Childhood friends Adam Lowry (left) and Eric Ryan didn't set out to reinvent an industry. But the combination of modern design and eco-friendly ingredients has made Method Home, the company they founded in 2000, into a $100 million behemoth. The story behind Method's now ubiquitous bowling pin-shaped containers of soap and dishwashing liquid is more than your typical bootstrapping saga. Think soapy concoctions mixed in bathtubs, drained checking accounts, and a business that barely squeaked through the dot-com bubble. Here's how Method did it.
While living in San Francisco in the late 1990s, Ryan and Lowry, who grew up together in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, spent hours brainstorming about products that they could reinvent. They decided to reimagine the most prosaic of household items--cleaning supplies. At the time, large corporations like Procter & Gamble and Clorox dominated the market with fairly generic products that contained harsh, toxic chemicals. Method's cleaners would be environmentally friendly and would feature elegant packaging. "Method has to enter a category with a huge disruption," Alastair Dorward, then Method's CEO, told Inc. in 2007. "The story cannot be copied overnight or eroded by existing [companies]. It has to have disruptive packaging, ingredients, and fragrance."
Lowry and Ryan produced their first product just as the Internet bubble gave way to a recession that hit the San Francisco Bay area hard. The company quickly bled through the $100,000 in savings the partners had put up as seed capital. The founders mixed the first few batches of their all-purpose cleaning solution in a bathtub and delivered orders in a beat-up truck. By the Spring of 2001, Method had hired Dorward as CEO, but the founders would soon max out their credit cards. At one point, they had just $16 left in the bank and payments to vendors were three or four months past due. "We had to appeal to the inner entrepreneur of each of our vendors," Lowry told Inc. last year "We had to sell them on the fact that Eric and I could do something that had never been done before."
Within a year or so, Method had fought its way to distribution in 800 stores--including shelf space in Target--and had secured enough capital to remain afloat. But Ryan and Lowry believed it wasn't enough to build a niche, green brand. They had the audacity to imagine Method outsmarting the big boys in the very field they had basically invented: brand building. But first Method’s founders had to woo one of their favorite designers to lend a hand. "The design goal is to reinvent the banal dish soap that looks like a relic of the 1950s and sits on every sink across the landscape of America," the founders wrote to Karim Rashid (pictured), a New York City-based design impresario. Though Rashid received about 15 unsolicited pitches a week, he liked Method’s boldness and the company’s concept. In 2001, Rashid agreed come aboard as Method's chief creative officer.
Whereas giant companies can take years to bring a new product to market, Method has built up the wherewithal to introduce a new product in only a matter of weeks. Lowry and Ryan have focused the entire company around speed and innovation. Production is outsourced to more than 50 separate subcontractors, designs that don’t take off are pulled quickly, and Lowry and Ryan focus their energies on staying one step ahead of the corporate giants in the cleaning products space. Today, Method makes more than 150 products SKUs. "When you run through the legs of Goliath," Ryan told Inc. in 2007, "you need to spend a lot of time thinking about how to act so you don't put yourself in a place you can be stepped on."