There's a story floating around about a Texas girl, Mikaila Ulmer, who supposedly landed a contract with Whole Foods for her lemonade line. There are varying details -- the deal was worth $11 million or the products will appear in stores in four states.
I'm pretty sure that some of the stories that appeared online at prominent sites have been changed because, well, they were full of lemon rinds. There was no major deal signed with Whole Foods. No $11 million. No sudden appearance of bottled lemonade based on a 1940s flaxseed lemonade recipe of Ulmer's great grandmother and sweetened with honey.
The reason is that business has been growing for some time, now, as I learned both from Whole Foods and from BeeSweet Lemonade. The line of products is hardly new to Whole Foods; stores in Texas have carried it for probably two years. This isn't some fluke, but the result of work, not just by Mikaila Ulmer but her parents, because the former still attends grade school.
Here are some lessons that the story of BeeSweet and Mikaila offer.
Get the right focus
When Mikaila was four, her family nudged her into trying her hand at being an entrepreneur for a children's business competition. The point was to learn something, not to assume that she would create a business that could have some significant legs. She liked the idea of connecting with something her great grandmother did and also had become interested in the plight of the bees (after being stung by them twice). There's nothing wrong with undertaking a business to make money, but if you can't get beyond what you want and to appreciate the business for its own sake and what it can do for customers, your success is more likely to be limited.
Intellectual property is important
You want to satisfy people in a way not easily duplicated by others. That doesn't mean you immediately think about filing for patents or trademarks, although both can have their uses. First, focus on finding what can make you unique. In the case of BeeSweet, it's the story of Mikaila, which helps establish the brand, and the recipe that provides a lemonade different from others on the market and one that many people want.
Execution is everything
Given that Passover is at hand, I'm hoping people will forgive the following: If the lemonade recipe was good, it wouldn't have been enough. If people at events liked it, it wouldn't have been enough. Had the brand had appeal, it wouldn't have been enough. When all is said and done, you make a promise to people and you either deliver on it or you don't. And if you don't, it doesn't matter how good the experience might have been. People might not give you another chance.
Patience is a virtue
Really, people -- including business journalists -- assumed that Whole Foods would suddenly roll out an untested product to stores in multiple states simultaneously? Let's put some reality into those presumptions. Chain stores test new products, unless the manufacturer is making a wide introduction worth their while. You don't count on the big break to make your business. Build it over time. Most overnight successes are years in the planning, creation, and expansion.
Get the help you need
Another point that should get your head shaking is that so many who should know better assumed that a kid in school was necessarily running an expanding manufacturing undertaking. Mikaila isn't even old enough to sign a contract for services or deals. And that's fine. Her parents are running the day-to-day operations. She's helping with branding and image. They have professional marketing help and aid in setting up relationships with retailers. It's good to get the help you need, because it means you've got a much better chance at success.