Starting Out: Against All Odds

Starting Out: Against All Odds
Photo by Dayne Topkin / Unsplash

At the end of the 20th century, two young men, in their mid-twenties, came together to start a business with an idea that had the least chances of success. At the very inception of the dot-com era, in the hub of tech startups that have since become some of the world’s biggest changers, the best business idea Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan could come with was building a soap company. Not only was this the least popular idea, they were also venturing into a market with legacy brands like Unilever that had over 50 years of experience in the market. Their company would later come to be known as Method – the pioneer of premium planet-friendly and design-driven home, fabric, and personal care products with headquarters in San Francisco, home to the world’s tech hub.

To go out on your own, to start your own venture, is a terrifyingly wonderful journey. You’re stepping into an unknown. You have an idea or a business model or a concept…but that’s it. And it’s so scary and so exciting all at the same time. But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s mostly scary. Adam and Eric took a huge risk in moving to, not only an unknown, but a highly competitive industry.

While starting out on your entrepreneurial journey is scary, we know that the opposite is more scary, rather than asking yourself what could have been, why not find out? After all, fortune favours the bold. Does it, though? Let’s talk about some of the important factors to consider in starting out.

Vision and Planning

“Every great vision starts with a good idea.” This is a statement that was made by one of my role models while talking about vision. Beginning with the end in mind is critical for business growth and success. The idea to start a soap company at the time when the tech industry was starting to sprout, especially in San Francisco, wasn’t the wisest. However, Adam and Eric had a vision to make eco-friendly green cleaning products, but they didn’t just want to make any soap, they wanted to be innovative about it and this later led to the introduction of dish soap among other types.

“The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.”

The very common narrative of “just start” is good for motivation, but starting without knowing where you’re going and a plan to get there is setting yourself up for failure. Preparation is an important aspect in starting out. It doesn't mean that you should have everything figured out. The vision creates a foundation for a plan. If you know where you want to go, you’ll come up with a strategy on how to get there and what you need in the process. When planning, it is important to do enough research and write down as much as possible.

Associations and Collaborations

Entrepreneurship is said to be one of the loneliest journeys one can ever embark on. Whereas this isn’t far from the truth, it is also important to choose your partners wisely. When starting out with a clear vision, you’ll know where you want to go, how you want to get there and with whom you want to walk this journey with. It is important to identify potential partners with whom you can walk this potentially lonely journey with. People that share your passion and believe in your dream are the best to collaborate with. As human beings, we are relational, so dealing with people is inevitable.

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

Adam and Eric were childhood friends, but what brought them together to start building Method was beyond their childhood connection. They both wanted to influence disruptive change, change that would impact more people than they could reach.

As they did research for their first concept, Adam and Eric reached out to a number of people for feedback on why the concept would fail. Some of these were mostly people they had built a relationship with for a long time. They could trust them to give honest feedback. It is some of these that funded the initial stages of the startup. One of the people that believed in their concept was Karim Rashid, an industrial designer that had worked with brands like Pepsi. Karim was their connection to Target which would later be their first major client and breakthrough to the market. In business, just like in many things, associations matter.

Hard work and Perseverance

One of the factors that contributed to the success of Method, especially in the initial stages of setting up the company, was the tenacity, hard work, and perseverance that both Adam and Eric exhibited in the process of building a successful brand against all odds. The cleaning products they developed were rejected in more than a dozen stores before they finally made it to the Target shelves. In an interview with Guy Raz on the How I built this podcast, Eric admits to drinking the product (soap) when asked to prove how non-toxic it was.

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Vusi Thembekwayo, a venture capitalist and founder of MyGrowthFund, talks about the concept of failing forward. According to him, the purpose of failure is to accelerate your knowledge acquisition process. The journey of entrepreneurship is full of failure at many levels. The ability to fail and still rise through it with lessons to never make the same mistake is what Vusi calls failing forward. This is a concept that Adam and Eric understood and lived by. In 2013, they sold the company to Ecover, a decision they made for the benefit and growth of Method.

There is really no manual to life, and as such, there is no single absolute formula for starting out. It is the small intentional steps that lead to the realisation of the big dream. At the end of the day, we can only do so much on our own to contribute to the success of our businesses or venture. The finer details are left to God.

“An entrepreneur can never have an ego, luck is always a factor even with persistence”

I published the original version of this article on The Red Notebook