As our series continues we are discovering some common links among six-figure solopreneurs. Most significantly that none of them is afraid of hard work and, so far, every one of them is convinced it's worth it. These solo businesses all take home a tidy profit for their remarkable efforts and work hard to achieve their goals. Do you share any of the qualities of our six-figure solo's?
My next guest is going to share the story of how he and his wife launched a niche bakeware company, and within a few short years have grown their 'idea' into one of the leading brands in bakeware with over $1 million in sales revenue, and 6-figure profits. While Matt and Emily Griffin work together in this venture, I feel they still fit the bill as a 'solo' business; they have no employees and share the workload between them. They outsource the manufacturing and distribution of their products.
Q. Matt, when you started Bakers Edge did you have a plan in place, or did you just 'wing it?'
A. When we officially started we had about 5 years of thought behind our bakeware (the Edge Brownie Pan). Like many small businesses, while planning a path is a good way to start, the meaningful decisions have come in the form of reactions and adjustments along they way.
Q. Looking back, what would you say are the two important personal qualities or characteristics that are most responsible for your success?
A. Many people now state that YOU are the BRAND. I know that sounds corny, but for us it has been a big part of our success. We entered a market that is dominated by a few mega corporations. Being a small fish in pond with mostly big fish was at first thought to be a disadvantage. We have learned to embrace who we are and use it as an opportunity. There are a host of things that we are able to do (given our size and mobility) that our big competitors simply can't. Our approachability and our direct contact with customers allows who we are shine though, and not be clouded by the levels of 'risk management' that larger companies are saddled with. People find it refreshing that we actually have personalities and opinions – and freely share them! It humanizes our company. The other quality is the old standby of being resilient in the face of setbacks. Every company has failures and setbacks - small and large. The key for us has been to continue learning and tweaking our actions. I can proudly say we have never made the same mistake twice.
Q. Have you ever had a mentor or a coach?
A. No…but we would have liked one! We do have a financial advisor, and some very experienced industry veterans that we pump for information. It would have been most helpful at the start of our business, but like anything help only seems to come after you need it. As we continue to grow and make connections in the industry, we get more access to guidance.
Q. Matt, what was the key motivating factor in your drive and determination to become your own boss?
A. The funny thing about 'becoming your own boss' is that when you do…you quickly learn that you have more masters than you ever did as an employee. We now answer to our vendors, customers, bankers, suppliers, etc. To be in full control of your business means you have commitments to keep on multiple levels, and that you are the only person responsible for keeping them. So why did we want to do it? Part of it is a drive to make something exist that previously did not. The other part is to be in control of our own destiny. We don't deal with corporate politics, or reorganization. I grew up on a farm, but spent years in corporate offices. Running your own business is very much like being a farmer. You only get out what you put in…and no one else is to blame for your failure. That appeals to us.
Q. Was funding ever an issue for you? If so, how did you solve the problem?
A. Funding and cash flow management is always an issue. If I solve it, I will write a book and sell my secrets. Our start up costs were defrayed by several factors. I won an invention contest sponsored by Microsoft and Visa which yielded about a third of our start up needs. The rest came from a conventional business line of credit and personal savings. We still rely upon conventional lines of credit to mitigate any disparity in cash flow in regards to invoices due vs accounts receivable drop dates.
Q. What was your most challenging moment to date and how did you overcome it?
A. Like writing a story, the first part is always the toughest. Just figuring out the right pricing and really targeting a specific market took lots of trial and error. On top of that, getting retailers to stock our product (as a one SKU company at the time) took LOTS of work. We essentially had to make it big online, and dominate the online marketplace prior to being considered by the traditional retailers. Thankfully, we did such a good job, they now pitch us and we get to pick and chose where we want our products sold.
Q. What is the greatest reward in running your own business?
A. Being able to succeed on your own terms is a wonderful feeling. I also am really proud that our company is bolstering the US economy with a multiplier effect (my economics major is coming out a little). Everything is produced in the USA…and even in this downturn economy we have had production lines running overtime. That is rewarding for us.
Q. Do you have a 'top strategy' for success that you'd like to share?
A. If you collect enough bricks, you can build a house. So is the way with a small business. If you pick away at it, consistently with goals, you will eventually have a real asset. Flexible consistency is key.
Q. Matt, entrepreneurs are idea machines, and that's great. But sometimes too many good ideas can clutter the picture and stop progress. How did you harness your best ideas and bring them to fruition?
A. As an entrepreneur I can say this…'Entrepreneurs are annoying'. 99 percent of all 'idea machines' are paper architects only. Most incessantly blather on about 'ideas' that have already been patented, or have no way of being executed in a way to create value (as stated before…I am guilty of this too). It is a small handful that mobilizes and works to make a business out of ideas. Once I realized that the Edge Brownie Pan had merit – all other 'ideas' were put on the side. It was then a process of whittling away at the essence of this idea and being focused on what it was, and who it was for. Once we determined our marketing message, positive things began to happen. The good news is that if you are truly an idea machine, there is always a need of big creativity when running a business, and keeping it growing. You just need to concentrate on what you are trying to accomplish (and take a break from the sillier big thoughts that want to cloud your brain).
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our solopreneurs?
A. Sure! This is what I have learned over a few short years. First off, you are not alone. There are thousands of people thinking and doing the same thing as you. There is a whole subculture that is sitting in their basements, working till 2 a.m. on a 'side business'. The good news is that success at these ventures happens all the time. It is essentially how all great businesses start. There is precedent in success. Don't give up.
Also…you need to learn how to live a dual life (think Batman) - especially if you still have a 'day job'. During the day give your all at work, and then at night, in your spare time relish the fact that you are secretly building a new business from nothing. Also (like Batman), when you have the opportunity for media exposure – you need to be memorable. Don't shy away from 'consumer exposure'. Shameless self promotion is necessary. Just don't let your two worlds collide (because it will annoy your day job coworkers – see answer above in regards to 'entrepreneur annoyingness').
In summary, Matt enjoys feeling in control of his own destiny, had a plan for growth but remained flexible about change, is consistent with his goals, is creative yet focused, tenacious, and isn't shy about 'shamelessly' promoting his company. While he had some start up funding, the company is self-funded. What qualities do you have in common?