly everything in the 2007-2008 financial crises when I was about 35. I was still trying to recover from that financially and mentally. The stress from that alone pushed my health to the edge and over the next few years, it took its toll on my health. At 39 years old I moved back home with my parents so I could recover my health. I wasn’t able to work. I didn’t have a penny to my name. It took 5 years to recover my health and at 45 I was starting over from scratch. But it was in my journey of recovering my health naturally that I learned everything that I use today in my business and in my daily life. With this new knowledge, I started making my own products and occasionally would gift some of them to family and friends. My baby sister encouraged me to sell them. I was very reluctant at the idea because I didn’t know anything about manufacturing. I’d been in construction, sales, and fitness my whole life but never manufacturing of goods or products so the idea was very frightening. I blew it off but it was there in the back of my mind, gnawing at my conscious until I couldn’t keep ignoring it any longer. As I started looking into the natural skin care market I realized that is was saturated but then I thought “crowded” is a better word because you can thin a crowd but “saturated” sounds permanent like there is nowhere to go. Everyone was starting to sell their homemade products, the same things, same promises, same, same, same. So I thought, "I really need something that sets me apart. I need something that is completely different than everything that is already being sold." That is when I started thinking about raw milk, which is completely going opposite of the “plant-based” trend/movement that is happening now.
I am a huge supporter of raw milk. I love real, farm fresh, raised-on-pasture, raw goat milk, and I make my own goat kefir from this milk. I believe in the power of raw goat milk and all the health benefits it offers. It is a nutrient dense food and I was already making my own skin care with it and saw the difference in my skin. I loved it! I started thinking, “other people would love this too.” I started with Goat Milk Soap. People loved It! The difference in their skin was instantaneous, and I received lots of great feedback. The success of my products is in the quality of the ingredients and the proprietary processes. But I didn’t know the full power of my products until the testimonies and feedback started pouring in. It was at that moment that I realized that I’m changing people’s lives. I’m changing the way they look at themselves and their skin. Then when I introduced my Magnesium line, I found that product was changing lives in even more profound ways because I’m taking away their pain. It is super exciting to hear stories of people who have been in so much pain and who use my Magnesium Creams and Butters and the pain is gone and they are able to do things -- pain-free -- they haven’t been able to do in a long time or to sleep through the night. That’s a really big deal for me! These powerful testimonies inspire and motivate me.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
Let’s be honest-the biggest hurdle for any business adventure is always capital. I didn’t have a penny to my name so while I had an “idea” - I didn’t know if it was great yet because I hadn’t tested the market- without the help of my mom as my first investor this would have forever remained an “idea”. My mom gave me $5,000 to start, and I took that $5,000 and made it into something sustainable. I took a shoestring budget and made it work.
The second hurdle was knowledge. Not knowing how to work with goat milk. I spent a lot of time teaching myself and experimenting with many ingredients and processes to achieve award-winning products that people would seek out. Because I didn’t have prior experience or knowledge I failed a lot in the beginning and spent a lot of money making mistakes but it paid off as I now have all my recipes figured out.
What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?
I’m constantly studying my area of expertise and currently taking a Physiology class so I don’t have much time to read. I’m always buried knee-deep in papers and studies and books around what I specialize in to provide the most up-to-date information to my customers. When I do have a chance to read I like to read anything that doesn’t have to do with work. I love history and great classics. Currently, I’m reading Animal Farm by George Orwell, and I’m in the middle of Volume 1 of The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. You can’t always be thinking about your business. It doesn’t pay off in the long run. I’m most creative when I’m not thinking about work.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
Great question! I come from an entrepreneurial family. My father was an entrepreneur and so were both of my grandfathers. There was no other way in my family. I was born into business. We were surrounded by it every day. As a result, almost all my brothers and sisters own their own businesses. My dad encouraged me and helped me open my first business when I was 21. About three years later we sold it for a small profit. I got the taste for entrepreneurship during that experiment. But I was working ever since I can remember. My brothers and sisters and I had chores that we were paid for, and my baby sister and I made cookies and had lemonade stands where we tried our hand at entrepreneurship. I started working as soon as I could. My very first job was when I was 13. I was a bagger at a grocery store. I went on to run a little ice cream shop called Peterson’s the same year and then worked at White Hen as a cashier. I liked to make money. After that, when I was in high school, I joined the student work program and left school early to work at Philips Flowers, After that, I went to work for the family business. My parents instilled in us a very strong work ethic. No matter what, we could always figure out how to make things work for us because we had a good work ethic. My family has been my biggest support. You need a lot of mental and emotional support, especially in the beginning. I’m lucky because when I run into what feels like a brick wall, I can call my baby sister, who runs a successful construction company and ask her advice. I can bounce ideas off my family and get real usable feedback. I trust them. I can’t imagine trying to run a start-up or any business with family contention. Running a business is very stressful in its own right. Family contention would be added stress that you just don’t need.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
Testimonies. My entire business has been built solely on word-of-mouth. The proof is in the testimonies. Until the testimonies started coming in, I wasn’t sure I had anything worth selling. But all of a sudden, customers started texting and emailing me about the immediate results they were getting. It was such a huge confirmation that I was offering something valuable that was healing and that was therapeutic while being luxurious at the same time. This is when I started taking myself seriously.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
Not everyone who comes to you and wants to partner with you or help you have your best interest in mind. Be very selective in who you let in your life and to whom you share your vision. Stay focused on your vision. You are going to get a lot of people throwing their ideas at you with what you “should” be doing and how you “should” be running your business or products you “should" be making. Listen to your current customers who are satisfied and buying your products on a regular basis. Their feedback is priceless. Be patient. A business isn’t built in a year. Packaging matters. People need to experience your packaging. Packing will be one of your biggest investments. Don’t try to take any shortcuts with your packaging. You will pay dearly if you take shortcuts.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
First, and most important, really know what you are getting into. Being self-employed is romanticized to a large degree. How people imagine it and how it really is are worlds apart. You have to have grit and, thick skin. You are probably going to need to have several jobs while you get your business to take flight. You have to figure out how you are going to support yourself; buy groceries, pay your rent or mortgage, pay for your living expenses, gas and all that. People tend to think they have an awesome idea and just run out and do it without considering all the details. They also tend to think their idea is so great that they will be turning a profit in the first few months. That is rare and unlikely. Or they mistake not making an instant profit means their idea was bad. They assume consumers must not like what they have to offer. That can be very discouraging. People aren’t prepared for entrepreneurship and fail because they didn’t properly plan and had unrealistic expectations for the time frame. You will fail with that formula. We have lost the idea that everything we do takes time, patience and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. When you make a commitment to be an entrepreneur, it is like making a commitment to a marriage or to having children, you don’t quit at the first sign of trouble.
Second, unless you have an investor or a lot of money to sustain you through the tough times of a start-up, you won’t make it. People don’t want to hear that but they need to hear it. The most challenging part about being an entrepreneur is capital. Without capital, you will shut down.
Third, keep everything small and grow slow. Keep it manageable. Don’t try to implement the full scale of your vision in the first quarter. For example, if you don’t need a bricks-and-mortar facility, and you can manage to do everything yourself in your house or small office, keep it small and scale up slowly. Slow growth is good because it allows you to see flaws and mistakes and implement changes quickly in order to create processes that you can duplicate on a larger scale as you grow and expand. When you try to open the throttle but don’t have that figured out you will fail. Trying to do it backward will always be disastrous.
Fourth, you need some really strong people in your life who will support you when things get tough. When you get bummed out about profits and sales and things aren’t working out the way you hoped or as fast as you expected, you need strong people to be there for you, listen to you and give you great advice. You also need people with successful business backgrounds that are willing to give you advice and encourage you. Their advice and ideas will be invaluable to you. Also, hearing how they started will be encouraging to you. You will be surprised at how hard and scary it was for many of them when they started their companies. People tend to see the end results and innocently create all kinds of ideas about how things should be when they really weren't that way.
Fifth, no matter how great your product is, if nobody knows about it, it won’t sell. Without money to invest in marketing your product will forever remain in the dark to millions of potential buyers.
Lastly, know when to walk away. That is the hardest part. Know when your idea is draining you of precious resources, energy and health and when it is time to throw in the towel. People are afraid of failing and will allow their ego to keep them in a bad venture for too long. Don’t let running out of money be the deciding factor. Failure is just feedback. You have to realize that you TRIED and that experience will set you up for your NEXT venture. It is all in how you look at it. The first-hand experience you gained is better than a college degree. You can take that information and make smarter decisions for the next venture. Everything I’ve learned today was because of all the other things I did when I was younger. All the lessons and experiences were invaluable and gave me the grit and thick skin I needed, the confidence, patience, persistence and tenacity for what I am doing today.