8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In seven years, Jaime Schmidt turned Schmidt’s Naturals from a hobby into a leading personal care brand that she sold to Unilever for a reported nine figures. She’s now sharing what she learned along the way to help other entrepreneurs find their own success.
Schmidt’s a fan of an omnichannel revenue model and she’s taking that approach to supporting entrepreneurs. There’s the book, Supermaker: Crafting Business on Your Own Terms; the media platform, Supermaker, dedicated to educating and inspiring entrepreneurs; the fund, Color, which invests in early-stage companies led by women and other underrepresented start-ups; and the show, Going Public, an original series that will track five companies on their path to NASDAQ and give viewers a chance to participate in their Reg A+ IPOs.
According to Schmidt, behind it all is a single motivation: “My goal is for everyday people to understand that being an entrepreneur is within reach.”
No matter where you are in your own journey, these six characteristics of successful entrepreneurs can help guide you through the pandemic and beyond.
Have a clear focus
Schmidt took a class in making her own shampoo in 2010, and then began creating and selling other non-toxic personal care products. They were a hit at farmer’s markets and street fairs in her hometown of Portland, but it wasn’t until she decided to focus only on selling a natural deodorant that her company really took off.
Angela Richardson followed a similar strategy when starting PUR Home, which makes non-toxic home cleaning essentials. While searching for natural options for her hair, Richardson began reading ingredient labels. She became “obsessed with eco-products,” and began making soap and body wash. She launched a skincare company, but about a year later shut it down to focus on making something she thought the market lacked–a laundry detergent that was truly environmentally friendly.
“Skincare was the easiest product to make and sell, but it wasn’t the passion I thought it would be,” said Richardson. “Once I really niched down and became clear, things came together.”
Notice an emotional through-line within these mission statements?
A new survey conducted by Kajabi, a knowledge commerce platform, asked 1,000 American business owners about their lessons learned from starting a business during the pandemic: 4 in 5 entrepreneurs polled maintained that if you’re not passionate about what you do? Your business will fail.
Related: The Key to Thriving In 2021: Focus on What You Can Control
Build a supportive community
In the early days of building her company, Schmidt didn’t take the time to find a mentor.
“But looking back, I see it could have been really valuable,” she said.
But she did find support within Portland’s active community of creatives and makers. While the pandemic has put in-person networking on hold, entrepreneurs can find plenty of encouragement and advice online.
“There’s a lot of opportunity online to meet people and to build a business in public,” she recalled, “and get support from strangers who are willing to help.”
Case in point: Helena Price Hambrecht, co-founder and co-CEO of Haus reached out to Schmidt on social media after hearing her speak. Since then, Schmidt has offered advice to Hambrecht and her co-founder, her husband, Woody, about several aspects of their Northern California aperitif company.
Know your own value
Entrepreneurs, especially women and underrepresented founders, need to bring confidence to the table when meeting potential buyers, investors and partners. But that confidence needs to be backed up with plenty of preparation and knowledge of the market. When she was first pitching her products to retailers, Schmidt’s emails brimmed with data she had from customers who kept telling her they wished they could buy Schmidt’s natural deodorant in stores.
“I believed retailers truly needed my product, truly felt they had to have it,” she said, “and that is where the confidence came from.”
Schmidt maintains women are still scrutinized more closely than men, making it even more important they know their worth and believe in themselves. Even while in talks to sell her highly successful company, Schmidt found people asking her male colleagues questions that should have been directed to her.
“It’s important that women don’t undervalue ourselves, our time, our products, or the prices we charge,” she noted. “Women entrepreneurs need to come into the market with confidence, knowing that what they are creating is of value.”
Related: 3 Strategies to Reinvent Your Business and Thrive in 2021
Schmidt sees a lot of entrepreneurs who quickly get frustrated when their businesses don’t take off right away.
“I remind them that things do take time and that there are a lot of steps that need to be taken,” she said. “Cross one thing off your list at a time, and don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed with big picture thinking or your long-term goal.”
Schmidt didn’t bring investors into Schmidt’s Naturals and she advises others to not get caught up in the hype around venture capital. Sometimes the next best step isn’t pitching investors but making a strategic hire or pivoting your model. Slow growth can also mean you have more control over your company’s future.
Added Schmidt: “On the operational side, I didn’t have outside investors telling me how to run the business and muddying up my vision for it.”
At the start of 2020, the Haus co-founders planned a busy year of expansion, including events and product launches. The pandemic shot a big hole in that plan, but looking back, Hambrecht said it might have been a blessing in disguise.
“If we had done all we planned maybe it would have been too much,” she learned. “We can do all those over the long-term.”
Listen to feedback
Schmidt talks to many entrepreneurs are so committed to their plans that they miss opportunities and fail to make important shifts.
”We tend to think something should go a certain way or we think our customers should respond in a certain manner, but that doesn’t always happen,” she said. “Flexibility is really key.”
With an open mind, entrepreneurs are more likely to notice changes in their customers needs or tastes, spot new trends or see a new group of potential customers they hadn’t considered before.
“They can really pay attention to where the opportunity is, and that doesn’t always mean a complete pivot,” she said. “It may be a different way of talking about your product or putting a different spin on it, or changing your roadmap.”
Paying close attention to their customers led Haus to launch a product that wasn’t in their plan. By surveying people who’d spent time on their site but hadn’t made a purchase, the co-founders learned that potential customers had trouble deciding which of the seven flavors to try, despite the descriptions. So Haus launched a sampler kit.
“We hoped it would solve the problem, but it was kind of risky because it was a lower-priced product,” said Hambrecht.
The kit has proven popular and Hambrecht claims those who made it their first purchase have become some of their most loyal repeat customers.
Related: A Successful CEO Does 3 Things
Create multiple revenue streams
Ecommerce has boosted the success of DTC businesses during the pandemic, but Schmidt encourages brands not to limit themselves to a single sales channel.
“Omnichannel strategy is something that I will continue to preach,” she said. “It was so useful to me in scaling Schmidt’s Naturals. One thing that made us unique from some of our companies that we were selling in places they were often overlooking. You could find us at Whole Foods, or further down the street at Nordstrom’s, and then further down the street at Walgreens or Costco.”
PUR Home’s Richardson agrees that a single sales channel isn’t enough. Online sales have boomed during the pandemic, but she has additional revenue streams as well. PUR Home’s products can be found in small boutiques and in bulk to zero-waste shops in Las Vegas, where the company is based, and in California and Arizona as well. As busy as the past few months have been, Richardson isn’t slowing down. She’s now talking to larger retailers to bring her line of everyday cleaning essentials to stores across the region.