“I’ve started a business with nothing, and I’ve started one with a lot of money, and I have to say I’d rather start with nothing,”
There’s one thing every aspiring entrepreneur wants to get their hands on, money!
Lots and lots of money!
The thought is often, “If I just had the funding I would launch my restaurant, food truck, café, diner, product line, etc.”
So they wait…and wait…and wait…
And days turn into weeks, months, and years while they work aimlessly.
What I’ve realized more and more by interviewing highly successful culinary entrepreneurs is that many start small, learn to manage themselves and their businesses, and then scale to great heights.
Ultimately, money isn’t the silver bullet. Often it’s resourcefulness, creativity, or even sweat equity.
Let’s take a look at 5 entrepreneurs who started small and grew to incredible heights.
1. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of “Ben & Jerry’s”
One of the most famous examples is this dynamic duo. After taking a $5 correspondence course in ice cream making at Penn State, they subsequently began their ice cream company with $12,000 in starting capital. And out of their starting capital, only $4,000 was borrowed.
They began in a renovated gas station, which I’m sure it wasn’t their “dream location,” but it provided the necessities to get the job done.
In the 80’s, they harnessed the power of publicity and creative marketing in two ways. First, their ice cream was used in the world’s largest ice cream sundae. And second, they created the “cowmobile,” which was a converted mobile home used to deliver free scoops of ice cream across the country.
Ben and Jerry teach us the art of starting small and strategically growing through time to create a multi-million-dollar brand. After 20 years of operation, the company had an annual revenue stream of $237 million.
2. Charlie Bigham of “Charlie Bigham’s”
Charlie set out with the “sole aim of creating really delicious, top quality dishes, putting in all the love and attention that you would if you were to cook them yourself.”
With 20,000 pounds of personal savings, he started his company and over two decades grew the business to over 26 million in annual revenue. Incredibly, Charlie hasn’t taken any outside funding.
A contributing factor to Charlie’s success is his use of the “lean” philosophy for production that was created by Toyota. He tracks progress in relation to goals and works only on contributing production problems instead of spinning in circles.
3. Jill Blashack Strahan of “Tastefully Simply”
Jill owned a gift basket business for over 5 years, which led to an understanding of the market and a realization of demand. She toured around and sold her gift baskets and taste-tests with favorable results.
How much capital did she start with? It was just $6,000 in savings and in 13 years Tastefully Simple had $140 million dollars in sales.
Throughout her time building the company she had fears of sinking the business along the way. She was afraid of losing it all, but she was too afraid of the dream she would give up by quitting, so she persisted.
Jill’s story tells us there are risks we must endure and fears we must overcome, and in doing so, we may just create something life changing.
4. David Gersenson of “Door to Door Organics”
Starting with about $700 and growing to $26 million in 16 years, David Gersenson has built an amazingly powerful company. How did he accomplish this? He started small and followed his gut.
David said, “I was breaking down the numbers as I was breaking down the boxes, and I knew this thing was going to take off.”
An important part of David’s story is he operated by bootstrapping and watching expenses and cash flow. He was known to evaluate operating costs and find ways to lower them constantly.
And finally, he leveraged strategic partnerships. He worked directly with local farmers and regional trucking and distribution companies to deliver his groceries to customers. These partnerships helped reduce expenses and helped him scale.
5. Seth Goldman of “Honest Tea”
By starting out of his kitchen in 1998 and perfecting his process over a five-week period, Seth used the samples to meet with a retailer. The result? The retailer, now known as Whole Foods, requested 15,000 bottles!
Can you imagine going from “idea” to “in business” in less than 60 days?
His pitch to the retailer was by taking “thermoses of tea and a recycled bottle with a mock-up label.”
The lesson from Seth? There wasn’t a massive infrastructure in place when he pitched the retailer. It was a perfected product, a brand name, vision, and mock-up of his idea. The rest, as they say, was history.
By 2008, sales were over $100 million. From the humble beginnings of pitching a retailer to over $100 million. What an unbelievable example of starting small and scaling.
The two words for aspiring entrepreneurs are, “it’s possible.” You can start small, exactly where you are, with what you have, and scale to the “dream business” in the future.
The important part is simply getting started. It’s overcoming any fears, building up the courage, and beginning to execute.
Thanks for taking the time to read and please share along!