From the Garden to the City: The Epic Entrepreneur’s Story

Every entrepreneur has their own version of the classic “entrepreneur’s journey”. They usually share this story at the beginning of an interview or podcast. I’ve never been interviewed or been on a podcast so I decided to write my own. I’m choosing myself. 🙂

White Lamborghini Toy Car

Family Background

From the time I was born my family moved about every four years. Two of those houses were in Missouri and two were in Indiana. When I lived in Missouri I was young, but I remember I had this white, Lamborghini Hot Wheels car. I remember telling my dad I wanted to start a Lamborghini car dealership when I was older so that I could sell Lamborghini’s to kids like me for a $1. I remember my whole family laughing at me.

My mom volunteered at church events as a clown. She would come up to me and say, “I’m your mom,” and I’d say, “No you’re not!” and run away in fear. She sold Tupperware on the side. I remember her having Tupperware parties, but mostly I remember how much Tupperware we owned. I still use some of it today in my own house. This was my first view into entrepreneurship, which I sort of later followed when I was in Amway for a year.

My dad worked at GM during the night and during the day would volunteer at the church doing maintenance work. He would change out light bulbs in the ceiling of the sanctuary using a giant ladder. I remember watching him and wondering if he was going to fall. I’m scared of heights. We did a lot of land sculpting at every church we ever attended. For some reason, my dad just liked moving dirt around. He liked how dirt shaped water’s direction.

My First Businesses

One day after moving to Indiana I was walking through a shopping center with my older brother and we went into a Hooks Drugstore. He bought some baseball cards with his allowance and I was hooked. I collected baseball cards, bought Beckett Magazine price guides, and traded with friends. I never made any money, but this was my first experience with buying, collecting, and curating something with the intent of future earnings. I had a trader in my neighborhood in Southport that shared with me his dream of opening up his own baseball card store. This inspired me. I wanted to open up my own baseball card store. One day he setup a professional-looking stand in his garage and operated a neighborhood store for a day. I really looked up to that guy and always wondered how he turned out. I don’t remember his name though.

I also had small stints in buying candy and gum from the grocery store to sell at school. There was a time when “sour balls” just came out, which weren’t available from vending machines at school. I’d go to the grocery store, buy a bag, and sell them at school for 10 cents a piece. I actually didn’t sell any though. It was a complete failure. By the time I got into the game, I was already too late, the market was already saturated with other sellers. You see, it wasn’t my idea. I stole it from someone else – someone who had greater access to capital (their mom) and more prone to risk (willing to ask for the sale). Not only did my competitors have these things, they had prior experience selling Big Red and other types of gum. This is the same guy who later shot me in the back with his BB gun and gave me a bad haircut.

His name was Joey. We were both in 5th grade and one day Joey and I were walking home from that same strip mall in Southport. We started to come up with a plan for a new type of business. We both liked going to the local Putt-Putt and playing arcade games so we thought it’d be cool to start a small theme park or game center where you could do things like ride go-carts or fly small aircraft in addition to your standard arcade. We drew out pictures and made grand plans. We were doing it for kids like us who didn’t have a place like that. We were our own customers. We were scratching our own itch. It was “selling Lamborghini’s for a dollar” all over again. It never happened.

Business Education

Middle school was pretty much the dark ages of my entrepreneurial journey, but in high school I really ramped up. I started an antique business with a friend, started taking business classes at school, began editing websites on the side, started a band, and subscribed to INC and Entrepreneur magazines. When we had Career Day at school I told a speaker I wanted to “own my own island”. I was rude and full of hot air. I didn’t understand at that time how much value I would have to provide the world in order for me to one day afford my own island. I didn’t learn that until much later.

I kept studying business in the various colleges I attended. Each one taught me a little something different. At Kentucky Christian College I learned about how much I don’t like accounting. At Milligan I learned that first impressions make a lasting impression. At Ball State I learned about art. And at IUPUI I learned about computer science. I took 3 classes on Microsoft Office, 2 speech classes, and 1 marketing class. I took 2 years of Accounting in high school and 2 years of Accounting in college. I joined every business club I could find and failed 3 out of 4 of my math classes.

I don’t feel that I learned that much from college, but there were a handful of professors that made an impact on me. Dr. Charlie Starr, a literature professor at KCC, taught me about symbolism in movies, and although I can’t remember all of their names, the most impactful teachers were my literature teachers. Those were the ones I seemed to connect with the most in high school and college. The other most impactful professor was Andy Harris at IUPUI. He taught me about computer science and STAIR, which is an iterative method of problem solving, similar to customer development.

Business Development

I made the mistake of thinking that a college education was the key to any sort of financial windfall. In fact it had the opposite effect. I became debt-ridden and after I graduated I was no better off in the job market than the day before I graduated. I even asked my employer at the time, Old National, for a raise, but they said no. It wasn’t until I went back to school at a technical school for a specific skill set that I was able to get a higher paying job. However I later learned that the thing that actually helped get me that job was what I was doing on the side: web design. They wanted someone who could do IT work and help out with their website.

In my last year of IUPUI, Jason and I worked together to build a computer repair company called Neighborhood Geeks. After I graduated college, instead of going to classes in the morning I started going on IT service calls. I had no formal education as an computer technician, but I knew a lot about how Windows XP worked and had a good idea of how to troubleshoot problems. Google, like now, was our friend. After two years of not getting ahead in my day job at Old National, I started get CompTIA and Microsoft Certified. I still couldn’t find a better job so one day, I just quit.

A coworker asked me what my boss, Corey, said when I quit. He said, “You filled out the wrong form.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Old National didn’t use to have a formal “2 Weeks Notice” form so years earlier Corey had me make one up for our department. I used the form I had made, but by the time I quit, Old National’s HR department had come up with their own form. I had worked there full time for 6 years. It literally took me an hour 1-way to get to work everyday. I drove through rain storms and snow storms. I made stupid mistakes that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I essentially grew up there, but it was time to move on.

Career Development

2 days later I got a job at a call center helping teachers learn how to use web-based software to make tests and quizzes for their students. It was brutal, but even in that environment, I added value. There was a particular problem that no one knew how to fix and people would often call in about it and we’d have to say we didn’t know. One day I decided to dig into the problem and I discovered what was causing it and how to work around it. I was one of the few people who didn’t get laid off during the slowdown, but that’s when I got the opportunity to work at IBM’s call center, so I left after working there 2 months.

I worked at IBM 3 days before I got the job doing IT full-time. The first job I ever had was washing dishes for $4.25 an hour. I started Old National in Muncie at $7.47 an hour and ended in Indianapolis at over $12 an hour. The call center in Lebanon paid $10 an hour and IBM paid $11 an hour. My new job as an IT professional paid $20 an hour, which was quite a big jump for me at the time, but I stayed at that same rate for 5 years. Despite moving on to a business analyst position at another bank for 3 years and working as an interim manager at a dental office for 9 months, I stayed at that same rate until I went back to being an IT professional for a new rate of $25 an hour.

But I was tired of “trading dollars for hours” like Robert Kiyosaki talks about in Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Even for the year in which I ran my own consulting business doing IT and web services I was still trading my time for money. I longed to move beyond the employee or self-employed roles (or the technician role in The E-Myth Revisited) and into the business owner or entrepreneur role, respectively. I needed a product or service I could sell systematically that took my time out of the value equation so that I wasn’t the one holding myself back from earning the income I wanted to fulfil my vision for the future.

Vision and Mindset

I’ve spent a lot of time learning about how to start a business. I’ve read Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start. I know you need to start with a mantra, make meaning, and have milestones. I read Jim Collin’s Good to Great. I know that you first have to get “the right people on the bus.” Eric Ries’ Lean Startup says to start with the product and ask people if they want it. There are many ways to start a business, but I know some of the worst include choosing a business name, buying business cards, incorporating, and designing a logo. None of those things bring in new customers or revenue. That’s how I developed the theme of #SellFirst, and it’s a tag I own on Twitter.

Sell First” is a mindset that says, “before I invest more time, energy, and money into this new business, I am first going to ask someone if they want to buy it.” I believe that sales is essentially “asking someone to buy something.” In high school Jason and I called this “spontaneous asking”. We found that when we asked for something, we were much more likely to get it than we did not ask for it. This seems obvious after the fact, but there is much fear in asking, which may be part of the fear people have of selling. I certainly still have that fear, but it’s something I’m learning to get over as I view it as more important than marketing. Marketing Supports Sales.

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and motivational speaking lately and several reoccurring themes have emerged. The first one is the need for a vision of what you’re future will look like. This sets your mind in the direction it needs to go. The second is the need for mentors and education that gives you the information you’ll need to get to where you’re going. The third thing is hard work and the ability to temporarily discomfort yourself now for a better future later. Extraordinary effort now is greater than the same amount of effort spread out over time. The fourth thing is your product. When given the choice between working on anything else and your product, always choose to improve the product.

Product Development

I live in Tipton. I’ve lived there for most of the last 10 years. It’s a small town with little to nothing going on. I have to drive at least a half hour in any direction to see anything other than cornfields and pickup trucks. But it’s from this location that I’ve worked professionally for 10 years, developed and ran side and full-time businesses, and raised a family (I now have 5 kids). It’s out of this desolated place that I’ve come to shape my ideas of place and community. It’s how I came up with the ideas for Seektivity and Outure. I believed that it didn’t matter as much where you were, but who you were hanging out with and what you did with the situation. Even Tipton could be a cool place with the right people, the right knowledge, or the right stuff.

I had a vision of a mobile app that allowed you to post and activities and things to do around you. If you discovered a tennis court you could add it to the app and tag it with “tennis” and the next person who came there might add “badminton”. In the same way, someone might find a baseball diamond and first tag it with “baseball” while someone else might tag it with “Wiffle ball” or “softball”. If Foursquare is for tagging places to go, Seektivity would be for tagging what there is to do at those places. There may be a hundred different fun things to do in Tipton, but without an informational tool like Seektivity, I would never know about them. In this way, people can transform their communities into more active and happier places to live.

In late 2012 and early 2013 I started getting interested in physical products and ecommerce. That’s when I got the idea to create products to help Seektivity users get more out of their communities. Outure was developed out of a need to facilitate “activity in your own backyard.” I felt that outdoor adventure companies often glorified exotic places like mountaintops and sunny beaches while most of America lives in mostly flat, mostly dry areas of the country. That doesn’t mean there isn’t fun things they could be doing if they just had the right information, similarly interested people, and the right equipment. By providing the people with the gear to have fun in their own backyards, my mantra in both products is to “facilitate play”.

Outdoor Adventure with Outure

The Reality

The reality is I’m not as great as I thought I was. I never finished making Seektivity. I got a minimally viable product (MVP) and stopped working on it in February of 2013. That same month I stopped being an entrepreneur and went back to work for a company that made me extremely uncomfortable for 7 months. In August of 2013 I switched jobs and began working on Outure and everyday I take a little step forward by posting a picture to Instagram or commenting on Facebook or tweeting on Twitter. I hired a VA in November to help write reviews of urban activity equipment sold on Amazon as an affiliate, but hope to one day open my own e-commerce store. That’s my vision and this is my reality.

e-Commerce Metric: Time to First Sale

This is not just a record of the amount of time it took to get to first sale, a metric called “time to first sale”, but a story about what it took to go from idea to first sale. This is a story of how one idea can lead to another and how people can influence each other. This is the story of how Catchrs and Skinny Coconut Oil got started.

TL;DR; After months of discussions and meetings that started in August of 2011, Skinny Coconut Oil officially launched on August 26, 2013 and had its first sale on August 31. From the first meeting specifically about coconut oil on April 4, 2013 to the first sale on August 31 was 3 months and 27 days, 5 days after the store opened.

The Beginning

How it Started

In 2010, instead of starting a normal job after college like everyone else, Luke Geddie decided to take a year off and travel around the world. It was, “an adventure that would open their eyes to the rare beauty hidden in Southeast Asia.” Luke’s brother Matt accompanied him on parts of this trip and, “with their hearts set on exploration, Luke and Matt Geddie ventured through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, India, and Vietnam with a desire to see and experience everything.” It was Luke’s time in Vietnam when he met Kim Vo, a local celebrity who introduced Luke to many different people, government officials, and business owners in Vietnam. Through these introductions Luke started to get a sense for the value he could provide the local Vietnamese economy by using the business skills he learned while in college and his connections back in the United States.

On August 1, 2011 I left my day job at First Merchants and went full time consulting. 2 days later Luke’s mom, Joy, called to have me come over and help Luke’s brother’s computer ready for school. Luke had just got home from Vietnam after traveling abroad for a year and Joy wanted me to talk to him about some of the things I had been working on because she knew we were both entrepreneurial-minded. The three of us ended up going out to breakfast on August 18 and that’s when I told Luke about what I was doing with affiliate marketing. Luke started telling me about the ideas he had to have art created in Vietnam, which lead to the first business idea of “art catchers”. This eventually lead to the name of “Catchrs” and after the domain Catchrs was purchased on September 9, 2011 the first official Catchrs meeting was held on September 16.

Loading the Semi

The business idea went through several iterations, eventually becoming an import/export business. Luke continued working on the business in the United States where he incorporated Catchrs, LLC through the fall, but in December of 2011 he went back to Vietnam to build the business with his partner, Kim. Matt began going to school in New Zealand where he helped Luke and Catchrs by contacting manufacturers and shipping companies around the world. In May of 2012 I helped Luke launch the Catchrs website while simultaneously beginning to work full-time at his mother’s husband’s dentist office. It was during this time that I developed my relationship with Luke’s mother, Joy. After working with her husband’s business for 9 months, Joy and I decided to begin meeting regularly in February to see if there was any businesses we could start together.

I had been learning more about e-commerce as a business as far back as November of 2012 when I began looking into drop-shipping and various e-commerce platforms. This is when I first got introduced to Andrew Youderian at eCommerceFuel.com. At the same time I had just started reading Hacker News and was learning more about programming and startups. In February I started working on a software project called Seektivity, but I quickly hit a hard wall in my software skills. I had also just started a new, stressful job that didn’t leave much time for anything else. However, this didn’t stop me from researching ideas at night while lying in bed. It was during one of these nights that I did a Google search for “where to buy…” and noticed that the second to top auto-complete said, “where to buy coconut oil”.

On March 17, 2013 I reached out to Luke about the rise of 3D printing and on April 2 he asked to have a phone conversation about “traditional medicine and online marketing it in the USA”. On April 4 we had the phone call where we talked about all of the things he had to sell. One of those things was coconut oil. I wrote Luke on April 6, “I’m interested in that because Joy, Suzanne, and my friend, Jason’s wife, Krista, all use coconut oil for cooking and as a lotion. I’d be willing to pay you for a sample to send over so I can have them try it out. I own a website called topical-cream.com and the domain tropical-cream is currently available. I’m thinking that with a ‘cute’ enough package that this stuff could sell well in local boutiques, Fresh Market stores, Whole Foods, and on Amazon.” On April 6th, Luke offered a sample. By May 22 I still hadn’t received the sample so I emailed Luke an image of the Google Trend line for coconut oil.

Coconut Oil Trend

On May 27 he had the supplier re-send the sample of coconut oil. The original bottle had been mistakenly sent to Luke’s brother, Matt, in California, who would later become much more involved. On May 31 it was shipped from Canada and on June 5 it arrived at my house and by June 8 I had already met with Luke’s mom, Joy about it and had started to reach out to Matt who was still in California. Matt had experience launching his own product and was currently working as a marketing director. I saw him as an integral part of this process.

On June 9 Luke returned to the United States along with Kim, his business partner from Vietnam. On June 11 we had our first meeting about coconut oil as a business and decided to call it “Premier Grove”. On Friday, June 14 we had our second meeting about the business. By July 3 we had a business plan for the company that had been renamed to “Skinny and Co” and who’s first product was named “Skinny Coconut Oil” after the tall and skinny shape of the original bottle. On July 12 we had our EIN for the corporation and could finally start setting up Shopify, Amazon, and Opensky.

On July 9 Matt moved back to Indiana from California and we had our first meeting with Chris Murphy, a boyhood friend of Matt’s who had just graduated from college with a Marketing degree. His mom was best friends with Matt’s mother, Joy. Chris was all about “community” (he even loved the Community, the show). On July 10 Kim visited the United States from Vietnam and we all decided to offer Chris a position with Skinny and Co. He began working on the label design right away and by August 19 we had our first prototype.

Skinny Coconut Oil Prototype

After incorporating Skinny and Co. with the state of Indiana in July, the Skinny Coconut Oil website officially launched on August 26 and had its first sale on August 31. Although Luke had offered, I had no equity in either Catchrs, LLC or Skinny and Co. and I had only been paid for the web design work I did for Catchrs. My agreement with Skinny and Co. at that time was to get a percentage of online sales in exchange for my work building out the website’s content, doing SEO, and helping with social media.

On September 3 we began working on our first brochure, an Oil Pulling Guide, and on September 26, Joy went to her printer to have flyers printed for the upcoming Gluten Free Living festival on October 5th. The printer kept staring at the flyer. She began asking questions about the coconut oil and shared how she sold raw chocolate and was looking for a coconut oil to sell, but she wanted to sell it as a subscription monthly. She sold one jar. This is the beginning of selling coconut oil as a subscription and it paved the way for the second event which was a health fair on September 28th in Southport, Indiana.

Gluten Free Expo Skinny Coconut Oil Booth

October 5th was a rainy day. I had to get up early in the morning to be in Richmond at 8 AM. At the same time, Matt and Chris were up early getting ready for the Gluten Free Living festival in Carmel. We had recently hired two interns, Michael and Stephanie, but only Michael was there that day. Rachel from the dentist office also stopped by to help sell. We sold almost 50 jars and I got my first check after 2 years of work. On the drive home Andrew Youderian gave me a “First Sale Shout Out” on his podcast. It was a good day.

Thinking About a Starting a New Business?

I’ve been thinking about starting a new business lately and I wanted to share my process with others as I do it to help those who might be thinking of starting their own business.

Every business starts with an idea. That idea may come from you or from someone asking you to do their idea, but it all starts with an idea. Five years ago I had the idea to start my own web design business because friends and family kept asking me to develop web sites for them. I wasn’t really interested in it at first, but once I started getting more clients, I was hooked – especially when I saw the paychecks come in, but I had a rocky start. I wished there was someone there to help me get started when I was starting up.

Inspired by Jim Halperts new business and coming off my last successful business, I have decided to start a new business on the side. One mistake I typically make is to get hung up on the business name and category too soon and too often. I often also jump to see what my future competitors are doing in that space. Instead what I should be doing is creating a product that someone would actually be willing to pay for and then asking them if they would pay for it. This is called customer development, but I don’t always do it. That’s got to change.

Sell First

One thing I like to do is to come up with an elevator pitch and make blanket statements like “I’d like to create a Salesforce.com for HR.” While I don’t want to get hung up on a business name just yet, I can’t move on until I’ve at least given the project a name so in this example I call it “Workflow” which I know I won’t be able to use, but that’s why it’s just a project name. Once I have a project name I start collecting information about the project in a hodgepodge of places from email threads to Evernote to Dropbox. All of this stuff is easy. That’s because it’s all fluff. You’ve got to get to the point where you have a minimally viable product (MVP), which is something you can sell. If someone doesn’t buy it, you don’t have a company. I call this philosophy “Sell First”.

If your idea is a service then quantify, quantify, quantify your idea. Make what I call an “Applebee’s Menu” of your services. Draw pictures that explain what you do. If you’re not a graphic designer, then hire one or draw them yourself using a pencil and paper. The point is to level the playing field between you and your customer by creating a common interface (a picture) that explains to them what it is you are going to do for them and how much it costs. Think about what it’s like when you go into McDonalds: there is a giant menu of pictures on a board. You point to the picture you want with the number next to it and both you and McDonalds knows exactly what you’re going to get. That’s powerful and there are few service professionals who operate this way. Even if you don’t have a product, you can carve products out of the services you provide. Once you have them, ask someone to buy one. If they don’t, go back to the drawing board – literally.

Simplify Your Idea

The hardest part (I’ve found) about new ideas or organizations is in restricting yourself. Your business idea needs to be one sentence, maybe three words. A while back I read a book called The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki, which I have also listed in 13 Books Every Entrepreneur Can Benefit From Reading. Even if you don’t read the whole book, the first chapter is very good and prescribes you to go after a “mantra”, “make meaning”, “define your business model”. and create “milestones, assumptions, and tasks”. Maybe you’re already doing some of these things. If so, good.

I’m currently consulting with a new startup that wanted to start 5 organizations in three locations all at once. Part of my job there has been to reel them in and get them to focus on doing one thing first and doing that well. In the book, Little Bets by Peter Sims he talks about how successful companies try things on a small scale before they build out. Here’s an 8 minute video if you’re not interested in the book. Part of the reason I think people (including me) tend to want to make their business (or business ideas) wide in the beginning is because they aren’t sure what will work. Little Bets should help tease that out.

Who Asked You to Start a Business, Anyway?

In 2011 I wrote about all of the challenges you’ll be up against when you go to start a new business. Everyone from the government, to your neighbors, to other businesses, to your family will be trying to stop you every step of the way. But none of those compare with the biggest obstacle: yourself. You can plan all you want, but eventually someone has to Do the Work. While I believe management is important, it can be used for creative avoidance. If you can’t figure out what to do next, just do the next important thing. If you feel overwhelmed or depressed; if you feel like you can’t move, just do one thing. Do anything.

 

When to Quit Your Day Job

First of all, don’t quit your day job. At least not until you’ve made the decision and can stick with it for at least three days straight. While I started my own business on the side in 2007, I worked full time until 2011 when I quit my day job. I didn’t quit because I was making more on my side projects than my day job. I quit because I wasn’t having an impact, I wasn’t being utilized, and I felt like I was wasting my life. There were things I wanted to do and they didn’t include being 33% utilized for 8 hours a day. I would literally spend 2 hours in the bathroom a day and another 2 hours a day watching a movie at my desk. My manager had nothing for me to do and was absent most of the time. There was zero pressure on me to succeed and management was perfectly happy with me doing nothing at all. Everyone was happy except me.

In How to Work a Life of Purpose I share how I learned what does make me happy. It turns out that following your passions has little to do with it. It matters much more that you adopt a craftsman’s mindset and deliberately practice to get over the performance plateau that so many of us reach, but few exceed. Once you begin to get better at something, you begin liking it more and happiness is a natural result. Quitting your job will not make you happy. Being the best at something can put you on a path to being happy. Being the best at something can allow you the career capital to start your own business or gain more autonomy in your existing job. What people desire the most is trust, respect, and autonomy in their jobs. You are responsible for building your own meaning and managing your own growth. No one else can do that for you.

Starting a [Successful] Business is Hard

Starting a business is fun. It’s exciting and full of opportunities. It’s easy to say what you’re going to do, make lists, name things, put them into categories, compare and contrast ideas, and draw stuff on a whiteboard. It’s easy to tell other people about your idea and write blog posts about it and tweet about it on Twitter. The hard part is making something useful, something that adds value to the transaction. The hard part is getting someone to pay money for that thing. The hard part is not giving up and not believing your own self-doubt when it inevitably creeps in. The hard part is not listening to the doubters who will tell you it’s okay to quit, that there is safety in the doing what everyone else does. But don’t listen to them. Do the work. Make the world better. We need you to help us. There are problems in the world that still need fixed.

We still don’t have good ways to desalinate sea water or cheap ways to make electricity. We still don’t have cures for all kinds of disease or good methods for distributing ways to prevent them. These are big problems, but I can get more specific. There is currently no way to sync a Microsoft Exchange password on an iPhone with Microsoft Exchange. It’s a manual process that the user has to do. This one problem affects IT departments all over the globe and every time a user changes their password in Windows, their email on their phone stops working. That seems like a problem someone would be able to work on and there are plenty of companies all across the world who would gladly pay for that solution. If you know of one, please let me know in the comments and please share your new business ideas with me once they are up and running. Do the work! Cheers.