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Starting a business from the ground up can be an intimidating and overwhelming experience, especially without guidance or support. But there are still so many reasons to do it. You get to be the boss, work your own hours and feel a sense of pride in solving a problem that you see in the marketplace by creating value for the consumer.
By sharing my experience building Bobo’s Oat Bars, without having any prior knowledge of the food industry, I hope to inspire anyone debating whether to embark on a business of their own. Here is some of what I’ve learned on my journey.
Notice what is lacking in the market and find a solution
Find a solution to what is lacking in the market from a consumer’s point of view. Solve a problem. Create something better or create a perceived value for the consumer. Most of the time, entrepreneurs are saving the consumer time or money. Figure out if your product will do that, and good figure it out as early and as cheaply as possible.
When I created Bobo’s, I saw that there weren’t a lot of delicious, wholesome, gluetn-free snacks with a simple ingredient deck on the market. I knew my product was all of those things, and that it was tastier than anything else already on the market. I found a solution and created value for my consumer by giving them a time-saving solution for breakfast-on-the-go.
Improve an existing industry
Don’t be afraid to be innovative. When I first started my business there, were only a few gluten-free products on the shelf that touted natural ingredients, so my consumer had only a few snacking options. When I entered the natural foods space, I had no business experience and certainly no experience in the food world. I was lucky enough to be in Boulder, Colorado, which is home to many other established natural-foods brands. I was able to meet other entrepreneurs, involve myself in networking events and the food community and learn from the pros. One thing I learned is that no one knows much going into a new business; everyone is learning and making it up as they go along. There is never one answer or one way when starting a business. Networking and listening and learning and sharing is the best way to share ideas in the beginning.
Do not fear failure
Sometimes, the best way to obtain feedback for your product is by going into the smaller retailers around your area. See how well your product is received by your consumers and your retail buyer. Getting honest and genuine feedback from people who might potentially be selling your product is super important in the beginning. Be sure to follow up and be grateful for their time testing your product. That feedback is easier to get from a small retailer, and it is golden.
Expect to spend money up front. Starting a business can be costly. I cleaned out my savings and took a second mortgage on my home when I began Bobo’s. That was a big risk for me, but I believed 100% in the success of my product. It was worth that investment, and I have no regrets.
Decide early into the process what are your talents, what are your skills. Find people with skills that don’t excite you. In the beginning, you’ll have to reach out to friends or ask favors of professionals you know. If you’re not great with accounting, get to know a bookkeeper.
My accountant set me up on QuickBooks as a favor. I had never used QuickBooks before, so it was like learning Greek. I had previously been doing my billing on Word documents, so I had no idea what things cost or who owed me money. The lesson? Enlist people who have skills that you can’t brag about.
Failures will happen, so expect them and do not give up. It’s easy to get discouraged and feel like you’re drowning. Starting is a business is not easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Be strong and plow on, and it can be immensely rewarding. I started Bobo’s in 2003 and did not see a profit until about 2006. It takes time, so be patient. Expect to be married to your business, especially in the beginning. You will be responsible for all tasks large and small, and it will take up an enormous amount of time to “get things right.” Be prepared to take the bad along with the good.
It’s OK to make mistakes
When building a brand, mistakes will happen along the way. Many end up being a blessing in disguise when you learn something invaluable to your business. Think of mistakes as teachers of some new knowledge that would never have come to you otherwise.
When I started, I had a lot of friends and family naysayers who did not necessarily believe in what I was doing. They thought I was crazy. They’d ask, “Do you know how many of those things you’re going to have to sell!?” I put my head down and didn’t listen to the negativity.
I knew I had a great product, and if the tasteless products that I saw on the shelf were selling, then I knew I would sell better. I stayed focused and persevered and kept making a superior product. It wasn’t easy, but I succeeded. We proudly provide jobs for more than 200 people and have grown more than 300% over the last four years. I stuck with it from the beginning, learned a lot of lessons along the way, and for that I am grateful. And you can do the same.