A grand gesture inspires me. Brad Swift of Portland Bee Balm has a noble problem, the kind that comes from daring grand gestures. Like so many, he’s grown his small business by pretty much doing it all. He likes that he’s in control—and it makes sense to me: he birthed his baby by pursuing a new love, beekeeping. A smidgen of startup cash later and over 70 stores carry his homemade-by-beekeepers balm.
Here’s the noble problem; today Brad’s life reads like a nightmare. Should he continue making his display cases by hand? Does he have enough help to fill orders? What about inventing new flavors? How does he make more sales and scale up production?
I have mucho respect for Portland Bee Balm, bootstrapping their way to success. That journey is personal. It reminded me of my experience with another local, the MerryHempsters of Eugene. Here’s the lagniappe. I’d never heard of them and organic, vegan, sustainable lip balm wasn’t even on my mind in 2007. I was searching for inexpensive items that might be uber-attractive to college students. The Hempsters wanted online sales; owner Gerry Shapiro would tell me later that trying to grow by placing his product in stores had exhausted his time and his pocketbook.
The promo featured a tube of organic orange hemp lip balm as a free gift to any student who would sell their old textbook to this niche site. Each tube cost a dollar. One year later the company I served had doubled, adding more than ten million dollars in new sales of used textbooks online. Fast forward and I’m part of Ideagility today, helping smart, small and medium sized businesses affordably explode by being found online. I wasn’t thinking about that in 2007. We were just tickled, Gerry and the Merry and I, to find each other without going to the store.